23rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has an embargo been placed on the export of barley? If so, what is the reason for the embargo? Does it apply to feed and malting barley? Who asked for the embargo - stock-feed or malting interests? What effect would an embargo have on market prices for barley grown in New South Wales?
– The only information I have about an embargo on barley has been obtained from a statement which was published by the Australian Barley Board. However, I shall obtain the facts for the honorable member and let him have them-.
– In view of the vital importance to the Australian meat industry of the current tariff commission inquiry in the United States, can the Minister for Trade give an assurance that the Australian Meat Board delegation which is giving evidence at the inquiry is receiving every possible assistance from the Commonwealth Government?
– On behalf of the Government, and in co-operation with my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry, I can give the assurance which the honorable member has requested. My colleague and I, on behalf of the Government, have been interesting ourselves in this matter for a period of months and these is a long record of contacts between our trade representatives in Washington and the Australian Meat Board, which has had a representative in the United States for a lengthy period. I know that the chairman of the Australian Meat Board has visited Washington. The industry can rest assured that every precaution has been taken, and that every effort will be made, to safeguard our interests.
– Can the Minister for Supply give the House any information about the serious accident which, I understand, occurred at the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury, in which a woman was killed. This was intimated in a news broadcast this afternoon. Will the honorable gentleman kindly give the House all the information that he can upon the matter?
– In reply to the honorable member, I can only inform the House that yesterday - not to-day - there was an accident at the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury. As a result of the accident, unfortunately, one woman was killed and six other people were injured. I have asked the departmental safety committee to go to Adelaide to investigate the accident and to supply me with a report as soon as possible.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation. It appears from a statement that he made yesterday that the restrictions relating to the operations of Electra aircraft that have been imposed in Australia, similar to those recently imposed in the United States of America will not lead to a very significant change in the former standards of operation for these aircraft in Australia. Why is it that in the past the Electra has been operating at those standards?
– I shall refer the question to the Minister for Civil Aviation, but perhaps I can answer a part of the honorable member’s question by saying that in Australia we have always observed the speed limits for this aircraft recommended by the makers, and checked by the check captains of the various Australian airlines. Apparently, some of the airlines in the United States have been exceeding those limits, and there has been a certain amount of trouble there which we have not had in Australia. However, when this trouble occurred in the United States, we, just to be on the very safe side, imposed a stricter limit on the speed of descent from 15,000 feet to the ground.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister for External Affairs. Has the right honorable gentleman received a report from his officers in South Africa on the recent riot and the inhuman and murderous treatment meted out to South African natives? If so, will he give the facts to the Parliament? Will he also lodge a protest on behalf of the Australian Government at this shocking treatment of fellow human beings? In the course of his deliberations on this matter, will he consider placing a boycott on trade with South Africa?
– Most of the information we have about this very unhappy affair is derived from the ordinary published cables. When we heard of it, we promptly asked our representative in South Africa to inquire into it and to give us a close assessment of what had occurred, stating the reasons for the affair and its significance. I think it is necessary that we should have that information before we can contemplate taking any particular course. 1 can say definitely in reply to the last part of the honorable member’s question that I had hoped that the weapon of the boycott was as dead as the dodo.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that at a recent meeting at Swan Hill, Victoria, the Victorian Minister for Water Supply, Mr. Mibus, told irrigators that they should press their federal members as much as they could to urge the Prime Minister to agree to the Commonwealth assisting financially in the building of the Marraboor Weir? The Prime Minister has already answered for me a question on this subject, and I ask now whether this suggested further urging would bring the desired result. If so, I have an excellent case to present. Or is the statement of the Victorian Minister for Water Supply just a glorified instance of the age-old custom of passing the buck?
– I know about this speech because, with his usual zeal, the honorable member himself told me about it.
– I sent you a newspaper report of it.
– Oh, yes; if I must be technically precise I mean that I knew about it as the result of the honorable member’s sending me a newspaper cutting of it. I answered a question about this matter, as the honorable member knows, setting out our view. This was in line with the view we had put to the governments of the two States concerned, they being the two States which are, in terms of water supply, interested in this proposition. I have nothing to add to what I said then, and nothing that I have read in the newspaper cutting, kindly provided for me, has affected my mind at all.
– Will the Minister for Social Services inform me in what circumstances he considers that his departmental officers should answer correspondence received by them from pensioners or their representatives? Will the Minister concede that cases in which persons are asking for the discontinuance of the payment of pensions to deceased parents call for the sending of a reply to correspondence? In view of the fact that the mishandling of cheques can have serious consequences for those involved because some of the departmental officers refuse to acknowledge correspondence, will the Minister undertake to have the pension of one of my deceased constituents cancelled and the seven cheques I have here returned to the Treasury for safe keeping?
– Every officer of the Department of Social Services, as, indeed, every officer of every government department, is required to answer correspondence as expeditiously as possible. The Department of Social Services is a vast department which deals with some 5,000,000 people a year, and sends out more than 1,000,000 cheques a month in New South Wales alone. Because of that, the volume of correspondence that has to be undertaken by the officers of the department can only be described as prodigious. Within his physical limits, every officer of the department answers correspondence directed to him as rapidly as possible - as I do myself. We try to resolve these difficulties as they arise from time to time, but because of the magnitude of the operation
– This has taken four months - what rot!
– I am trying to give the honorable member an adequate reply to his question. Because of the magnitude of the task, most unfortunately mistakes occur from time to time. We do our best to correct them; I shall correct the mistake in this instance.
– My question to the Prime Minister concerns his recent voyage to Indonesia and Malaya on which he was accompanied by the distinguished honorable member for Barker. In view of the significance of this visit, per se, and also because of the important issues which were wrapped up in it, will the Prime Minister consider making to the House a full statement on the subject?
– I will give consideration to that proposal. Whether it is practicable - for a variety of reasons - I would not say, off-hand.
– My question to the Treasurer concerns moneys made available by the Commonwealth to the States because the loan market has not provided their requirements. The Commonwealth Government makes up the difference and charges the States interest on such amounts. Is the Government, or is the Treasurer, prepared to make such moneys available to the States without interest and subject only to an administrative charge when the amounts are provided from revenue derived from taxation?
– This is a hoary annual which comes up and is argued out both in this place and with the Premiers. The attitude of the Commonwealth Government has been made very clear on a number of occasions. Our policy, we believe, is not only logically correct but is also fairest both for the State governments and for the taxpayers of this country, who provide the funds from which the advances to which the honorable gentleman has referred are made to the States. There are very good and sound reasons why, a certain loan programme having been agreed to, and it having been found that the market will not provide the loan funds which the States would be willing to receive, the balance being made up by way of special loan from the Commonwealth, this balance should carry interest at the rate at which interest would have been paid if this balance had been raised on the market. To permit otherwise would be to require the taxpayers, they having first provided the funds which went to the States, to find additional amounts representing the difference between what the Commonwealth now receives and what it would receive if it made the funds available to the States free of interest. The present practice at least has the advantage of giving the States an active interest in seeing that the total amount of the loan programme is raised on the market. If other arrangements were adopted, the States would have an incentive to see that loans were not raised, because they would then be able to get their loan money at very much lower rates than is presently the case.
Accident near Brisbane.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for the Army, concerns an unfortunate accident which occurred in the early hours of the morning on Saturday, 19th March, when an Army truck which was travelling from Wynnum to the Greenbank camp, outside Brisbane, overturned. Can the Minister inform the House what casualties occurred in the accident, and will he let me know the findings of any inquiry when it has been completed?
– I agree that the accident in the early hours of last Saturday was a most unfortunate one. On the day on which the freedom of the city of Brisbane was given to the 9th Infantry Battalion, an Army vehicle overturned and one member of the unit was killed. Two others were injured and were admitted to hospital, and twenty members of the unit were treated for minor injuries but were not detained in hospital. A military court has been convened and will fully investigate the matter. I have arranged that the court’s findings shall be sent to me at the earliest possible moment. If I can then give the honorable member any further information, I shall certainly do so. I should like to take this opportunity to offer my profound sympathy to the relatives of the young man who lost his life, and I am sure that all members of the Parliament would wish to do likewise.
– My question is directed to the Postmaster-General. I preface it by reminding the Minister that much resentment is being expressed in my electorate about over-charging for telephone calls and charging for calls which reach wrong numbers. I ask the honorable gentleman: Can the meter registering calls be deemed an infallible means of checking calls? How often are independent tests of this system made? Can permission be given to any subscriber to call and see for himself the system in operation? What is the procedure when a subscriber reports connexion to wrong numbers as a result of faulty operation of his telephone, particularly when new lines are being installed in the vicinity of his home? How can a subscriber be charged for calls which reach wrong numbers due to temporary disorganization of his line by activities of technicians of the Postmaster-General’s Department?
– Mr. Speaker, I shall endeavour to give the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith an immediate answer to the points he has raised. If I fail to answer them all, I shall see that he gets a written reply. The honorable member referred, first, to over-charging for calls. I presume he is referring to the system whereby calls are automatically metered, and also to the practice of a telephonist recording on a docket the time of a call. Sample checks are constantly taken, by supervisors in the various manual exchanges to see, first, that calls are properly docketed by the telephonist. In such exchanges, an accountancy check is made at the end of each day to ensure that mistakes have not been made. Occasionally, mistakes are made and they are rectified. In the case of automatic metering of calls, technical checks are made regularly to see that the metering equipment is operating properly.
The honorable member also asked what was the procedure adopted on receipt of a report from a subscriber that there was some fault in his service. In each exchange of any magnitude, Mr. Speaker, there is a checking desk and all such reports are put through it. Immediately a report is received, the responsible technician, who is a senior man, checks immediately the service that has been reported. The honorable member also asked whether provision could be made for a subscriber to see for himself the procedure in. the exchange. Let me say, not only to the honorable member, but also to any one else who is interested that the Post Office is always delighted to show th» whole of its working to any interested members of Parliament or other persons in the community, because it finds that when anybody goes to have a look at the equipment and anything that is done, it is to the advantage of the Postal Department as there is then a much greater understanding, not only of the problems of the department, but also of its efficiency in dealing with them.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. It has been stated in this House by members of the Opposition that if members of the Australian Country Party want to retain the £13,500,000 butter subsidy, they had better pull up their socks. Will the Minister state whether this subsidy reduces the price of butter to the community? Can he give an approximate estimate of how much per lb. the price of butter is reduced through the application of this subsidy?
– Dealing with the latter part of the question first, I think that honorable members of the Opposition, who represent communities that are composed almost entirely of consumers of primary products, must recognize the advantages they are receiving through the payment of the butter subsidy. Consumers are benefiting to the extent, approximately, of 7id. per lb. of butter. They would have to pay that much more if it were not for the subsidy. The subsidy is a benefit to the producer as well, because his sales are considerably greater as a result of the lower price at which he is able to sell his butter on the local market. So the subsidy benefits both sections of the community - the producer and the consumer. As to the first part of the honorable member’s question, he must remember that a committee of inquiry has been set up and it will report to the Government on future policy concerning the dairying industry. I leave the matter there.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. On 5th February, 1960, I directed a letter to the Treasurer seeking Commonwealth aid for drought relief for the farmers who have been so seriously affected in South Australia. On 17th February, 1960, I received a reply from the Treasurer in which he set out various reasons why the Commonwealth could not assist The Treasurer, when speaking during the debate on the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech, referred to the Commonwealth’s prosperous position, and last evening the Minister for Labour and National Service twice elaborated on our prosperity. I now ask the Treasurer: In view of our apparently altered position since his letter to me of 17th February, and in view of the fact that the Curtin-Chifley Government granted drought relief on a £l-for-£l basis in 1944 to South Australia-
– Order! The honorable member had better ask his question.
– Will the right honorable gentleman reconsider his decision with a view to granting relief?
– The prosperity to which the honorable gentleman refers has, I am happy to say, been a continuous state and is not something which has suddenly emerged. The principles which were embodied in the document I sent to him state the views that the Government has held now for many years. The substance of what was conveyed to him has also been conveyed to the Premier of South Australia who, I think, understands the position quite clearly.
– I direct to the Minister for the Army a question that relates to the military establishments on the foreshores of Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay, particularly at North Head in my electorate, South Head, Middle Head and Cape Banks. Can the Minister tell me whether the Army is likely to be relinquishing any of these depots, or any part of them, and for what purposes they are being used?
– All of the areas to which the honorable member refers are defence reserves and there are military establishments on each of them. It is the policy of the Army, as I have announced on other occasions, not to hold surplus land, that is, not to hold land that is not required for its purposes. Some little time ago I had a thorough examination made of the areas mentioned by the honorable member, and he may take my assurance that that examination showed that those areas were definitely required for defence purposes. Therefore, there will be no release of any of these areas.
– I, too, direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is it a fact that the re-organization of the Citizen Military Forces has been implemented without consultation or conference with senior C.M.F. commanders? If this is not so, will the Minister tell us on what occasions recently he personally has conferred on this matter with divisional and brigade commanders of the C.M.F.?
– I do not propose to answer that question to-day because, as has been announced by .the Minister for Defence, a debate will take place soon on this subject. I shall deal, in the course of that debate, with each of the points that the honorable member has raised.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Australian Agricultural Council considered prohibiting the production of ice cream containing vegetable fats and oils in place of health-giving cream and butter oil, just as the production of filled milk has been prohibited? If so, is it intended that the necessary legislation will be introduced by the
States to prevent a lowering of our nutritional standards? Further, as it has been found desirable to ban the manufacture of filled milk because of its effect on the dairying industry, why do we not give the same treatment to the indigestible product up to 90 per cent, of which is beef or mutton fat and which is masquerading as a substitute for butter?
– The Australian Agricultural Council has not dealt with this particular matter in the way that the honorable member has suggested. The States have agreed to legislate, and I think that all of them, with one exception, have legislated, upon the production of filled milk. No particular action has been taken in the way suggested in relation to ice cream, but I shall have a further look at this question and see whether there are in it any other implications upon which I might give him an answer.
– Has the Treasurer’s attention been directed to the difficulties confronting State governments in providing sufficient specialized housing accommodation for the elderly people of the community? Will the Treasurer consider making available special funds for this purpose, along the lines of those already granted under the terms of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement relating to defence personnel and co-operative housing societies? By way of explanation, I mention that the Housing Commission of Victoria has a list of several thousand age pensioners for whom it is unable to provide accommodation.
– I think honorable members are aware of ‘the substantial claims now being made on Commonwealth budgets for the provision of finance for housing. This is in three principal directions - grants to State governments for their housing schemes, portion of which goes to the co-operative housing societies; the war service homes scheme, amounting to £35,000,000 a year, and assistance in the provision of homes for aged persons under the scheme administered by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services. In addition, of course, the Government maintains general economic policies to encourage the building of houses on a very considerable scale. These things taken together led last year to the construction of some 85,000 housing units, and this rate of construction, by the standard of any country, is remarkably high. Whether we should add further to the funds already supplied to the States, or make funds available in any other direction for housing is a matter of policy, but, as I have already indicated, a great dea is being done.
– My question to the Treasurer relates to the Commonwealth Development Bank. Is the maximum rate of interest payable by borrowers 6 per cent.? What is the minimum rate? What principles govern the fixing of the rate of interest? Do the rates compare favorably with the rates charged by overseas instrumentalities on loans of a developmental nature, or are they higher? Does the Treasurer agree that borrowers must be granted the lowest possible rates of interest, the longest possible terms of repayment, and the longest possible time before repayments begin?
– The chairman of the Commonwealth Development Bank recently announced certain conditions under which loans will be made by the bank. I understand him to have said that the maximum rate of interest on new business coming to the bank will be 6 per cent. No minimum rate is fixed, as far as I am aware. I am asked what are the conditions which determine the rates of interest. I believe that the essentiality of the project, the degree of risk involved in it and the contribution it can make in the development sense are all elements which would come within the purview of the bank management in deciding on the terms of a loan.
The honorable member asks whether these conditions are in line with those applied by overseas banking institutions. I question whether there is any directly comparable institution elsewhere or, if there is, whether the conditions applied by it are really relevant. The consideration to be taken into account in Australia is whether, having regard to the difference in approach of the Development Bank, the conditions it applies are broadly in line with those obtaining in the trading banks, which deal in a more normal way with business of a comparable kind. My understanding is that the conditions of the Development Bank are in line with those of the other banks. As to whether the conditions so determined should be as the honorable member suggests, I am sure that, consistent with the necessity to conduct the bank as a profitable institution, the management would try to arrange the most satisfactory terms for borrowers.
– My question is directed to the Minister for
Labour and National Service. By way of preface, I remind the Minister that last week I asked him to have a look at the submission made to the Arbitration Commission that, in assessing what is to be the basic wage, it should disregard the index presented by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The Minister, in reply, indicated that he thought the submission contained wisdom and should have been made. I now ask: Did the Government instruct counsel to stress the contention that the granting of the claims of the A.C.T.U., or any part of them, would be wholly bad for the Australian economy? If the Government did give such instructions, how can it claim that the people are prosperous? Does the Government know that an immediate increase of 5s. a week is required to raise the basic wage to the level at which it would have stood if regular adjustments had been made since 1953 in accordance with the C series index, which was accepted from 1934 as the instrument by which minimum wages in Australia should be measured?
– I think all honorable members know that this matter is now being argued before the Arbitration Commission on behalf of the Commonwealth. I do not think this is the proper place to enter into a debate on the submission that is being made by counsel on behalf of the Commonwealth. If the honorable gentleman would like any information relating to the submissions of counsel, he can so inform me, and I will obtain the exact details and let him have them.
– Has the Minister for Health considered issuing a warning to the public against watching the partial eclipse of the sun which will take place on the afternoon of Sunday next, 27th March? If not, will he do so, in view of the fact that there were numerous reports of damage to the sight of persons who watched the last eclipse? Is any protection afforded by looking at an eclipse through dark glasses, photographic negatives or other devices of that kind?
– I have issued to the press and to the Australian Broadcasting Commission a statement warning people against looking at the eclipse of the sun. I hope it will be given wide publicity, because after the last eclipse we received reports of damage to the sight of about 170 persons, mostly children, in many cases involving damage of a permanent nature to one or both eyes. The honorable member also asked about protection afforded by dark glasses and other devices. The answer is that none of these things is of any use at all in protecting the eyes. The only safe method is to turn one’s back towards the sun and view a projection of the eclipse thrown on to a screen through a small hole in a piece of cardboard or thick paper. Ordinary dark glasses, even welder’s glasses, afford no protection at all.
– My question, which is directed to the Treasurer, concerns the War Service Homes Division. I preface my question by stating that a thousand fewer homes were built this year than were built in the first year of office of this Government, and that £2,000,000 less is being spent on war service homes this year than was spent in the first year in which the Menzies Government was in power. Will the Treasurer make an immediate additional grant so that the back-lag of war service homes may be caught up?
– I question the honorable member’s statements concerning expenditure and the number of homes built. Financial provision for war service homes has been substantially increased during the term of office of this Government. Indeed, more homes have been constructed under the scheme during this Government’s period of office than were built in the whole of the period before we came to power. Throughout Australia to-day there are many thousands of ex-servicemen who have enjoyed the benefits of the scheme, and the Government is continuing its successful policy.
– I direct a question without notice to the Treasurer. If it proves necessary, in accordance with announced measures to control inflation,, to place further restriction on bank credit, can the Treasurer assure the House that such restriction will not fall unduly hard on primary producers? Further, can the trading banks be instructed to make sure that credit-worthy producers will not have credit facilities for working capital reduced?
– The calls that have been made by the Reserve Bank on the trading banks have been designed to check excessive liquidity in the banking system. The governor of the bank has stated publicly that it will still be possible to increase the level of advances in the course of this year and, indeed, the level of advances in February of this year was some £29,000,000 above that for February of last year. The design is to maintain an adequate but not excessive level of finance available through the banking system. That being so, and the operation of that policy being intended to apply to all sections of industry, both primary and secondary, the honorable gentleman need have no fears that the reasonable needs of primary producers will not be catered for.
– Is the- Minister for Primary Industry aware that the Premier of Tasmania has written- to the Prime Minister, as he has to Labour membersrepresenting Tasmanian constituencies, concerning the urgent need to have Tasmanian export lamb, branded with a distinguishing Tasmanian brand? Is the honorable gentleman aware that Mr. White, the Tasmanian Agent-General in London, has urged that this be done because meat wholesalers in London have advised- along.’ those’ lines owing to the superior quality of Tasmanian lamb? Is the Minister also aware that the British Board of Trade has no objections to the lamb being stamped with a Tasmanian brand? Will the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Trade, do their best to remove difficulties and objections in the way so that a distinguishing mark may be stamped on Tasmanian lamb in the interests of Tasmanian lamb producers?
– Part of this question was answered by my colleague, the Minister for Trade, yesterday. I should like to add that no restrictions are applied to placing a Tasmanian brand on the wrappings of the lambs concerned. As for rv carcasses, a United Kingdom regulation prescribes that the word. “ Australian “ must be branded on them not less than six times. The Commonwealth has not so far permitted any State to brand carcasses other than in that way.
I remind the honorable member that the Commonwealth and the primary producers’ boards contribute heavily to the cost of publicity for our meats and. other’ primary products overseas. The’ Commonwealth’s contribution is, I think, £320,000 a year, and that of the board £168,000 a year. The purpose is to advertise Australian pro1 ducts. The supply of lamb from Tasmania is spasmodic, so that if we wentahead and advertised Tasmanian lamb as< such, the effect of the advertising would be lost to a large extent when it became impossible to maintain a continuous- supply. I cannot agree that there is any merit in. the honorable member’s suggestion that, carcasses should’ carry a Tasmanian brand. Another difficulty is that, neither the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization nor my department has been able to find a suitable ink for stamping to which the purchasers overseas do not object.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral’ this question. In view of unsatisfactory radio reception in the Hunter Valley from- national stations 2NC and 2NA, can he give a definite date on which the longpromised new radiator will come into service? If he cannot do so, will he state the reason for the long delay in completing and handing over this- modern equipment?
– If my recollection is correct, during the last sessional period, the honorable member for Paterson, either in this House or outside, I am not sure which, directed a question to me on this subject, and I think I pointed out that there were certain structural defects in the tower and that the department would not take over the work until the contractors had remedied those defects. I believe I said at that time that it was hoped that the work would be completed by December. I regret, Mr. Speaker, that that target date has- not been achieved. The latest information I have is to the effect that the department is still pressing for the remedying of the defects and that it is not expected that the equipment will be in operation before, possibly, May. I again express regret that that is the position, and I renew my assurance that we shall keep on pressing with a view to avoiding further delay other than that absolutely essential to make sure that the equipment operates properly.
– by leave - The House will recall the tragic events of last year, when large numbers of Tibetan refugees fled from their homeland and found generous asylum in India. There are now about 16,000 refugees there, and the Government of India has assumed full responsibility for their reception, care and maintenance. Plans are being developed for their re-settlement within Indian territory, and some time ago I wrote informally to Mr. Nehru to inquire whether there was any way in which the Australian Government could help. Mr. Nehru replied that our assistance would be valuable, and I have now been informed of a scheme for the re-settlement of a thousand families in the north-east of India where the climate and terrain will be suited to them. I had not fully realized, when I was discussing this problem with Mr. Nehru at our last meeting, that of course these refugees came from high and relatively cold climates and could not be properly re-settled in lower or more tropical areas. The Tibetans will be given the means to build houses, and to clear land and farm and stock it. As well, they will be given training in handicrafts and cottage industry, to bring in a cash income in their slack season.
Accordingly, the Australian Government has made a contribution of £100,000 to the Indian Government to meet part of the costs of this scheme. Our help will thus be directly related to a major humanitarian project which promises a new livelihood to a section of these refugees. Honorable members on both sides of the House and the people of Australia will be glad to know that it has proved to be within our power to give this help and to relieve the Indian Government of a small part of the burden it has so generously assumed.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) owing to his absence from Australia.
Debate resumed from 17th March (vide page 329), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- As the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) indicated when he presented the bill that we are now discussing, its sole purpose is to extend for a period of one year the term of office of the Commissioner of Taxation, Sir Patrick McGovern. The appointment of the Commissioner of Taxation is covered by the Taxation Administration Act, and the term of the appointment is seven years or until the occupant of the position, if he is over 58 years at the date of appointment or re-appointment, reaches the age of 65 years. That condition is covered by section 5 of the act. Apparently, Sir Patrick McGovern will reach the age of 65 years on 3rd April next. The reasons given by the Government for proposing to extend Sir Patrick’s term of office are, first, that Sir Patrick’s experience will be valuable in the deliberations of the recently appointed Commonwealth committee on taxation, and secondly, that as certain administrative changes have been made in the Taxation Branch recently, and as the branch is still in the process of settling down, it is felt that it would be appropriate for Sir Patrick to continue.
We on this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, are of the opinion that if public servants, whether they be high-ranking or low-ranking, are supposed to retire at the age of 65 years, that rule ought to be adhered to, and that no exceptions should be made unless there are very unusual circumstances.
– What about members of Parliament?
– Members of Parliament some day may adopt the view that their services could usefully be terminated when they reach the age of 65, but that is not the case at present. However, the rule in most Public Services in Australia is that officers shall retire when they reach 65. As we know, certain frictions are occasioned if an officer who is due to retire has his term of office extended, thereby blocking the promotion of other officers. Undoubtedly, sometimes there is resentment and a feeling of frustration because of that kind of thing.
In recent times, we have had a few examples of senior officials having their terms of office extended. In 1951, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was amended to provide for the term of office of Chief Conciliation Commissioner Mooney to be extended for, I think, five years. On that occasion, Dr. Evatt, representing the Australian Labour Party, offered no objection to the extension. In 1954, when amendments of the Audit Act were being considered, with a view to extending the term of office of the then AuditorGeneral, Mr. Brophy, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), handling the debate for the Opposition, said that the Opposition did not object to the reappointment of Mr. Brophy for twelve months but did raise objection to a clause that it was proposed to include which would have the effect of providing that future AuditorGenerals also could have their terms extended for twelve months. We moved an amendment, which was defeated because we did not have the necessary numbers to carry it, but at least we affirmed our belief that if there is a rule that officers must retire when they reach the age of 65 years, it should be adhered to, having regard to the frustrations, and sometimes invidious distinctions, which may be caused if the term of office of a particular officer is extended.
To extend the term of office of the chief officer of a department is, in a sense, a reflection on the administration of the department concerned, because it implies that no officer has been trained to succeed him and take over immediately. Secondly, it is an implied indictment of other officers, in that they apparently are not regarded as qualified to take over the chief post in the department. The Commissioner of Taxation has very great responsibilities. He administers not only the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Act but also the pay-roll tax, sales tax, estate and gift duty acts and the legislation imposing one or two smaller levies that are still in existence. Something like £800,000,000 is collected each year through the machinery that comes within the administration of the Commissioner of Taxation.
The Taxation Branch has large offices in each of the capital cities. It employs some thousands of officers throughout the Commonwealth. The administration of such a branch, which deals with almost the whole of the adult working population, is quite a task in itself. I do not think any one has anything to cavil at in respect of the way in which Sir Patrick McGovern has discharged his duties, nor do I think that there is any complaint about the way in which those duties were carried out by his predecessors. I also believe that there will be no complaints about the way in which those duties are carried out in future by Sir Patrick’s successors.
Apparently, for the reasons that have been adduced the Government has not felt that it is appropriate for a successor to take over immediately from Sir Patrick McGovern and therefore this measure comes before us for consideration. The Opposition does not intend to oppose the bill, but we do reaffirm our belief that so long as the prescribed retiring age is 65 years that rule should be adhered to wherever possible. I, for one, do not suggest that it be changed, but at the same time I do not think it is good that people should want to work all their lives. I believe that the cultivation of leisure is just as important in a community as is working for many, many years. I know that there are schools of thought in medical science and elsewhere which believe that men are still active and useful at 65 years of age. That may be so, but it is also true that the particular job in which a person has been occupied all his life is not the only place in which he can be a useful member of society. I hope that rather than raise the retiring age, we shall some day look upon its reduction as being an important social and cultural advantage. I hope that rather than believe that a man’s purpose in life is fulfilled by simply doing a job, we shall learn to appreciate that he can, with advantage, cultivate and pursue other aspects in life during his leisure time.
We wish Sir Patrick McGovern well when he does retire. From the little direct experience I have had of him, I can say that he has been courteous and ready at all times to make available either himself, or through the officers under his administration, any information required by me. I have found no barrier on the part of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to allowing him to give information to the Opposition, and that is as it should be in a parliamentary system. There should be no fear about a full revelation of the facts.
Finally, we of the Opposition hope that next time somebody is to be retired steps will be taken well enough in advance to ensure that his successor is ready to take over on the day that the officer attains the age of 65 years and that the present administrative shuffle that is taking place will be working smoothly by the end of the next twelve months.
.- I rise to support the bill, and I hope to dissipate any impression that this measure owes its origin to the fact that there is no man properly trained to succeed Sir Patrick McGovern. The circumstances are quite exceptional at the moment. They were explained by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in the course of his second-reading speech.
One of the great difficulties in the Taxation Branch is the freeing of sufficient people at the top from administrative duties, in order to participate in a radical revision of the tax system. I am sure that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), who is well acquainted with these matters, recognizes that an overhaul of certain sections of our taxation law, particularly in the income tax field, is long overdue. Quite apart from any changes which modern methods of thinking can suggest, there is the inevitable legacy of patchwork over the years.
It is some years since the main body of income tax law was first introduced. Ever since then, it has been tinkered with year by year to achieve particular results. This process of cleaning up cannot depend entirely on an outside committee such as the one appointed recently by the Government. Inevitably, the revision involves a great deal of work in the Taxation Branch of a character which would not be part of normal routine. I should imagine that in this case, far from resenting the fact that Sir Patrick McGovern is to continue for another year, most of those concerned at the top of the Taxation Branch must be greatly relieved at the thought that he will be there to carry a large part of the heavy burden.
This is an occasion, too, when it is fitting to pay tribute to a great public servant. Sir Patrick McGovern, another eminent Victorian, entered the Public Service in 1911. At the end of this extension of his term of office he will have served for 50 years in the Commonwealth Public Service. Some of his work is well known. He played an outstanding part in the formation of our present sales tax arrangements. During the last few years, he has negotiated a series of double-tax agreements with other countries, all of which involved a great deal of complicated negotiation requiring tact and other qualities additional to the great professional and technical knowledge which he brings to bear on these problems.
In one sense, he is Australia’s champion shearer. We all recognize the efficiency with which we are systematically fleeced each year by Sir Patrick McGovern and his cohorts. The Taxation Branch which he administers is a great part of the Public Service. It employs over 7,000 temporary and permanent officers, and Sir Patrick’s position is one of the great positions in Australia. Probably we shall not get another opportunity to pay appropriate tribute to this outstanding public servant. I have no doubt that Sir Patrick McGovern has seen to it that he will be properly succeeded when the time comes, just as I am confident that in the meantime he will make an invaluable contribution in carrying the exceptional burden that will rest upon him in the next twelve months.
.- At the outset I pay tribute to Sir Patrick McGovern who has been Commissioner of Taxation since 1946. In performing the duties of his high office, he has demonstrated that he is a loyal, efficient, impartial and likeable public servant. He has performed his duties with honour to himself and to the Public Service, and what I propose to say is in no way critical of him, nor is it critical of his administration of the Taxation Branch. My remarks are in no way critical of any of the officers of the department, most of whom I have never met, and with most of whom I have had very few dealings. I rise, Mr. Speaker, because I believe that the Government did not take this House into its confidence in giving its reasons for extending, by twelve months, the term of office of the Commissioner of Taxation, Sir Patrick McGovern. I believe that the Treasurer’s second-reading speech contains excuses rather than the true reasons for the proposed extension of the term of office of Sir Patrick McGovern.
Let us look at the two main reasons that were advanced by the Treasurer. His statement appears at page 329 of “ Hansard “ of 17th March, 1960. He said-
Honorable members will recall that the Government recently appointed a committee to investigate the taxation laws. This committee is at the beginning of its deliberations and it will be looking to the taxation administration for information and other assistance on the matters coming before it. In view of his long experience in this field, it is highly desirable that Sir Patrick McGovern should be available for these purposes.
Sir Patrick has demonstrated that he is a loyal public servant. He is a man who has gone out of his way on many occasions in order to perform his duties, and I feel certain that, irrespective of whether he still held the position of Commissioner of Taxation or had retired on the due date - which is 3rd April, when he reaches the age of 65 years - he would still be willing and available to give evidence and pass on the benefit of his experience and knowledge to the Commonwealth committee on taxation. In any case, if for any reason Sir Patrick McGovern were not available, some other officer of the branch could pass on the information to the committee.
So the first reason given by the Government - that Sir Patrick would have to be available - just does not hold water. Sir Patrick would be available. The Government could make arrangements for him to give evidence, and pay him remuneration for any time that he had to spend before the committee. Above all, had Sir Patrick by then been released from his duties and responsibilities as Commissioner of Taxation, he would be unfettered. He could go before that committee and give it evidence and opinions which, in some instances, could run counter to the opinions of the Government and to the provisions of the act itself. But if he went along as the Commissioner of Taxation, after having received an extension of office of twelve months, he might - I do not say that Sir Patrick would, because I think he is a forthright citizen - be reluctant to give some certain opinion, or pass on some experience, to this committee.
The second reason which was advanced by the Treasurer in his second-reading speech referred to the appointment of an additional Second Commissioner. The Treasurer said -
To ensure the full benefit of this additional office, a major re-organization of administrative functions has been necessary and this will take some time fully to settle down. In these circumstances, it would be inconvenient to have a change in the top administration at this stage.
The re-organization has already taken place. The Second Commissioner has been appointed, and I am informed that he is Mr. E. T. Cain, who previously held the position of Director, Appeals Section. Mr. Cain was appointed by the Cabinet over the heads of many men in the branch who, at the time of the appointment, held higher positions than that occupied by Mr. Cain. I take it that Mr. Cain’s former position is now open. If Sir Patrick were to retire now, all the changes that will eventually have to be made throughout the branch - and perhaps there would be five, six or seven different changes - would have to be made now. With Mr. Cain’s promotion, perhaps a Deputy Commissioner from New South Wales will be appointed to the Appeals Section, or a Deputy Commissioner on a lower salary may want to go into that position, and his position will have to be filled by somebody else. So a reorganization of the top administration of the department is necessary. A similar position will arise in twelve months’ time, when Sir Patrick McGovern does retire. There will still have to be a re-organization of the top jobs in the Taxation Branch. So to say that one of the reasons for the extension of Sir Patrick McGovern’s term is that there has been a re-organization, and that the people concerned need time to settle down, seems to me to be a rather spurious excuse, because in twelve months’ time another reorganization will be necessary anyway, when Sir Patrick’s position has to be filled, with consequent alterations all down the line.
The position of Commissioner of Taxation is one of those to which appointment is made by the Governor-General-in-Council. In other words, the appointment is made on a recommendation by the Cabinet. Does the Cabinet have in mind to take - as is its right - someone from another department of the Public Service, or even someone from outside the Public Service, and appoint him Commissioner of Taxation? Or does it intend to take someone from within the ranks of the Taxation Branch’s officers and appoint him as commissioner in twelve months’ time? If the Government appointed a man from outside the Taxation Branch, it would be appointing him to the position of Commissioner of Taxation at a time when it is possible that the Commonwealth committee on taxation will have made recommendations for rather wide alterations in the taxation administration and in the law itself. It would be making that man Commissioner of Taxation at a time when many recommendations might have to be implemented.
To do that, of course, would be too inconsistent even for this Government, in the light of the reasons given in the Treasurer’s second reading spech. So it is reasonable to assume that the post will be filled from within the Taxation Branch. Whom is the Government going to take from within the ranks? It is reasonable to assume that it will be one of the Second Commissioners who, at present, are Mr. J. D. O’sullivan, who is 62 years of age, and Mr. E. T. Cain, who is about 43 years of age and who was only recently appointed to the position of Second Commissioner of Taxation. Delay in making an appointment in replace ment of Sir Patrick McGovern could mean that whatever chances Mr. O’sullivan has of appointment as commissioner - and I do not know whether he has any - would ba negatived, because he will be 63 years of age next year. So I think it is a reasonable assumption, particularly in view of the fact that the committee on taxation is likely to make some sweeping recommendations, that the appointment of a man 63 years of age, who would have to retire two years later, would be wrong, and would not be accepted by many people who know the circumstances.
If Mr. O’sullivan were to be appointed to the position of commissioner now, he would still have three years to run. Perhaps he could give exactly the same evidence and draw on exactly the same experience as Sir Patrick McGovern could, if the committee required him to give evidence. Apart from that, however, I feel that Sir Patrick would still be available to give the committee the benefit of the experience and knowledge that he possesses, even if he were no longer commissioner. It looks to me as though the reason for the extension of Sir Patrick McGovern’s term is that Mr. Cain, who has only recently been appointed to his present post of Second Commissioner over the heads of half a dozen other officers, is the man who will ultimately get the appointment as commissioner, but that because he has had one rather extensive promotion recently, the Government is reluctant to appoint him now to the position of commissioner. I do not blame the Government for wanting to appoint a younger man than Mr. ©’Sullivan to th; position. I do not blame it for taking from among the officers of the branch the man that it thinks is the most efficient. But I believe that some one should protest about the fact that men who have given years of faithful service to the branch, men who are ambitious public servants and who have made a career of their jobs, and who could perhaps look forward to appointment to the top job some day, are to find that, because of a delay of twelve months in replacing the present commissioner, they will be passed over, and the appointment will b«? given to someone younger than themselves, who will be able to spend a longer time in the position. I feel that extension of the retiring age is wrong in principle; it is certainly wrong to allow it to be extended for some and not for others. I am not arguing against the extension of the retiring age and 1 am not suggesting that the retiring age should be lowered, but, as it is set at the moment compulsorily at 65 years, it should be abided by until it is altered.
The reasons advanced by the Treasurer do not give the true picture behind the extension of Sir Patrick McGovern’s term; and I think it is up to the Treasurer to take Parliament into his confidence and tell honorable members why it is not appropriate at this time to appoint a man in the Taxation Branch or one outside it to the position of Commissioner of Taxation. Is it because the officers in line for appointment at present are too old, too inefficient or not wanted? Or is it because the prospective Commissioner for various reasons cannot be appointed at this stage? The Treasurer should answer these questions and appoint to the position of Commissioner of Taxation the man who is in line for the position at this stage rather than extend Sir Patrick McGovern’s term for another twelve months.
.- in reply - I shall only need to reply briefly, because part of my task has been performed for me by my colleague from Wentworth (Mr. Bury) when dealing with two speeches made from the Opposition side. First, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), representing the Opposition, has indicated that while the Labour Party believes that, generally speaking, there should be close adherence to the policy of retirement taking place at the prescribed age, in exceptional circumstances - the Opposition has been willing to acknowledge these as exceptional circumstances - an extension can be made.
The history of this matter has demonstrated that such instances are rare. The Parliament has only been called upon, over recent years, on a few occasions to increase the term of service of senior officers who otherwise would have retired at 65 years of age; and speaking for the Government, I accept the proposition that an extension should be made only in exceptional circumstances. The real question is whether the current circumstances which have led us to propose an extension of the term of Sir Patrick McGovern, the present Commissioner of Taxation, are exceptional circumstances. The fact that the official spokes man for the Opposition has indicated the approval of the Opposition suggests that consideration by honorable members opposite of the matter has led them to the conclusion that the circumstances are exceptional, and that makes all the more surprising the speech by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart). I suspect that the honorable gentleman has found himself, on this occasion, as on so many others over recent years, taking a view different from that of a majority of those with whom he is associated in the caucus, if “ associated “ is not too comfortable a word. Indeed, if I might say so - not unkindly, I hope - his experiences have developed a degree of suspicion in his mind about other matters which is not warranted in the circumstances.
I assure the honorable member that there is no mystery about this matter at all. The two reasons which I have given are the compelling reasons, in the eyes of the Government, why we felt that in these circumstances and at this time it was desirable that Sir Patrick McGovern should continue for another year. I hasten to add to that my assurance that there was no question in the Government’s mind about the suitability or capacity of the first Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Denis O’Sullivan. I have worked, as Treasurer, with Mr. O’Sullivan, not only while Sir Patrick McGovern has been inside the country carrying out his duties as Commissioner but also while he was overseas and Mr. O’Sullivan acted as Commissioner of Taxation. And I say, without hesitation, that he is entirely capable of carrying out the duties of the senior position, and he has the full confidence of myself, as Treasurer, and the Government generally, in his work. That did not enter into our consideration at all. Had Sir Patrick McGovern not been willing to carry on for the extra year there is no doubt, in my mind, that Mr. O’Sullivan would have been appointed to the succession.
So, we come back to the two reasons which have been given. The honorable member for Lang, when paying a tribute to Sir Patrick McGovern and his ability and his public-spirited attitude suggested that even if he were to go from his present post he would be willing and available for the prime task which we have stated to be the principal reason for asking him to extend his term - the advice and assistance which he will be able to give to this important committee of inquiry into taxation matters. Well, Sir, the first comment I make on that is to ask whether it would be fair for the Government to say to a man who is still very active of mind and very capable in terms of talent, that he is to hold himself at our beck and call. If he is to do that, we should pay him; and if such payment means that we are to pay him what we would pay him as Commissioner of Taxation, what is all the argument about? There is no great harm done in those circumstances if, therefore, he remains on for the extra term.
What must be appreciated is that already there is such pressure on senior officers of the Commissioner of Taxation’s staff that the Government felt it necessary to create a further position of Second Commissioner quite recently; and, apart from the normal work, sufficiently heavy to produce that decision on our part, there is now added this important period of inquiry into the taxation law and its administration. Faced with that problem, we felt this was the sensible thing to do. It is a decision with which not only Sir Patrick McGovern has indicated his full concurrence, but, I am glad to be able to tell the House, Mr. O’sullivan also indicated his own full support for the move that has been made. What with that and the desirability that the situation in which we have these two Second Commissioners should settle steadily as administrative routine - while that is going on - -an extension for a period of one year seemed to us to be a reasonable and sensible thing in the circumstances. I am glad to be able to confirm that the Opposition generally has viewed the matter in that light. I can only give my repeated assurance to the honorable member for Lang that there is nothing sinister or concealed in this move so far as the Government is concerned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 17th March (vide page 333), on motion by Mr. Adermann -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Mr. Speaker, the measure before the Parliament for consideration is, one might say, of minor importance. It makes provision for the enlargement of the Australian Wheat Board by an additional full grower-member to represent Queensland wheat-growers in lieu of the present alternate member. I think the measure is unexceptionable, and the Opposition supports it. I may say that, at about the time the wheat stabilization scheme was being reviewed by this House in 1949, when other marketing authorities were being constituted or reconstituted by this Parliament, a general policy was laid down by the Labour Cabinet of the time that the personnel of each of these authorities should not exceed twelve. I think that, overall, that was a fairly good rule but, from time to time, exceptional circumstances have arisen and that policy has been departed from. The first departure occurred when this Government, I think, increased South Australia’s representation on the Australian Wheat Board from one to two members. Now, of course, it proposes to increase Queensland’s representation from one to two full grower-members, the reason advanced being that Queensland, which was formerly a relatively minor wheat-growing State, is now rapidly becoming a major wheat-growing State. What is perhaps more important is that Queensland and the northern part of New South Wales are growing probably the highest quality wheat in Australia from the point of view of protein content. Naturally, the wheatgrowers of Queensland feel that, under these circumstances, they are entitled to additional representation on the board.
Personally, I do not think this is a matter of major importance. For a long time, while I was responsible for administering the act, during the regime of the Labour Government, I refused requests by the South Australian wheat-growers to enlarge their representation from one to two. I took the view that, in the final analysis, two wheat-growers from South Australia or two wheat-growers from Victoria would have identical interests. Generally speaking, in dealing with a great national problem, geographical boundaries should not be the final factor which determines representation on authorities such as this. There is no difference between the interests of wheatgrowers at Horsham and those residing iri similar country in South Australia.
However, the Government, in its wisdom, has seen fit to propose, in this measure, an additional representative for the State of Queensland. The Opposition, in view of the big increase of wheat acreage and wheat interests in Queensland, does not offer any opposition to the bill. As the Minister in the Chifley Labour Government responsible for piloting the first peace-time wheat stabilization legislation through this Parliament, I should like to say that I am always very interested in the progress of wheat stabilization and1 the operations of the Australian Wheat Board. The board has been in existence for about eleven years, and the act under which it operates has been amended from time to time, but only in minor respects. The central, focal point of the wheat stabilization scheme with which the board has always been concerned has always been a guaranteed price for wheat. A factor in the scheme has been variations in the market price of wheat in any one year. The guaranteed price has applied to a certain quantity of wheat for export in any one year. Another important factor has been the payment of a sum into a stabilization fund for use in periods when export prices may not be satisfactory.
The Wheat Industry Stabilization Act and the Australian Wheat Board have operated for eleven years, during good times and bad times. Throughout that long period, the wheat-growers* of Australia have been assured of security unparalleled in the history of wheat-growing in Australia. When one looks at the somewhat difficult marketing situation that has arisen over the last four or five years, and at the present huge surpluses of wheat throughout the world, one can only say that the wheatgrowers of Australia should say, as one man, “Thank God for the Australian Wheat Board and the wheat stabilization legislation of this country”. One can only imagine what their position might be in the absence of a policy of uniform selling. During periods of huge wheat surpluses, the wheat-buyers, both local and overseas, could - as they formerly did - almost force the wheat-growers to sell to them at any price they cared to offer, and the growers might again be the victims of great firms like John Darling and Son Pty. Ltd., Louis Dreyfus and Company Limited, and some of the other international wheat-buyers and wheat-speculators.
The wheat industry stabilization scheme provides great security to the wheat-growers of this country. It is a tribute to those who have always sponsored and encouraged a policy of organized marketing. That which the growers now enjoy was not achieved without a very long, hard battle. It required a decision on the part of the Commonwealth Government. It required the consent of the six State Governments, which were of different political complexions. It required legislation to be passed by every State Parliament in Australia. Finally, it required the taking of a poll of wheat-growers in each State by the respective State governments, and a majority vote by the wheat-growers of Australia was needed. Those things were all difficult to achieve.
Politics have always been inherent in wheat. Whatever the Government of the day did was wrong. Finally, after a long struggle, success was achieved and one of my successors, at least, has the advantage of a ready-made machine to give to the great wheat-growing industry of Australia a measure of security which, I believe, could not have been obtained by any other means. Because of continuing world wheat surpluses, the fall in the price of our export wheat, and the fact that already in the past season the fund which operates under the wheat stabilization plan, has been eaten into, the Australian Wheat Board, and indeed the Government of this country, for the first time in the history of the operation of the board under the wheat stabilization legislation, may have to face a rather critical period. To carry out the guarantee which a Labour administration first gave to the wheat-growers, the Government may have to expend anything from £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 from Consolidated Revenue to ensure that the wheat-growers receive the guaranteed price. However, if this must be done, it will be a cheap price for the people of Australia to pay for the security and the help that has been accorded to one of the industries which provides Australia’s wealth.
I repeat that the Opposition supports the proposed .amendment. After all, the wheatgrowers will pay the additional cost which will be involved because, under the operation of the scheme, they meet administrative expenses.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has indicated that this bill, which seeks to increase the representation of Queensland on the Australian Wheat Board from one member to two, is not a matter of major importance. The total representation on the board will be fifteen members. If the size of the board has to be increased, it is right that the additional place should be filled by Queensland, the one State in Australia which is really doing the right thing in the production of wheat, lt is producing high quality wheat which is in ready demand both by millers in Australia and by buyers overseas.
However, I cannot see that increasing the size of the board will make any appreciable difference to the actions or the efficiency of the board. Parkinson’s law states that when the membership of a committee exceeds twelve the committee tends towards inefficiency, and Parkinson, I think, is now regarded as an expert on these matters. However, I believe that the Australian Wheat Board requires not some minor alteration of this nature but a complete overhaul. I do not think that any one can be very happy with the production and marketing of wheat in Australia to-day. About three years ago, because of the situation which existed, the then Minister for Primary Industry - he is now the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) - set up two committees, one to inquire into matters associated with the production of wheat and the other to inquire into marketing. This division of duties was made because the production side was mainly in the hands of State departments of agriculture, and the marketing side was handled by the Australian Wheat Board and was, therefore, more the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
I do not know what the Minister .had in mind when he set up these two committees, but I should have thought that he expected to receive some recommendations from them fairly quickly - I do not mean within a few weeks, but perhaps in six months - on which the Government could base a complete review of, and alteration in, the system of marketing Australian wheat. Unfortunately, although it is nearly three years since the committees were set up, neither has produced a report which has been made public. I understand that the production committee has completed its work but, because the wheat board has refused to sanction the report and make it available to the public, the people still are completely in the dark as to what recommendations have been made.
I am not an expert on wheat-growing, but I agree with the honorable member for Lalor that we have a rather critical period ahead of us in relation to the marketing of our wheat because of the enormous surpluses which are held by the United States. If Australia wants to retain its share of the market, it must go out and sell. Our present system of grading and marketing must be overhauled. The f.a.q. system has been in operation in Australia for many years, but it does not now meet modern requirements. I am sure that the honorable member for Lalor will agree with me in that regard.
I have discussed this problem with wheat millers who have agreed wholeheartedly that because a parcel of f.a.q. Australian wheat may run anything from 7 per cent, to 17 per cent, protein, it is not possible to make from it as good flour as can be made if the quality of the wheat is known. We must find how we can encourage Wheat-growers, first, to increase the protein content of their wheat, and secondly, to market the product in such a way that the huyer will know what he is getting. We would then be able to say, “This is hard wheat which has 12 per cent, protein plus “ or “ This is semi-hard wheat “ or “ This is soft wheat”, as the case may be. Soft wheat in its right place can be very valuable for biscuit making, for example. The main thing is that when we market the wheat we should know what we are selling and the buyer should know what he is buying.
Unless we take some action along these lines, more buyers will turn to the better wheats which are produced in Canada and in the United States. In fact, we have already lost considerable markets in the Far East. I do not entirely blame the wheat board for this because it has been the result very largely of the Point Four marketing plan of the United States Department of Agriculture under which considerable quantities of wheat are dumped on uneconomical terms and payment is accepted over a considerable period or, in some cases, there is no demand for payment because the sale goes towards the further development of the recipient countries. We shall only regain the overseas markets which we have lost if the wheat board goes out and sells our products.
The Minister should tell us when the relevant committee will make its recommendations, and whether he knows what these recommendations will be. It should not be beyond the bounds of human ability to devise some scheme under which we can separate the various qualities of wheat in Australia. Some systems are already in use. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) knows that in South Australia the wheat is divided into, I think, semi-hard and semi-soft grades by selecting certain varieties which grow in certain areas and deciding that a particular variety shall be kept apart as a semi-hard or a semi-soft wheat. That system has worked better than has the f.a.q. system, but unfortunately a severe drought has hindered its operation and has prevented it from working as well as it would have under normal circumstances. But there is no doubt that even this rather crude system of grading is better than no system at all. The first thing that could be done is to separate or segregate wheat according to varieties and the districts in which it is grown. People trained to recognize varieties of wheat at sight could separate the different wheats when they arrived at the silos. What is called the Zeleny test is now coming more and more into use. This gives a quick, although not a really accurate, means of determining the protein content of wheat. It works remarkably well. With this sedimentation test, in something like two minutes, an operator - he does not need to be a skilled operator - can determine approximately the protein content of a wheat, or, in other words, its hardness. This method is already in use in one mill in Western Australia, and in time it will probably be in use generally throughout Australia. Another test is known, I think, as the Biuret test. I have mentioned these tests only to show that there are various ways in which wheat can be segregated.
If we want to increase the protein content of our wheats, we must separate them. But I cannot help feeling that at the moment the Australian Wheat Board is not in favour of segregation or separation. It appears to me to have stalled on the proposal which was put to it by a previous Minister for Primary Industry. Any committee that is anxious to go ahead, make recommendations and get things done should be able to make up its mind within three years. I know that the Minister disagrees with me in this, but I feel that the Chairman of the Wheat Board himself is strongly opposed to segregation. He is in favour of the f.a.q. system, under which he has operated all his life. I am sure that if the Minister for Primary Industry were to make inquiries he would find that the main opposition to any form of segregation has come from the Chairman of the Wheat Board, Sir John Teasdale himself.
I think that the time has come when the Government must take action to see that the Wheat Board is improved and that it really does try to see that we produce what is demanded by our customers. We have been going on under the same old system for a long time. Let us get away from that system. Let us bring Australian wheat up to the highest standard in the world. The standard of our woolmarketing system is the highest in the world. In the United States I have seen wool shorn from a sheep, rolled up in a bundle and labelled “ Ewe “. This is the way in which they class wool in the United States. Our wheat-classing methods are just about as futile as that. Unless we can pay people for producing the better qualities of wheat, we will not get any results.
Quite frankly, I do not think that a person of the age of the present Chairman of the Wheat Board is ever likely to change his views. I think it was a previous
Speaker of the House, the late Mr. Archie Cameron, who said that no one alters for the better after he is 50. All I can say is that the present Chairman of the Wheat Board certainly will not be able to alter his views on this subject.
– He was 50 a quarter of a century ago.
– To use the parlance of primary industry, I do not know whether he is 78 off, or rising 79, or whether he is likely to be cast for age. I feel that the time has come when the only way in which to get active salesmanship is to put on to the board a person who appreciates the need to improve the methods of segregating our wheat - a person who realizes that the wheat-growers should be paid for what they produce and who will see to it that the wheat we send overseas is sold according to its quality. I was told fairly recently that in a parcel of Australian wheat that arrived in South Africa, in one bag at the bottom of the bin there were twelve varieties of wheat.
We have an awful lot of varieties of wheat in Australia, and we have a lot of awful varieties. One of the worst features of the present situation is that the protein content of our wheat has not improved at all in recent years. The samples of State f.a.q. wheat are exactly as they were some years ago. In New South Wales, and possibly in other States, there has been an increase in the acreage devoted to some really bad wheats. For example, there is a variety of wheat called1 Glenwari. The department in New South Wales has recommended that this should not be grown, yet the acreage put down to this wheat is increasing every year, just because it fills the bag. So long as the wheat-grower is paid on the basis of the amount he produces, so long will he continue to produce the bag-filler.
Without wishing in any way to belittle the excellent work that has been done in the past by the present Chairman of the Wheat Board, I must say that I feel that the time has come when the Government should consider appointing a young, active businessman to take over this job. He would not necessarily need to be a wheat-grower. It might be better, from some points of view, if he were not a wheat-grower. Perhaps somebody of the calibre of the late Minister for Defence, Sir Phillip McBride, could1 be persuaded to accept the job.
– You have said they are no good over 50 years of age.
- Sir Philip McBride could give Sir John Teasdale twenty years. It is possible to grow good quality wheat in this country, but we need somebody to show us how to grow it. Good quality wheat is grown in certain areas of Australia, and it could be grown in other areas. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) was kind enough to give me a small bag of Gabo wheat, which I put on an area of land1 which had been under improvement for a considerable time. When I had grown this little crop of wheat, I had it tested and I found that the protein content was 13.2 per cent. The Victorian miller to whom I sent the wheat told me that the millers would throw their hats in the air if they could only get wheat of that sort. He said that his customers were on his back all the time because of the poor quality of the flour that he was producing, but he was, so to speak, being asked to make bricks without straw. He could not make good flour unless he got good quality wheat.
I hope that the Government will consider this matter and that it will appoint one of the 10,000,000 Australians to do the job that must be done. If it cannot find a suitable Australian, it should go elsewhere to find an able man to implement a scheme of wheat segregation in Australia.
.- I do not propose to make a speech on the wheat industry generally, but I do propose to make one or two references to the matter which is specifically before the Chair - that is, the proposed amendment of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act to give further representation on the Australian Wheat Board to Queensland wheat producers.
Queensland had experience of wheat stabilization before that activity came into the federal sphere. The wheat industry in that State obtained a measure of stability after the course of the 1914-18 war. After 1939, under the National Security Regulations, wheat pools were established on a Commonwealth-wide basis, and subsequently, in 1948, legislation was introduced to stabilize the wheat industry. That legislation is still in force to-day. lt is obvious that the present measure is only a belated recognition of the position that Queensland occupies in the production of wheat in Australia. As the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) has said, the quality of the wheat produced in Queensland is very high. According to information supplied to me, it is the highest quality wheat grown in the Commonwealth. Reference to the Commonwealth Year Book will show, if we take the period 1957-58 and compare it with the period 1934-39, that the number of wheat farms in the whole of Australia has decreased by 25 per cent. In Queensland the number has increased by 50 per cent. The area under production in 1956-57, which is the latest, figure given in the 1959 “Year Book”, compared with the period of 1929-39 decreased by nearly 50 per cent, on an Australia-wide basis but in Queensland it increased by 33 per cent. During the same period the Australian average production decreased by approximately 42 per cent, but increased in Queensland by approximately 50 per cent. The Government is always screaming about production as a means of fighting inflation. The average yield per acre throughout Australia in the period from 1929-1939 was 11.8 bushels but by 1957-58 it had decreased to 1 1 bushels. In Queensland the average decreased from 14.9 bushels per acre in 1929 to 1939 to 14.5 in 1957-58.
There is every justification for the introduction of this legislation. Reference to the “ Year Book “ indicates that although this is belated, Queensland is entitled to another representative on the Australian Wheat Board. This will make its representation equal to that of other wheat-producing States. I have pleasure in supporting the bill.
– Like the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) I do not propose to give an address on the Australian wheatgrowing industry but I want to say that T agree with the purpose of the bill, which is to appoint an additional member to the Australian Wheat Board to represent Queensland. Although belated, this is a move in the right direction because, as the honorable member for Kennedy said,
Queensland has been and is a very important wheat producing State. What we may have lacked in quantity of production we have made up in quality.
Queensland wheat has the highest protein content of any wheat produced in the Commonwealth. For that reason we have found no difficulty whatsoever at any time in giving a guarantee of the quality of the wheat sold overseas. When there has been a surplus of wheat in Australia we in Queensland have been able to sell twice as much of our wheat, because of its higher protein content, as that produced in other States. This is a point which has to be taken into consideration in any future marketing policies. Every effort should be made to increase the quality of our average product offered for sale overseas particularly in the case of coarse grains.
The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) mentioned certain things about the segregation of wheat and the payment of quality premiums. For the honorable member’s benefit, I want to point out that Queensland and, I believe to some extent Western Australia, have had the longest experience of wheat pool marketing in Australia. This system was established many years ago. Queensland has always adopted the policy of quality premium and a grading system and this has worked very well. The system has benefited the growers, and the flour-milling industry has readily supported it. By way of illustration, I mention that when the Australian Wheat Board came into existence and a quality premium was set, the flour-millers were quite happy to pay it because they knew that they could get more loaves per short ton of Queensland flour than from the flour produced from wheat grown in other States. The Queensland growers have enjoyed this benefit ever since, although at the moment, Queensland is part and parcel of the Australian Wheat Board.
I agree to a certain extent with the honorable member for Farrer with regard to overseas marketing. From my observations overseas I believe that the way our product is presented in some parts of the world is not all that could be desired. Some years ago in Hong Kong, when some of our exports were sent there on an f.a.q. basis we were told by the merchants that they did not mind our wheat but they did not like the rubbish that came with it. It contained a high percentage of inert matter.
This is something which the Australian Wheat Board may well take into consideration and impose a penalty on growers who do not present their product in the first place to the board in a decent condition. One unfortunate weakness under a commodity board system is that the products of inefficient growers are mixed with the good quality product and this does not always give the best impression. An ideal commodity board is one which is completely free from the interference of politicians and can carry out its duties as it wishes. If a producer does not present his product in reasonably good condition for overseas marketing the board should have power to impose a penalty or reject his product. The board should not have to accept a product of inferior quality because some one is able to influence the board by pushing the barrow of an inefficient producer.
I have been a member of the Queensland Wheat Board for 25 years and therefore can claim to have a little knowledge of what can happen in the activities of commodity boards. I have known of inefficient producers being carried. I do not suggest that all producers are inefficient but the Australian system of selling products on an f.a.q. basis encourages inefficiency. The buyers are paying for quantity rather than quality and this sometimes results in a lowgrade article being offered.
In the last records I have been able to locate of the protein content of wheat exported from Australia I find that the rate went down as low as 4 per cent, for a fairly large quantity. In Queensland last year the highest protein content was 15 per cent. Some growers, in a wheat-growing competition, produced wheat with an average protein content of 13 per cent, and 14 per cent. I was interested in this because my son happened to produce on my property wheat of the highest protein content entered.
I applaud the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) for bringing down this measure to provide for the appointment of an extra representative from Queensland to the Australian Wheat Board. The sole representative from Queensland for quite a number of years has had a pretty big job to do. I am not suggesting that he has not carried out his duties efficiently but he has not been able to travel to Melbourne every fortnight and represent his State as fully as he would have wished. That is a long distance for him to travel. This additional member will be of great assistance to him. I have an idea of the man whom the Queensland board has in mind to recommend and when the Minister appoints him to the board he will do an excellent job. This is a move in the right direction and the two members from Queensland will be able to make valuable contributions to the working of the Australian Wheat Board to the benefit of both the board and the whole of Australia.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, first of all, I want to say that I entirely support the appointment of an additional member to the Australian Wheat Board. It is my candid opinion that the members of the board are doing a remarkable job. I rise on this occasion especially to pay a tribute to a member of the board who died last Tuesday - Mr. C. T. Chapman, of Moonta, in South Australia. There is no doubt in my mind that this gentleman hastened his end by the diligent, energetic and thorough manner in which he applied himself to his work. Cecil Chapman was a man of fine character, high integrity and great ability, and he never spared himself in the work to which he was called. Mr. Shanahan, his colleague from South Australia, also, in my opinion, is performing very fine service.
Well do I remember the formation of the Australian Wheat Board. I think that every honorable member in this chamber appreciates the fact that many wheatfarmers owe their success and their remaining on deck as farmers to the able manner in which the board has carried out its duties. I feel sure - in fact, I am certain - that, had the marketing of wheat been left in the hands of the merchants, the farmers, not only in South Australia, but throughout the Commonwealth, would never have survived.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I wholeheartedly support the additional appointment to the board. I think the increased membership will be for the good of the great wheat industry. I close by tendering my deepest sympathy to the family of the late Cecil Chapman.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I support the bill. No one can have any doubt, especially after hearing the impressive wisdom which has fallen from the lips of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe), that the increased influence of Queensland on the membership of the Australian Wheat Board is likely to be healthy and invigorating. Therefore, the House should welcome the appointment of a third representative from a State which sedulously works for high quality.
We are not at this juncture, of course, debating whether our present system of organization in the wheat industry is a good one. I think we agree that it is, for it is a vast improvement on the bad old days. However, we need to ask ourselves whether the present arrangement is, in all respects, the best, and whether the functioning of the board could not be improved. Observations that I have heard made about the fair average quality system - commonly known as the f.a.q. system - of marketing wheat, and about many other aspects of the wheat industry, by both good farmers and other people with whom I have come in contact over the years, have inevitably raised doubts in my mind as to whether all is as well as it should be.
This is a matter that concerns not only those who are directly interested in growing wheat but also those who eat wheat and its products in any form - and that includes all of us. Furthermore, there is a big potential liability to the taxpayer by virtue of the work of the Australian Wheat Board, and, from that angle at least, the House should examine the issues very carefully and give to the board the attention which it really deserves. Since we are now discussing legislation directly relating to the Australian Wheat Board, I suggest to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) that this board be placed on the same basis as are other boards which deal with primary products, in that it should report to the Parliament. I suggest that the Minister concerned should table the board’s annual report in the Parliament. This is a consideration which may have been overlooked, or there may be some special reason why such a course should not be adopted. However, I ask the Minister to examine the possibility so that, in future, if there is no objection to the course which I have suggested, the board’s report shall be laid on the table in this House and in the other place in the way in which the reports of other boards are tabled.
– That happens only where the Treasury incurs a liability and not where a board spends money that it has itself provided.
– The Government appoints members of the Australian Wheat Board, and I presume that, at some stage, it spends government money. If there is an objection to the course which I have suggested, perhaps the Minister will be good enough to explain what the objection is.
– The wheat belongs to the wheat-growers.
– That may be, but there is also a big potential liability to the taxpayers - a liability in which the whole industry is interested. This is an important matter. At present, an honorable member who wants a copy of the report of the Australian Wheat Board cannot go to the Clerk of Papers of this House and get him to pull one out. The Clerk may have an odd copy, but that is a matter of luck. I think that this is an important issue which should be brought before the House.
With respect to the constitution of the Australian Wheat Board, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think there is probably a great deal in what the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) said. Are we keeping up with the times? I looked1 up the members of the board in “Who’s Who” in the Parliamentary Library this morning, and I found that four of the eight surviving non-government members are over the age of 65, at which age public servants are compelled to retire. We are obliged to pass a special act in order to allow a public servant to carry on after attaining that age, and the House passed such a measure this afternoon. The members of the board may be very valuable but, after all, four of them are over what is regarded as the normal retiring age. Two of these four are over 70 years of age. It may not be necessary to retire these men formally, because, after all, some people are a lot more use at 70 than are others at 50. However, it may be as well for those who elect members to the board to take more account of youth than they have done previously. I know that, when people are appointed to boards like this, nobody wants to treat them roughly and push them off. But we must remember that times change, and perhaps we can find some means by which these people can move on to retirement lightly and without any hard feelings.
I turn now to another matter. The Australian Agricultural Council, I think approximately three years ago, called for two reports concerning the wheat industry - one on production and one on marketing - but still, apparently, no report on marketing has materialized. The marketing of wheat is of great importance to this country. The long delay in the making of this report suggests that somebody has something to hide and does not want a full disclosure of all the facts. I hope that these suspicions are entirely unfounded, but it seems to me that a report on such an important matter should not be forthcoming only after a delay of three years or more.
My understanding of the f.a.q. system is that, desirable though reform may be, it would be costly. New methods of testing would have to be adopted, and new installations would be necessary for the handling of different varieties of wheat. Additional expense in other matters also would be involved. This is not entirely a clear-cut issue, but the evidence suggests that the f.a.q. system does not completely meet the needs of the present. In respect of almost every product of modern society, the tendency over the years has been to specialize in different products, which are classified and produced for a particular market. It is true that a lot of goodquality wheat of high protein content is used in some areas, but, elsewhere, there are uses for soft wheats with a lower protein content. Inevitably, modern machinery is developed to deal with a particular variety of wheat, and, if the whole system is not directed primarily towards the production of a particular type of a specified quality for a particular market, the wheatgrowers’ returns are likely to be lower than they should be over a period. As has been pointed out, the wheat belongs to the wheat-growers, but we all have an interest in seeing that, over the years, the wheatgrower receives the highest possible return for his wheat.
As I have pointed out, in every field, production is becoming more specialized. If we adhere to a system of growing and marketing wheat which places a premium on quantity rather than quality and which does not ensure careful sifting of varieties and the cultivation in the right districts of particular types of wheat for particular markets, as is insisted on in Canada, the consequences may be serious - perhaps not this year or next year, but certainly over the long period ahead. If we do not adopt practices in line with modern trends, our wheat industry, which is highly important to us, will decline in relative importance.
In conclusion, I suggest that all that has been said to-day indicates that the infusion of new blood from Queensland into the Australian Wheat Board is likely to be particularly healthy. I support the bill.
.- As one who has been interested in the wheat industry for many years, I wish to contribute to this debate. It is not my intention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to depart very widely from the terms of the bill to speak on subjects such as wheat research, stabilization or even segregation. This debate could develop very widely if we touched on those angles. I would prefer to address my remarks on this bill to the Australian Wheat Board itself. Some honorable members have referred to some of the individual members of the board. I believe it is my duty to pay a compliment to the board and to its chairman, Sir John Teasdale. Some reference has been made to the age of members of the board, but I believe that a man’s age is not so important as the ability of the individual to do his job thoroughly. I think we should congratulate the members of the board on their work.
Sir John Teasdale was a member of the original Wheat Board which was formed in 1939. With the exception of a period of about eighteen months, he has been a member of the board almost continuously. From memory, I believe he was appointed chairman in 1950, and he has held that position ever since. From New South Wales, we have Messrs. J. P. Cass and E. G. Hoy. The Victorian representatives of the wheat-growers are Messrs. W. N. Pearse and A. C. Everett. The Western Australian representatives are Messrs. D. W. Maisey and McDougall. The South Australians were Messrs. C. S. Chapman and T. Shanahan but unfortunately, there is v. vacancy through the sudden death last week of Mr. Chapman. The Queensland member is Mr. Brimblecombe, who is not my colleague in this House - the honorable member for Maranoa - but a close connexion of his. The member with commercial experience is Mr. R. C. Tilt, and Mr. R. P. Minifie represents the flour mill owners. Mr. C. W. Browne is the finance member and Mr. W. P. Taylor represents the employees. All these gentlemen are doing a first-class job and should be congratulated.
As I said earlier, the Wheat Board began to function in September, 1939, when it took over the balance of the wheat from the previous harvest comprising about 18,000,000 bushels. Since that date it has received wheat from growers throughout Australia at an average rate of 150,000,000 bushels a year. The board’s difficulties are complicated by the fact that the harvest is not a regular quantity and the crop is subject to drought. It ranges from a yield as low as 63,000,000 bushels in 1940-41 to more than 200,000,000 bushels in 1 947-48. It is obvious, therefore, that the board has difficulty in placing the wheat at its disposal on regular markets.
Prices have also been somewhat irregular; they have ranged from quite high rates to a comparatively low figure. Unfortunately, price levels are falling rather than increasing, as one would expect in the case of other commodities. In 1952-53, which was a year of peak prices, the return to growers, less freight, was 14s. Id. a bushel whereas in 1955-56 it was down to lis. 3d. Honorable members will realize that, so far as prices are concerned, the wheat-growers are not contributing to the current inflation about which we have heard so much.
The Australian Wheat Board faces many difficulties from time to time. One is storage. In some years, there is a terrific carry-over. In 1955-56, the Wheat Board had a carry-over of 140,000,000 bushels, but the following year it was down to 77,000,000 bushels, and I believe the figures for last year are even lower. I mention these figures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because this is one of the board’s biggest problems. Last year, the season in South Australia was poor and I understand the yield there was about 9,000,000 bushels. South Australia consumes about 5,000,000 bushels of wheat, so that State still had more than 4,000,000 bushels to export. The problem there is that a quantity of the wheat is grown on Eyre’s Peninsula and there is some difficulty in transporting wheat from that district to the eastern part of the State. As a result, the Wheat Board finds now that it will have to send wheat from Victoria to South Australia to keep the mills going in the eastern part of that State.
The sole Queensland member of the board has been faced with some difficulty in travelling from Queensland to Melbourne every fortnight to attend board meetings. Only a few days ago, the chairman of the board referred to that problem. Although the Queensland member has a deputy to attend meetings in his absence, he finds that, because his deputy is not meeting the board regularly, he cannot keep closely in touch with the various problems confronting the board from time to time. As I said earlier, I do not wish to prolong the debate. Quite a number of other speakers would like to contribute to it. I conclude by saying again that we should commend the present members of the Australian Wheat Board, irrespective of their ages. I still believe that we have some very efficient men on the board, and I commend the inclusion of a second member from Queensland.
.- It is very interesting to note the general acceptance on both sides of the House of the policy that there should be an additional Queensland member of the Australian Wheat Board. It is also interesting to note on all sides a general acceptance of the principle of wheat stabilization and orderly marketing as a proper development of our marketing system. I should like to make quite clear that I, too, appreciate the work that is being done by the board and approve of the system that is in operation now. I agree also with the statements of the honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) as to the need for an improvement in the f.a.q. system of wheat selling. But I know that they, too, realize that the implementation of such an improvement, although we all agree on the need for it, would bring many real problems with it. Only an expert committee should be given the responsibility of deciding whether or not the change should be made. We all recognize that it would help us to sell our wheat but it is not easy for a layman to measure the cost.
I should like to pay a tribute to the board, and especially to the late Cecil Chapman, whose death creates a big gap in South Australian representation on the board. He certainly gave a great deal of his life to the work of wheat marketing. Those of us who knew him realize that the enthusiasm and ability and, if I may say so, the fighting spirit, that he brought to the board were of great service to South Australian wheat-growers. I pay tribute also to the other board members who, at great sacrifice to themselves, devote much of their time to this work. I know many of them personally and I know that this work, which they regard as a duty, costs their pockets dearly. Those of us who are intimately connected with the industry acknowledge that fact.
A particular matter that I desire to raise is related to the manner in which the members of the Australian Wheat Board and of other producer boards are selected. It is generally accepted as a principle that boards handling the sale of commodities should be elected by the growers of those commodities. The argument is clear. The wheat belongs to the wheat-grower, who lias a vital interest in its marketing. Therefore, in a democratic country, it is only right that the responsibility should run back along the line and that the board should be elected by the growers.
We see this principle in operation in the Australian Wool Bureau. This bureau spends the money that is given to it by the wool-growers and, because of that, it is regarded as proper, under this democratic system, that the growers should elect the members of the bureau. So the principle is applied to .the board’s handling the marketing of wheat, wool and other commodities. With this principle, I think, all of us agree, but we must realize that it is a principle for which we pay a price. This is a matter to which I should like the House to give some consideration. Although there is a facile argument, which I will not say is wrong, as to what should happen, I want the House to realize that by following this course we often pay a price in the form of a sacrifice of efficiency.
As honorable members know, the Australian Wheat Board is an elective board. Representatives of South Australia and, I think. Victoria, are elected by a ballot of growers. The representatives of Western Australia and Queensland are selected from the State wheat boards elected by the growers of those States. As I say, this is in accordance with a proper, democratic procedure, but we ought to realize that costs are involved and that the system has not always worked well. I come right out in the open and say that although the Australian Wool Bureau is elected in this way it has not worked well. There are numerous improvements that many of us would like to see in the work done by the bureau, which has the virtual control of a large section of the activities of our biggest industry. As one who has some knowledge of the Australian Wool Bureau, I say that it is not a good example of the elective system of appointing commodity boards.
I am not saying that the Australian Wheat Board has not worked well, but we ought to be clear that if we elect people in this way we run into real problems. I shall give an illustration of one of them. A week ago I was talking to a high official of an organization that represents a section of primary producers. He and I, and other officers of this organization had a most interesting conversation, at the end of which I said to him, “ That was a most interesting and stimulating talk for me. You taught me a lot. I am only surprised that the standard of intelligence that you have exhibited to-day is not always obvious in your public statements.” His comment was quite illuminating. He said, “The reason is that in many cases we have to get public support in order to carry our members with us, and because of that we often have to say things which we know are not correct but which we think will appeal to the militant section of our members. For that reason we are often forced into taking a false position.”
That can happen with elective commodity boards. There may be a fight between two organizations, as indeed we see in the Australian Wool Bureau. One will try to win the approval of a section of the industry, not in order to do what it thinks is right but in order merely to get the support of that section. That is part of the price we pay for the elective board system. There is also the pressure for election within the individual organization. We all know that a man may be elected to a board not because he is the best man for the job but because he has the loudest voice or the slickest tongue. We must realize that if we are to have commodity boards elected by growers - and we all agree that we should have them - as the management of the business of a board has become a skilled business and is likely to become more so in future, business training will be needed to do the job well, and the man who has training of that kind is not always thrown up by the elective system. We may get the man who has been active in the fights of the industry but not so active in the thinking of the industry.
There is another way to approach this question, and this approach is exemplified in the appointment of members of the Australian Meat Board. The members of this board are nominated by the Minister. I would not say that the meat board is a perfect example of the way a nominated board should work, but I believe that a nominated board is more likely to get a man with the necessary training for the work than is an elected board. However, with nominated boards we are likely to run foul of organizations that feel they have a right to sell their own produce. If the nominated board system is adopted, provision must be made for compulsory retirement. That, in some instances, presents difficulties. Because of personal feelings and a disinclination to retire an old man, a Minister may not feel disposed to retire a man who is too old for the job. However, I believe that with the nominating system, provision for revolving appointments and compulsory retirement should be made.
I do not suggest that the elective system is wrong, but we must realize that if we intend to continue using it, we must have behind it a more effective rural organization than we now have. We must face the fact that divisions that now occur in our industries, often as the result of pressure to gain popularity, are costing us very dearly. We must tackle this problem as it has been tackled in other countries. After the war, the rural industry groups in Great Britain began to quarrel bitterly amongst themselves. They came together under Sir James Turner, who brought to rural industries a degree of stability that they had never known before. With our problems in Australia, particularly with our need to increase the value of exports, it is vitally important that we look at our rural industry groups with a critical eye. They must realize above all else that if they are to play their part in our economy, not merely for the benefit of sectional interests but for the benefit of the whole economy, they must have a strong organization. The National Farmers Union of Australia encountered many troubles in becoming established. It finds difficulty in obtaining the financial support that it needs and even more difficulty in convincing people that they should give their time to it.
I am almost certain that this elective system is right. But it needs behind it a very strong and efficient farmers’ union with an effective secretariat. The farmers need well-paid people to do the work that they cannot do themselves. For instance, it would be difficult for a farmer such as myself to examine with clarity many of the economic problems that face us, and there is a pressing need for us to have the same kind of expert secretariat as the National Farmers Union has set up in Great Britain. What worries me particularly is that, as soon as a suggestion is made that men of high calibre be sought and adequately paid for their services, farmers’ organizations are inclined to adopt the narrow view that they cannot afford to pay such men. But there is a need for such an organization and we cannot afford not to pay for the best brains to help us in the presentation of cases not only to this Government but to organizations overseas.
A great deal of time and ability is needed to do this job well. My regret is that, in many instances, it is not being done well. I do not say that the Australian Wheat Board is not doing its job well, but I know that other commodity groups are not doing the job well. We who represent farmers and others intimately connected with rural interests should be active to ensure that the job is done well. It is not sufficient for the Government to sit back and say that it will not take any action until the various groups agree. In. my opinion, the time has now arrived when the Government should say to rural industry groups that are not functioning as they should function or attending to their problems as they should, “ If you are not able to do the job as it should be done, we are willing to help “.
Having made those few general remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I now state that I intend to support the bill. This is something that we all have at heart, and I want to make clear that my general criticisms about industry groups are certainly not directed at the Australian Wheat Board as such.
.- The composition and the work of the Australian Wheat Board have come under scrutiny during this debate, and I cannot understand why it should be criticized. In. my experience, it has done a very good job. People are inclined to become confused about the task of the board. Its task is the marketing of wheat. Admittedly, it can influence certain trends in wheat-growing and so on, but its main task is the marketing of wheat and I believe that this job has been well done. Its chairman, is a world authority on the marketing of wheat and the New South Wales wheat-growers’ representatives, Mr. Cass and Mr. Hoy, are firstclass men.
Wheat-growing is important in our economy because it is one of our great primary industries and the earnings from the export of wheat add to our overseas balances. I think it may be worth while to say a little in praise of the wheat-farmer. We are inclined to forget that he is doing a very good job for this country. Let us examine the home consumption price of wheat for the last four years. The homeconsumption price is based on the cost of production. The present price is 14s. lOd. a bushel - I am excluding the special charge of 2d. a bushel for freight to Tasmania. Last year the price was 14s. 6d., the previous year 14s. 2d., and in the year before that it was 14s. Hd. The increase in the last four years has amounted to 8id., or about 5 per cent., during a period when costs have been constantly rising. The wheat-farmer has been paid on a cost-of- production basis, and I think he is to be praised for his efforts in keeping costs down. But we must not forget that he is also required to subsidize the Australian consumers of wheat to a substantial extent. The first payment on the last wheat crop was lis. a bushel, out of which the farmers in New South Wales have to pay slightly more than ls. 9d. a bushel for freight, which represents about 10 per cent, of the final home-consumption price.
We often hear slighting remarks from Opposition supporters about the farmers, or the hill-billies, as they are sometimes termed. We hear these remarks not only about the wheat-growers, but also many other kinds of farmers. We hear these remarks made about the dairy-farmers, particularly in reference to the subsidy on butter. But I am now pointing out that the wheat-farmers have to pay about 10 per cent, of the home-consumption price for the transport of their product to market. If the trade unionists had to bear such an impost, with a subsidy of this kind to be financed from their wages, one can imagine the howl that would be heard from honorable members on the opposite side of this House.
Not only does the Opposition in this House attack the wheat-farmers; the Labour Government of New South Wales attacks them also. The price of wheat is determined well before the wheat-growing season ends. During the season, and before all the wheat has been transported, the Labour Government of New South Wales increases railway freight charges. Who has to meet that increase? The farmer. Not only does the Labour Government increase the freight charges on wheat; it increases them also on such commodities as superphosphate, which is very important in the growing of wheat in the southern areas. In the northern wheatgrowing districts superphosphate is not used, but it is necessary in the southern areas for the production of wheat. This is where the New South Wales Labour Government displays a most unbusinesslike outlook. We know that superphosphate increases production, and surely it would be a business proposition to allow superphosphate to be transported at the lowest possible cost, even, indeed, if it meant incurring a loss, because if superphosphate were used in greater quantities the extra amounts received in freight charges for the greater quantities of commodities produced would more than make up for the concessions granted.
The farmer is constantly fighting against increasing costs, and his returns are based on world market prices. Honorable members opposite should understand something about the problems that members of the Country Party are constantly recounting in this Parliament. Let me show the House the effect of primary production on the economy of rural districts. Considerable delays have at times been experienced in the payment of cheques by the Wheat Board. In New South Wales there have recently been delays of up to two or three months. Every storekeeper in every rural town has felt the effects of the delay in the payment of cheques for wheat. That is why we are continually saying that rural industry supports, not only the farmers, but also all other people who live in the country. When honorable members opposite refer to the Country Party as a farmers’ party, they are using a complete misnomer, because we represent all the people who live in the country. All these people have to pay railway freight charges on goods coming and going. The farmers pay freight charges on primary products sent to the consumers in the cities, and they also pay other freight charges on the goods that are brought back. I suggest, therefore, that it is time that honorable members opposite looked at some of the matters I am now putting forward, instead of concentrating on one side of the contract.
Improvement of fanning methods plays a very important part in keeping down the costs of wheat production. The Wheat Board is not concerned with that aspect of the matter. Farming improvements are matters for the State Governments, and I may say that all the State Governments, of all political complexions, have been doing very good work in the research field. The farmer is constantly waging a fight against the incidence of rust in wheat. It has been found that some good types of wheat break down and become susceptible to rust under certain conditions. This is the kind of problem confronting the State Government research workers.
As I have said, the farmer is constantly fighting increased costs, and he has been able to keep his costs at a reasonable level only by adopting new methods and working hard. Improved results in wheat farming can be obtained not only by the use of technical advances. The farmer must also adopt better tilling procedures and follow a policy of soil improvement, so that he may grow wheat of higher protein content in order to compete with our friends producing wheat in the north. One of the difficulties experienced by all marketing boards is the necessity to have all the farmers involved produce commodities of the highest possible quality. In this direction the State Governments can do a great deal with the correct kind of education because the world wheat market to-day is very competitive. As to the trading aspect of the question, I compliment the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen). The trade treaties we have negotiated, and the new markets we have found for wheat, reflect the tremendous effort made by the Deparment of Trade in trying to sell our wheat overseas. If we can continue to sell wheat overseas, I believe we shall continue to increase our wheat acreage, so that the wheat crop will play a very important part in maintaining our overseas balances.
.- Mr. Speaker, I support the bill. This statement, however, needs some amplification. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) has just given a very interesting discourse, but he failed to tell us what the bill is all about. It is a very simple bill. Its effect is simply to bring Queensland completely into line with the other wheatproducing States, by giving it one more full-time member of the Australian Wheat Board. I feel that this should have been done a long time ago. Queensland production accounts for nearly 7,000,000 bushels of Australia’s wheat crop. We are inclined to think of the Wimmera in Victoria and the great north-western areas of New South Wales as the key wheatproducing areas-
– What about the Mallee?
– And the Mallee - but we forget that Queensland produces a very great quantity of wheat. The Opposition, therefore, sees no harm in this bill; in fact, it sees only good in it.
The honorable member for Hume had a crack at the New South Wales Government for increasing railway freights.
– He did not mention the increase in postal charges.
– That is so; he did not mention the increased postal charges, which are hitting farmers as hard as any one else.
– He did not mention increases in shipping freights.
– Nor did he mention the increase in freight rates for Australian coastal shipping. Neither did he mention that in Victoria, which has a Liberal Government, railway freight rates are also being increased.
– And by 8 per cent.
– Yes, by 8 per cent. These increases are being made in all the States. Why? Owing to extra costs, the various railways departments have found that they cannot operate within reasonable bounds without lifting freight charges on primary products. The farmers of Australia have been protected for years with freight concessions. Every State, including Tasmania, has granted concessions. We all agree that the subsidy paid to the wheat industry is necessary.
Honorable members may be interested to know that wheat is grown in Tasmania. Last year, 5,884 acres were under wheat, and the yield was 153,000 bushels. That is something of which we in Tasmania are proud. Tasmania has the highest average wheat yield in the Commonwealth. The average yield is betwen 23 and 26 bushels an acre, but the best yields are as high as 70 bushels an acre in the Sassafras area in my electorate, where the chocolate soil is so suitable for wheat growing. A yield of 60 bushels an acre is not uncommon in the Sassafras area in the north-western section of Tasmania.
In 1956-57, only 45 farmers in Tasmania were growing wheat but that number had increased to 95 a year later. Tasmania grows a soft variety of wheat. Owing to the cooler climate we cannot grow hard wheat. For two or three years we have been trying to find a harder variety of wheat than can be grown in Tasmania and used for bread making. We export flour milled from our soft wheat to the mainland foi biscuit making, and we import flour from the mainland with which to make our bread. The wheat that we grow ourselves is not suitable for bread making. We import approximately 250,000 bushels of wheat a year for our bread. We have built silos at Hobart, Launceston and Devonport with a total storage capacity of 900,000 bushels so that we shall not run short should shipping services be interrupted. The contractors who built those silos, which were financed by the State Government, are to be congratulated on the speed and efficiency with which they did the job. The silos at each centre that I mentioned can store 300,000 bushels of wheat. To cover the cost of importing wheat from the mainland 2d. a bushel is subtracted from the homeconsumption price of wheat in Australia, which last year was 14s. 8d. a bushel. That arrangement has greatly assisted Tasmania to import wheat from the mainland at the lowest possible price.
The silo system in Tasmania has not reduced the price of bread, as we were led to believe it would. The economics and mechanics of silo storage and automatic handling of wheat in Tasmania should be investigated. For example, the people of the Circular Head district in the Braddon electorate represented by Mr. Davies - a very rich area in the extreme north-western section of the island - receive their wheat, not from Devonport 80 miles away by rail, but from Geelong, 200 miles away by sea. The cost of wheat shipped from Geelong to Stanley, which is the port serving the Circular Head district, is between 2s. 4d. and 3s. a bushel cheaper than that of wheat obtained from the Devonport silos. That is a ridiculous state of affairs.
– Is the extra cost attributable to rail freights?
– I think it must be, at least partly. The Circular Head district requires between 10,000 and 12,000 bags of wheat a year for bread-making, pig feed, poultry feed and other purposes. The district is the biggest pig raising area in Tasmania and its wheat consumption is very high. That is why a special service was arranged from Geelong. I urge the Australian Wheat Board to make sure that the requisite amount of wheat - 10,000 to 12,000 bags a year - is always available at
Geelong for the Circular Head district. It would be a great comfort to people in the Circular Head district if the board could give that assurance.
Although Tasmania grows very little wheat compared with the rest of the Commonwealth, the wheat that is grown on the island is important to the biscuit making industry, and for that reason Tasmania should have an observer on the Australian Wheat Board. Tasmania is the only State not represented on the board. An observer could sit in at meetings of the board and give advice when required about handling, freight and marketing problems in Tasmania. Of course, such an observer would not have a vote, but his presence at the meetings would give Tasmanian wheatgrowers the feeling that their interests, and those of consumers as well, were being watched. I should be glad if the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) would discuss with the Australian Wheat Board the appointment of an observer from Tasmania.
Some wheat-growers in. Australia have been waiting a long time for payment for their wheat. I understand that a new electronic device that was brought into operation to speed up payments has not come up to expectations. This matter was referred to recently by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan). It is a tragedy that farmers who are badly in need of income to meet rising costs should be kept waiting two or three months for payment for their wheat. I know that we in this place would not like to wait more than one month for payments due to us. I hope that the technicians will be able to get the new device working satisfactorily and speed up payments to the wheatgrowers. The farmers would rather have the old method of computing payments if this new method is to be a failure.
I deplore the action of people who compare the merit of city areas and country areas. There should be no competition between consumer and producer in this country. Each is dependent on the other. Among members of the Opposition are many members who represent country electorates, and after the next election there will be many more. I represent 13,000 square miles of Tasmania - half the island. In that area 21 different kinds of agricul ture are carried on. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) represents a large country area in New South Wales. The areas represented by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell), the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), the honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies), the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton) and the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) are country areas. We appreciate the needs and the problems of the farmers, particularly the wheat-growers. We know what they went through during the depression years. I was working with my father in the wheat industry at Lorquon, in the Wimmera district of Victoria, during that time. My brother is still there. We experienced very difficult days.
The Australian Labour Party, above all political parties in this country, knows the hardships of the depression years and the tragic results that they had. As a party, we shall do all that is in our power to see that similar conditions never return to our primary industries. We must see to it that finance is made available to primary industry at the lowest possible rates of interest, and also that it is made available regularly. We must ensure that markets are kept open and that transport is readily available for the carriage of wheat and other primary products at the cheapest possible rates. All of those things are objectives of the Labour movement. The Australian Country Party should not try to create the impression that it is the only guardian of the interests of primary producers. That certainly is not so. As we know, many Liberal members of the Parliament represent country electorates.
We of the Labour Party appreciate the tremendous economic value to Australia of our vast primary-producing areas. We are all together in this fight to make sure that our primary producers have security, that they are able to pay for their farms and machinery, and that they receive reasonable returns for the products that cost them so much hard work to produce. We feel that this Government has failed, in these days of rising costs throughout every phase of industry, both primary and secondary, to take cognizance of the struggle that many of our primary producers are having to beat the cost factor. I ask honorable members to consider the difference between the cost of a harvester or a tractor and that of the component parts that go to make it up. Spare parts cost farmers a great deal of money, far beyond a reasonable and proper price.
In concluding my remarks, Mr. Speaker, I want to stress the point that we on this side of the House are pledged to fight for the primary producers. We think that the Government has failed them in many ways. We have noted those instances of failure, and cognisance of them will be taken when we present our next policy speech to the people of Australia. Having regard to the high level of taxation, soaring postal charges, the failure of the Government to defeat the inflation which is hitting the farmer just as it is hitting consumers, and the danger that we shall lose our markets overseas, I think it must be agreed that we need an injection of new blood into the government of this country. The only way in which the injection can be given successfully is to put out the present Government and put in a Labour government.
– I do not suppose it is possible for this House to address itself to the question of wheat without becoming involved in straw, chaff and other materials of the kind. The speech of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), to which we have just listened, can be described as a mixture of chaff and straw. I wish to congratulate the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) and also the Government on having decided! to increase the growers’ representation on the Australian Wheat Board, insofar as the State of Queensland is concerned. Queensland, which is now a very important wheat-growing State of the Commonwealth, has been disadvantaged first, by its remoteness from Melbourne, and secondly, because of the fact that, until now, it has had only one representative on the board. That was an onerous responsibility to place on any one man. It involved him in travelling some thousand’s of miles once a fortnight to attend meetings.
I want to say, as one who has some slight knowledge of the ramifications of the wheat industry, that the members of the Australian Wheat Board are to be congratulated for the way that they have discharged their duties. I join with the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) in paying tribute to the late Cecil T. Chapman, with whom I was associated for many years in connexion with the industry. Mr. Chapman was a very distinguished member of the Australian Wheat Board, and I have no doubt that his intense application to the complex questions that confronted’ him contributed in some degree to his early departure from this place.
This bill, Mr. Speaker, is designed exclusively to give additional representation to Queensland, but by that very process the Government and the Minister hope to increase the efficiency of the board, and I have no doubt that that will be done. For nearly 50 years, the wheat-growers of our country struggled valiantly to get an orderly system of marketing, and for nearly 50 years they were thwarted by the traditional objections of primary producers to orderly marketing. I am glad to say that wisdom prevailed and that an orderly system of marketing has been introduced and extended to include stabilization in all its forms. When the general idea of orderly marketing was conceived in the minds of the producers, the purpose was to get away from the jungle arrangement whereby although countless thousands of men and women were engaged in this particular industry, producing to the limit of their pastoral and agricultural capacity, there was no satisfactory arrangement for the sale of their commodity to the best advantage. In a country in which the wheat harvest is confined within the limits of a few weeks, and millions of bushels of wheat are put on the market for sale, there was no satisfactory way of ensuring an adequate return to the growers. Consequently the demand came for an orderly system of marketing that would cushion the producers of wheat from the hazards involved in crashing millions of bushel of wheat on to a market where prices were not consistent with the true parity value.
We now have an orderly system of marketing and a stabilization scheme, devised by the wheat-growers themselves and, up to this point, paid for by the wheatgrowers themselves. I do not want to traverse this particular aspect of the question, but there is now an arrangement that if and when the price received by the Australian Wheat Board is in excess of the stabilized! price, the excess shall be shared between the growers and a fund created for the purpose of stabilizing the industry. That has been done ever since the Australian Wheat Board has operated the stabilization scheme, but the point has been reached where the funds contributed by the growers, for the purpose of stabilizing their own industry, are about to be exhausted. When they are exhausted it will be necessary, as a natural consequence of that feature of stabilization, for the Treasury - which, after all, is the Australian community - to make its contribution to the stabilization of one of our most important primary industries.
I hope that when that happens there will be no demur from either side of the House and that the Treasury will stand up to its responsibility in precisely the same way that the growers have stood up to theirs. I hope, too, that we can look forward to a continuation of the degree of stability the industry has enjoyed during the last ten or twelve years. I was interested to hear a number of honorable members on both sides of the House make reference to the alleged fatal flaws, frailties and faults of what is called the f.a.q. system. After all, this system has served Australia faithfully and well, and I am just a little afraid that there are those who do not understand its intricacies and, therefore, do not know what it really means.
Quite obviously, when wheat is delivered, as it is in this country, within the space of a few weeks, it is comparatively simple to collect samples from every point of delivery; and it is also comparatively simple to weigh a representative sample of all those samples by the Schopper scale method of weighing, and, by that very process, arrive at what is the fair average quality of the wheat that has been harvested. That has been done year by year, and it has served the country, and the producers of this country, tolerably well. Admittedly, it does prejudice those who, from season to season grow wheat of superlative quality and does advantage those who grow wheat of a lower quality; but the lower quality is never permitted to be so low that it can reduce the f.a.q. standard beyond what might be considered. to be reasonable, taking into consideration the quality of the wheat harvested throughout the Commonwealth.
And so it is that in every wheat-growing season the Australian Wheat Board fixes a tentative f.a.q. standard, and refuses to accept wheat of a quality much below that standard. By that process, it keeps the ultimate determination relatively high. It is an excellent arrangement, although, as 1 say, to the few who’ grow wheat of superlative quality - and they are never fixed either in terms of personality or geography but change from harvest to harvest - the effect is prejudicial to some degree; but whatever those people lose is to the advantage of the industry as a whole, as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) will understand.
The point I want to make in speaking to this bill is that if an attempt were made to segregate wheat of a high protein content, wheat of a superlative quality, from the bulk sample of wheat that is harvested in any given year, then quite obviously the f.a.q. standard would be lowered; and if the Australian f.a.q. standard were lowered beyond a certain level, the Australian Wheat Board, or any other organization, would have extreme difficulty in selling that standard of wheat at a price which would be remunerative to the growers. It is important that people should understand that any attempt to separate or segregate wheat into terms of quality can only prejudice the f.a.q. standard and lower the average price received by the producers and received, of course, by the Commonwealth in terms of total value of production.
There is another aspect of the question. It is that, traditionally, the wheat industry of our country, having gone through the travail of harvesting, bagging and delivering wheat to sheds and stacks, grew weary of that wasteful process, and the industry itself conceived the idea of a system of bulk handling of wheat from the farm to the point of either export or consumption. That bulk-handling system makes it extremely difficult to segregate the qualities of wheat, except where the bulk delivery system does not operate. It is comparatively easy, in localities where men are still delivering in bags and still delivering into stacks, to have a stack for wheat of some particular quality, but it is not so easy when they are delivering to bulk heads, silos or terminals where the capacity can be measured in terms of thousands of bushels, and it would not be practicable to keep bins available for wheat of different qualities. Those are the intricacies of this question, and they must be mentioned, even if it is only in passing, when one is addressing oneself to this bill.
In addition, some odious comparisons have been drawn between the Canadian and the Australian systems of delivering and marketing wheat. I should say without any reservations that any man who knows and understands the Australian system, any man who knows and understands the Canadian system, be he in either Canada or Australia, would be very foolish to attempt to change the Australian system for the Canadian system. I make that statement for a number of very valid reasons.
One reason is the fact that the Canadian wheat-grower still remains a bonanza farmer. I venture to say, in the presence of the honorable member for Lalor, that one of the good things that stand out in the orderly system of marketing under our stabilization scheme is the fact that the bonanza fanner no longer exists in the Commonwealth. When I speak of the bonanza farmer, I mean the farmer who goes onto land, farms with adequate machinery, just blasts the land into production, harvests the crop and has no further interest in that area of land. That system of farming has disappeared from the Australian agricultural scene, and nobody would want to see it return.
But there are other aspects of the question. For instance, there are many varieties of wheat and many qualities of wheat in Canada. The most famous of all is the Manitoba No. 1. There are those who talk glibly about Manitoba No. 1. But for many years there has been little or no commercial wheat of that quality submitted for sale on the Canadian market and so the Canadians dropped the standard Manitoba No. 1 for commercial purposes and adopted the standard Manitoba No. 2.
The varieties of wheat are segregated on sight in Canada. There are those who believe that when one speaks about the separation or segregation of qualities of wheat one is referring to a mechanical process by which the wheat is fed into a machine, as it is into a harvester, and comes out in a variety of grades and qualities. That is not the position at all. In Canada, the wheat is segregated or separated on sight according to what is deemed to be its milling quality. That is comparatively simple in Canada, where there is no mad rush to deliver wheat, as there is in this country. In the first place, there is the winter wheat and there is the spring wheat. Although the harvesting season comes in at the same time of the year, the farmer in Canada delivers his wheat in a much more leisurely fashion than the Australian grower does. When the terminals, bulk heads and receiving depots are full, he stops deliveries for the time being and waits, with infinite patience, and without payment, until there is room in the terminals, bulk heads and receiving depots for additional deliveries. So that process lends itself to segregation-
– Where does he store it in the meantime?
– He stores it on his own farm.
– In barns?
– No, in a most unsatisfactory way, and he waits until he is informed that the delivery authority is prepared to accept additional deliveries from him. Then he delivers, and is paid for it at the point of delivery. In the meantime, of course, Mr. Speaker, he can borrow against his wheat. None of us who has any experience of borrowing against wheat would want to engage in that practice if he could avoid it. Fortunately, in my long experience I have never borrowed against wheat and, by God’s grace, I never shall. But that is the system in Canada. It is possible there, because of the difference in the general delivering and marketing arrangements of the industry. It would not be possible here. So I say that, with all its faults, the f.a.q. standard can be defended.
There is one final aspect with which I should like to deal. The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) who represents me - since I am one of his electors^- in this most important chamber-
– A good member too.
– He represents me very well. He made some reference to the protein content of certain varieties of wheat. The honorable member for Farrer confessed - as he usually does in similar circumstances, being a shy and diffident individual - that he was not fully informed on the question. He said that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) had given him a sample of wheat to sow on his property. He sowed it in the normal way, and grew a crop of wheat of excellent quality. Now, Mr. Speaker, there is a complete explanation for that, quite removed from the question of the variety of the wheat or of the protein content of the wheat. That explanation was given by the honorable member for Farrer himself. He planted that wheat in an area of land that had been out of production for some time, which had been heavily top-dressed for a number of years, and so was in a condition to grow, not only a splendid crop, but also a splendid quality, of wheat.
In my own experience, and in the experience of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), there have been years when the newer wheat-growing areas have produced wheat of indifferent quality while the older areas, which have been growing wheat for the last 50, 60, 70 or even 80 years, have grown wheat of superlative quality. Conversely, of course, there have been seasons in which the old traditional wheat-growing areas have grown wheat of poor quality, comparatively speaking, and the newer areas have grown wheat of high protein quality. But there is no constancy about that state of affairs, and the last harvest is surely the classic example. For the first time in the long history of the industry, an old wheatgrowing locality like West Wyalong in the Riverina produced wheat of superlative quality, attracting a premium as high as 3s. 3d. a bushel. That has never happened before in an old wheat-growing locality, but it will happen again because of the change in the climatic circumstances, the change in the comparative fertility of the soils and the agricultural practices that are so important throughout the growing season.
So, Mr. Speaker, I offer my congratulations to the Minister on increasing the representation of Queensland on the Australian Wheat Board, conscious of the fact that his action will improve an efficient and excellent organization.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.- Mr. Speaker, this is a small bill which makes provision for the appointment of a second Queensland representative to the Australian Wheat Board. I am heartily in accord with that principle because it is, to some extent, a recognition of the value of the newer wheat-growing areas in Australia, such as my own area - the black soil country in the north-west of New South Wales - and the brigalow country in Queensland, which produce the harder wheats in Australia - the high-protein wheat. So I am pleased to see an additional representative from over the border in Queensland, who will be an additional representative on the Australian Wheat Board of the producers of high-protein wheat.
In the north-west of New South Wales we like to think that high-protein wheat is synonymous with high-quality wheat; but that is not necessarily so, because all over the world people have different preferences. Some people like a soft wheat. The people in France, for example, prefer a soft wheat; but the Americans, ourselves and the people of Great Britain like hard wheat. It is important for us to realize that there are these different preferences in various parts of the world because we export such a large proportion of our Australian crop and are dependent upon the preferences of overseas buyers of this commodity. That is one of the peculiar complexities of the wheat industry - that there are these differences in taste and demand, from country to country.
Another complexity is that the demand for different types of wheat varies from year to year; and, again, the supply of the different types of wheat varies from season to season. So, it is quite understandable that Australia, a long time ago, settled for an f.a.q. standard - a fair average quality standard - wheat that it could guarantee to preserve and maintain at a consistent level so that it could find a market, as it has done, in the four corners of the globe - the system of an f.a.q. standard, with a premium paid to the growers of particular varieties and types of wheat, such as the wheat grown in my own area which is in high demand by millers in our own country. It seems that this system has worked very well in the past; and despite the advocacy of those who favour the segregation of wheat into different types, I believe it will be with us for quite a while yet.
Segregation was mentioned earlier in this debate. It is a very thorny question whether we should abandon the f.a.q. system and endeavour to segregate our wheat into different varieties. It is a very difficult question but, for the reasons I have mentioned - preferences in various countries, and changes in supply and demand - perhaps it would be wiser that we stick with the f.a.q. system, with premium payments for particular wheats which are in high demand. Another difficulty about segregation is that the segregationists must be clear in their own minds as to whether they want to segregate wheat into different qualities or different kinds, because there is a difference between qualities and kinds of wheat.
There is a heavy demand in the world for both hard wheats and soft wheats, but there is no demand for inferior wheat with poor baking and milling characteristics. If there is to be any segregation, let us segregate the inferior types which do not measure up to the bakers’ or millers’ standards. Perhaps the best way to do this is to breed better varieties. In the past we have had a great deal of success in the breeding of varieties of wheat. It started a long time ago with Farrer, and it continues to-day. All we have to do now is to breed a better type of wheat than the type represented by Glenwari, which is an unsatisfactory and inferior wheat. If we can produce a wheat which is satisfactory to bakers and millers and has a higher yield than Glenwari, the difficulties of the maintenance of the standard of our f.a.q. wheat will be over. This is a challenge to our wheat breeders, and I think they will rise to the occasion, as they have always done in the past, and produce something better than Glenwari and thus help us to maintain the high quality of our f.a.q. Australian wheat.
The wheat industry itself is aware of the danger of lowering the standard of our f.a.q. wheat, which is the most useful wheat on the market to-day. We can find, as I said earlier, a market for our f.a.q. wheat in the four corners of the world, and we will continue to do so as long as we maintain it at a reasonably high standard. The leaders of this industry, so vital to Australia, are alert to the position. Some years ago the Australian Agricultural Council set up an inquiry and called a conference to determine this very question. I believe the study is still proceeding. It is not an easy matter to resolve, but I hope it will not be long before all this attention to the production of high quality wheat of a consistent standard will pay off and we will be able to look forward to the maintenance of the high standard of f.a.q. wheat to which we have been accustomed in past years.
Wheat-growing is the most difficult of all primary industries. It is traditionally so. Wheat-growing is an historic industry. It has always produced vast problems. But, in Australia, it has engaged the attention of governments, millers, producers and scientists and we have, in the last few years at any rate, seen what the co-operation of all these different sections of the community can do. With the willing and free cooperation of scientists in the field and in the laboratory and governments - State and Federal - and the producers all over Australia, we have seen what can be done. The Australian wheat industry has been extremely prosperous and it is going to be even more stable and prosperous in the future. It is a shining example to all other primary industries of what can be done by the voluntary co-operation of all those who are interested, even in a minor degree, in the fruits of that particular enterprise.
I am glad to have a “ Hear, hear “ from the Opposition side of the House at this point, because I remind honorable members opposite that this spirit of co-operation which pervades the wheat industry had its origin some 40 years ago when orderly marketing was written into the platform of the Australian Country Party. Orderly marketing of wheat, which was started 40 years ago by the Australian Country Party, has paid off over the years. First we saw Western Australia, then Queensland and then Australia as a whole adopt orderly marketing. It has culminated in this present stage at which we have every one combining to ensure the welfare, not only of the wheat industry itself, but of all those associated directly or indirectly with this mighty industry.
– This bill is very short, being intended only to provide for the appointment to the Australian Wheat Board of another full grower-member for Queensland. However, I want to take this opportunity of speaking on some matters with which the Wheat Board deals affecting my own constituency.
It may be said that Port Adelaide is an exporting and an industrial centre, not a wheat-growing district, but we come very much into the picture concerning wheat that is grown and milled in this country.
I am more concerned, to-night, with the way in which the Wheat Board is handling the sale of wheat and wheat products than I am with that part of the bill which provides for the appointment of another member to the board. I have no objection to that provision at all. Queensland, as a wheat-growing State, is entitled to the same representation as some of the other States. My own State has two members on the Wheat Board.
I recollect that when the original measure was passed to provide for the establishment of a wheat board to control and handle all wheat in Australia, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was the man most concerned. He was responsible for the formation of the Australian Wheat Board. On that occasion, we stressed that there should be on the board a man drawn from employees on the industrial side of the flour milling industry. Later, I took the matter up with the present Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), and when a vacancy occurred on the board he appointed to it a representative of the employees in the flour milling industry.
From time to time in this House I have raised the question of the manufacture of flour and directed attention to the quantities of wheat that are exported in the form of flour and as grain respectively. I know the difficulties in connexion with this matter. We claim that raw material produced in Australia should be used to provide employment for our people in manufactur ing industries. We contend that bounties should be paid in respect of such products as rayon and cotton so that mills and other works can be established in Australia to provide employment for our own people.
Many years ago, as a young man, my work was associated with the flour mills in Port Adelaide. At that time, steamers used to come to Port Adelaide to load flour for the islands to the north of Australia, including Java and Batavia. I handled many tons of flour in the old 50-lb. bags with printing on them in the language of the country to which they were going. We had a big milling industry in Port Adelaide. Unfortunately, when our busines increased the milling industry in Sydney said, “ We can do with that trade “. Because of their freight advantage they were able gradually to take away from Port Adelaide a lot of the flour trade ‘that had belonged to that district. John Darling and Son Pty. Ltd., one of the big millers in Port Adelaide at that time who were shipping flour overseas, transferred practically all its milling to Sydney because of the lower freight charges. They had to do that in order to make sales.
I do not want to go back into old history, other than to say that the Port Adelaide millers - not only the employees but also the milling companies - were instrumental, many years ago, in getting a lot of the flour trade in the areas to the north of Australia. As I say, we lost a lot of that to New South Wales. Two or three years ago, there was the spectacle of wheat - whole grain - being sent to India, almost as a gift, while our mills were running on short time and men were out of work. From time to time during that period I took up with the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) the proposition that more wheat should go out in the form of flour than in the form of grain in order to give employment in our milling industry. Honorable members will recollect that last year the Minister said that an arrangement had been made to send more flour to Ceylon. An order for the supply of 100,000 tons of flour to Ceylon was obtained by the Government.
I have listened with interest to the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) speaking about wheat that is ground for flour. I can appreciate his reference to the need for the farmer to grow a high gluten content, hard type of wheat from which the best flour can be made. I have realized for many years that that is necessary. Unfortunately, some years ago many primary producers turned to new types of wheat of a high-yielding character. They said, “ Never mind the milling qualities “. They began to break down our f.a.q. and we were not able to compete in other countries against some of the overseas highergrade flour. I appreciated then that the farmer would have to realize that he had to grow good quality wheat, not just a big quantity. I think I can be proud of the fact that in my State, in our government farms at Parafield and Roseworthy, we have done a lot to breed better strains of wheat, not only insofar as quantity is concerned but also from the point of view of quality.
I shall now, perhaps, work the parish pump a little. We have a number of flour mills in my district of Port Adelaide, where there was a drought last year. Fortunately, *we had a quantity of wheat left over from the previous year, but it is of a poor type and not entirely suitable for the production of flour. Consequently we have little hope of being able to keep our mills going by using that wheat for the production of flour to sell overseas.
I asked the Minister for Trade a fortnight ago whether any consideration had been given to supplying wheat from the western part of Victoria to South Australia at a price that would enable the South Australian mills to compete with mills in other States. The huge Queensland sugar industry benefits from an arrangement for a high Australian price for sugar. People in South Australia, particularly those connected with the milling industry, say to me, “Why cannot the Government do something, even by way of subsidy, to enable more wheat to be exported from Australia in the form of flour? “ Last year, we had the driest year in the history of South Australia. The Minister has said that it is to the credit of the primary producers that, by using improved methods of farming, they produced the quantity of wheat that was grown in South Australia during our last wheat season. To me it seemed impossible to get any yield at all from most of that country because we had had only a few inches of rain during the year- If we compare last season with the 1914 season, we find that whereas in 1914 there was an absolute failure of the crop, last year the farmers received not merely several bushels, but three or four bags to the acre. Of course, the crop did fail completely in some areas.
The wheat industry in South Australia is in a similar position to the sugar industry in Queensland. The Commonwealth agrees with the Queensland Government on a fixed price for sugar. I do not object to that. Under this arrangement Queensland1 has been able to develop the sugar industry. Therefore, the success of that industry is due to the assistance which it has received from the people of Australia. South Australia is entitled to similar consideration. Honorable members may ask, “What can the Government do?” I do not lay the entire blame at the Government’s door. The Australian Wheat Board controls the handling of the wheat crop and was responsible for the arrangements which were made, through governmental agencies or through what you might call the top people in the Government, for our flour to be exported to the island’s to our north. An effort should be made to enable the wheat industry to carry on. We shall require the flour mills when normal times return. When we in South Australia obtain our normal supply of wheat, and can get a fair proportion of the good quality wheat for which a premium is paid, we shall be able to manage better and to employ the men who for years have been engaged in the milling industry. If honorable members consider the men who went to the flour mills as boys trucking bags of wheat, then progressed to the packing stage and gradually became the top men in the industry, men who have put their life into the trade, they will sympathize a little with me in my efforts to obtain some assistance for the industry in South Australia. I know many men in the milling industry who have no knowledge of any other trade. It has been their life’s work.
During the last day or two we have heard it said that there is too much machinery working too few hours, and that more work should be found for the machinery to obtain a fair return from it. We are not asking simply that the mills be kept going for eight hours a day. We want three shifts. In the past the mills have been using this expensive plant continuously grinding the wheat into flour. But to-day some mills have closed down and others are working only one shift a day - onethird of their capacity.
I am not altogether happy about the way in which the wheat board functions. It should give more consideration to the position which obtains in South Australia. Last year there was a little improvement in our milling operations because New South Wales had had a very poor crop during the previous year and had sold its wheat earlier as wheat or flour, and there was not enough to keep the export trade going. We filled quite large orders in Port Adelaide during last year supplying flour that otherwise would have been supplied from Sydney had the farmers of New South Wales obtained their normal crop. However, the pendulum has swung the other way, and even that little extra work which we obtained during the previous season has been taken from us. The millers are most concerned at their prospects.
A friend of mine, who is president of the milling trade union, is a member of the Legislative Council in South Australia. He has been proud to be able to boast that in 40 years there has never been a strike or a stoppage in the milling trade. The men have always been able to work with their employers and, because they have been given decent working conditions, relations have been very good between employers and employees. My colleague has done everything possible to keep things going, in his capacity as State and Federal Secretary and later as Federal President of the union, but now he feels pretty badly when he sees men, who have grown, up in the industry, unable now to find employment in it. Honorable members may say that those workers can get jobs elsewhere, just as other people have done. I admit that that is quite possible, but it is not fair either to the men or to the industry. A mill was erected many years ago in Balaclava which, I think, is in the district of Wakefield. When our trade was sapped away, first by New South Wales and then by the growth of the industry in Western Australia, both of which States are closer to the East Asian markets than is South Australia, that large flour-mill went out of existence.
I have seen that happen on many occasions, until now we have only a com paratively small number of flour-mills compared to what we had some years ago. I am afraid that unless some special action is taken to enable South Australian millers to obtain good quality wheat at a price which will enable them to compete with the mills in other States, we shall lose some of the few remaining mills in South Australia.
Members of the Country Party no doubt realize that bran and pollard are very handy products to have in the dairying industry and, to a degree, in sheep and lamb raising. No doubt they realize that unless there is enough of these offals at certain times of the year to meet the needs of the dairymen, pig-raisers and others, these primary producers will face a very difficult period. So, unless we can keep our flour-milling industry going, many primary producers will suffer also.
I remember reading, or hearing on the radio, within the last two or three weeks that Indonesia intends to build her own flour-mills. We have seen that tendency in India also. I do not blame those countries. They are only doing what I want to do in Australia. But unless South Australian millers are able to obtain wheat at a price which will enable them to compete with millers in other States and in other countries, they will be in great difficulties. I do not have the figures, but last year I received information that the Australian Wheat Board sold some of our wheat, as wheat, to overseas countries at a figure which was lower than that which was charged to Australian millers. If the wheat board continues with that policy of selling our wheat simply to get rid of it, without having due thought for our own flourmilling industry, the board is not doing the best thing for the primary producers or for the people of Australia generally. Do not make any mistake; I do not ask that the man who grows the wheat should make a great sacrifice for the benefit of the man who will eat it.
The butter subsidy of £13,000,000 or £15,000,000 was mentioned to-day. One honorable member said that if the butter subsidy were withdrawn the people would have to pay more for butter. It is rather humorous, Mr. Speaker, to hear Government members talking in that way. Members of the Country Party have said that they want to stop the production of margarine so that the people will have to eat butter.
– When did we say that?
– You are always saying it. Members of the Country Party have often talked about the quantity of margarine being made and have urged a reduction of the quality. This matter was discussed when I was in the South Australian Parliament. At that time, margarine contained 25 per cent, of first-grade butter, in addition to fats extracted from copra, but subsequently legislation was passed prohibiting the use of butter in the manufacturing of margarine. After that, margarine was made entirely from vegetable oils, but then members of the Country Party said that something more should be done to discourage the production of margarine, and they suggested that the production of table margarine be limited to, I think, 200 tons a year.
That quota was applied, but even then they were not satisfied. They urged that table margarine should be given a peculiar greenish colour, so that when people looked at it they would say, “ I could not eat that stuff “, The object was to force the people to eat butter, which costs more than margarine. That was not done by Labour members. Honorable members opposite are interjecting. I do not mind them interjecting, because I appreciate that what I am saying hurts them.
They talk a lot about freedom. I heard the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) speak to-day about orderly marketing, and as 1 listened to him my mind went back to an occasion a few years ago, just after he had entered this Parliament. At that time the House was discussing a proposal for the marketing of fruit, and he became indignant at what he called interference with the rights of the individual. He said that the man who produced a commodity had every right to do what he liked with it. I thought about that occasion to-day when the Minister was talking about orderly marketing. What is orderly marketing? An orderly marketing scheme is something in which the growers concerned are forced to take part. Honorable members opposite say that we would force people to do this and that, but they are prepared to force people to take part in orderly marketing schemes. Before many of them were elected to the Parliament, a non-Labour government introduced legislation affecting the dried-fruits industry, under which the growers were compelled to take part in a scheme. If we do anything like that, honorable members opposite say, “ Look at the socialists! They want to nationalize everything.” That is the kind of criticism that is made of the Labour Party, but members of the Country Party are prepared to grasp with both hands any piece of socialism that will give them a little more.
Let me go back to the price of wheat. The Minister said that the money in what I think is called the equalization fund was disappearing and that before very long the Government would be called upon to subsidize wheat. He went on to say that he hoped nobody would quibble about that. I do not say that I hope the Government will not do that, but I do say to honorable members opposite that when they cry out for the Government to do something like that-
– The legislation has been passed.
– Of course it has been passed. It was passed because you wanted it. If you do not want it, you need not have it. You could repeal it, but do you suggest repealing that bit of socialism?
– Honorable members opposite do not suggest repealing that piece of socialism, Mr. Speaker, because it gives them something. They want advantages of that kind, but when the worker wants a higher wage they say that a wages increase would aggravate inflation and that the cost of everything would go up. Nevertheless, they suggest that the subsidy on butter should be removed, which would mean that the worker would have to pay more for butter. That would cause another increase of wages.
The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) talked about the different varieties of wheat, the protein content and so on. That was very interesting, but it was not really relevant to the bill. He took this opportunity to speak about the phase of the matter in which he was interested, and I was honest enough to say that I intended to get on to the parish pump, too. I am speaking on behalf, not only of the workers in the flour-milling industry, but also of the people of Australia as a whole. If it is good to pass legislation giving special concessions and special conditions to people in one section of the community, then it is good to give concessions and assistance to people in other sections of the community.
When I have been speaking on other measures that involved the spending of money by the Government, I have often been asked, “Where will the money come from? Will you tax the people to raise it? “ The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), with a lovely smile, interjects and says, “ Ah! “. The honorable member does not worry about where the money is to come from to guarantee a price for wheat equal to the cost of production, because he says that the wheat-growers are entitled to that price, but he takes a different attitude when the workers ask for a wage equal to the value of their labour. We do not hear the people on the other side of the House talk about giving the worker a wage equal to the value of his labour.
– Of course we do.
– I remind the honorable member for Mallee that the Government has instructed counsel to appear in the basic wage case before the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission and tell the commission that if it makes an award to the worker providing for a wage equal to the value of his labour, that will cause inflation and injure the country. But it is a horse of a different colour when anything arises which affects the section of the community that the honorable member represents. He and his colleagues of the Country Party say, “ We do not represent only one section of the people; we represent every section “. They claim to represent all sections of the community, including the workers, but in speeches lasting from 25 to 30 minutes they find it impossible, apparently, to speak for all sections of the community, so they devote their time to dealing with their own section.
– What section is that?
– Your own section, the section you are interested in.
– The primary producing section.
– You do not care whether anything is socialism or any other “ ism “, if it gives more to the primary producers. You take anything like that with both hands. Members of the Country Party do not say that, for example, the poultry farmer should be permitted to sell his eggs at any price he likes. They say, “ You are not allowed to sell your eggs at a price lower than the fixed price. If you do so, you will be fined”. We all read recently in the press about the American farmer, whose name I forget for the moment, who was not permitted by the American authorities to grow enough wheat to feed his fowls. He came to Australia. He went first to Sydney but then he decided to go to South Australia, where he would have freedom to grow wheat for his fowls if he wanted to do so. If a man wants to sell his produce below the price that has been fixed, my friends opposite say, “ Let us put the boot into him. We will pass legislation to make him sell at the fixed price.” They say that they are opposed to compulsory trade unionism, but they agree with compelling the primary producer to link up with the people who are selling his goods. I do not blame them for it.
– It is not compulsion.
– My friend says it is not compulsion.
– It is a vote by a majority.
– Many producers have voted against a scheme because they do not believe in, say, the control of eggs by egg boards, but they are bound by the scheme because a majority of growers have agreed to it.
– That is State legislation.
– The honorable member always tries to shuffle out of difficulties of this kind. He reminds me of a man who sells some pens of sheep and gets a higher price by taking a few of the ugly ones out. I support the bill.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- My colleagues in the Australian Country Party must feel gratified to receive such very generous compliments as have been paid to us by our well known friend, the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) in affirming, in no uncertain manner, that we stick up for the primary producers. Of course we do! That is what we are here for. We stick up for him, not for any personal reason - as I am sorry to say the honorable member was mean enough to suggest-
– No, that is not correct.
– I will withdraw that remark if the honorable member feels that I am unfair in using the word “ mean “. But I point out that we stick up for the primary producer because we believe, as was stated in this House during the debate last week, that the primary producer is essential to this country. If anything happens to him and his progress then the secondary industries will take the knock. Consequently, in an expanding countrysuch as this we primarily have to look after the person who is providing the overseas funds on which the rest of the community has to depend for its existence. We make no apology and indeed, we are proud to come into the House and say that the primary producers have to be maintained at the standard already reached and an even better standard, until such time as the secondary industries of this country can take some of the load that has been thrust upon the shoulders of the primary producers since Australia started to grow.
We discount many of the remarks which the honorable member made in the heat of debate. He is a very fluent speaker and we always admire the contributions that he makes to the debates in this House. But when he mixes margarine, dried fruits and eggs with the appointment of another member to the Australian Wheat Board he is somewhat outside the bounds of the present argument.
When the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) was introducing this bill he said that the States of Australia welcomed the expansion of the Australian
Wheat Board by the addition of another member from Queensland, and consequently there seems to be no doubt that the bill will have a smooth passage. Discussion of this measure presents an opportunity for us to comment on matters besides the proposed appointment and my colleagues have tried to direct attention to various items which they feel should be discussed at a time like this.
Earlier to-day, an honorable member said that the function of the Australian Wheat Board was mainly the selling of wheat. I disagree. The function of the Wheat Board is to purchase and store wheat as well as market it and perform such other duties as come within the scope of its original charter, which is fairly wide. Therefore, it was quite in order for my colleague, the honorble member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) to discuss the method of segregation and grading of wheat. It was quite in keeping also for the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) to discuss the cost of production and make certain pertinent comments, as I also intend to do.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide made what, on the face of it, seemed to be a very genuine complaint that South Australia was denied, as a result of certain action by the Australian Wheat Board, the opportunity to procure wheat which could be gristed into flour and so retain the South Australian mills in the flour trade. If that condition were peculiar to South Australia, I should think that the honorable member would have a very good case. Unfortunately, a considerable number of other factors are involved, not the least of which is that the flour-importing countries over the past decade have found it quite profitable to make their own flour and to have the benefit of the mill offal - the by-products of the grist for their own use, as we have in Australia. So the condition that the flourmills are not working 24 hours a day is not restricted to South Australia. From my own electorate I have received many representations which I have sent to the Australian Wheat Board and to the responsible Minister asking that more sales of flour be made, if possible, so that Australian mills will be kept operating around the clock. The bare fact of the matter is that if we do not sell the flour overseas we cannot grist the wheat in Australia. If ali the mills of the other States were working full time and only South Australian mills were suffering by working quarter or half time, there might be some justification for the honorable member’s complaint.
But there is more to it than that. To the uninitiated it may seem that if good wheat is purchased good flour can be made. But the position is something like stockbreeding. If a man has a flock on his property and pays a couple of hundred guineas for a ram he will not immediately get good sheep. He must make a careful selection of the subsequent progeny, and this is how his flock is improved. It is much the same with wheat gristing. It is not just a matter of buying good wheat; it is a matter also of obtaining wheat that will blend. The opportunity may not be available to South Australia to buy the particular types of wheat to blend and produce flour that will command the best price.
I think it was rather unforunate that the honorable member for Port Adelaide chided the Wheat Board with not giving South Australia the opportunity to remain in the market. It is my impression that the board is only too anxious for every wheatgrowing State in Australia to have the opportunity to participate in the trade if it can make flour good enough for sale. That is the only justification for the wheat being gristed here.
I wish to refer to one or two other points made during this debate. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) complained about the age of members of the Australian Wheat Board. He said that they should be retired at a certain age but that there was some diffidence about putting a man off if he had been in the job for a long time, that those in authority did not like kicking him out, and so on. I can assure the House that the honorable member has a very poor knowledge of the people engaged in the wheat industry if he thinks for a minute that they pull thenpunches if a man is not doing his job satisfactorily.
We have on the Australian Wheat Board chosen men and they are still there because they have done their job in accordance with the best standards. The chairman is a man who has handled wheat for the greatest part of his life. Despite his advancing age he is still on the board because of his specialized knowledge of the marketing of wheat, which is recognized by wheat-growers throughout Australia. My earliest recollection of Sir John Teasdale is when he was administering the Western Australian Wheat Board. He did this so successfully that I think the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) will agree that the success of the Western Australian method of handling wheat must have been a very great inspiration to him when the Australian. Wheat Board was first appointed under the authority of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act.
I think the honorable member for Lalor would agree also that there was considerable pressure from the Australian Country Party which helped the Cabinet of the day to decide that the equalization plan was eminently suitable and also necessary. The Country Party never let up in its demand to have an equalization scheme for this type of product. I emphasize the word “ equalization “. The honorable member for Port Adelaide, a little while ago, tried to liken the support programme under which the Australian wheat-grower receives a guaranteed price for home consumption wheat to the sort of treatment that workers receive from the arbitration tribunals, but the honorable member failed to realize the important difference between the two. The wheat stabilization scheme provides for equalization. This means that, in good years - in the lush times - the farmer puts in something in order that he may take out something in the bad years. That sort of process, to my knowledge, has never occurred in wage-fixing by any arbitration tribunal.
I want to bring to the notice of the House one matter in particular. In my electorate, I have received complaints about delays in the first payment from the pool in respect of wheat from the 1959-60 crop. People have said to me, “ What is the Commonwealth Government doing about this? Why does it not see that the first payment is made promptly? “ Those honorable members who come from country areas will know that, usually, the first payments start to come in when the wheat begins to come in about December An announcement is made as to how much the first payment will be and when the farmer has received sufficient dockets to make up a sheet the sheet is attached to a form which he sends in when he applies for his payment. In the past, the first payment has been referred to the Australian Wheat Board by the wheat agent.
In the current season, there was a delay of about two months. What occurred was simply that a great deal of wheat came in early in the season. I understand, also, that some kind of electronic computor which had been employed for the purpose of computing payments broke down or did not function properly and that this was partly responsible for the delay. There were complaints that the Commonwealth Government may have been responsible for the delay. I put it to the House, as I put it to my constituents, that the present Commonwealth Government has assisted the Australian wheat-growers by entering into a guarantee with the Commonwealth Bank under which the greater part of the funds needed for the first payment on the current season’s wheat was provided, and it is pretty poor to blame the Commonwealth Government for some break-down in administrative machinery.
What are the facts of the matter? The Australian Wheat Board decided to introduce, through the State agencies, a new form of accounting. If it considered that more modern methods would improve efficiency, the change was very much to its credit. It was unfortunate, however, that the board selected the biggest wheatgrowing State for the experiment. It was more unfortunate still that the experiment was not very successful and that, as I have said, the first payment on the current season’s wheat was delayed for several months. The result of this was that businessmen throughout the country districts of New South Wales were thrown into a state of great alarm. After the first month’s delay, they could see a lot of trouble heaping up for them when no money had come in. The farmers were not able to pay their accounts, the shopkeepers were not able to pay the warehouses, in turn, and the warehouses became worried that they would not be able to pay the manufacturers. The whole thing brought home to commercial interests in country towns, if nothing else ever had done, the dependence of country towns on the broad acres that surround them.
All I want to say about the matter is that there may have been hardship and even financial loss as a result of the break-down of the administrative machinery and the consequent delay in the making of payments, and I trust that the Australian Wheat Board will see to it that the farmer is not required to bear the loss when this sort of thing occurs. I do not suggest a witch hunt or anything of that sort, but I do suggest that any person or persons guilty of culpable negligence, if any one has been guilty of it, should be responsible for making good any losses that may have occurred. I understand, also, that great errors in the assessment of payments were made and that people who grew only a relatively few acres of wheat received cheques for large amounts. Further, at one stage, the banks were not at all clear about what should be done in respect of share-farming agreements. Whereas, in the past, two cheques were sent, one to the owner and one to the share-farmer, on this occasion, only one cheque was sent and the banks had to transfer the money to the accounts of the two partners in the share farm. Many of these matters could have been rectified if the new arrangements had been tried out in a State which produced less wheat than is grown in New South Wales. In that way, the situation would not have been aggravated.
I turn now to the cost of production. As my friend, the honorable member for Hume, has mentioned, the cost of production figures are determined each year on a basis that has served for a number of years and has proved to be very satisfactory. The only fault that can be found with it is that the cost of production figure is not announced, usually, until about the last week in November. Having nurtured his crop for months through dry periods, having watched it over the particularly dangerous period when it is subject to frost-bite, having ensured that it has escaped damage by rust and similar disasters, having got to the stage at which the wheat is golden in the field, and having then watched for hail storms and fires - having passed through all these anxieties over twelve months, the farmer still does not know what he is going to get for his crop until he puts in the machines to strip it. Not that his trouble is over even then, for only when his crop has been bagged or loadedin bulk conveyors and taken to the silo, and he is given a receipt for the delivery of the load after it is weighed over the weighbridge, can he feel certain that he will get something for his year’s work.
But what may happen even at that stage? In New South Wales, the State Government, at the drop of a hat, increased freight charges on the railways after the cost of production had been announced. Somebody asked this afternoon why we want to say anything about the State governments. I point out that in this case, a State government has been responsible for increasing the cost of production of wheat. I understand that a censure motion is to be moved in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly either to-day or within the next day or so in relation to this very matter. The cost incurred in moving wheat from tat country to the seaboard is included in the cost of production, but, here, an increase has been made after the cost of production figure was announced. The cost of freight from my own electroate to the coast is something over1s.10d. a bushel. We have been told earlier in this debate that the cost is about1s. 9d. a bushel. It is slightly higher in some districts. I repeat that, after the cost of production figure had been arrived at, the New South Wales Government increased freight charges and threw the whole thing out of balance. The farmer is expected to bear the additional cost as well as his normal costs, and has no opportunity to escape it by passing it on as so many others in the community can escape from these increased costs. The New South Wales Government has done a shocking thing. Indeed, this is the second occasion on which it has done this sort of thing. This treatment merits attention in this House.
As I have said, Mr. Speaker, I have great admiration for the Australian Wheat Board, which has done a very good job. The board was established by a previous government, and the act under which it was constituted has been amended on one or two occasions by measures introduced by the present Government. One of the biggest benefits that the wheat-growers have received has been the advantage taken under the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act by the Department of Trade, the Department of Primary Industry and associated departments in selling our wheat. Although, two and one-half years ago, we had one of the biggest crops of wheat that we have ever had and we faced the greatest storage problems that we have ever faced in this country, assistance by this Government, once again, enabled the farmers to provide special storage facilities, and the good offices of the Australian Wheat Board enabled us to dispose of the crop. As a result, we are to-day in a position in which, I say frankly, I did not expect us to be.
I feel sure that the additional appointment to the Australian Wheat Board proposed in this bill will strengthen the board still further and will help it to continue the good work that it has done for the farming community in the past.
.- Mr. Speaker, this bill is a small measure which will give to Queensland an additional member on the Australian Wheat Board and make certain amendments to section 9 of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act in respect of meetings of the board by deleting that portion of the section which provided that an alternative member could attend meetings if the elected member were unable to attend. I support the bill most heartily.
In expressing my approval of this measure, my mind goes back to a time something like twelve years ago when we in Western Australia were endeavouring to have a second representative of the wheatgrowers in that State appointed to the board. Western Australia produces large quantities of wheat, most of which is exported overseas, these exports helping to build up our overseas funds.
Earlier, I did not feel inclined to participate in this debate, Sir, but some of the remarks that have been made have impelled me to take part. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, and honorable members that I do not intend to tip a bag of wheat on the floor of the chamber and go through it grain by grain. Nor do I intend to mix my bread with my bacon and eggs, as some other members have done, or to change from butter to margarine. I suggest that unless one first has the bread one cannot spread either butter or margarine on it to eat it with one’s bacon and eggs. One member, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr.
Kelly), said this afternoon - I hope I am not misquoting him - that the time might come when the Government would have to say to industry boards, “Things are not being done very well and the Government will have to run them itself “.
– Hear, hear!
– “ Hear, hear! “ says one of the socialists. I hope that that day never comes, because the policy of members of the Australian Country Party, who sit in this corner of the House, and most o: the supporters of the Government is this: The product of the primary producers belongs to the primary producers themselves subject to the claims of their lawful creditors, and the producers will only agree to organized marketing if a valid vote on the subject has been taken. While I agree with the statement of an honorable member that the wheat-growers lose a little under the present system because we do not always have in our midst the right man, we are in a position, when we establish these boards, to employ the right man to do the selling or the advertising or whatever may be involved. I believe that most honorable members think the way we do, and hope that the time will never arrive when the government of the day, irrespective of its complexion, is in a position to say to any section of primary industry, “We will take your product over and look after it “.
The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said to-night that we were forced into wheat stabilization. I would direct his attention to the fact that in 1946, when he also was a member of this Parliament, the first vote was taken and South Australia rejected the idea of a wheat stabilization plan. As a result, the rest of the States did not bother to go on with it. In 1948, as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) will recall, the wheat-growers voted for a stabilization plan by a very small majority in comparison with their numbers. However, after they had had a taste of this organized marketing, a vote was taken again– I think it was in 1951 or 1952 - and the result was 46,000 in favour and 3,000 against. That was a 94 per cent, vote in favour. So I point out to the honorable member for Port Adelaide that the wheat-growers were never forced into this scheme.
-.- The 3,000 who voted, against it were-.
– Does the honorablemember mean to imply that he does not believe in democracy? If that is so, the Opposition, which, has the minority, could be the Government. If we are to subscribe to the principles of democracy, the majority must rule.
– Do you believe that in compulsory unionism?
– No, I do not believe in that, but the man who has not the courage to join a union does not get far with me because that sort will take all the benefits accruing to unionism without kicking in to support it. However, I do- not propose to get away from the question of the Australian Wheat Board if I can help it. Another honorable member said to-day that the Wheat Board should table an annual report in this Parliament. I want to say here and now that so long as the Wheat Board and the wheat-growers generally do not call upon the Treasury to assist them in any way, it should never be incumbent on the Wheat Board’ to table an annual report before the Parliament. The board reports to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) as chairman of th; Australian Agricultural Council. It furnishes a report to the State Ministers of Agriculture. It will furnish a copy to any interested wheat-grower and, I should imagine, to any interested citizen who cares to apply for one.
I remind honorable members, however, that these things were not won by the wheatgrowers overnight. My mind goes back to 1930 and 1931 when we received world parity for our wheat at ls. 8d. a bushel, and the Australian consumer was being charged 5s. a bushel for wheat to feed his chooks in the backyard. I recall a man carrying a bag of wheat into an hotel in 1930 to get three bottles of beer for it. That is not what you members of the Opposition, who claim to represent the working man, would like to do.
The wheat-growers then told one government after another that if they could get a stabilization scheme, they would be quite prepared to give the Australian people wheat for home consumption at the cost ot production and run the gauntlet on the overseas market with their export wheat. They also said that if the price overseas was so much above the cost of production, they themselves would be prepared to contribute to a fund as high as £20,000,000 so that if the prices overseas should fall below the home-consumption price, they would build up their overall price themselves by extracting money from their own funds. They were even prepared to permit the government of the day, whatever its political colour, to look after that money. During the intervening period, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since the wheat-growers have entered into the present scheme, their contribution to the consuming public has amounted to a figure approaching £200,000,000.
– Don’t be silly.
– The honorable member for Lalor says, “ Don’t be silly “. Work it out for yourself! That has been the contribution made by the wheat-growers over the past twelve years despite the fact that you, my dear friend, supported the sale of wheat to New Zealand at a much lower price than could be obtained overseas. You did that for a political reason.
– Don’t be silly.
– The honorable member for Lalor was the gentleman who came into this place and had the courage to admit that this mistake had been made. The wheat-growers did not have to carry the whole of the burden of receiving 4s. against 9s. 2d., but the honorable member was prepared to get rid of the wheat.It was only because of the agitation from this section of the Parliament that the honorable member shared the burden among the taxpayers instead of letting the wheat-growers carry the lot. The events of those days are very fresh in my mind.
When the Australian Wheat Board was established, various members were chosen by the States and finally they elected Sir John Teasdale as chairman of the board. I defy anybody in this House to show me a man in Australia who is a greater authority on wheat than Sir John Teasdale, despite his age. Some comments about his age have been made in this debate. One of the tragedies of the wheat industry is the fact that those who comprise the Wheat Board, particularly the wheat-grower mem bers, are somewhat concerned because they cannot see a man of the calibre of Sir John Teasdale coming forward to take his place. That man came from England to settle on a farm in Western Australia as a young man. So that he could develop his farm, he and his brothers went out building bridges and doing whatever work they could get. When, finally, Western Australia took the lead in setting up a wheat pool, Sir John Teasdale was one of the prime movers. He more or less ignored his own property so that he could study wheat.
I remind all those who are listening that when you come to deal with that nation of shopkeepers - England - and try to sell them wheat, you soon find out that they want to buy raw materials at the lowest possible price to convert them into manufactures that they can sell on other markets, and you are up against a tough proposition. Sir John Teasdale proved his calibre in negotiating with those people. However, the ordinary citizen need not worry about the Australian Wheat Board. It is not hiding itself behind a lot of brigalow scrub; because these wheat-growers, who are dealing with wheatgrowers’ property, have been prepared to accept on the board as members a commercial member, a finance member and a flour millers’ representative. So the consumers in every branch of the country concerned with wheat have representation on the Australian Wheat Board. Another reason why there should be no necessity to table the annual reports of the board is that the board is unique in Australia. It is not a Commonwealth board but a board established by legislation enacted by this Parliament and complementary legislation enacted in the States. If the Australian Wheat Board is subject to any one, I suppose we could say that it is subject to the Australian Agricultural Council, which consists of the Ministers for Agriculture of every State and the Commonwealth Minister for Primary Industry. It is unlike the Australian Apple and Pear Board or any other board that has been referred to, because these are Commonwealth boards and it is obligatory on them to furnish an annual report to the Parliament.
I concede that when the time arrives, as it might arrive at any time, for the Treasury to meet the liability to wheatgrowers because the overseas price is below the cost of production, the board should then present an annual report to the Parliament. But, while these growers are prepared to do as they are doing in making wheat available at cost of production to the people of Australia and handling their own affairs, I never want to see the day when the board will be asked to present to this Parliament a report that can be chewed about and abused.
I remind honorable members also, so forcibly as I can, that if the time does arrive - I repeat that it may not be far distant, although I hope it never comes - for the Australian taxpayer to assist the wheat-grower, the taxpayer, instead of giving the home consumption price to the wheat-grower for the complete harvest will guarantee only 100,000,000 bushels ot export wheat. It could be that the growers would have more or less to fend for themselves, in respect of 50,000,000, 60,000,000 or 100,000,000 bushels of wheat.
I mention, in passing, that the method of farming has so improved the soil of this country that it is not so difficult to grow a crop of wheat as it was some years ago.
I want to deal with only one more matter before I conclude, that is, the question of segregation which has been raised to-day. This is a hardy annual for wheat-growers. Those people who might have been interested and are interested to-day will recall the discussions beween Sir John Teasdale and Dr. Sutton, one time Director of Agriculture in Western Australia, who, if my memory serves me correctly, was a pupil of William Farrer, who used to breed wheat in this district. They argued for a number of years about this point. Before we go into this question of segregating high protein wheat from other wheats, we must consider the position in Australia as a whole.
Some years ago, Queensland could not grow enough wheat to satisfy its own requirements and was supported by wheat which had been grown in other States, and which, incidentlly, was obtained at the home consumption price. I very much regret to say - other honorable members can bear me out - that there are in Queensland to-day certain sections of wheatgrowers who would like to get away from the stabilization plan because they can sell their 17 per cent, protein wheat and 14 per cent, protein wheat quite freely at a very high price. They forget the assistance that they received from other wheatgrowers when they had to import wheat. I remind them of that, and they should remember too that the soil of the Darling Downs is a God-given gift to them. They do not have to use superphosphates, trace elements or other means of soil improvement. In addition, the soil has a nitrogen content which is eight per cent, higher than that of some of the other wheatgrowing areas in South Australia, Western Australia and parts of New South Wales. I may say that up till a few years ago, Queensland could not grow enough wheat for its own requirements. It is putting only a relatively few acres under wheat at present.
The other States have had to develop very quickly a method of pasture improvement. The nitrogen content of their soils is improving tremendously, and it will not be very long before they can grow more hard wheats than are grown to-day. I used to grow hard wheat in the 1930’s on a farm that was not very old. To-day properties in that area, with the aid of pasture improvement, are suitable for growing harder wheats than they are growing now. But there is a danger in this. I wonder how many people, especially those from the city, who have not engaged, except on paper, in the study of this industry, realize that there is a dangerous world surplus of hard wheat to-day. Canada has 500,000,000 bushels of hard wheat that it cannot sell. The United States of America has 1,000,000,000 bushels of hard wheat, which it has been holding for some years and cannot selL There is a market for our f.a.q. wheat for blending with those hard wheats. Do honorable members want the Australian Wheat Board to segregate our hard wheat and make the competition for the sale of hard wheats greater than it is to-day? Should not the board sell this wheat f.a.q. for a reasonable price under the International Wheat Agreement, and so give a quick return of cash to the Australian growers, rather than hang on to a pool of hard wheat when 1,500,000,000 bushels of hard wheat in North America cannot be disposed of?
At present the Australian Wheat Board is doing the proper thing by the wheatgrower. It is the trustee for the wheatgrower, charged with the responsibility of purchasing all the wheat that is grown, except that which is required for seed and the feeding of stock on the farm. The board is faced with the problem of storing that wheat. Somebody said a few moments ago that the Government assisted the board in building storage. It did, but I do not want members to get .the idea that the Government made a hand-out to the board. All that the Government did in fact, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know, was to guarantee the board’s overdraft with the Commonwealth Bank so that the board could get money quickly to build the storage accommodation that it wanted. But we hear some members say that the wheatgrowers get this and that. The wheatgrowers of Western Australia themselves developed handling facilities for their wheat without a penny from anybody else, and I am very happy to be able to say to-day that the whole of the co-operative bulk handling facilities in Western Australia belong to the wheat-grower, and there are probably some other States that could take an example from that.
– That is socialistic.
– Whenever there is mention of some persons getting together and co-operating, members from the coal fields talk about socialism. Let me see any Socialist give the goods he manufactures to the rest of the community at the home consumption price ! The socialists are the biggest profiteers we have ever had in this country. The Australian Labour Party talks about its democratic socialism. Its attitude was demonstrated here, after the war, in relation to a radio station it has in New South Wales. In the period from 1946 to 1949, when there were supposed to be no inflation and no profits, the Labour Party was dragging out of that radio station a profit of 161 per cent. These are the people who set themselves on a pedestal, saying they are out to protect the worker; but as soon as a few people band themselves together to give the Australian community what we, in the vernacular, call a fair go, honorable members opposite say i’ is socialism.
– What profit was the Australian Labour Party getting out of the radio station?
– On the admission of the leader, Mr. Chifley, whom I respected very much, the Labour Party was getting a profit of 16 J per cent from that radio station. That was reported in “Hansard” in about 1947. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I did not want to say that, but honorable members opposte reminded me of it and I was taken away from a discussion of the bill. -I conclude by saying that while segregation of wheat may not be wrong, I applaud the attitude of the Australian Wheat Board in not rushing into the segregation of wheat while wheat is difficult to sell. The board is doing a great service not only to wheatgrowers but to the millions in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere including the workers on the basic wage, about whom Opposition members speak, although there are very few such people. This attitude of the board means that the public will be able to get bread, flour and biscuits, and even dog biscuits for the greyhounds that race at Harold Park, at a uniform price. By doing a service to the wheat-growers, a section of primary industry, the board is doing a service to the whole of the Australian community.
.- I did not intend to intrude in this debate, but the outrageous comments of members of the Australian Country Party on a bill that is generally acceptable to the Parliament have prompted me to rise, not only to refute some of the statements that have been made but also to commend the Australian Labour Party for introducing, when it was in office, a stabilization scheme for the wheat industry, and for the contribution that it consequently made to the prosperity of the wheatgrowers. This measure provides for the election of an additional Queensland member to the Australian Wheat Board. It is surprising, when this is being done, to hear members of the Country Party once again turning the wheat industry into a political football in an effort to gain political capital.
The Country Party is a strange and motley collection of people. As I look at them and hear their comments, I cannot help but think that the gentleman who wrote “They’re a Weird Mob” had them well in mind. We have just heard the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) speak for the Country Party. He is a motor mechanic by occupation, and not a very good one. Earlier, the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) spoke. He is a radio announcer; yet he speaks for the primary producers! Shortly, the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) will rise. He is an auctioneer, but he will speak on this bill which deals with the wheat industry. No doubt he will be followed by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt), who is a solicitor. This is the motley collection which criticizes a Labour government of days gone by for the stability that it brought to the wheat industry.
I think at this early stage 1 should remind the members of the ‘Country Party that the stabilization scheme for the wheat industry was introduced in 1948 by a Labour Minister, the ;honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) who is now sitting at the table. This was the first peace-time plan which gave a guaranteed price for wheat. It guaranteed a return equal to the cost of production, with periodic review. It also provided for the export of 100,000,000 bushels of wheat a year at a guaranteed price. In addition, Australia was the first member of the International Wheat Agreement and is still a member, but because of the incompetence and the arrogance of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), Great Britain subsequently withdrew from the agreement. The scheme introduced by the honorable member for Lalor in 1948 was endorsed by every State government regardless of political colour, and by the wheat-growers. When members of gnu .Country Party stand up in hillbilly .corner and criticize the Labour government for the security and stability it brought -to the wheat-growers, I think it -is time -that we showed the country people that they are represented in this Parliament by a weird mob.
I listened to-night to the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes). He criticized the proposed rise in rail freights in New South Wales and referred to the effect this will ‘have on wheat-growers. But why was he silent about the Victorian situation? The Bolte Liberal Party -Government in Victoria - a tory administration, representative of interests similar to those represented by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and by other members of the (Country Party-has . in creased freights by 8 per cent. I remind honorable members that the increase in New South Wales is 6 per cent. The Country Party members from New South Wales are up in arms about the rise in. freights in that State, but Country Party members from Victoria sit as silent as the grave while the Bolte Government exploits the wheat-growers through exorbitant increases in freight rates, although these increases are due entirely to its inability to govern and administer. The Country Party Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has increased extravagantly and outrageously the postal charges on country dwellers. But these people in the corner sit silently, until the opportunity arises for them to make political capital out of freight increases in the greatest State in the Commonwealth.
Every honorable member knows that each year the New South Wales Government spends between £300,000 and £400,000 on the maintenance and development of railways for the country people because it believes that this is essential. In times of drought in country districts these railways carry starving stock almost free of charge for primary producers, and in that way make a material contribution that is very much appreciated at these times by this section of the community. But I understand that most of those who benefit by this assistance in the electorate of Lawson use other forms of private transport for their stock when times are prosperous. The honorable member should be fair in his criticisms. I do not mind if he speaks again later because I should like to hear his views on the freight increases in Victoria. If he can criticize the New South Wales Government for an increase of 6 per cent., why does he not say that the Victorian Government has increased freights by 8 per cent.?
I -think some other matters are also worth keeeping in mind. Why was the honorable member for Lawson silent about the overseas shipping combines that have for generations exploited the primary producers of this -country? To-day they hold a gun at the :head of the Government, but we never hear the honorable member for Lawson .criticize them, because he dare not. They are the .people who provide the funds that keep him and his colleagues in this Parliament. They are one of the vested interests behind this capitalistic Government. I should like to hear the honorable member’s views on these overseas shipping combines. And what does he say about the insurance rates that rise from time to time to impose a heavy burden on the primary producers? He is silent on these matters again because the Country Party is a vested interest party that represents nobody but a small section of the squatocracy which for generations has exploited the people on the land. I think, therefore, that I should just offer those few criticisms of his attitude.
My colleague, the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) has asked where I got my experience. I was reared on the land. I come from a place called Currabubula. Unlike most members of the Country Party, I grew up on the land when the Country Party ruled the roost in most States and in the Federal Parliament. Wheat was ls. 7d. a bushel and thousands of people went off the land because the Country Party at that time would not introduce fair stabilization schemes so that the wheat-growers and other primary producers could enjoy some measure of prosperity.
I do not mind rising to-night to expose the members of the Country Party and to reveal their humbug and hypocrisy when dealing with primary producers, particularly wheat-growers. The honorable member for Canning is one of the Country Party members who always criticize socialism. When times are bad for the wheatgrowers, the honorable member is prepared to take anything he can get, but when times are good he criticizes the assistance that is given to them. He would like to have flood relief given for six months and then drought relief given for the other six months of the year. But in good times, he is always prepared to criticize the assistance that is given during floods and droughts. I take little notice of the honorable member for Canning, because his theme is always the same. He never gives any credit to the Labour administration for what it did and for the great contribution it made in giving the primary producers generally a security and stability that were unknown to them before Labour was in office.
I hope that the members of the Country Party will not interject too much, because I will not have very much time to reply to them in the 30 minutes at my disposal. I did some research to-day and later I shall quote some extracts to show what their own journals said about them in the days gone by, what they said about the present Minister for Trade, what they said about the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and what they said about the wheat-growers. These were the statements made by supporters of the Country Party, at times when that party was in office in the Commonwealth and in most of the States.
I say quite frankly that had the Labour Government not come to office in the wai years and subsequently ensured stabilized markets, thus giving security to the primary producers generally, the members of that section of the community would be in as tragic a state now as they were when the Country Party was in control of the Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Government. As the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has demonstrated, it was the policy of the Chifley Government and the Curtin Government to see that the people engaged in primary producing industries got a fair return for their efforts, and also to ensure stabilized markets and guaranteed prices.
The policy of Labour, which was given effect to, required a fair return for the primary producer, a fair return for the worker and a fair price to the consumer. Since this Government has come to office, those principles have gone by the board. The consumer is the one who is now given the least attention. The Government is continually trying to provide for certain primary producers - not for the great majority of them, but for the few wealthy ones and the monopolies that control the primary industries - certain benefits at the expense of the populace at large and of other primary producers. This intention is obvious. For instance, attempts have been made to curtail the subsidy on butter. Certain primary producing interests do not want pensioners and others to get butter at the price at which they are prepared to sell it in the United Kingdom, which is about half the price at which it is sold here. The Government is constantly seeking to whittle down the benefits available to the consumers, while ensuring, at the same time, record prices for those engaged in primary production. Let me remind honorable members opposite that one of the reasons for the drop in butter consumption is that butter has been priced out of the local market. People cannot afford to buy it. Pensioners and others are entitled to some assistance to allow them to obtain butter.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would like to know when the honorable member is going to touch the substance of the bill.
– The point of order is correctly taken, but the honorable member for Grayndler is doing no worse than other honorable members have done.
– I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your wise comments. Having listened to previous speakers, I thought I had plenty of scope to range widely. I want now to bring honorable members of the Country Party back to the legislation we are discussing. Listen to what the “ Ouyen and the North-West Express “ had to say on 7th February, 1945, about the Country Party -
Desperate efforts are being made by members of the Country Party to discredit 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 Country Party members.
That is not a bad indictment of the Country Party, coming from an organ that helps to put it into power from time to time. It went on to say -
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.
These are the farmers’ own representatives that are being criticized, not the members of the Labour Government. Mr. T. W. Lillie, who was president of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation in 1945, said -
Mr. McEwen was first at one extreme ; now he is at another. His gratuitous insults to wheat growers who refuse to follow him but instead have maintained a steadfast policy are a piece of colossal impertinence.
The man he is referring to is one of the primary producers’ own representatives, who was elevated to one of the highest positions in the Country Party It was not the Labour administration of the day that was being criticized. Those at fault were the members of the Country Party. Let me cite an extract from “ The Wheat Grower “ of 27th November, 1941 - and I ask members of the Country Party to listen attentively, and especially the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who is seeking to interject. I admit that he was only young at that time. In fact, he was probably in his cradle. He did not know how bad the Country Party was, otherwise he might not have joined it. I shall bring him up to date, because he is not a bad type of fellow. This is what appeared in “The Wheat Grower” of 27th November, 1941 -
What traitors these Federal Country Party repre sentatives have proved themselves to the people they claim to represent.
Numerous representations …. to the U.A.P.-C.P. Federal Government proved the futility of making representations to a party whose aims and objects were and are completely at variance with the aims of the primary producers.
– Who said that?
– The young, intelligent, upandcoming star of the Country Party has asked me who said it, and I tell him that it appeared in one of the official organs of the primary producers, “ The Wheat Grower”, on 27th November, 1941. That gives an idea of what the producers thought of the Country Party at that time. On 22nd August, 1939 - history of this kind is always worth recounting - the annual conference of the Wheat and Wool Growers Union was held in Perth, and a motion was passed. I ask the young honorable member for Richmond to listen attentively; if he does, his resignation may be in the post at any time. The motion was in these terms: -
That a letter of protest be sent by this Conference to the Prime Minister registering our extreme disgust at his failure to stabilize the price of wheat.
That we deplore the apathy and lack of initia tive displayed by the Federal Country Party and that a telegram be sent to Sir Earle Page-
Everybody knows him - explaining this and our disgust that the Federal Country Party has failed to see justice done to the wheat-growers of Australia.
This constitutes an indictment of the Country Party for its incompetence and ineffectiveness in looking after the rights of the wheat-growers of this nation. These facts are well known to many wheatgrowers who were well off in the war years and undoubtedly appreciated the benefits of Labour legislation.
One of the most truthful men we have ever had in this Parliament, a very greatly respected man, was the late Mr. A. G. Cameron, former Speaker of this House, who, I say in all sincerity, won his seat in a landslide to Labour probably because of his integrity - because the people believed, quite rightly, that he was a man of his word, and because they believed what he said. Mr. A. G. Cameron, an ex-leader of the Country Party, and at that time a member of the Liberal Party, in 1949 aptly described the results of the apathy of the Liberal-Country Party towards the wheat-grower when he said’ -
It was because we went to the country without a wheat policy that we are now in opposition.
When the responsibility rested upon us to do what ought to be done for the wheat-grower wedid not accept it.
That was a damning indictment from a man who at one time was a Country Party leader. If he did not know what the position was, who else in this country did know?
I could cite remarks such as these indefinitely, but I do not want to bore my audience. If the members of the Country Party do not want me to read all the other extracts I have before me, I will just read one or two more and then have the others incorporated in “ Hansard “. These documents probably contain the most factual history of the primary producing industry that could be obtained. They include the following statement: -
Between 1939 and 1948 rural indebtedness in Australia fell by about 17 per cent. In terms of money it would not be an exaggeration to say that primary producers have reduced their mortgages by about £80,000,000.
That was during the time when a Labour government was in power. In the period immediately before that, many thousands of farmers in every State walked off their farms. I hear another member of the Country Party trying to interject. He has also been misled into joining the party, and did not realize what he was up against until it was pointed out by me to-night. The position of farmers in the pre-war years is worth mentioning. The document before me contains the following information: -
According to the Herald of 1/8/40 the Farmers’ Wheat Adjustment Board contended that 75 per cent of Victoria’s 13,000 wheat-growers were then facing, a financial, crisis. In 1939 Mr. Simpson, then State President of the Victorian Country Party, declared that 80 per cent of the Victorian wheat-growers were bankrupt..
At a time when the Country Party was in office in the Commonwealth sphere and in most of the States, the State President of the Victorian Country Party claimed that 80 per cent, of the Victorian wheat-growers were bankrupt. Is it not hypocrisy for honorable members opposite to suggest that the Labour Government failed the wheatgrowers? That Government made it possible for them to reduce their indebtedness by £80,000,000, while the cost of living was kept at a reasonable level, and they had the advantage of the only beneficial scheme that has been introduced for them, and which was outlined to-night by the honorable member for Lalor. Mr. Dunstan, a former Premier of Victoria, said, in March, 1940, that 2,000 wheat farms in Victoria were deserted. To-day you cannot buy a wheat farm for love or money, thanks to the stabilization schemes introduced by Labour in 1948 and subsequently. In South Australia prior to the influence of Labour between 1,400 and 1,500 farmers passed through the Bankruptcy Court in a few months. That is an indication of what happened in those years.
I notice that members of the Australian Country Party are extremely silent when these damning indictments are read out. The auctioneer - the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) - is taking voluminous notes so that he will be able to reply to me. I contend that a similar situation to that which I have outlined applied in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales. Farmers were going bankrupt. Men and women were walking off the farms from one end of the country to the other, under the Australian Country Party’s administration.
Labour has stabilized the wheat industry whether the Australian Country Party members believe it or not. The wheat-growers of Australia are pleased about that, as I can show from these documents that I have been reading.. Are members of the Australian Country Party afraid of what is contained in these documents, or will they allow them to be incorporated in “ Hansard “?
Government supporters. - No, no!
– I anticipated that. Honorable members opposite fear the damning effects of what is contained in these documents. Members of the Australian Country Party realize that if these documents were incorporated in “ Hansard “ the information contained in them would be available for their electors to see. They highlight the falseness of the charges that have been made against the Labour Party.
I think I have forcibly answered the criticisms levelled at the record of the Labour Party when in office. Labour can look back proudly at its record of achievement when the honorable member for Lalor was the responsible Minister. Under Labour, prices were stabilized and markets were guaranteed to the Australian wheat producer. In all fields of endeavour as far as primary production is concerned Labour’s record will stand the challenge of any government. To-night I record my disgust at the attitude of members of the Australian Country Party in respect of a bill that is practically a non-party measure. They have refused to give effect to a policy and have criticized Labour’s record. But that record will bear scrutiny at all times.
.- This debate to-night has taken an unusual turn. In fact, we have, had a turn from the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly). He has attacked the Australian Country Party, and me - a lawyer - in particular. I should like to remind the honorable member that on one occasion I had a client just like him who, unfortunately, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; he would have been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment if I had not done as well as I did for him.
Although the honorable member for Grayndler is still at large and he has strayed all over- the place in his speech, I remind him that the bill before the House is one dealing with the admission of an extra member to the Australian Wheat Board. As a Queenslander, I am pleased at the Govern ment’s, action in bringing down this bill. In the first place I am pleased that Queensland has been given parity with the other States. We have heard during the courseof this debate that Queensland grows some very good wheat. In fact, some good wheat is grown in one part of my electorate. Another reason why I am pleased is because, this debate has served to stress that the primary producer in this country is a very important person. Not only is he important for his production of wheat and other grains, but also because of the many other things that he produces and which can be sold overseas, thus earning income for Australia with which to pay for our imports. For that reason I say that this debate has served a very useful purpose in stressing the function of the primary producer in Australia.
It is unnecessary for me in dealing with a bill such as this to speak at great length. I conclude by saying how pleased I am that the Government has introduced the bill. I am sure that it will prove to be of benefit to the great wheat industry.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me perhaps bring the House back to the bill by referring to the second-reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann), in which he said -
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act 1958 to provide for the appointment to the Australian Wheat Board of an additional member representing the Queensland wheat-growers.
The bill is a simple one and I support it in every way because I think that Queensland should be encouraged to grow as much wheat as possible. As the board meets so far away from Queensland, the appointment of an additional member to the board will prove advantageous, not only to Queensland but to the whole of Australia.
– Nobody is against the bill. Why are you talking?
– I agree that the bill is supported on all sides but many speeches have been made this afternoon and tonight and I am merely exercising my right to take part in the debate. I represent a great wheat-growing constituency and I have listened with interest to the speeches made in this place to-day. A few minutes ago we were given what I would call an exhibition by the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), with whom I have crossed swords on many occasions. His speech to-night was ample justification for the things that I have said about him in the past regarding his cavalier treatment of the facts. Fancy bringing into this place a dossier of what somebody said ten, twelve, fifteen or twenty years ago! The remarks of some disgruntled Labour supporter who wrote to the “Wheatgrower”, or made a speech in a country town which was high-lighted by the newspapers, can be dragged up twenty years later! That kind of action shows what a poor case the honorable member for Grayndler had. I think that most honorable members in this House, and most people in this country, would consider it a favour if I disregarded him altogether. I want to say a final word with regard to the honorable member for Grayndler. If the Labour Party had been so good to the wheat-growers and if the wheatgrowers had so much faith in the Labour Party, why is it that for the last ten years not one wheat-growing electorate in the whole of Australia has been represented in this House by the Labour Party?
– What about the electorate of Grey, which is the largest in Australia?
– The honorable member contends that his electorate is the largest wheat-growing area in Australia. His electorate may be a large one, but as far as its wheat-growing activities are concerned it is in the pocket handkerchief class. He is the one member in this House who is challenging what I have said. The honorable member for Grey - just one member representing a few wheat-growers - is the sum total of the Labour Party representation in wheat-growing areas. If there were any truth in what the honorable member for Grayndler has said, all the wheat-growers would be rushing to put Labour members into office. But of course, the wheat-growers and other primary producers know that the Labour Party has no love for them at all, and they treat the candidates that the Labour Party puts up in a way that they should be treated.
Certain honorable members have said today that when it becomes necessary, under the stabilization plan, for the Government to provide money to increase the price of wheat to the found cost of production there will be a great drain on the taxpayers. Honorable members on both sides of the House have made that statement during the debate, but what is the true position? For years, during the war and afterwards, the home-consumption price for wheat was so low that the Australian community, and therefore the taxpayers, gained much from the wheat-grower. Had the wheat-grower been able to sell all his wheat on the world market, he would have received millions of pounds more than he, in fact, received. In any event, the assistance will not be necessary for at least eighteen months, because I have it on the best authority that there is more than £10,000,000 in the stabilization fund.
– Who is that authority?
– One of the best authorities in the country, and a leader in the industry. The point is that the Government will not have to find any money for this purpose for at least eighteen months. There are three pools yet to come, not including the one that is now in operation. Even if the taxpayer has to contribute, the wheat-grower has no chance to get back the money that he lost when he sold his wheat at home for a much lower price than he could have secured for it overseas.
Much has been said about rising costs and the need for greater production. People say that if we could have greater production we could combat rising costs, and that is true. Therefore, we have to produce wheat to the limit. In a question which I addressed recently to the new Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Dr. Donald Cameron), I asked whether he would urge the C.S.I.R.O. to do as much as it could to combat the spread of skeleton weed in the wheat areas of Victoria. Already skeleton weed has a good hold in New South Wales and it is also getting a good hold in Victoria. The wheat-growers of Victoria, those who represent them, and the people of the country towns who are dependent for their livelihood on the production of wheat, want to see action by the C.S.I.R.O. to stop the spread of skeleton weed and, ultimately, to eradicate it. Unless action is taken, the cost of production of wheat will be increased considerably and certain cereal-growing land will be rendered useless. If that should happen, the economy of this country will be affected adversely.
I suggest that the Minister in charge of the C.S.I.R.O. should send two or three of his scientists to Victoria. If they come to me, I shall have them met at certain towns in my electorate and they will be taken to places where skeleton weed is causing anxiety to many wheat-growers.
– This is all very interesting, but what has it to do with the bill?
– Again, we hear the honorable member for East Sydney, a Sydney metropolitan electorate, trying to criticize me because I am fighting for assistance to be given to wheat-growers, to help them maintain standards of production that are so essential to the general welfare of the people of this country, including those represented by the honorable member for East Sydney. The spread of skeleton weed is a very serious matter. It is not difficult to see why the Labour Party has not received support from the wheat-growers, in the light of the interjections we hear from honorable members opposite when another member of the Parliament is trying, to the best of his ability, to represent his constituents.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I desire to ask you in what part of the bill skeleton weed is mentioned?
-Skeleton weed has a relation to the growing of wheat. If skeleton weed is not controlled there will be no wheat. We have before us a bill dealing with wheat.
– The question that the honorable member for East Sydney has asked you, Sir, shows his complete ignorance of the subject. I want to see scientists go to my electorate and visit places where skeleton weed is gaining ground. The scientists may be able to find means to combat it and so save important cereal-growing country from being overrun. Their assistance would be of great benefit.
Another point that I want to make concerns wheat terminals. I have long been an advocate of decentralization. There are certain honorable members who know very little about areas that are remote from the cities, but as some other honorable members know, the port of Portland will be officially opened next November. Portland is to be a great decentralized port which the largest ships afloat may enter with safety. In the Mallee electorate, and also in the Wimmera and Wannon electorates, residents are of the opinion that wheat, and other commodities produced in those areas should be shipped from Portland. In order that that may be done, wheat terminals should be built at this decentralized port. With the building of wheat terminals, the railway line from Horsham, passing through Toolondo and Hamilton, could be regarded, so that wheat from the Mallee and Wimmera districts could be taken to Portland in the future. I have every confidence in the future of the port. I cannot see why wheat should be taken right down to Geelong, when it will be possible to transport it quickly to Portland, where there will be ample room for ships to come in, and whence the wheat may be sent overseas. At the same time, the goods that are necessary for primary producers and others in the Wannon, Wimmera and Mallee electorates could be received at Portland.
I know that the handling of wheat in Victoria is a matter for the Grain Elevators Board, which is subject to State legislation, but I believe that the Mnister for Primary Industry and the Australian Wheat Board should urge that the port of Portland be utilized as much as possible. Before it can be used to maximum advantage however, wheat terminals must be built there.
– Why not answer the statements made by the honorable member for Port Adelaide?
– I shall answer him all right, but not until I am near the end of my speech, for the simple reason that I know that when I start to answer him there will be such an uproar by honorable members opposite in trying to stop me from speaking that I would not be able to put before the people and the Parliament other most constructive points that I want to make.
Reference has been made to increased freights. An honorable member asked why it was that some people objected to freight rises in New South Wales but did not object to them in Victoria.
– Why did you not object?
– I do not enter into State matters, although I point out that the Country Party is protesting in this respect. In Victoria, a Liberal Government has increased freights, and the wheat-grower must suffer. In that State, the Country Party, strange to say, is with Labour in protesting against the increase. In New South Wales, on the other hand, a Labour Government has increased freights, and the Country Party is with the Liberal Party in protesting against the increase. There we have a rather strange position, but the Country Party is consistent. I shall not go into the fine details of the matter because I am not a State member of Parliament. I do noi know whether you can hear the honorable member for Grayndler muttering in the background, sir. He is the most insulting man in .the Parliament to-night. He continues to interject and to make objectionable remarks.
I come now to the increase of 4d. a bushel in the found cost of production of wheat. It came into operation as from 1st December and applies to wheat delivered from last season’s harvest. Let me point out what happened immediately after this increase of 4d. a bushel in the cost of production. First the millers used it as an excuse to increase the price of flour. I say “ excuse “ because an increase of a mere 4d. a bushel is no valid reason for increasing the price of flour. After the price of flour was increased the bakers said, “ We must increase the price of bread because flour has gone up “. The result of this was that even the people of Sydney, Melbourne and other places who bought sandwiches for their lunches were required to pay more for those sandwiches simply because the wheat-grower was granted an extra 4d. a bushel for his wheat. Any excuse at all is good enough for some people.
I shall tell honorable members a story to illustrate my point. On one occasion, a man went to a farmer and said, “Can I borrow this piece of rope?” The farmer replied, “ No, I require it to tie up milk “. The man went away, but another man who heard the farmer refuse to lend the rope said, “Why did you refuse to lend him the rope? You cannot tie up milk with rope “. The farmer replied, “ Any excuse is good enough if you don’t want to lend a thing “. Similarly, any excuse is good enough for certain people who want to increase prices.
Now let me answer the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) . He said that stabilization schemes are socialistic. Let us examine the position ‘closely. Let us examine what really happened in connexion with stabilization. The wheatgrowers were asked to vote on the question of whether or not they wanted a stabilization plan. A majority voted in favour of it. Later the question was put to them during this Government’s term, concerning a renewal of the scheme, and an overwhelming majority voted in favour of it. That being so, it can be truly said that the scheme was approved by the vote of those people who were really concerned - the wheatgrowers. They expressed their approval of the scheme by their vote.
Labour’s conception of socialization is something quite different. I ask any member of the Labour Party - that party professes to favour a policy of socialization - to say what is wrong with submitting the question to the people and asking them to decide at a ballot if they desire socialism. If the people carry it by a democratic vote, I will support it, because I support democracy. But no, Labour will not do that Now the Labour Party seeks to confuse the people by suggesting that stabilization schemes are socialistic. They are not socialistic for they are approved by the people engaged in the particular industry. If the people of Australia approve of socialism, then, of course, we have to accept it. But there is no chance of that. I have been reminded of the statement by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) that the socialization plan of Labour is in a little book which I said recently is in cold storage.
Let us examine the history of this scheme. The honorable member for Port Adelaide waxed most eloquent about the wheatgrower, the man on the land, and about everything the wheat-grower did. I have just pointed out that the term “ socialism “ does not apply to the wheat stabilization scheme for the simple reason .that the growers voted for this scheme. They are in agreement with the stabilization scheme. The honorable member for Port Adelaide was on the land at one time. He lives in the city now and he seems to find fault because certain people - workers and others in the city - do not get the protection that he suggests they should have. Let me say to this Parliament, to Australia, and even to the world, that if we had not had all the tariffs, subsidies and so on that have gone to assist wage-earners and others in the cities, the primary producers would have been able to operate without any stabilization plan at all. The action of past governments, including Labour governments, in fostering secondary industries by raising tariffs so high that the cost of imported goods required by primary producers became almost prohibitive would have forced the primary producer out of business altogether if he had not adopted stabilization schemes such as those I have mentioned.
– Who brought in this scheme?
– Labour suggested a scheme that was not acceptable to the people.
– A vote was taken in 1948 when Labour was in office.
– Everyone -knows that the Labour Government sought to introduce a scheme under which the wheatgrower would be required to pay a levy on the wheat produced in the year prior to that in which the stabilization scheme was to have commenced to operate. That was unconstitutional and the bill had to be withdrawn and redrafted. Members in the Country Party corner fought against such an injustice to the wheat-grower, and on our advice a just stabilization scheme was introduced. I do not like to refer to these matters, but one has only to mention to wheat-growers throughout the country the New Zealand wheat deal - the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) had no part in it-
– You were the first one to exonerate me.
– I am saying so now. Wait a minute! Some of these Labour members are very touchy! The honorable member for Lalor had no part in the deal. I was at a meeting at Sea Lake recently and some one spoke about the honorable member for Lalor making a deal with New Zealand. I have always denied that in the
House, and I rose at that meeting and pointed out that the honorable member for Lalor had no part in the deal, that he was not even the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture at the time. That friendly man, Mr Scully, was the Minister. Surely the honorable member for Lalor did not think that I was about to blame him for that! Nevertheless, the fact is that the Labour Party sold the wheat to New Zealand at a very low price and in that way subsidized that country. The way in which honorable members opposite are interjecting now indicates very clearly just how they feel about these things. The price at which the wheat was sold on that occasion was very low indeed and New Zealand benefited greatly from it. There is not the slightest doubt in the world that had the government of the day realized that markets would improve to the extent to which they did, that deal would never have been made.
Finally, let us never forget that the people decide who treats them best. I have heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) say frequently, “We will be satisfied with the result of the election because it has been decided by the vote of the people “. Yet, within two months of an election we hear the members of the Labour Party say, “ If we only had an election now Labour would win “. We hear that parrot cry continually from honorable members opposite. The important point is that wheat-growing and other primary producing areas are represented in this Parliament by men who are not members of the Labour Party. The primary producers remember their experience under a Labour government. That experience has enabled them to decide whether they are better in the hands of a Labour government or under the guidance of a private enterprise government. They are the judges of these matters and they express their decision by their vote. The results of those ballots are on record in Australia for every one to see. Those records refute all the arguments submitted by the honorable member for Grayndler and other honorable members to-night. It is only by returning to this Parliament nonLabour governments on every occasion that the man on the land can be assured of his continued occupancy of the land and the maintenance of the position that he holds in the country. If Australia is to develop, governments must never underestimate the value of the primary producer, and the people of Australia can depend upon this Government to keep in mind at all times the importance of the primary producer to our future development. That is why only last night I said that through the Development Bank the primary producers should be able to obtain the credit necessary to enable them to continue to engage satisfactorily in the form of production that they follow, and which is so essential not only to the workers and people all over Australia generally, but also to the economy of this great nation.
– in reply - When the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) referred in his speech to the Australian Wheat Board, he said that it should present a report to the Parliament. While I was listening to the debate I was making notes of some of the statements made by honorable members, and in making a note of that statement by the honorable member for Wentworth I inadvertently wrote, “present a report to politics “. I mention that merely to underline the point that it seems that whenever wheat is mentioned in this House, the issue immediately becomes political.
I would not attempt to follow all the ramblings that have occurred in this debate, particularly on matters that have no reference to the bill or, indeed, to the subject before us. However, I shall deal with some of the statements made by honorable members.
The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), speaking first for the Opposition, gave this bill his blessing and that of the Opposition. I may say that I appreciate the attitude taken generally to the measure. The honorable member said that the effect of stabilization on primary industry was all to the good. I agree entirely with him. In the past, producers worked and organized, and then had to accept defeat and wait until such time as they got the type of organization they required. We see in the case of this industry the evolution from the system of State boards, which proved unsatisfactory to meet the needs of an allAustralian industry, insomuch as the system of having State boards did not cater for our export arrangements, which have become so vital a factor in the selling of this product. To-day we see the need for something beyond the Australian Wheat Board. The Government has seen that need, and has taken the steps to put wheat marketing on an international basis. To this end, the Wheat Utilization Committee has been formed to undertake international discussions affecting our sales overseas, especially having regard to the surpluses that have occurred in several of the wheat producing countries. So I agree with the honorable member for Lalor as to the effect of stabilization. We must continue with this evolutionary process in order that we may meet the demands of circumstances at any particular time. I think that the Government has in every way possible, taken the necessary steps not only to confer internationally, but also to seek overseas markets for our wheat.
The honorable member for Farrer (Mr. Fairbairn) referred to two committees that were appointed to investigate the production and marketing of wheat. I should like to say to the honorable member that those committees were appointed under the auspices of the Australian Agricultural Council, and it is to me. as the chairman for the time being of that council, that the reports of the committees will come. The committees were not appointed by this Parliament or by the Minister for Primary Industry on behalf of the Parliament. They were appointed, as I have said, by the Australian Agricultural Council, which comprises the Ministers for Agriculture of the various States and the Commonwealth Minister for Primary Industry, who acts as its chairman. I understand that at least one of these committees has completed its investigations and that its findings are unanimous. I think that the other committee is also nearing the completion of its investigations and the presentation of its findings. I can therefore expect a report from each of those committees to be presented to the Australian Agricultural Council.
The honorable member for Farrer, in discussing segregation of wheat, and referring in particular to evidence that no doubt has been presented to the committee of inquiry, said, in effect, that the implementation of a policy of wheat segregation would be upset because Sir John
Teasdale, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, is entirely against wheat segregation. I hope that the committee will not come to its conclusions in this regard merely on the evidence of one man alone. No doubt we all know Sir John Teasdale’s opinion of wheat segregation; but surely there are, or were, other witnesses prepared to give evidence on wheat segregation. I agree that the quality of our wheat is a most vital factor.
I agree with the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) that there is no room, or demand, in any part of the world for inferior wheat. We cannot expect that an industry of such magnitude and of such importance to the Australian economy as the wheat industry would take no action in relation to this all-important matter. In the past we have had men like Dr. Sutton of Western Australia, Souter of Queensland, and other notables, trying always, by experiment, to improve the quality of wheat. We must continue that kind of work so that we can stand behind our product. I think it behoves Australian wheat-growers to have regard also to the way in which they deliver their wheat. I have seen some samples of wheat delivered which have not been entirely satisfactory. No wonder we get occasional complaints from buyers when wheat is not delivered in a clean condition.
The honorable member for Wentworth said that the Australian Wheat Board ought to present its report to the Parliament. He also said that four of the members of the board were over the normal retiring age of 65 years. I think it was the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) who pointed out that the Australian Wheat Board is not a Commonwealth board in the true sense of the term. It is a board set up conjointly by the States and the Commonwealth. It is entirely a marketing board, established for the purpose of marketing the product of the wheat-growers. Because the board was formed conjointly by the Commonwealth and the States, it reports to the Australian Agricultural Council, and that fact, of course, brings the Minister for Agriculture of each of the six States into the picture. Also, as a growers’ board, it makes an annual report to the wheatgrowers organizations, or at least a report on each wheat pool as it is concluded - the wheat-growers being the owners of the wheat to market which the board was established.
Now I want to make some comments on various remarks made concerning the board. I want first to pay a compliment to the ability of the members of the board, and the excellent way in which they have conducted the affairs of the board. In the competitive world of to-day, it has not been an easy task to market wheat, and the position has not been eased by the fact that we had a virtual drought year in 1957- 58, as a result of which we did not have the wheat available to keep our markets supplied. Everybody knows that once you lose a market it is difficult, in a competitive world, to regain, it. During that drought year, if my figures are correct, we sold only 84,000,000 bushels; but last year we were able to sell, over all, approximately 150,000,000 bushels. We hope that this year, because of the way in which the Government has sought to assist the board with overseas marketing, we will exceed that figure considerably. The crop that we have received is approximately 176,000,000 bushels, and, on the face of it, we could sell as much as that this year. So I get back to the point that the board has done an excellent job in all those circumstances. When reference is made to four of its members being too old, if we apply that argument logically we should say to the wheatgrower when he is 65 years of age, “Pull out, brother, you are too old “. We would also have to apply it, of course, to members of Parliament. But, as members of the Parliament we think that the older we are the more wisdom we have and the better able we are to apply the wisdom that we have acquired. Certainly Sir John Teasdale knows more about wheat than most people have ever known. He is a very capable man. I pay him that compliment, as I pay it to every other member of the board. If any one thinks the members of the Australian Wheat Board have been appointed because of sentiment and soft feeling, and that, therefore, no one would like to dismiss them, he can dismiss that thought entirely.
I do not know why the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) spoke on this measure. He approved of an additional member being appointed to the board to represent Queensland. Then in a flow of oratory he said that Queensland has had all the increase in wheat production - 32 per cent. - whilst the Australian overall increase in production was only 40 per cent. Why he should pick the drought year of 1957-58 and confine his figures entirely to that year is beyond my comprehension. Surely, he could be fairer in his approach to the industry as a whole, particularly when this year, in spite of drought in some of the States, production will reach 176,000,000 bushels. Then his views would be regarded much more seriously. It is just too stupid - 1 must use the word “ stupid “ - for him to give figures for a drought year only, and compare production in Queensland with that in the other States which were suffering drought.
I did not quite catch the figures which the member for Wimmera (Mr. King) quoted. I think he said that Queensland produced 7,000,000 bushels. If I did not hear him aright, I stand corrected. Queensland’s production this year, in spite of weather adversity - not drought but excessive rain during the harvest period when much of the crop was lost as a consequencewas 12,000,000 bushels. It will reach a total of approximately 18,000,000 bushels, including stocks, and because of that increase in production all the States unanimously agreed that Queensland was entitled to an additional representative on the board.
The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Kelly) challenged the method of selection of members of the board. He said that they too often yielded to political pressure. He instanced the Australian Meat Board whose members are nominated by the Minister. The members of that board are appointed by me after nomination by organizations. But if the honorable member suggests that some of these organizations are not affected politically - I do not imply party politics but rather sectional politics in the community based on circumstances for the time being - he had better have another think. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) has had experience similar to mine in regard to these organizations, and he would agree that to get unanimity among them would indeed be something new in the history of the industry.
Board members are elected by a vote of the growers. That is a democratic sys tem, and I shall certainly not seek to alter it with regard to the Australian Wheat Board. In Queensland and Western Australia, members of the State boards are elected by a vote of the growers, and those boards appoint their representatives to the Australia-wide boards. So, overall, the vote of the growers determines the producer representation on the Australian Wheat Board. Other members are appointed by the Government to represent the finance side, and millers, consumers and so on. The honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) sought to get some subsidy paid, but whether he meant by the Government or the wheat-growers he did not say. Probably he was not concerned about that point so long as he could get a subsidy paid to assist the millers. If I understood the honorable member correctly, he implied that the Australian Wheat Board controlled the flour millers. That is not correct. The Wheat Board does not control the flour millers; they are quite independent of the board. The board does not refuse wheat to the millers, and if South Australian millers have been complaining about any lack of delivery from other States, let me say to the honorable member that they can get their wheat from other States if they prefer it to the wheat of their own States.
– At an extra price.
– But the wheatgrowers in other States ask why they should subsidize South Australian millers, by the payment of a subsidy to those millers. I am quite in agreement with the wheatgrowers on that point. Why should they do so? If they did, we would have the anomaly of Queensland millers possibly wanting some Victorian soft wheat to mill with their hard wheat, and we would have wheat being carted all over Australia, the freight to be paid by the wheat-growers. I would not subscribe to that policy, nor would the Australian wheat-growers.
There is more than ample wheat in South Australia to meet current mill requirements. The honorable member said that South Australian mills are not able to work the hours that they previously worked. That gets back to the world market for flour. Two or three years ago our flour trade was 880,000 tons, whereas to-day it is less than 500,000 tons. The only part of that export flour trade which the wheat board has any control over at all is the contract for Ceylon; and it let that contract on a quota basis to assist the millers so that they could all get their rightful share according to the hours they worked. That is done quite fairly to all concerned. The rest is a matter of the millers getting the wheat from their own States or else paying the extra freight from the other States if they so wish.
The honorable member’s charge against the Australian Wheat Board cannot be maintained, having regard to all the facts. The Government has had some discussion with Sir Thomas Playford on this matter. Everything is fair and above board in that regard; the South Australian millers have not been penalized. Indeed, when the drought was so bad in South Australia that it looked as though they were not going to get any crop at all, the board held back 5,000,000 bushels of last season’s crop to ensure that they would have sufficient supplies.
– Do you refer to their own local requirements?
– Yes. That is the approximate amount that South Australia required- about 5,000,000 bushels. It has had that surplus, which was retained, plus the 9,000,000 bushels, and it was a surprise to everybody that the position finally turned out as good as that. South Australia has ample supplies for its own requirements, but not so much for export as that State usually has.
I want to confine my remarks entirely to matters that have been referred to by various speakers and which pertain to the bill. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) suggested that an observer should be appointed to the Wheat Board from Tasmania. If we established that precedent on the Wheat Board we would have observers on every commodity board from States that were not represented on them, looking after their particular interests. That proposal really could not be accepted. I think that the wheat-growers of Australia have been particularly generous to Tasmania by making an allowance of 2d. a bushel in respect of freight in order to enable that State to get its wheat more cheaply than it otherwise would do. The wheat-growers have really levied themselves to assist the Tasmanian consumer to that extent. So it cannot be suggested, by any stretch of the imagination, that the Tasmanian interests have been neglected. The suggestion of the honorable member for Wilmot is certainly not acceptable. However, I thank the House for the approach that has been made to this bill. The Government is pleased that there is no opposition to it in any form.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Hasluck) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, some time ago, I referred to the case of an ex-serviceman who had been very unjustly treated by the Repatriation Department and by the Government whose attention I have directed to the details of this case. It concerns a Mr. Henry G. Alderton. This gentleman had six and a half years’ war service and 27 years’ service in the Commonwealth Public Service. He was in receipt of a 100 per cent, war pension. Because of failing health and because he had been losing time from his work, he applied to be retired as medically unfit from the Commonwealth Public Service. He was sent to the government doctor, who declared that he was not unfit for further duty. So he was prevented from retiring on medical grounds. This man was so ill and became so despondent that he resigned on 25th June, 1957.
– What was his age?
– He was 43 years of age at the time of his resignation. He then applied to the District Employment Office at Waverley for work. In September, only a little time after his retirement, he wanted to be registered for work. He was rejected by the Commonwealth Employment Service, which declared that he was permanently incapacitated for work and that service recommended him to apply for an invalid pension. I remind honorable members that shortly before then the government doctor had refused him permission to retire on medical grounds. He applied for an invalid pension, which was granted.
At this time, he approached the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston), who happens to be the member of Parliament for the electorate adjoining mine. The honorable member for Phillip advised this ex-serviceman to apply to the Repatriation Department for a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman’s war pension. As a result of the honorable member’s intervention and advice, this exserviceman, who had been in receipt of a 100 per cent, war pension, had his pension reduced to 80 per cent. As far as I can ascertain, that was the end of the effort by the honorable member for Phillip on behalf of this ex-serviceman constituent.
Mr. Alderton then applied to the Commonwealth Department of Social Services to be registered under the rehabilitation scheme. His application was rejected - on this occasion on the ground that he was unemployable. He then applied for reappointment to the Commonwealth Public Service, although he was still very ill. Being a married man with two children - one under the age of sixteen years - he felt that he had no alternative but to apply for reappointment to the Commonwealth Public Service. This all happened in the course of a few months. The government doctor who had previously refused him permission to retire on medical grounds, on this occasion rejected his application for reappointment because he could not satisfy the physical requirements of the Commonwealth Public Service. He then applied to the Repatriation Department for assistance in obtaining work and was advised by that department that he was unemployable. He then went for a further medical examination by the Repatriation Department and its doctors declared him to be incurable.
As a result of resigning from the department instead of being retired on medical grounds, as he was entitled to expect, this unfortunate ex-serviceman lost a pension which, I understand, would have amounted to £11 10s. per week. I took the matter up in the House and I have written to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper). In a letter that was addressed to me on 27th February, 1960, the Prime Minister stated -
I cannot agree that medical opinions relating to different times and given for differing purposes can be said to be in conflict. The fact that Mr. Alderton was subsequently found permanently incapacitated for the purpose of payment of a social services pension cannot affect the issue so far as possible retirement from the Service is concerned.
I say that that is an absolutely rubbishing reply, a callous reply, to an ex-serviceman who served six and a half years in the forces and came back home an invalid.
This unfortunate ex-serviceman is so despondent at the failure of the Government to do anything to help him, and at the inactivity of his own member of Parliament - a member of the Liberal Party - to do anything for him, that in his latest communication to me he has asked me to perform a service on his behalf. It is a very sad task that I have to undertake. His letter reads -
I am returning some tokens which were not earned in an office or factory, for which I have no further use, and together with my discharge I request you return them to the Menzies Government. Mr. Ward, you may think me bitter. The appropriate term would be sick and disillusioned. Money cannot replace 14 years of misery.
This unfortunate ex-serviceman did not enclose his certificate of discharge - evidently he forgot to do so - but he enclosed his service ribbons. I do not know very much about these ribbons, but they seem to me to indicate that he had considerable service. As I have said, he was in the Army for six and a half years. Because he has been disillusioned and sickened by the inactivity of this Government to give him justice, he has asked me to return these ribbons to the Government. I do so now by putting them on the opposite side of the table. They can be given to whatever Minister the Government cares to confer them upon. I certainly can believe that this unfortunate ex-serviceman has every reason to complain.
Let me summarize this man’s case: He served for six and a half years in the Army and came back from the front incapacitated to such an extent that he received a 100 per cent, war pension. He had had 27 years service in the Commonwealth Public Service, but he became so ill that he had to retire. Let me interpose here and say that the Government benches are almost deserted, and there are two Ministers almost asleep on the front bench while this important matter is being brought to the Government’s notice. That indicates this Government’s callous indifference to exservicemen. A Commonwealth medical officer said that this man’s condition was not such as to warrant his compulsory retirement on medical grounds but, within a month or so after his retirement, another Commonwealth medical officer classified him as totally and permanently incapacitated and eligible to receive the invalid pension. This ex-serviceman registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service, he approached the Repatriation Department and he asked the Department of Social Services to employ him in the rehabilitation section, but those three bodies declared him to be unemployable and incurable.
I make this final appeal to the Government to re-examine this case and to give this ex-serviceman, who has rendered such great service to his country, at least just and reasonable treatment. He is still a comparatively young man. He has two children, one under 16 years of age whom he has to support. He is disillusioned as a result of the treatment that he has received. If the Government wants the people of this country to believe that this Parliament is concerned about the well-being of exservicemen, it should give justice to Mr. Alderton
.- I wish to bring to the notice of the Government a matter which I and a former senator, Jack Critchley, have mentioned on numerous occasions over the last five years. I refer to the need for the construction of a new psychiatric ward at the Dawes-road, Springbank, Repatriation Hospital. Over five years ago the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Sir Walter Cooper) admitted thai the old temporary prefabricated building which housed the psychiatric ward - you, Mr. Speaker, know it so well because of your very frequent visits to the hospital - was unfit for its purpose and did not provide the right atmosphere for the treatment of these unfortunate ex-servicemen.
We had hoped that something would be done about it. Because showers are not provided in their own section, the unfortunate inmates, many of whom receive insulin treatment, have to get out of bed at about 5 o’clock in the morning, and walk down a garden path that is covered only by a canopy which does not protect them when it is raining, and they queue up for a shower. The wards are overcrowded. The inmates have to queue also for meals.
Twelve months ago it seemed that we had at last achieved our objective of a new ward, but after approval for the job had been granted it was discovered that there was a greater need for a hospital in Tasmania, and we can only assume that there must have been good reason why that job was given priority. I was content to believe that because the Springbank job had been placed on the top of the list of works, it was almost certain to be included in the following year’s list, but I was surprised to read a statement by the Minister for Repatriation to the effect that although he would do his best to have the work started as early as possible, this would depend on the public works to be carried out and the amount of money allocated by the Government for works. The Minister was reported as having said that he hoped the new ward would be put on the works programme in the next year.
I appeal to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), who represents the Minister for Repatriation in this chamber, to take up this matter with the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to see that it is not overlooked again this year.
– For how long have you been fighting for it?
– I have raised this matter with the Minister for Repatriation at various times over the last five years. The Minister has admitted that much of the fault for this work not being carried out has rested with the Government, because plans which had been prepared had to be scrapped on medical advice and the whole process had to recommence. However, it now appears that this job has a number one priority with the Repatriation Department, but the whole project depends on the Treasurer and the Government doing the right thing by providing the money.
I appeal again to the Minister for Health to take up this matter with the Treasurer, and to point out to him that although these ex-servicemen, some of whom had to battle hard to establish their entitlement, now receive- first-class medical and nursing attention, the ward in. which they are housed is not what it should be for the treatment of psychiatric patients.
I commend the officers of the Repatriation Department in Adelaide and the former Deputy Commissioner who, disappointed as was everyone else that the work was not commenced last year, had the place painted and tried to brighten it a little; but no matter how much is done in this direction it is not possible to provide the right atmosphere for the treatment of these unfortunate ex-servicemen.
I know that you, Mr. Speaker, as a constant visitor to the hospital, share my hope that this work will be included on the list of jobs to be undertaken this year, even at the expense of defence projects because, if we cannot adequately look after those who have served this nation in time of war - the men whom we admit deserve the best treatment that we can give them - it is not much good talking about the future. I plead with the Minister to do something to have this urgent job included on the list of works for this year.
.- I wish to raise another matter relating to exservicemen. To-day I directed a question to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) dealing with the treatment that is meted out to exservicemen by the War Service Homes Division. I had said that the Government last year spent £2,000,000 less and built 1,000 fewer war service homes than it did ten years ago. The Treasurer stated that my figures were incorrect. To support my statement I shall now quote some figures which have been taken from the annual reports of the War Service Homes Division for the years 1950-51 and 1958-59. The reports indicate that 15,579 homes were completed in the year 1950-51 whereas only 14,669 were completed in the year 1958-59. In other words, almost 1,000 fewer homes were built last year than were constructed ten years ago when this Government first came to power. In 1950-51, the Government expended £25,000,000 on the construction of homes but, with the deduc tion of £4,850,000 representing receipts from interest and repayments the net amount spent was reduced to £20,150,000. In the year 1958-59, capital expenditure amounted to £35,150,000 but, with the deduction of £16,760,000 representng receipts from interest and repayments, the net amount spent was £18,390,000. These figures substantiate my claim that last year the Government spent £2,000,000 less on housing than it did ten years ago.
In 1950-51, there were 23,500 applications for war service homes outstanding. This year there are still 22,000 outstanding applications. It was stated at the recent Australian Citizenship Convention that the Government would solve the housing problem within four years, but we all know that this Government passes the buck by saying that housing is a State responsibility. The Government’s record on housing is disgraceful. In the field of war service homes, in which the Commonwealth has complete responsibility, we find that ten years ago there were 23,000 outstanding applications and that to-day there are still 22,000 outstanding applications. The figures disclose that the Government is spending less money to-day on war service homes - I am referring to the net amount - than it spent ten years ago.
Ex-servicemen on the back benches opposite may smile. During certain debates they are prepared to say that the Government should do this and that for exservicemen, but during the last debate on the estimates for the Department of National Development they did not have the courage to stand up and fight for exservicemen. The facts are that the policy of this Government in relation to exservicemen is a sham policy, and that the Government does not face up to its responsibilities to ex-servicemen. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) have to-night given examples of injustice to ex-servicemen, and now I am doing the same. The Government is not facing up to its responsibility. We challenge it to make more money available for the building of war service homes and thus face up to its responsibilities under the act.
In 1950-51, when the maximum advance for a war service home was £2,750, the actual cost of a dwelling and land in New South Wales was only £2,080. To-day, when the average cost of a dwelling and land is £3,918, the maximum advance is still only £2,750. If an ex-serviceman wants to purchase an existing home, he has to wait twenty months for finance from the War Service Homes Division. The present Government is a friend of the moneylenders, because the ex-serviceman is told to get temporary finance, at interest rates of 8 per cent., 10 per cent, and up to 12 per cent. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) points out that the Government parties comprise 75 per cent, of exservicemen. How proud they must be of the Government’s record in the war service homes field! Let us consider the record of the Labour Government during. 1948-49.
– Give us the figures.
– The honorable member can obtain the figures and quote them if he wants to. I am dealing with the record of this Government, which is spending less money to-day on war service homes than it spent ten years ago. I challenge exservicemen on the Government benches to urge the Government to make more money available for the building of war service homes. A smug answer was given by the Treasurer to-day - I ask him to check the figures - when I said that the net amount that this Government is making available to ex-servicemen, at the present time - ten years after it came into power - is less than it was making available ten years ago- I ask the Government to face up to its responsibility by making more money available to exservicemen. That would enable it to catch up on the housing lag, which it said so smugly it was going to overtake in four years. At the present time, it has to satisfy at least 22,000 applicants for war service homes. There is another problem too. Honorable members know that until 1952 an ex-serviceman who had a mortgage on his home could transfer that mortgage to the War Service Homes Division. However, those waiting to transfer mortgages in that way are not included in that figure of 22,000. We know that under the Chifley Administration an ex-serviceman could transfer his mortgage. The real position is that there are almost 50,000 applicants under the war service homes legislation who have not been satisfied.
.- I wish to raise a matter that flows from’ a question I asked yesterday of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). I have been unable to find the Minister for the Army in the last 20 minutes to tell him that I intended to raise this matter. That is not surprising, when one looks at the Government front bench to-night. Where are the Ministers? It is quite impossible to find them, and useless to- expect any kind of adequate answer to, or explanation of, a matter raised at this hour in this debate.
Yesterday I asked the Minister for the Army a question relating to the tragedy at the Rip in Victoria. I asked: -
Is it a fact that the presiding officer of the inquiry into the loss of Army personnel in a training exercise in the Rip is the officer who is in fact responsible for the training of these personnel?
I want to make it clear to the House that the question was asked in the present tense. I used the words, “ who is in fact responsible “, not “who was responsible”. This evening, after a considerable search around the House, I found that the Minister had provided a long answer in writing to the question I asked without notice yesterday. In this answer, the Minister first of all takes 98 words to tell me what the presiding officer of the inquiry was doing at the time of the accident. He goes to a lot of trouble to state the officer’s qualifications, arising from his duties at the time of the accident. However, when I turn over the page I find the following: -
Subsequent to the date of this accident at the Rip this officer has been transferred, on promotion as Colonel, General Staff at Southern Command following the vacation of this appointment on normal reposting of the previous occupant.
What I wanted to know was whether the presiding officer is at present in charge of, and responsible for, training. I pointed out to the House a moment ago that my question was in the present tense. I used the words “ who is in fact responsible “, not “ who was responsible “. The Minister has given me this answer. One would be entitled to conclude from it that the Colonel, General Staff, Southern Command, who is presiding over the inquiry, has nothing whatever to do with the training of personnel, but on inquiry I find that the presiding officer referred to in this answer is Colonel M. P. O’Hare, Colonel, General Staff,, Southern Command. I find on further inquiry that the officer responsible for the training of these personnel is Colonel M. P. O’Hare, Colonel, General Staff, Southern Command. Are there two people called Colonel M. P. O’Hare, Colonel, General Staff, Southern Command, or is there only one? If there are two, it is possible that the presiding officer is not at present responsible for training, but if there is only one Colonel M. P. O’Hare, Colonel, General Staff, Southern Command, then that is impossible, and Colonel M. P. O’Hare must be the presiding officer at the inquiry and also the officer responsible for the training of this personnel. He must be the officer responsible for exercises of the kind that took place at the Rip. He must be in command of the officers and N.C.O.’s who carry out this training, and who carried out the exercise which resulted in the tragedy. I do not think we have as yet in the Army the position that a person has a dual personality, that he can be two different persons at the same time.
– Where did you make the further inquiries to which you referred?
– Would that be relevant?
– I should just like to know the source of your information.
– I tell the Minister for Territories that I have no intention whatever of divulging to him or to the Minister for the Army the source of my information. If he will take the trouble to check what I say or pass it on to the Minister for the Army - whom I could not find - he will discover that what I am saying is correct, namely, that M. P. O’Hare, Colonel, Southern Command, is the officer presiding over the inquiry and he is at present responsible also for the training of personnel.
If that is so, why did not the Minister say so in answer to my question? He used 98 words to tell me what Colonel O’Hare was doing at the time of the accident, but there is no reference to what he is doing now apart from being the presiding officer of this inquiry. If he is now responsible for training, why did not the Minister reveal it? I suggest that if it is so, it means that the Minister is trying to conceal the fact that the officer presiding over the inquiry is the officer responsible for training. He is trying to conceal these facts. If it is not so, why did not the Minister say so in his two-page written answer to the question? If this is so, and I say it is so, is this not typical of the concealments and half-truths-
– Are you trying to say that the inquiry is not all above-board?
– Yes, I am. I do not assume it is otherwise. I want to know the facts. I say that it is typical of the concealments and half-truths which have characterized the whole sad and sorry story of the Rip tragedy. If the officer concerned is in fact responsible for the training of these personnel, is it satisfactory for him to be the presiding officer of an inquiry into a tragedy which may involve negligence by his own officers? Is that satisfactory? Of course it is not satisfactory. I think that the Minister knows that it is not satisfactory, and he is doing his best to keep those facts in the dark. Perhaps the Minister for Territories implied in his question to me just now that we will not be able to find out about these things.
– That was not implied.
– We have access to some information, and the Minister will find how good it is when the inquiry takes place. What I want to know is: Are there so few officers in the Army that it is impossible to get some one to preside over an inquiry who is not responsible for the kind of thing into which he is inquiring? It is most undesirable, I suggest to the House, to have the inquiry conducted within the Army, in secret, and in closed circumstances such as these, but it is doubly undesirable to have that inquiry conducted by an officer who is intimately concerned, who is inquiring into the conduct of people within his own responsibility. He may or may not have been responsible for some misconduct or negligence. He is the one presiding over an inquiry into the actions of people under his own command who may be in that position.
It is not enough to say, as the Minister for the Army has said, that a coronial inquiry is going on and on that account this question should not be raised. It is not legitimate to say this because it is necessary to have the best possible facts at the inquiry. The coroner will want to know all the facts. The quality of those facts will be determined very largely by the nature of the
Army inquiry. An Army inquiry of this kind, which is secret, should not be carried on by the personnel officer responsible for the training of the people who were involved. That is completely unsatisfactory. It is unsatisfactory primarily because it is taking place secretly within official circles and behind closed doors. I say again that it is unsatisfactory because it is presided over by the officer responsible for the kind of thing into which he is inquiring.
I suggest that the Minister is being far less than frank in the answer that he has given to me upon this matter. If he is not trying to conceal this intimate association, then what explanation has he for the fact that in his answer he has devoted 98 words to telling me what this officer, Colonel M. P. O’Hare was doing at the time of the accident but not one word of explanation as to what he is doing to-day.
The answer should have been in the present tense because the question was concerned with the officer who is in fact responsible for the training of these personnel. For those reasons I say again that the Minister’s answer is unsatisfactory.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I tried very hard to understand the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr Cairns), but he gets so involved that it takes an almost superhuman effort to comprehend them. I gather that he had something offensive to say about an Army inquiry. However, I have risen, not to answer him, but to reply to something which was said by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren).
Several times recently this honorable member has spoken during the adjournment debate and attacked the Government on its policy in respect of war service homes. I point out to the honorable member that it is a military axiom that you do not attack strength, you attack weakness. If there is any weakness in this Government’s dealing with war service homes it can only be that it has been very generous in supplying finance. If the honorable member compares the record of war service homes before this Government came into office with the position at present, he will see a tremendous difference.
I had an occasion earlier to chide the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) because of something he said in support of the honorable member for Reid. The lastnamed said that in 1951 there were 23,000 outstanding applications for war service homes but to-day, nearly ten years later, there are 22,000. The implication was that the improvement was almost negligible. That is not correct. There were 22,000 outstanding applications in 1951 and they were satisfied. The real position is that now another 20,000 or more persons have come along and applied for homes. The longest time they have to wait for war service homes is twenty months. The present 20,000 applicants have no connexion with the 22,000 who were satisfied in 1951. If that is so, why did the honorable member mention the year 1951? Did he produce a mass of figures in order to confuse us?
This Government has an excellent record. Honorable members opposite allege that there is a housing lag throughout Australia. Let me say that the Government has made such good progress in overtaking the lag that I believe that in four years it will catch up with needs. The only State where there is a serious lag in housing is New South Wales. In all the other States it has been overtaken. Admittedly, Victoria is lagging a little but it has had a higher increase in population than New South Wales. On the other hand New South Wales has had the lowest increase. The honorable member for Reid represents an electorate in New South Wales and he alleges that there is a housing lag in that State for which this Government is responsible. He should refer that matter to the Premier of New South Wales.
.- I wish to direct the attention of the House to the fact that very many decent citizens in Victoria are greatly perturbed at the recent decision of the Victorian Government to end rent control. On 1st April next, the position will be that all houses which are at present subject to rent control will be released from it, and if there is any difference of opinion between the tenant and the owner as to what the new rent shall be, the Fair Rents Board will decide the new rent on the basis of a net return of51/2 per cent, on present-day values. This decision does not apply to houses that have been built in recent years, but it applies to houses which were built very many years ago, and for which the owners have received back in rent many times the original cost.
I do not suggest that there is not a case for an increase in rents, because I know that owners are forced to pay present-day rates, taxes and insurance, and repair costs which, under the inflation that exists at present, are extraordinarily high. But pensioners who, formerly, were paying for old, derelict properties 20s., 25s. or 30s. a week will now be told by the owners that, unless they are prepared to come to an agreement to pay, in most instance, £3 or £4 a week, the owners will have to go to the Fair Rents Board. With the present shortage of houses, under the formula laid down by the State Government, the Fair Rents Board will have no alternative but to increase the rent for these properties to £3 or £4 a week.
Despite what the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) said, I can tell him that the housing situation is just as bad in Victoria as it is in New South Wales. The position in Victoria has been accentuated by the extraordinary influx of migrants. It is estimated by reputable authorities that at least 40 per cent, of all the migrants who come to Australia go to Victoria, and 80 per cent, of those who go to Victoria go to Melbourne. Consequently, there is a terrific shortage of houses in Melbourne, particularly of houses available for people who can pay only moderate rents. The Victorian Government is very much concerned about this matter. It realizes that it has pulled a boner, and it is now seeing the fruits of its legislation, because it is being inundated with complaints from very reputable citizens and from organizations such as the Brotherhood of St. Laurence which have devoted themselves to providing much-needed social services for people in circumstances less fortunate than are those of the average citizen. These facts have been under the notice of the State Government, but it is on the horns of a dilemma. It just does not know what to do, because insufficient money is received from the Commonwealth Government for housing purposes.
There are two alternatives, and I suggest that this Government consider them very carefully. If the Commonwealth is not prepared to do anything - if, like Pontius Pilate, it wants only to wipe its hands of the whole affair - all I can say is that, two or three months after the beginning of April, when it has been established that the pensioners cannot pay the new rents, there will be wholesale evictions in the metropolis of Melbourne. Pensioners cannot pay rents of £3 or £3 10s. a week out of a pension of £4 15s. a week. This applies particularly to pensioners living alone in small dwellings of two or three rooms built sixty or seventy years ago, especially in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.
The Victorian Housing Commission is doing a very good job in circumstances which have been made very difficult because it has not enough money to cater adequately for the needs of the pensioners. About three years ago, the Commonwealth Government made a very bad mistake when it introduced, for a term of five years, a new Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement under the terms of which the funds provided for the State housing authorties were to be reduced by 20 per cent, for the first two years and 30 per cent, for the remaining three years. The proportion of the total funds so specified was allocated to co-operative building societies instead. So the funds available to the State housing bodies have now been reduced by 30 per cent. I have no quarrel with this Government’s making the money available to co-operative building societies, but I do quarrel with the policy of doing that at the expense of the State housing authorities which have been charged with the responsibility of providing accommodation for the people in the lower income groups.
Previously, the Victorian Housing Commission received £10,000,000 a year but now it receives only £7,000,000 a year. As a result, the waiting list of applicants on the books of the commission is now an alltime record. At the present time, 18,000 people have their names on the list, and of these 5,000 are pensioners. The Victorian Housing Commission has made a very gallant effort to solve the problem, but it can only scratch the surface, because it lacks money. It is providing what are known as Darby and Joan units of a couple of rooms for elderly pensioner married couples, and single person units virtually of one room plus a little kitchenette. These essentia”, housing units are being provided for pensioners at a very nominal rent. In present circumstances, it is totally impossible for the Victorian Housing Commission to build anything like the number of units required to house the pensioners who will be evicted and thrown out into the street in Melbourne in three or four months’ time.
The Commonwealth Government must immediately make funds available to the Victorian Housing Commission in order that it may provide accommodation for these people, because private enterprise cannot do the job. Naturally, private enterprise cannot get in this field the return that it wants from its investments. This job can be done only by government instrumentalities. If the Commonwealth Government is not prepared to make the necessary funds available to the Housing Commission immediately, the only alternative which will prevent many harrowing scenes from occurring on the streets of Melbourne in three or four months’ time when the pensioners, with their goods and chattels, are put out on the footpaths, is to pay a special housing allowance to pensioners who can prove, by producing evidence, that they are unable to pay the rent that they will be required to pay consequent upon the Victorian Government’s new legislation which provides for rents giving a net return of 5i per cent, on present-day values.
I have pointed out the alternatives. On two occasions, last week and this week, I brought the matter to the notice of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), who airily brushed it aside saying that all he knows about it is what he has read in the newspapers. All I can say is that, if that is his attitude towards a great social problem like this, it is time he did more than read the newspapers. It is time he listened to the protestations of members of Parliament who, over the last two or three weeks, have been almost worried to death by many anxious and decent pensioners who have outlined their plight to their parliamentary representatives. In my electorate, last week-end, I was visited by no fewer than 25 pensioners who are desperate. They do not know what to do. Last week, they all received from the estate agent who collects their rent a letter in which was enclosed a form on which they were invited to state what they were prepared to pay in rent. They were told that, if the offer is not enough, the matter will have to go before the Fair Rents Board for determination. And the board will have no alternative, under the formula by which it operates, but to increase rents which, in most instances, are 30s. a week to £3 or £3 10s. a week, because of the present value of properties in Melbourne consequent upon the huge influx of migrants in that city.
I appeal to this Government not to wait until these evictions take place but to act immediately. If the Victorian Government has not approached the Commonwealth, it has neglected its duty. I am very much afraid that Mr. Bolte, the Victorian Premier, is worried about the people’s reaction to a public confession on his part that he introduced legislation without proper consideration of the consequences. This Government should immediately communicate with the Victorian Government and try to do something to alleviate the desperate plight of the pensioners.
.- Mr. Speaker, I rise to take part in this discussion only because I think that the figures quoted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren) could mislead a number of ex-servicemen and other persons who may read “ Hansard “ or the newspaper reports of the proceedings in this House. It is well known that figures can be made to prove anything, and the conclusions that are drawn from any set of figures do not necessarily represent the true position. As I remember it, the honorable member for Reid made four charges against this Government - first, that it is spending, net, less money this financial year than it did in 1950-51; secondly, that it is building fewer houses this financial year than it did in 1950-51; thirdly, that the waiting list of applicants for war service homes has been reduced by only 1,000; and, fourthly, that this Government permits ex-servicemen to pay interest on temporary loans at the rate of 8 or 10 per cent, or even more.
I want to deal briefly with each of those charges. On the charge of spending less money, on the honorable member’s own admission the Government provided £25,000,000 for war service homes in 1950-51, and this financial year it is providing £35,000,000. As to repayments, war service homes funds do not constitute a revolving fund, and they have never been represented to be such. The honorable member for Reid completely forgets that, since 1950-51, the Menzies Government has provided approximately £250,000,000 for war service homes. It is only logical that repayments be made each year and that these repayments increase. So the plain fact of the matter is that we are now providing £10,000,000 a year more than we did in 1950-51. It is not of much use for the honorable member to try to twist figures in order to prove otherwise.
As to the charge that fewer houses are now being built, I want to say two things. First, you can arrive at a true picture of the number of homes built only by taking into account not only the homes completed in a year but also those under construction at the end of the same year. I have not the figures for last year showing how many houses were still uncompleted at the end of the year, but I know that in the 30 years to the end of 1949, a little over 54,000 houses were provided by all administrations. In the five and a half years ended 1954, the Menzies Government has provided just on 74,000 homes. I think that this effectively answers criticism of the number of homes that have been built.
As to the waiting list, I think it is only logical that the numbers should remain fairly static when we remember that in the intervening eight years relevant to this argument, persons who served in the Korean and Malayan campaigns became eligible for war service homes. This Government has also drawn in other categories. For instance, we make war service homes available to war widows, to whom they were not made available by the Labour Government. So there is a good reason why, although we have built in the intervening years since 1949 well over 100,000 houses, the waiting list is down by only about 1,000. As to the charge that the Government permits ex-servicemen to pay interest of 8 per cent., 10 per cent, and more on temporary loans, I remind honorable members that such a practice actually goes on with the approval of the ex-servicemen themselves, for this reason: It is known that the Government is not able to make available each year sufficient money to satisfy all outstanding claims, and some ex-servicemen are paying 8 guineas, 10 guineas and more a week in rent. If they have to borrow the maximum amount of £2,750 that can be lent by the Government under the War Service Homes Act and pay 10 per cent, interest on it, the interest charge is only £275 a year, which is approximately 5 guineas a week or a little more. An ex-serviceman who is paying more than five guineas a week for rent would regard it as an imposition or an interference with his liberties if the Government said, “ You are not permitted to borrow money at 10 per cent. Wait until we make more money available “. In the case of men who are paying 10 guineas a week rent, that is equivalent to 20 per cent, on the maximum amount they could borrow so they think that it is in their own interest if they can borrow for a time to enable them to get into a home of their own. They are better off than they would be by paying rent.
In conclusion, I want to say that this Government is very proud of its record in connexion with war service homes, and if the honorable member for Reid wants to attack the Government, I suggest that he might find better grounds than the Government’s record on war service homes.
.- The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Fox) is a typical Liberal. He is completely absorbed in figures and usury and is trying to conceal the facts of life behind representations of that nature. What are the facts as outlined by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren)? The war service homes fund is supplied principally from revenue by this Government. In the past few years, a sum of £35,000,000 has been provided in the Budget, but on the opposite side of the Budget we find recorded war service homes loans repayments. As a logical result of the passage of time and the number of houses involved, an increasingly large proportion of the sum allocated for expenditure is paid back in principal and interest. So in the last few years, this figure has gone up to as high as £16,000,000. In 1958-59 the receipts from interest and repayments totalled £16,000,000. The Government allots £35,000,000 on one side and gets back £16,000,000 on the other side.
– That is a long-established practice.
– It does not matter. It is an old established practice to flog and to hang, to torture and to persecute, but that does not make it right. That is a simple statement of fact. If from one side of the Budget you take £35,000,000 and put back £16,000,000 on the other side, the total outpayment is £19,000,000, and the fact is that figures for previous years are higher than that. If you examine the figures, Mr. Speaker, even from the point of view of the finance-struck honorable members opposite, you must realize that £19,000,000 is less than £20,000,000. Whether that has seeped through to the west, where the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) comes from, I do not know, but that is the position and there are other factors that should be taken into account.
We have had inflation since this Government came to office. As a result, the cost of houses has gone up and the result is that fewer houses can be built with the larger sums of money allotted. I am’ citing the Government’s own figures taken from the records of its own departments. In 1950-51, houses built totalled 15,579; in 1958-59, 14,609 houses were built. Though technically granting your premise - which, of course is false - that you allotted more money, fewer houses were built. When the matter is examined on any basis of humanity and the proper duties of government, if you are building fewer houses you are not doing the same job. So far as war service homes are concerned, there may be only one factor to be considered - the number of houses that are completed.
As to the point raised by the honorable member for Henty about freedom to hang yourself in your own time by putting a millstone of interest around your neck, these are the facts of life. A man who came into my office was earning £17 a week. He has to wait eighteen months for a war service home mortgage. He was told to get some temporary finance somewhere and he went to the friends of the Liberal Party and they lent him the money he needed at 10 per cent. This man, who was receiving little more than the basic wage, was paying out £68 15s. a quarter in interest alone. I wrote to the War Service Homes Division about it. The only answer I got was that if this man’s loan was accelerated, the division would be creating a dangerous precedent.
The principal reason why I rose to-night was to bring to notice the complete failure of Ministers to face their responsibilities by attending in this House and being in a position to answer questions directed to them by honorable members. This matter of war service homes was raised as a matter of interest by the honorable member for Reid in a question to the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt). It was obvious that the right honorable gentleman was ignorant of the facts. The most senior Minister next to the Prime Minister showed that he was ignorant of the facts concerning the finances of the country. That was not the only question put to the Treasurer on a matter about which he had no knowledge. I asked him a simple question about the census. Most people would expect a senior member of a government which has appointed a Constitutional Review Committee to be cognizant of its recommendations. One of its recommendations was that aborigines be counted in the census, but the Treasurer was not aware of that fact although it is under consideration. It was obvious from his answer that he did not know, and that is indicative of the position in which Ministers find themselves in this House.
While we were sitting waiting for the Ministers to pay some attention to this place, I jotted down some of the questions that have been asked in recent weeks as they occurred to me, in which the Ministers were completely devoid of knowledge of their departments. The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has become notorious in this connexion. Whenever a question is directed to him, he says it is either the responsibility of the Health Advisory Committee or of a State government. There can be only one conclusion - that the Minister for Health is redundant.
The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), who is sitting at the table so patiently, was asked a question about war service land settlement in the Northern Territory, which has been his empire for a long time. He has had dominion over it for perhaps longer than any other man yet he could make no answer except to say that war service land settlement is a matter of policy. He said it was receiving consideration.
– That is completely false; you know it is false.
– That is exactly what the Minister said.
– The honorable member’s statement that I have- given it no attention is completely false and he knows it is false.
– In some respects, the Minister is industrious and conscientious and has done a good job, but I am pointing out his deficiencies in the House. If he stands up and speaks on these matters, I can only assume that what he says is a true interpretation of the way he administers his department. If he gives a false impression by his attention to questions directed to him in this House, it is his own fault. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) was asked about overseas agreements and overseas commitments. He would not tell us about that matter either. Perhaps we have some secret agreement and it is a matter of high policy. That makes the fourth Minister who would not give us information. I asked a question of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) to-day. He has been bothered and harassed in the last few weeks by all sorts of questions.
– Here comes the Treasurer now.
– Hurrah for the Treasurer! I asked the Minister for the Army a question this morning because I think it is of great public concern. I asked the Minister whether he had personally consulted with senior C.M.F. commanders about the re-organization of the C.M.F. You and I would think it reasonable and logical for the Minister to know whether he had done so in the last fortnight, but what did the Minister say? The Minister could not give me an answer to the simple question as to what he himself had done over the last few weeks. We know, of course, that the Minister knows what he is doing. He might not know what are the results of what he does, but he ought to know what he was doing in the last few weeks. The matter to which I want to direct attention is the failure of the Minister to be frank with the House and his apparent failure to keep control of his department and know what was going on.
A question has been raised about the Rip disaster. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) referred to it, and other people mentioned it by interjection. Many of us know the Army and the other Services fairly well and we know the general tendency of humanity. If some body is sent to investigate affairs for which he personally is responsible, either intimately or remotely, as is the case in the Army, no matter who he is one cannot expect a fair and objective answer. Therefore, we on this side of the House are voicing what I consider to be the reasonable views of the populace and demanding something more than an Army inquiry into its own affairs. That is bad enough. There was no suggestion on this side of the House that the colonel who was mentioned was anything but competent in his own field, but we doubt his objectivity on this question. That is the first criticism that we have to offer.
There is one that is even more serious. It is that this inquiry has become another secret inquiry. Just as the Minister for Defence cannot or will not tell us what our commitments are, the Minister for the Army keeps the affairs of his department secret. In the same way, the Minister for Health, when asked a question, says, “ That is not my affair. There is an advisory committee that deals with that subject”, or, “ The State Government will handle that “. The Treasurer does not know what is going on in relation to the war service homes scheme. When we turn to a speech with reference to war service homes made a short time ago by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), we find that his figures do not agree with the figures extracted from the reports of the War Service Homes Division.
I can only conclude that the Government is in a state of mind in which it is not terribly concerned with what goes on in this Parliament, and in which the Ministers themselves are not terribly aware of what goes on in their departments, and that the community generally is going to suffer thereby. We finally come to the position where we know that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has neglected absolutely his duties in regard to the Commonwealth scholarship scheme. We shall bring this up on other occasions and give figures that will prove even to the most obstreperous and cantankerous member opposite that the Prime Minister has been lacking in this sphere, although he has taken, upon himself, another portfolio.
– Order! The honors able member’s time has expired.
.- I want to refer to the scandalous attack that has been made this evening by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). One can only describe his remarks as being most intemperate and representing a thoroughly bad piece of business. He began by- sneering at the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer). He said, “ In the course of the last twenty minutes I have been unable to find the Minister”. What a pious piece of humbug! What does the honorable gentleman expect the Minister to do? Does he expect the Minister, every time he goes out of his office to have a shower or attend a meeting, to put’ up a notice saying, “ Dear Dr. Cairns, I shall be back in half an hour “? It is this kind of self-centredness that destroys and prevents any sense of objectivity in this business. His attack on the- Minister and his sneering reference to the Minister were completely undeserved. Apparently the honorable gentleman takes the view that Ministers should go about their business, attending Cabinet meetings and meetings of various sub-committees of Cabinet, and still be available at all times to answer him. No sense of fairness is represented in that approach.
Then what did the honorable gentleman do? He made an attack on this court of inquiry, and when the honorable and gairlant member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) asked him whether he considered-
– Honorable members may laugh at that expression, but those on this side of the House are not prepared to laugh. My honorable friend from Yarra, in reply to the question asked by my colleague from Perth, “ Do you not think the inquiry is above board? “ said, “ We most certainly do not believe that it is above board “. I challenge the honorable gentleman to go outside, this House and repeat, that statement. There is a challenge to him. If he is so sure of his ground, will he go outside and repeat it? I think that represents a thoroughly bad piece of business. I may say that the nearest that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who is interjecting, has ever been to seeing an angry, man was when he looked in the mirror after the ballot for the deputy leadership of his party.
The honorable member for Yarra and, if I may say so with, respect, the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) who joined him in this matter, are trying, to make political capital out of a very unhappy affair. Why not give an opportunity for the report of this court of inquiry te* be made available and then pursue the matter? No, the honorable member for Yarra wants to take the line that this issome sinister conspiracy and that the Minister for the Army is involved in it. I say to the honorable member for Yarra that he should not be- so prepared and disposed to take his own set of values and apply it to other people. Whatever charges may be made against the Minister for the Army, the charge of dishonesty cannot, and should not be made against, him.
– I have been informed that when I was out of the House the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) made certain comments in connexion with some information that I gave him concerning a question he asked yesterday. When he asked the question yesterday, I made a statement and told him that I would check upon the facts in relation to it, his suggestion being that the officer who was detailed as president of this inquiry was in fact in charge of the training of these troops. Immediately I went out of the House I asked, for this information, to check my own knowledge of the matter. It was checked, of course, by Army Head-quarters through the Adjutant-General’s department, and I immediately made that information available to the honorable- member this afternoon. I do not think that he should quarrel about that service. I think that that was pretty quick service in getting him the information that, he desired.
I have no doubt in the world that Army Head-quarters and the Adjutant-General would be aware of where their officers were located, so if the honorable member has information that conflicts with the information I have given him, I think he should tell the House, in order that we may check it. The information I have from Army Head-quarters is that the officer who has been appointed president of the court of inquiry was, it so happened, at the time of this unfortunate accident, serving at Army Head-quarters at Canberra as Grade I., staff appointment, in the Directorate of Military Training; and as such under’ the Director of Military Training he was responsible for tactical doctrine- involving a continuous study of the employment of the Australian Military Forces in likely theatres of war, compilation and publication of training manuals, and preparation, production and staging of Army Head-quarters tactical and administrative exercises.
It would be clear, I think, to honorable members that in this position he had nothing whatever to do with the control of training of the troops who were involved in the unfortunate accident, because he was in fact in Canberra at that time. Since then he has been promoted to the rank of full colonel. He was a lieutenant-colonel and he has been promoted in the ordinary course of events. In the rank of colonel he has been posted to the general staff at Southern Command. That is where he is at the present time.
– Does that put him in charge of training?
– That does not put him in charge of training. Of course not. That does not put him in charge of training.
I cannot understand why an honorable member should attempt to speak unless he has complete information. The information I have contradicts his assertion. I can rely only upon the information supplied to me by Army Head-quarters, and I have not a shadow of doubt that it is correct. I think it is going a little far to try to cast a public slur - that is all it amounts to - upon an inquiry when the findings of the inquiry have not been made public. The honorable member obviously has something in his mind. He wants to create an impression now so that if the findings are made public he will be able to say that the inquiry was not fairly conducted or make some similar allegation. That is very reprehensible, if I may say so.
While I am on my feet, I shall reply briefly to the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). I agree with him that we should be frank whenever possible and I intend to be frank. I do not think that any honorable member will say that I am not completely frank on the occasions when I am able to say what I know. The question that the honorable member asked of me this morning concerned the Citizen Military Forces. Obviously, if I were to give an effective and proper reply to the question, I would have to go over certain matters that will be discussed in the debate that is to take place next Tuesday. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Townley) was asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell; whether he would provide the machinery necessary to enable a debate to take place, and the Minister has made known that he will make a statement so that a debate can take place next Tuesday. It seems to me that it would be foolish for me to attempt to answer the question at this time when a debate will take place next Tuesday. 1 promised the honorable member, and I promise him again, that I will give him full and frank information. I have no intention of not being frank about it.
.- I am moved to speak at this stage by the remarks of the honorable and gallant member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who made the usual unfavorable comparison on housing, as he does on any other matter, between New South Wales and another State. I cannot hope to overcome his prejudices in these matters, but I can refute the allegations of fact that he made.
On the question of housing demand, one can very readily quote the figures for the various States from the annual reports of the Housing Commissions of those States. I have before me the annual reports for 1958-59 of the most industrialized States - New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia - where the housing need is greatest. These reports show that during the last financial year in New South Wales 13,504 persons applied to the Housing Commission for accommodation; in Victoria, 12,972 applied; and in South Australia, 10,134 applied. It is quite obvious that the proportionate demand, on a population basis, is highest in South Australia, and is also higher in Victoria than in New South Wales. I do not know, because I have not the previous annual report, the number of applicants in Victoria in 1957-58, but in respect of that year the last reports do state the number of applicants in New South Wales and South Australia. In 1957-58, in New South Wales, there were 1,067 more applicants than there were last year, and in South Australia there were 618 fewer in the earlier year. It would appear that, not only is the housing position worse in South Australia than it is in New South Wales, but it is getting worse. I could quote other items from the reports in turn. The Victorian report stated -
It is obvious that on the Commission’s present building programme it is falling farther and farther behind the demand for houses - more than 2,000 worse off at June 30th than a year before. The reason is lack of loan funds with which to finance housing. The Commission could increase its output if it had the money.
The South Australian report analysed the demand. It pointed out that last year the number of applicants for permanent rental accommodation was 5,385 as against 4,828 for the previous year, and applications to purchase houses were 3,418 for last year compared with 2,750 for the previous year. The comment is made -
It will be noticed that there was a general increase in the number of new applications during 1958-1959.
In States which have for years had governments of the political persuasion of the honorable and gallant member for Hume, the position is worse than it is in New South Wales as regards housing commission homes, and is worsening more rapidly than in New South Wales. These, Sir, are figures in annual reports to the State Parliaments concerned. They are audited by the State Auditors-General and it is on the basis of those audits that the Commonwealth makes money available to the States. It would appear quite clearly that, as far as housing commission finance is concerned, the allegations of the honorable member for Hume relating to New South Wales are not accurate. The significance of the housing commission figures in these States is that the housing commissions are the only substantial source of rental housing these days. The fact is, of course, that greater profits can be made in other forms of investment in the industrialized States than can be made in housing, despite the fact that for the last five or six years there have been no rental restrictions on new houses in any of these States.
Another point about housing commissions is that they are the only source of houses for purchase on a low deposit and at a comparatively low interest rate. Despite the increased demand for housing commission houses for rental and for purchase in the three most highly industrialized States, we find that in the year for which I have quoted the reports, 1958-59, the Commonwealth Government made fewer pounds available for the construction of housing commission houses than in any other year in the 1950’s - that is, than in any other year during the regime of the Menzies Government.
– What about building societies?
– I am giving the figures for housing commission houses. If the honorable member wants me to deal with the building society position, I would point out that at no time since the war have so few pounds been made available to building societies in New South Wales and Victoria - the only States where the movement has caught on very largely - from bank and insurance sources as were made available last year. Had the Commonwealth not diverted housing commission funds to the purposes of building societies, the number of building society houses constructed last year would have been even fewer than it was. The plain fact is that there has never been such a demand for housing commission houses for rental - the only source of such houses - and for purchase on low deposit and at comparatively low interest rates - the only such source - as there was last year, and never have so few pounds been made available for the construction of such houses during the 1950’s, or, in other words, during the régime of the Menzies Government, as there were during the last financial year.
I shall refer now to the position of war service homes. The honorable members for Reid (Mr. Uren) and Wills (Mr. Bryant) quoted the position as it appears in “ Hansard “ in figures given to the House by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton), who represents the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) in this place. T refer to figures which we gave the Minister permission to incorporate in “ Hansard “ on 8th October last. It is plain that last year, taking Australia as a whole, fewer homes were provided by the War Service Homes Division than in the first full year in which this Government was in office.
In 1958-59, the number of houses provided was 13,411. The number of applications for such houses was 21,935. At no time in the last decade have fewer than 21,000 applications been received for war service homes. On no occasion has the Government provided money to meet more than two-thirds of those applications. At no time has the waiting period for war service homes been greater than at present. At no time have there been so many methods of rationing the available funds among the eligible ex-servicemen. Some of these forms of rationing, of course, have given rise to forms of exploitation which are thoroughly to be deplored. We have pointed out on many occasions that this is a high-interest government, a government which increases interest rates for public loans, for housing loans and for overdrafts, as the cure for all economic ills.
The Minister for Social Services gave me figures showing the interest rates which, with the department’s approval, were being charged to persons who were waiting for war service homes advances. He gave me a reply on 19th November last in which he pointed out that, in October, 1959, 629 such cases were reviewed. In 212 of those cases the interest rate was over 51/2 per cent., and up to 7 per cent. In 140 cases it was above 7 per cent, and up to 8 per cent. In 145 cases it was above 9 per cent, and up to 10 per cent. This is a form of exploitation which the Government is approving.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired. [Several honorable members having risen in their places] -
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put-
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker- Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . . . 36
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.58 p.m.
The following answersto questions were circulated: -
d asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -
– Theanswers to the honorable member’squestions are as follows: -
Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. Mr. Ward asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
n. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Considerable research would be necessary to obtain this data back to the inception of the laboratories.
z asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows: -
Television in Queensland.
z asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 March 1960, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1960/19600323_reps_23_hor26/>.