14th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
[3.1].- by leave- On the 28th November, Senator Collings referred to a copy of a report which was ordered to be laid on the table of the Senate, and which dealtwith an alleged armed organization in Queensland. The report contained a statement that during the last six months rifles had been sold to the public from the Brisbane Military Ordnance Stores in large quantities, and that only six transactions had been recorded. Senator Collings stated that this report was official, that it was prepared by the Defence Department, and was presented to a department of the Queensland Government.
The Minister for Defence caused immediate inquiries to be made regarding Senator Collings’ statement that the document was official, and he has been informed by the Military Commandant at Brisbane that no such document was prepared by his head-quarters, and moreover, the Home Secretary of the State Government has no knowledge of any such document. It is clear, therefore, that Senator Collings’ claim is without foundation.
Senator J. B. HAYES brought up the first report of the Printing Committee, and - by leave - moved -
That the report be adopted.
Motion agreed to.
The following papers were presented : -
International Agreement on the Statistics of Causes of Death, together with its Protocol of Signature, signed in London, 19th June, 1934, in respect of the Commonwealth of Australia.
International Labour Organization of the League of Nations - Eighteenth Conference held at Geneva, June, 1934 -
Draft Conventions and Recommendation adopted at Conference.
Reports of the Australian Delegates.
Commonwealth Public Service Act- Eleventh Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by the Board of Commissioners, dated 6th December, 1934.
Superannuation Act - Twelfth Annual Report of the Superannuation Board, for the year elided 30th June, 1934.
Customs Act- Regulations - Statutory Rules 1934, No. 152.
Science and Industry Research Act - Eighth Annual Report of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, for the year ended 30th June, 1934.
Wine Grapes Charges Act - Regulations amended- Statutory Rules 1934, No. 148.
NewGuineaAct - Ordinancesof1934 -
No. 33- Supply ; (No. . 2) 1934-1935.
No. 34 - Superannuation(No. 2).
Norfolk Island Act - OrdinanceNo. 16 of 1934- Customs (No. 2).
Regional Stationat Kelso, Tasmania,
– Can theMinister representing the Minister for the Interior indicate when I may expect replies to a series of questions which I asked on the 15th November, relating to the plans and specifications of the staff dwelling house now being erected, for the wireless broadcasting station at Kelso, Tasmania?
– I shall have inquiries made, with a view to expediting the preparation of the information sought by the honorable senator.
Senator McLACHLAN laid on the table reports and recommendations of the Tariff Board on the following subjects : -
Blankets (except of rubber); Blanketing; Lap Dusters; Rugs, including Buggy Rugs or Aprons but not including Fur or other Skin Rugs and Rugging.
Carburettors for Motor Cycles.
Engine Cleaning Waste.
Paints, Colours, and Varnishes, Ac.
Sewing Threads and Sewing Cottons.
Tools of Trade - viz.: - Picks, Mattocks, Hooks, and Slashers.
Welded Conduit Pipes and Tubes; close jointed Iron or Steel Pipes and Tubes.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
SenatorBRENNAN.- The Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties has furnished the following reply: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answer: -
The information is not readily available, but steps will be taken to obtain it, and the honorablesenator will beadvised in due course.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer : -
Negotiations have not yet reached finality, and until they do no statement can be made.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer : -
The Commonwealth censorship of books is exercised under section 52 of the Customs Act, and applies only to imports. It has not been the practice to make public lists of the books prohibited. Decisions in this matter are, however, communicated to the importers concerned.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answers: -
Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers: -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Before messages are received from the House of Representatives in relation to certain bills dealing with relief to the wheat industry, I ask you, Mr. President, whether it will be possible for the general debate on all these closely related measures to take place on the one bill. The six bills will deal with, the raising of money and the distribution of it and other moneys in the payment of a bounty and the granting of relief to wheat-growers. They are cognate measures, and I suggest that one secondreading debate on one of them should be sufficient to cover all. Such a course would expedite the business of this chamber whilst at the same time giving ample scope for debate.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - The long-standing practice in this chamber has been to allow measures of a cognate character to be debated simultaneously. The purpose of such a procedure is, not to restrict debate, but to expedite the transaction . of business. With the concurrence of honorable senators, I shall permit all the measures relating to the wheat industry to be debated at the second-reading stage of the first of the group to be proceeded with.
.- My colleagues and I concur in the Minister’s suggestion that one debate shall cover all the bills in question, provided that there will be no restriction of the rights of honorable senators.
– Honorable senators will not be prevented from discussing all of the bills in turn if they desire to do so.
– I assure the honorable senator that, notwithstanding any procedure that may be adopted for the sake of convenience and expedition, the Standing Orders safeguard the rights of honorable senators to debate all measures fully.
Bill read a third time.
Bill read a. third time.
The PRESIDENT anounced the receipt of a message from the GovernorGeneral informing the Senate that the proposed law which was reserved for the signification of His Majesty’s pleasure, had been laid before His Majesty in Council, and that His Majesty had by an Order in Council dated the 5th day of October, 1934, been pleased to confirm, approve, and declare his Assent to the said proposed law.
The Governor-General had caused the King’s Assent to be proclaimed in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 81, dated 6th December, 1934.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill, together with the other measures which have just been introduced into this chamber, is designed to give effect to the policy of the Government for the relief of farmers. In framing it, the Government has been guided largely by the reports of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry. A detailed explanation of its terms is not necessary, because the findings of the royal commission have been studied by most, if not all, honorable senators. The final report of the commissionhas not yet been submitted to the Government, so that the bills which have been introduced are based on the two reports which have already come to hand - one in August last and the other in November. Realizing the need for prompt action to relieve the wheat-farmers, the Government decided not to await the commission’s third report before introducing legislation for their relief. For that reason, the various measures which have been introduced are more or less in the nature of temporary expedients. Unfortunately, such methods of assisting the wheatfarmers of this country are not new, for in 1931-32 nearly £3,500,000 was paid by way of a bounty on wheat production ; in the following year, £2,000,000 was made available to the States for disbursement to wheat-farmers on an acreage basis; and in 1933-34 that subsidy was increased to nearly £3,000,000. Last year the Government realized that it was impossible to maintain permanently something which is only a temporary expedient, that an industry could not be maintained indefinitely by means of subventions from the general revenue; and that the transfer of money from the pockets of one set of people to the pockets of another set must sooner or later come to an end. Nevertheless, the Government could not allow the wheat industry to perish, for with its fall the whole social fabric of the country would be shaken. If it is objected that the expedient of assisting the wheat industry from year to year gives to it what may be termed a hand-to-mouth existence, the answer is that it is not at all desirable that permanent measures should be placed on the statute-book as the result of crises in the various producing industries, which, although they may differ in degree, do not differ in kind from the crises which have followed almost all the great wars of history. But just as the Great War, which is within the memory of all honorable senators, was greater than all previous conflicts between nations., so the dislocation caused by it was greater than that occasioned by any previous struggle. The Government, therefore, determined to appoint a commission to examine every phase of the wheat industry, and to report on the best means ofplacing it permanently on a satisfactory footing. Its final report, which will be the most important, is expected before the end of the year. The commission, in its last report, recommended that £4,000,000 be made available to assist wheat-farmers. That amount is proposed to be disbursed by the payment of a bounty of 3d. a bushel on all marketable wheat delivered for sale, by advances to the States of an amount to permit of a payment of 3s. an acre on land sown for wheat, and the balance of the £4,000,000 is to provide assistance to farmers who have suffered special hardship in respect of the current harvest. Honorable senators will see that this is a compromise between payment on a production basis and payment on an acreage basis. The Government has decided upon the following plan of disbursement: - A bounty of 3d. a bushel, which will absorb an estimated amount of £1,500,000; payments on the areas sown for wheat, involving £1,926,750; and the balance of £573,250 will he used to relieve what are regarded as extreme cases of hardship. The bounty is based on a saleable wheat harvest of 120,000,000 bushels, that being the balance of a total harvest of 133,000,000 bushels after deducting about 13,000,000 bushels required for seed. The basis of distribution of the £573,250 to meet cases of hardship has not yet been determined. It will be decided after receipt of the royal commission’s third report, and a bill allocating the amount will be introduced during the next session of Parliament. As honorable senators will realize, the Government had to consider the important matter of raising £4,000,000, which was not an easy matter. The royal commission recommended that a portion of the amount should be raised by an excise duty on flour, to be collected over a period of six months. The views of the commission were that it was equivalent only to establishing a home-consumption price, and by fixing a home-consumption price the Government would be bringing the wheat-growing industry into line with other primary industries. The Government realized that to raise such a very large sum in six months would necessitate a heavy tax upon flour; that such a tax would almost inevitably result in increasing the price of bread, and that such an increase would fall, in the main, to an undue extent upon the poorer classes of the community. In those circumstances the Government has decided that the collection of the tax shall be spread over a period of twelve months, and shall be £2 12s. 6d. a ton. To raise the necessary amount in six months would have involved a tax of over £5 a ton. The proposed tax will raise about £1,700,000 and the balance is to be provided from general revenue. In a measure, the Government is subsidizing exports, but by this method the consumer will be asked to pay merely a reasonable price, based on the cost to the farmer on the bread which he actually consumes. The Government considers that this method, which embraces what really is a homeconsumption price, does not differ in effect from a home-consumption price. The Government found that it had insufficient time to provide for a home-consumption price which would have involved either an amendment of the Constitution or arranging for complementary acts to be passed by the Commonwealth Parliament and all the State Parliaments. The Government therefore decided that a tax on flour was the only expedient open to it. The measure does not differ greatly from the act which was in force a year ago.
It is true that it contains certain small amendments, which experience has shown to be necessary.
– The sales tax on flour was removed just before the last general election.
– Because the necessary money had been raised.
– It was removed when it was found to be unnecessary, and at any rate the operation of the tax would have terminated shortly afterwards. I trust that the Leader of the Opposition does not think that the elections had anything to do with its removal, or that the electors of Australia could be so easily gulled.. The tax is to be imposed by three separate taxation acta, which will provide for a tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton on flour for a period of twelve months commencing on the 7th January next. It may be described as an excise duty payable by millers on sales by them on and after the 7th January, 1935, and on deliveries to millers on and after that date of flour used by them in the manufacture of certain goods. Flour in transit on the 7th January will be treated as stock. The tax will be payable on all flour in excess of one-half a short ton hold at the commencement of the tax by any person other than a miller. The tax will also be payable on flour produced by millers from wheat supplied by farmers for gristing. In view of the policy to tax stocks on hand in excess of. 1,000 lb. at the commencement of the tax, the bill provides for a refund of tax paid on stocks in excess of 1,000 lb. on hand at the termination of the tax. The tax will thus apply on all flour used during the operation of the tax. When the tax on stocks at the commencement of the taxhas been accounted for, the only taxpayers thereafter, so far as Australia is concerned, will be the millers. Although the bill is designed to impose a tax on all flour which goes into final consumption in Australia during the operation of the tax, provision is made in clause 14 for exemption in certain cases in order to prevent competitive anomalies between goods manufactured from wheat products and goods manufactured from other cereals or substances. Thus, tax is not payable in respect of (1) bran, pollard, or meal made from wheat for use as a food for live-stock; (2) semolina or meal made from wheat for use as a breakfast food; (3) flour for use in the manufacture of cornflour; and (4) flour for use in the manufacture of goods, including meat products, such as are popularly known as sausage binder, but not including other foods. Exemption from tax is provided for flour held by or sold to any person in the Northern .Territory for consumption in that territory. Ae little or no wheat is grown there, and therefore no benefit from the tax can accrue ro any resident there, it is considered inequitable that tax should be imposed on such flour. I may say that the cost of flour delivered to outback stations in that area is as high as from £35 to £37 a ton, as against £7 a ton in Melbourne. Flour exported or held for export will be exempt, and rebate will be made of tax paid on flour exported or used in the manufacture of goods which are exported.
Tax is not payable by a public charitable institution - which term is defined as meaning a public hospital,, a public benevolent institution, a religious organization and an unemployed relief organization - on stocks of flour held by it at the commencement of the tax. Rebate will be made to any such institution of the amount of tax paid on flour sold to it, or on the flour content of goods manufactured from flour, such as bread, biscuits, and so on, sold to it. Provision is made for the refund of tax in certain cases.
The bill will enable the tax to be passed on to the consumer. Under clause 27, a miller who is liable to pay tax ou flour sold by hiin must show it as a separate item on his invoice. Penalties are provided for any attempt to pass on amounts in excess of the actual tax payable. A person who uses flour in the manufacture of goods for sale by him may pass on the tax on the flour in the sale price of his goods. All persons, other than millers, holding stocks of flour at the commencement of the tax, will be required under clause 16 to declare the quantities held, and will be charged tax on the weight of stocks, less 1,000 lb. in the case of each separate owner of stocks. Such tax is payable as follows : - Where the tax does not exceed £5, at the time of submission of the declaration of stocks; where, the tax exceeds £5, by equal monthly instalments of £5 or 20 per cent, of the tax, whichever is the greater. The first payment of tax in this case will be made on the 10th January, 1935, and subsequent instalments on the twenty-first day of each month subsequent to January, 1935. The provision for the payment of tax by instalments is designed to prevent hardship to those with large stocks on hand. Millers will lodge monthly returns by the 21st day of the month following that in which the taxable sale or delivery was made, and pay tax at the time of lodgment. Penalties are provided for evasion of tax by failure to furnish returns, or by furnishing false returns. The Commissioner of Taxation is arranging to follow up declarations and returns to test their accuracy, and will not hesitate to prosecute defaulters or evaders. Whilst it is not anticipated that the services of the Income Tax Board of Review will be necessary to settle disputes between taxpayers and the Commissioner of Taxation, the bill provides for such a means of settlement to be available.
The bill contains secrecy clauses similar to those contained in the Sales Tax Assessment Acts. The machinery employed for the collection of sales tax has been adopted, as far as possible, for purposes of the flour tax. This has been done by reference to the sales tax acts, the necessary alterations being made in the wording wherever required. The measure deals with a subject which is thoroughly understood by honorable senators generally. Although this is all one scheme, it has to be carried into effect by a number of separate acts. This legislation follows the lines of an act which has expired. The subject has alao been thoroughly reviewed in the reports of the royal commission. I am, therefore, asked to express on behalf of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) the hope that, although no honorable senator will be asked unduly to curtail his remarks, honorable senators will not feel it incumbent upon themselves to hold up the business by debating this legislation at unnecessary length.
I trust they will remember that the Government is anxious to have the whole of these measures passed at the earliest possible moment consistent with their proper discussion.
.- As there is again at the conclusion of this session a great rush of business to be dealt with by the Senate, I do not propose to ask for the adjournment of the debate. I appreciate the opportunity extended to honorable senators by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) to discuss at large on this measure all the ramifications of the subject, including the provisions of the bills which are to follow. Every honorable senator has great sympathy for the farming community which has been under severe stress during the last three or four years. We all know what an important section of the community the farmers are. According to the information collected by the royal commission, 70,000 of them get their living almost exclusively by the growing of wheat. Many people will be surprised, if they read the evidence taken by the commission, by the conditions under which those 70,000 farmers work. Although I know a good deal about farming, having been brought up on the land, I was astonished by some of the information collected by the” commission.
I find, for instance, that the cost of production of wheat in Australia varies from ls. to 5s. a bushel. One can easily understand what a struggle a farmer would have to get a living, with wheat selling at ls. 8d. a bushel, if if cost him 5s. a bushel to grow it. This information suggests that a calamity will overtake the wheat producers of Australia unless world prices recover, and I confess that I cannot see much likelihood of that happening. European countries which formerly provided a good market for Australian wheat are now, as the result of the policy of economic nationalism, meeting their own requirements; that is to say, they are growing sufficient wheat to feed their own people. Consequently, it is not at all probable that Germany, France, or Italy v.’il’l, in future, take much of our surplus wheat. France, we learn from recent cable messages, actually has an exportable surplus of 60,000,000 bushels.
As I have stated, the Wheat Commission estimates that the cost of production in Australia ranges from ls. to 5s. a bushel. One factor in this abnormally high cost is the rate of interest on farmers’ debts. The commission states that this varies from 3d. to ls. lOd. a bushel produced, the average rate paid by 30 per cent, of the wheat-growers being ls. a bushel. Obviously, it is impossible for the industry to carry on under a burden of this magnitude. No one can deny that our wheat-farmers are in urgent need of assistance. In order to afford relief to them, the Government proposes to subsidize the industry to the amount of £4,000,000 this year. As the result of government assistance given during the last three or four years, the wheat-farmers have already been helped to the amount of about £9,000,000. Knowing how unsatisfactory is their present position, it is not my intention to oppose the measures brought forward by the Government to assist them this year, but I do take strong objection to the imposition of a flour tax, by means of which the. Government expects to obtain approximately £1,780,000 of the total amount required.
– Why does the honorable senator object to a tax on flour?
– Because it will fall mainly on the poorer sections of the people, the majority of whom are in a more difficult position than that of the wheat-growers themselves. The Government “can obtain the money from other sections which are better able to bear the burden. In his budget speech last year, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), referring to the improved financial position of the Commonwealth, said -
The shares of a representative list of ordinary industrial companies listed on the Melbourne Stock Exchange show an improvement in market value of 20.6 per cent, in August, 1933, as compared with July, 19.12 . . .
The profits of 80 representative companies have improved from £5,000,000 in 1931-32 to £5,980,000 in 1932-33.
That, I suggest, is the source from which the Government. could obtain the money required to subsidize our wheat-farmers without inflicting hardship on any one.
The remissions of taxation made by this Government during the last two years have been very considerable. The remission of land taxation by 50 per cent, and the liberalization of the relief provisions in the act represented a- comcession valued at £2,000,000. In regard to income tax the concessions in respect of the property tax totalled £1,880,000, and the reduction of the company rate for one year represented £585,000, while the relief given to life assurance companies, for o»e year, amounted to £710,000, and to shipping companies, £25,000. These amounts make a total of £5,200,000 remissions of taxes given to a favoured section of the community during the last two years. Can any honorable, senator say that the persons and companies concerned could not bear the additional burden necessary for the relief of our wheat-farmers instead of requiring the poorer sections of the community to do so?
– How does the honorable senator know that the poorer section of the people will pay this tax?
– As they will still eat bread, which, as every one knows, is their staple article of diet, they will pay by far the larger proportion of the tax. In recent years, the Government has deliberately shaped its policy for the purpose of giving relief to the wealthier sections of the community. In 1932-33, it made remissions of taxation to the amount of £800,000. Last year further remissions were made amounting to £400,000, so that the total remissions for the two years reached £2,000,000. In 1932-33, remissions in respect of the property tax totalled £500,000, and in the last financial year additional remissions were made to the amount of £880,000. As two-thirds of the land tax is paid by city property-owners, it will be seen that in two years this Government has relieved them of taxes to the amount of £1,333,000. These remissions, I remind the Senate, were made principally to banking institutions owning city properties, insurance offices, shipping, commercial, land, mortgage, and similar companies.
– Does not the honorable senator think that the benefit of those remissions of taxes has been felt by other sections of the community?
– Not to the extent claimed by the honorable senator and his friends supporting this Government. The general community was in a much better position before these remissions of taxation were made than it has been since. The following table shows the annual value of taxation remissions made by this Government: -
Some interesting figures issued recently by the Commonwealth Statistician reveal that, of the income tax remissions made, 94 per cent, will benefit those in receipt of incomes exceeding £8 a week. There are in Australia 7,000 persons whose incomes exceed £2,000 and who average over £5,000 a year. These 7,000 fortunate people have had their income tax reduced by £500,000 a year. We find, however, that in New South Wales alone, there are 1,305,158 persons with no income at all. Yet they will be expected to bear more than their fair share of this flour tax burden.
– The honorable senator means that they have no taxable income.
– Those with an income of less than £52 a year number 370,000. The census figures also show that there are over 2,000,000 breadwinners in New South Wales receiving less than £2 a week.
These 2,000,000 people, along with their dependants, will have to pay this flour tax through a higher price for their bread. Can any honorable senator justly claim that this section of the community should be asked to bear this tax?
– What report is the honorable senator reading?
– I am reading from Census Bulletin No. 9 for the State of New South Wales.
– That refers to taxable income.
– I have shown that there are 1,870,000 children whose parents receive less than £2 a week. It ls this army of youngsters who will be penalized by this tax. How can the farmer show any gratitude towards a government which imposes such a burden on the starving children of this country, in order that he might be given some benefit, while it refuses to impose any burden on the wealthy section, to whom it recently remitted £9,000,000 of taxes. In his memorandum contained in the first report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries, Professor L. F. Giblin says -
A tax on any necessity is bad, because it exacts a much higher rate of taxation from the poor than from the rich. It is particularly bad when the commodity is used by children as much, or even more than, by adults, as with sugar, butter and bread. In such a case the tax becomes regressive to an appalling degree. A bachelor with an income of fi, 000 per annum would pay an additional 15s. per annum through the home price of butter. He would contribute less than one-fifth of a penny in the £1 of his income to relieve the depressed industry. A basic wage-earner, with wife and three children, would contribute over £3, or about 5d. in the £1 of his income.
Honorable senators, I hope, will note carefully the point stressed by Professor Giblin. I am not directing any criticism against the farmer who, according to the evidence supplied to the commission, finds it difficult to make a living. The farmer himself knows that this Government has gone out of its way to relieve of taxation the people who are best able to bear it. It remitted land tax, a tax which was originally imposed in 1910, for the specific purpose of breaking up large estates; we never contemplated that it would be remitted to relieve any one section of the community of burdens resulting from a depression. It has been on the statute-book for over twenty years but it has been watered down to relieve the big financial institutions owning valuable city properties and the pastoralists who own vast tracts of land throughout the Commonwealth. And after doing this the Government is prepared to impose a tax of £1,700,000 upon the bread of the workers and workless and their children. How can the Government hope to retain the respect of the wheatfarmer when it seeks to aid him by adopting such methods? When the Government went before the people three months ago, it was cute enough not to indicate that it was considering the imposition of a tax on the workers in order to subsidize the wheat-farmer; it went to the country immediately after it had lifted a tax on bread and gave no warning then that, in the near future, that tax would be re-imposed in & more severe form. If the Government went to the people at the present time do honorable senators imagine it would be returned to power? I have not heard any ministerial supporter claim that at the recent election the Government received a mandate to impose a flour tax and increase the price of bread to those people whose income is under £2 a week. However, a day of reckoning comes to all of us.
– It came suddenly to the honorable senator’s Government, after it advocated that the farmers should grow more wheat.
– We advocated that, believing that it was a reasonable step to take under the conditions existing at that time, and the farmers responded to that appeal. They grew more wheat, and sold all of it.
– The only thing they got from the honorable senator’* Government was advice.
– When he reads the evidence given before the royal commission which inquired into the industry, the farmer must wonder why something is not done to relieve him of his huge interest burden. When the individual farmer realizes that he is only one of 70,000 growers who are bearing an interest burden varying from 3d. to ls. lOd. a bushel, he will want to know why this Government is not endeavouring to protect him from financial institutions that are draininghisvery lifeblood. Either the facts- are not realized by most of the farmers, or they are prepared to grin and bear their troubles, and carry on under a government which remits taxation to the wealthy sections of this country while placing a heavier burden on thepoorer sections. I oppose the imposition of this tax.We have not the numerical strength to prevent its passage, but I and my colleagues will at leastvote against it.
.- I congratulate the Government on the introduction of these measures for the assistance of the wheatfarmer, and I intend to support them. They represent a very substantial instalment of the assistance promised by the Government to the wheat-farmer before the last election. Whether this will represent the whole of the assistance promised will depend, of course, upon the average price to be receivedbythe farmer for his wheat during the coming harvest. That we cannot forecast.ThePrime Minister (Mr.Lyons) promised that assistance to the amountof£4,000,000 would be provided for the industry on the basis of a price of 3s. a bushel on rail at the principal Australianports. The price has been varying day byday during the last fortnight, buton the5th, December - the day prior to thaton which the DeputyPrime Minister(Dr. Earle Page) introduced thislegislationin the House of Representatives.- the price was 2s. 5½d. in Melbourne and 2s. 5d. in Sydney. The price, has certainlybeen hardening a little, and, I hope,that it will further improve. On thebasisofthose prices the £4,000,000 being made available to the farmers is £3,500,000 short of the assistance promised to the farmers by the Prime Minister immediately before the election. I do not recall that promise in any spirit of complaint, but because we are not yet able to say that the 3s. a bushel mentionedbyethe Prirne. Minister as the basis on which assistance to the amount of £4,000,000 would be provided, will not be realized.
I commend heartily the promptitude with which the formation of the composite government was followed by action to assist the great wheat-growing industry which in “this measure is certainly recognized as worthy of assistance on the same lines as other industries. I compare the bill favorably withour other experiences of government action during the last four or five years. Wehad to drag doles from reluctant governments, and’ last year the assistance was, so conditioned that it gave satisfaction to nobody. Of course, ‘that was to be. expected from a government, the members ofwhich had; no practical knowledge of the industry..
SenatorCrawford. - That ismost unfair.
– It is true; I shallshowhow unfairly the legislation passed last yearoperated against thewheat-farrner inWestern Australia.
SenatorCrawford.-Whynot give credit where credit is due.
-I do, but I am entitled to pointcuthow WesternAustralia suffered through the failure of the Government to listento the advice which was given to. it when the Wheat Growers Relief Bill wasbefore Parlia- ment last year. Under that measure wealthy farmers in Queensland received a bounty at the rate of 3s. an acre, whereas thosewithout a taxable, income were given 5s. 6d. an acre.
SenatorBrown.- Why mention Queensland?
-Because in that State the wheat-growers with large taxable incomes were assisted to the amount of 3s. an acre, whilst in every other Stategrowers with a taxable in- comereceived no assistance.Certainly the necessitouswheat-grower in Western Australia, with no taxable income, was given 3s. 6d. an acre and. promised a small dividend - probably1d, or 2d. a bushel-out of any amount remaining over;but the wheat-grower inQueensland,withnotaxableincome,wasgiven 5s,6d. an acre, or ififhehadataxable income, 3s. an acre and the wheat-grower in Tasmania 6s. 10d. anacre. Icommend theGovernment for having introduced this measure, which does not contain thediscriminatory provisionsof the legislation,of last year. I also commend it for its. promptitude in coming to the assistance of the wheat-farmers, for the fairness of the provisions of this bill and for the evident intention substantially to fulfil the promise of the Prime Minister. If the price of this year’s wheat reaches 3s. a bushel, or more, this measure will entirely fulfil, and may even do more than fulfil, the promise of the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman also said that, according as’ the price of wheat; fluctuated above or below 3s. a bushel, so would the measure of assistance decrease or increase, and I expect that statement to be adhered to. Although the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry has presented only two interim reports, the Government has already introduced legislation to give substantial assistance to the wheat-growers this year. The Commissioners have foreshadowed a long range policy for the stabilization of the industry, and the sooner such a policy is adopted the better. The measure now under discussion is not equal to a proper scheme for the stabilization of the industry. That stabilization can be brought about only by fixing a home consumption price, and giving the growers themselves the control of the wheat. I suggest that when Parliament re-assembles after the Christmas adjournment, it should set itself to deal with the wheat industry on a permanent basis, and not, as in the past, leave such important matters until the closing days of a session. We should put the whole industry on a proper permanent basis, by providing for a home consumption price and for control by the growers themselves.
The reports of the royal commission have assisted the Government to realize the paramount importance of wheatgrowing in our national economy. Wheatgrowing employs more labour in this country than does any other industry, and is second only to the wool industry in respect of the value of production and exports. Large portions of Australia are depend almost entirely on the wheat industry. The principal wheat-growing States are prosperous or financially embarrassed according to whether the wheat crop is large or small and wheat prices high or low. The serious plight of the wheat industry to-day is largely the result of the burdens placed on it by our fiscal policy, combined with low prices, and largely increased supplies in the world markets. The Government’s proposals for the distribution of £4,000,000 to assist wheat-farmers are based on the following recommendations of the Royal Commission on the wheat industry: -
The bounty of 3d. a bushel is based on an estimated crop of 133,000,000 bushels, less 13,000,000 bushels required for seed, leaving 120,000,000 bushels available for export. The amount to be distributed on an acreage basis will be allocated to the several States in the following proportions : -
The prompt and businesslike arrangements for the immediate distribution of £3,426,750 to the wheat-growers of Australia is evidence of the Government’s desire to assist a deserving industry. I am glad that so soon after the assembling of Parliament this legislation has been introduced, in fulfilment of the promises made by the leaders of the parties constituting the Government.
The distribution of the £573,250 to be paid to necessitous farmers is causing concern. The President of the Wheatgrowers Union of Western Australia, Mr. -I. G. Boyle, has wired to the Deputy Leader of the Government (Dr. Earle Page) informing him that, of the total amount to be made available as compensation for crop losses, that State would require £200,000; because losses from drought and rust have been heavy in that State, particularly in the northern areas.
I am glad that, contrary- to the policy adopted’ last year, the ‘ Government on this occasion proposes to treat wheatgrowing as an Australian industry without discrimination. Last year there was discrimination, not only between wheatgrowers with and without taxable incomes, hut also between States. Evidently the Government had arranged the allocation to the several States before it agreed to discriminate between wheatgrowers with and without taxable incomes. Later, when it decided to assist only those without taxable incomes, it did not vary the original allocation to the States, with the result that Western Australia and South Australia suffered. Before the election I endeavoured to ascertain the basis of the distribution last year, but the information was supplied to me only yesterday. On the authority of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) who supplied that information, a total of £3,000,000 was distributed last year, compared with a first instalment of £4,000,000 this year. On an acreage basis, the amounts paid in the various States last year were:
New South Wales - 4s. 3d.
Victoria - 4s . 207d.
Queensland - 5s.6d. in the case of wheatgrowers without taxable income, and 3s. to wheat-growers with taxable ‘incomes.
Western Australia - 3s.6d. advanced, and final payment not determined.
South Australia - 3s. 5d. to 3s. 6d., and an additional1s. 6d. where the yield was less than threebushelsan acre.
Will the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce), who so strenuously sponsored, advocated and defended the legislation passed last year both in the Senate and in Western Australia, justify the discrimination which operated so unfairly against the wheat-growers in that State?
THE PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I remind the honorable senator that there is nothing concerning discrimination in this bill.
– No. I congratulate the Government upon the omission of those discriminatory provisions contained in the act of last year. The Commonwealth Constitution provides that there shall be no discrimination between States, andI am glad that in this measure there is no suggestion of the discrimination exercised twelve months ago when Tasmanian wheat-growers received 6s.10d.an acre, Queensland wheat-growers without taxable income 5s. 6d. an acre, and when in receipt of a taxable income 3s. an acre, and Western Australian wheat-growers, if necessitous, 3s. 6d. an acre, whereas in the other States the wheat-growers in receipt of a taxable income, however small, were not given any assistance at all. I have already brought under the notice of the Government a great many cases of wheatgrowers having only a small taxable income, who, although suffering extreme hardship, were denied any assistance at all.
SenatorCollings. - How was that “ rigged “ up ?
– The members of the Country party in both Houses were not responsible, because they unsuccessfully endeavoured to remove the unjust discriminatory provisions from the measure. I trust that the Leader of the Senate will explain why some wheat-growers with taxable incomes, including even wealthy men, were paid 3s. an acre on their crops last year, while some in other States did not receive any payment at all. Will the Minister also explain why last -year a Tasmanian wheat-grower received 6s.10d. an acre on the area cropped by him, while South Australian and Western Australian wheat-growers received only 3s. 5d. and 3s. 6d. ? In New South Wales, the amount was between 4s. 2d. and 4s. 4d., and in Victoria about 4s., while in Queensland the amount was 5s. 6d. an acre in the case of a wheatgrowerwithout a taxable income and 3s. an acre to wealthy wheat-growers. In Western Australia, 3s. 6d. was paid, with a small final payment still to be determined.
– That was not provided in the bill.
– That is how it worked out.
– On a production basis, they would receive less.
– Parliament decided against payment on a production basis, and also against our proposal that wheat-growers with taxable incomes should receive the bounty. This bill is fair to all as it provides for a payment of 3s. an acre of the area sown, and a bounty of 3d. a bushel on wheat produced, with . the promise of assistance to the amount of £573,250 to those who have suffered in consequence of drought, rust and other disabilities. If the price, estimated at 2s. 7d. a bushel, which the present Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) mentioned as ruling in Melbourne and in Sydney on the 6th December, does not improve, this legislation will fall short of the Prime Minister’s promise by £3,500,000. On the 1st August last, Hansard, page 1086, the Prime Minister said -
The Government has had an opportunity to consider the first report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry andhas decided to accept the recommendation contained in it, that, on the basis of a price of 3s. a bushel for wheat, f.o.r. at principal shipping ports, assistance or relief to the extent of £4,000,000 is necessary for the coming season. This amount would increase if prices fell below 3s. f.o.r. at principal ports, and decrease if prices rose above that figure.
The commission, in recommending the payment of a bounty, makes the following statement: -
In view of the present uncertainties as to the comingharvest, particularly in some States, and as to the price likely to be realized, the commission is not prepared at this stage to recommend cither the proportion of such total amount which should be applied to the payment of the’ bounty or the methods which should be adopted for the distribution of the remainder. A further recommendation will be submitted later.
The commission also states that it will make a final recommendation as to the amount which, on the basis mentioned, will be necessary, before the next crop is harvested.
When the volume of the harvest is known and information isavail able as to the prices likely to be realized for the crop, the Government will be in a position to deal with the method of providing the necessary money and distributing it. It is clear that at present it would be a mistake to try to make final decisions upon these matters. The Government, however, desires to make it quite plain that it accepts, and will give effect to, the main recommendation of the commission as to the amount necessary upon the basis mentioned.
On the basis of 3s. a bushel f.o.r. the amount necessary would be £4,000,000 as provided in this legislation.
– It is 2s. 6d. to-day.
– In the Sydney Morning Herald of to-day, varyng prices are quoted and amongst them is one of 2s. 7½d. a bushel for growers’ lots f.o.r. Adelaide. There are also quotations of 2s. 5d. and 2s. 6d. and 2s. 7½d. for new crops. I am taking the figures of 2s. 5d. and 2s. 5½d. mentioned by the Minister forCommerce as the rate ruling in Melbourne and Sydney on the day before he delivered his speech. If prices do not improve and the Prime Minister carries out his election pledge, which was given great publicity in the newspapers and in other ways, £3,500,000 may still have to be paid to the wheat-growers. I have read what the right honorable gentleman said that his Government would do.
– I think that the honorable senator has misunderstood the Prime Ministers remarks.
– Was it a definite promise ?
– Yes. His concluding words were -
The Government, however, desires to make it quite plain that it accepts, and will give effect to, the main recommendation of the commission as to the amount necessary upon the basis mentioned.
On the basis of the market price of 3s. a bushel f.o.r. at the principal shipping ports of Australia the amount necessary would be £4,000,000. Mr. Lyons further said -
This amount would increase if prices fell below 3s. f.o.r. at principal ports and decrease if prices rose above that figure.
I do not suggest that the Government does not intend to honor its promise, because we do not know the average market price for the coming season. I commend the Government for introducing this measure providing for the expenditure of £4.000,000, and I trust that if that amount is insufficient, further legislation will be introduced to give effect to the Prime Minister’s promise. The point is that the Prime Minister’s pre-election pledge to the wheat-growers is not being, and necessarily cannot be, fully carried out to-day. Whether it will be given effect to by these measures, or whether further legislation will be necessary to implement it, depends upon the vagaries of the wheat market during the next few weeks which I confess myself quite unable to forecast. The Prime Minister definitely promised that the £4,000,000 now provided would increase if the price fell below 3s. a bushel f.o.r. at principal ports, and decrease if it rose above that figure. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), in introducing this legislation in the House of Representatives on the 6th December last, said -
Yesterday wheat was quoted in Melbourne at 2s.5½d. and in Sydney at about 2s. 5d. f.o.b.
I cannot say what the average price f.o.r. at principal ports will be for the coming harvest, hut on the basis of 2s. 5d. and 2s. 5½d. a bushel f.o.b. quoted by the Minister for Commerce as the prices in Sydney and Melbourne respectively when this legislation was introduced, £3,500,000 is required in addition to the £4,000,000 now provided in order to carry out the Prime Minister’s very definite promise of £4,000,000 on the basis of a price of 3s. a bushel for wheat f.o.r. at principal ports.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that provision should now be made for that extra amount?
– I would like to see that done. The tendency is for the price of wheat to improve, and I hope that this legislation as it stands will provide growers with a greater measure of assistance than that which the Minister for Commerce had in mind when speaking on the occasion to which I have referred. If the present harvest averages 3s. a bushel f.o.r. at ports, of course this legislation will entirely carry out the Prime Minister’s pledge. In the meantime I accept it as a substantial and welcome instalment of the assistance promised by the Prime Minister and by Senator Sir George Pearce and endorsed by the electors at the polls. No one can deny, in view of the wide publicity given to that pledge, that the Government received from the people a mandate to pay not only the £4,000,000, but whatever additional sum was necessary to honour the pledge in its widest terms. After all, these annual votes are mere palliatives. The Government should, as its first duty when Parliament re-assembles in February, bring down legislation to stabilize the wheat industry on a permanent basis.
– Does the honorable senator supportacompulsory pool?
– I supported a compulsory pool in the Wheat Marketing Bill, No. 2, introduced by the Scullin Government. Every member of the Country party in both Houses supported that bill. So far as I am concerned I shall support that or any other means of securing a home-consumption price under the control of the growers for the sale and marketing of their product. I advocate the stabilization of the wheat industry on a permanent basis with a home-consumption price for all wheat placed under the control of the growers and with the distribution of the proceeds on an all-Australian basis. Nothing less than this will satisfy the wheat-growers, who remember that every member of the Country party in both Houses supported the Wheat Marketing Bill, No. 2, introduced by the Scullin Government. Whilst I endorse this legislation, there is one direction in which it could and should be improved, and that is by protecting the wheat-grower against his creditors or any one else in regard to at least £50 of the acreage bounty.
– What about protecting his credit?
– My experience is that the creditors of the wheat-grower are remarkably well able to protect themselves, so long as he remains on his wheat farm. It is true that when he is driven off the farm they ultimately lose, but this legislation is designed to keep him on the land, and not to pay off creditors. I hope the Minister will accept, if it has not already been accepted in the House of Representatives, an amendment to extend to the wheatgrower protection to the amount of at least £50 of the acreage bounty against his creditors under any other State or Federal legislation.
– Would the honorable senator support legislation whereby the wheat-grower should never receive any credit?
– I would not, and I would be the last person to injure his credit. In this measure the Government is providing special relief for those engaged in the industry. A great many wheat-growers are reduced to the most desperate plight, and I would go so far as to earmark the whole of the acreage bounty for the benefit of the farmer and his family.
– The banks will get most of it.
– I have been told that last year in some of the States the banks, including State banks, were foremost in claiming the acreage bounty paid by the Commonwealth. I do not want that to occur again. This bounty should go to the wheat-grower for his own use and benefit and not be attachable by any creditor. I have given notice of an amendment on the same lines as that indicated by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). This will ensure the wheat-grower receiving the first £50 of this relief for his exclusive personal use. If the operation of the guillotine prevents effect being given to that amendment in the other House, 1 hope the Senate will insert it in the bill.
– I desire your ruling, Mr. President, on the question of whether or not this measure is legally before the Senate. Standing Order 296 of the House of Representatives provides that no member shall be entitled to vote in any division upon a question in which he has a direct pecuniary interest not held in common with the rest of the subjects of the Crown, and that the vote of any member so interested shall be disallowed and shall not apply to motions or public bills which involve questions of public policy. I presume that the Senate has a similar Standing Order. Several honorable members in the House of Representatives who have a pecuniary interest in this measure, voted for it yesterday. Advice obtained from an eminent legal luminary in Sydney is to the effect that they voted illegally. If that is so I desire your ruling as to whether the bill is legally before the Senate. At the same time I do not wish in any way to block the passage of the measure. I wish to sec the farmer”, including Senator Johnston, receive their cut.
– Did the honorable senator disqualify himself when he voted for the increase in his own salary?
– Certainly not. I should feel myself entitled to vote at any time on the matter of salaries.
– We are all interested in subjects such as the tariff.
– But this measure relates to a bounty paid directly in certain circumstances to certain individuals, among whom are the members to whom I have referred.
– Does tho honorable senator wish to disfranchise the wheat-growing constituencies?
– I was not aware that the honorable senator was the President of the Senate. I shall be glad to hear the President’s ruling.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - In my opinion, the bill has come before the Senate in the ordinary and proper manner, after passing through the other branch of the legislature. It is not within the province of this chamber to inquire whether it was properly or improperly treated there. I cannot find in the Standing Orders of the Senate any provision similar to that quoted by the honorable senator from the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.
– Is it not to be found in the Constitution?
– My predecessors in this chair were chary of interpreting the Constitution, holding that that was the function of the High Court, whose jurisdiction I should be the last to trespass upon. My responsibility is merely to administer the Standing Orders of the Senate, and I hold that they do not support the honorable senator’s contention.
– I cannot for the moment find in the Standing Orders of the Senate the provision that I had in mind. It is necessary to debate this bill and the way in which the Government has so disgustingly discriminated against the poor of the community, by inflicting upon them extra taxation which is both unfair and unjust. But, of course, nothing I can say will wring the withers of the Government or bring home to it the injustice of its action in taxing the people’s bread. The speech of the Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan) in moving the second reading was temperate and put the position clearly, but he evidently was not in love with temporary expedients. He explained and excused the bill as a temporary expedient.
– It is a permanenttemporary one!
– It is evidently rapidly becoming such, because for several years the Government has brought down measures of this description in order to subsidize, not only indigent wheat-growers, but also wheat-growers who are not indigent, including certain fairly rich gentlemen who, because they are wheat-growers, have drawn several thousands of pounds from the public exchequer.
– Surely not thousands of pounds to one grower?
– That is what was told me by a member of the House of Representatives. One farmer, he said, drew £5,000.
– The honorable senator should be certain of the facts before making a statement like that.
– Surely I am not required to verify the details of every statement made to me? I took it for granted that my friend, being himself interested in the wheat industry and also a representative of wheat-growers, would not mislead me. Of course, he may be wrong. For the sake of those whom he represents in the House of Representatives, I hope that he is. But my point is that the application of temporary expedients, such as the one now before the Senate, for the relief of wheat-farmers is not sufficient because it does not go. to the root of our fanners’ problems. I am not objecting to the Government’s proposals, because I am always willing to do what I can to assist wheat-farmers in much the same way that this Parliament has helped Tasmanian apple-growers, and the banana and sugar industries of Queensland, as well as other forms of primary production. I would, however, point out that if we continue much longer along this road we shall soon reach a stage at which we shall, so to speak, be taking in each other’s washing, and the condition of our economic system will be absurd in the extreme.
– There is one industry that, so far, has not received assistance from the Government - the wool industry.
– I agree with the honorable senator that the financial stability of the Commonwealth depends on the wool industry. But even its position is not unassailable. The ConsulGeneral for Germany, speaking to members of the Millions Club in Sydney during this week, directed attention to the efforts that were being made in that country to produce a substitute for wool, and warned his hearers that there was every likelihood in the not distant future of woolstra being a serious competitor with Australian wool in the world’s markets.
Senator Brennan did well to remind us this afternoon that this transfer of money in the form of temporary assistance to one section of primary producers would not get us anywhere. The introduction of these temporary expedients is of little avail. This Government is lacking in its duty in not having brought forward a practical proposal to stabilize the wheat industry.
– What does the honorable senator suggest should be done?
– I agree with Senator Johnston’s statement that the Government should, without delay, get down to bedrock in its efforts to put this industry on a sound basis. The honorable senator expressed the hope that in the early part of next year measures of a practical nature would be introduced. Senator Hardy, who until recent events suggested a review of his attitude to the Government, was one of its strongest critics, is now so benevolently inclined that he gives promise of becoming a second Vicar of Bray.
– We are now getting what we want.
– I am pleased to hear that some honorable members of this chamber are getting what they want. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government is hoping that an early improvement of world prices for wheat will render unnecessary continued assistance to growers, so that Ministers will not be obliged to overwork their brains in the framing of legislation to put this industry on a more satisfactory basis. I wonder that the cheeks of Ministers did not mantle with the blush of shame when the Government, introduced this legislation to filch from the poorest people in this community taxes to pay subsidies to wheat-farmers.
– Would the honorable senator say the same of the proposal to. assist the. sugar industry of Queensland? That takes more from the. Consolidated . Revenue than will be required to subsidize the wheat industry this year.
– The. position of the Queensland sugar-growers is not comparable with that of the wheat industry; but let me repeat that I am in favour of assistance being given to our wheat- farmers. My complaint is that the Government is failing in its duty in not having introduced legislation to stabilize the industry.
– We ought to put it on the same footing as the sugar industry.
– I agree that both primary industries should, if possible, be put on the same basis.
– Could that be done without imposing a tax, as he says, on the poorest sections of the community?
– I believe that a scheme could be devised to organize the wheat industry in such a way as to ensure- for the grower a remunerative return, and, at the same time, enable consumers to obtain their requirements at a reasonable price. But, if the Government, has no intention of dealing with the problem in this way, it is of no use to talk about it. Ministers apparently prefer to trust to future market developments - a substantial increase of world prices for wheat - which would render unnecessary further assistance to wheat-farmers. Only a few weeks ago Senator McLachlan suggested that a universal drought, such as that which threatened the industry in the principal overseas wheat-growing countries, would so reduce the available quantity of wheat that world prices would rise permanently to a much higher level than was then ruling. More recent reports, however, indicate that, despite the difficulties encountered in wheat-growing countries, there has been no appreciable diminution of production, the world’s stock of wheat in August last being estimated at 1,140,000,000 bushels, compared with 1,120,000,000 bushels in August, 1933.
It is also clear that the acreage reduction agreed upon has not been made, although there has been a reduction of area planted.
Last. year, when I discussed, the world wheat position, and mentioned that, under the Russian Soviet planfor agricultural development, aeroplanes, were, being used for the sowing of wheat, Senator O’Halloran, my colleague from South Australia, smilingly indicated his unbelief. I have since had an opportunity, to obtain further information concerning Russian methods, and I learn from the Moscow News of the 11th August that aeroplanes were used in some, areas in the last wheat-planting season in order to lower production costs. I mention this Russian experiment to impress on Ministers, and every one interested in Australian primary production, the need for taking cognizance of what is happening in other countries.
SenatorDuncan-Hughes.-There is nothing new in what the honorable senator has said. During the war British troops were fed. by aeroplanes dropping their supplies to. isolated units. I was fed in that way.
-I amnot suggesting that we should employ aeroplanes in thewheat-plan ting season, in Australia; but I think we should have full knowledge of what is being done in. gauntries which are our competitors in wheat production. Large-scale wheat sowing by means of aeroplanes, where, the conditions, are favorable, may mean, a lowering of production costs, thus destroying the hopes entertained in some quarters that higher prices in. world markets will render unnecessary government assistance for our wheat-farmers, More practical measures than those now before this Senate are necessary to place this Australian industry on a sound footing. European countries which formerly took large quantities of our surplus wheat a.re now self-sufficient in this respect. Only a few weeks ago, when speaking at a harvest thanksgiving festival at Suckeburg, Herr Darre, Minister for Food in the German Government, stated -
Germany cannot be starved out by. an enemy in the event of war.
– The Germans said that in 1914.
– Conditions to-day are entirely different; because Germany miscalculated in 1914 we can rest assured that it will not miscalculate again in 1935.
– Has this matter any bearing on the bill ?
– I am endeavouring, Mr. President, to show that in view of world economic conditions this particular measure is not going to help to solve our difficulties and that it is necessary to deal with this problem in the light of what is happening in other parts of the world. Herr Darre continued -
Germany was forced to import £250,000,000 worth of foodstuffs in 1928, the bulk of which, owing to agrarian activities, is now grown in Germany.
Then, M. Paul de Hevesy, the Hungarian Minister in France, has shown that there is not much hope, so far as the rest of Europe is concerned, for an increased demand for wheat in the near future. He said -
In Hungary and the other Danubian States, although the cost of production was somewhat higher than it. was elsewhere, wheat must in any case be grown, and the surplus exported, as the population of these countries must live and earn. Nor could even a small proportion of their inhabitants emigrate owing to the prevalence of unemployment in other countries. These were reasons why practically all countries, both in Europe and beyond, were still forced to subsidize their wheat-growers and, in some countries, their wheat exporters. Yet the wheat prices, even increased by these subsidies, drawn from the pockets of the taxpayers, were in most countries not sufficient to give a reasonable profit to the farmer.
Honorable senators are aware of what is happening in this respect in regard to foodstuffs in other parts of the world. I do not propose to go more fully into that matter now, but I fear that it will be necessary to dilate continually on the international situation in order to give an impetus to the Government to deal with the fundamental aspects of our problems, instead of being content with bringing forward annually trumpery measures in which Parliament merely exercises its power to tax the poorer sections ofthe community. It is diabolical to remit taxation to the richer sections and then to rob workers, who. are on the dole; and others who are barely making sufficient to keep body and soul together. I fail to understand why the Government should, not try, according to its intelligence, and power, to raise the funds it requires by methods different from those which it is. employing at the present time. Honorable senators on this side recognize that given no other alternative it. is better to support a proposal designed to render assistance to the wheat-growing industry than see the growers go out of production. But we deplore the fact that in order to do this the Government has not proposed some more equitable measure than a tax on the poorer sections of the community. Senator O’Halloran, who has made a deep study of the wheat problem, will not be able to participate in this debate, but I propose to put before the Senate the views of the honorable gentleman, as contained in a communication he sent to me. In that document he made, some interesting proposals and convinced mo that, there was a possibility of meeting the situation without having recourse to taxing the poorer sections of the community as is being done by this rich man’s Government. He put his argument very lucidly, and showed that the Labour party’s policy, if implemented, would prove of more benefit to the people of Australia generally, and particularly to the farmer himself, than the methods employed by this Government. He said in his letter -
The Federal Labour party did not have to wait on the report on an expensive royal commission to propound a policy. For years it. has consistently advocated action on the lines proposed in the policy for which it now seeks the people’s mandate.
That letter was written shortly before the recent election, at which the Government, which then had, as it has now, a majority in both Houses, so misled the people as to induce them to return it to power. Labour’s policy as explained by Senator O’Halloran is -
l ) To reduce the cost of marketing and raise efficiency of selling methods by establishing with the consent of growers (as indicated by ballot ) compulsory wheat pools.
As to the first proposal, Senator O’Halloran showed that there is wide scope for reducing marketing costs, and cited the following statistics from the Commonwealth Year-Booh : -
During that period the average weekly wages decreased. Senator O’Halloran believes that pooling by orderly organized selling on behalf of Australian farmers will provide a means to counter the extensive buying in countries overseas. That method is followed in the sugar industry. Pooling will provide a means for bulk importation and distribution of theo farmers’ requirements, such as cornsacks. During the war huge savings were effected by the Government in this regard.
In connexion with the second proposal by the Government, Senator O’Halloran says -
It is proposed to fix a local price of 4s. a bushel for wheat sold by the pool for local consumption, and with the co-operation of the States to protect consumers from exploitation. Properly policed, this need not increase the price of bread, as a study of the results obtained during the first three wartime compulsory pools indicates. The price of wheat was fixed for local consumption at 4s. 9d. a bushel, and bread was sold in metropolitan centres for 4d. per 2-lb. loaf. Allowing for some increase in overhead, with wheat so.ld at 4s., it should be possible to sell bread at the present metropolitan price of 4d. per 2-lb. loaf, without inflicting any hardship on millers and bakers.
These proposals, it is suggested, should be applied to the wheat and bread industry, and industries generally. Senator O’Halloran also furnished the following table, composed on the basis that 48 bushels of wheat, when gristed, yield 2,000 lb. flour, 432 lb. bran, and 432 lb. pollard : -
From these figures Senator O’Halloran draws the conclusion that the workers of this country would be able to buy their bread at practically the same price as they pay to-day, and that the farmer would get a return of 3s. 9d. a bushel, after deducting 3d. for the pool, and it would not be necessary for the Government to inflict a tax upon the poorest people of this country in order to give assistance to the wheat-farmer.
Senator O’Halloran also emphasizes the huge amount of money which is being taken from the farmer in interest payments, and points out that, in its report, the royal commission conservatively estimates the total debt of 65,000 wheatfarmers to be £140,000,000. I contend that it is practically impossible for the farmers to pay back all that debt to the various governments, banks, assurance, trustee and fertilizer companies. The farmer will never be free of that debt. Senator O’Halloran shows that, taking the rate of interest at 5 per cent., which is comparatively low, considering that in previous years he had to pay as high as 8 to 10 per cent., the farmer to-day is paying £7,000,000 annually in interest. On a gross production of 170,000,000 bushels, this represents lOd. a bushel, which is slightly mora than the figure mentioned in this respect by my leader. Calculating the position on the net production sold, after allowing 15,000,000 bushels for seed, this would represent an interest charge of lid. a bushel, and taking the average area sown as 15,000,000 acres, the average return as 12 bushels an acre, and the average price received as 3s. a bushel, this interest charge works out at more than 25 per cent. Senator O’Halloran continued -
Finally, as a measure of restoration, Labour proposes a guarantee of 3s. 9d. per bushel f.o.b. for all wheat delivered to the pool for
period of three years, the balance required after approximately 30,000,000 bushels have been sold by the pool for home consumption at 4s. to be advanced by the Commonwealth Bank. The bank to be repaid by the pool when the f.o.b. price of wheat rises to more than 4s. per bushel, retaining SO per cent, of such rise.
He went on to show that the Labour party’s proposals would benefit the farmers to the amount of £1,625,000, without burdening any individual in the community with even a penny of taxation. Unfortunately, the Labour party, which would have given effect to the proposals of Senator O’Halloran, was defeated because of the- mispresentation of our intentions concerning the Commonwealth Bank by members supporting the Government. The electors were grossly misled, and now the wheatfarmers have to be content with this principle that was contained in other measures previously brought before this Parliament. I look forward to the day when the wheat industry, as well as other industries, will be efficiently organized so that those engaged in them will be able to make a fair living. In my opinion, much of this bounty will go into the coffers of the banks. It may be that the wheat-farmers will be relieved of a little anxiety, but in many cases the granting of this money will mean that, by a process of bookkeeping, their debts to the -banks will not appear so large, although they will not be much better off than they are now. It therefore behoves the Government to consider the fundamental problems associated with this industry, and introduce proposals for its stabilization, so that periodical doles may be discontinued and the farmers receive a fair return for their labour.
– I am afraid that, despite the reiteration of Senator Brown, I still fail to see how his proposals would place the wheat industry on a sound footing. The honorable senator dealt, first, with the sowing of wheat by aeroplanes, as in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He regarded Russia as a potential destroyer of the Australian wheat industry, whereas had he taken the trouble to study the export figures of that country, he would have found that for the last three years no wheat has been exported from Russia.
The honorable senator then dealt with the growing of wheat in industrial countries. The reason why those countries have commenced to grow their own foodstuffs is not the fear of war, as suggested by the honorable senator, but rather the high tariff wall erected by other countries. If the countries of the world were more willing to adopt a liberal policy of international trade - to buy as well as to sell - -many of the barriers which have been erected against their products would be removed, or lowered. I do not, blame the Labour party for all the troubles of the world, but I do say that, the proposals of Senator Brown are so vague that they offer no substantial contribution to the rehabilitation of the wheat industry. On the other hand, that industry is to receive something definite from the Government. It is easy to criticize the proposal to advance £4,000,000 for the assistance of wheatfarmers, but I say emphatically that that amount will go a long way towards putting heart into the growers. I trust, therefore, that the Labour party will support the bill so that this money may be distributed among the farmers of Australia with as little delay as possible.
The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) was confined largely to the charge that the Government had remitted taxation to the wealthy and was imposing a tax on the poor - practically taking the food out of their mouths. The honorable senator quoted from a memorandum by Professor Giblin -which accompanied the report of the Royal Commission on Wheat -
In such a case the tax becomes regressive to an appalling degree. A bachelor with an income of £1,000 per annum would pay an additional 15s. >per annum through the home price of butter. He would contribute less than one-fifth of a penny in the £1 of his income to relieve the depressed industry. A basic wage-earner, with a wife and three children, would contribute over £3 or about 5d. in the £1 of his income.
When we were discussing the Dairy Produce Bill towards the close of the last Parliament, Labour senators raised no protest against that legislation. I ask them what is the difference between a processing tax in the case of batter and a similar tax in the case of wheat ? There is no difference except that a tax on bread gives the Labour party good ammunition to fire at its opponents. Political capital - can be made out of a tax on the people’s bread; but no voice is uttered in protest against a similar tax on butter or peanuts, or the hundred and one other products which are subject to a similar tax. The Leader of the Opposition read one paragraph from the report by Professor Giblin. He should have gone further and read an earlier paragraph -
No one, in general, -would willingly raise the price of the necessaries of life. Al] tradition is against it. When, however, ian. important primary industry like dairying is threatened with disaster on account of a fall in world prices, it is felt to be reasonable that the whole community should contribute to help it over the lean times. ‘ Such a contribution is felt, by the public and the press, to be made by a home price. Each consumer is called upon to do his share to sustain the threatened industry.
Among the products subjected to a pro.cessing tax is sugar, but no Opposition voice is raised against the maintenance of a system which guarantees a home consumption price for that commodity. Similarly, there is little outcry against a processing tax on wines and spirituous liquors, dried fruits, cheese, bananas, rice, peanuts, pineapples, cotton, tobacco or maize.
– Be fair.
– Senator Brown next attacked the Government for not proposing to establish a compulsory wheat pool. Before I entered this Senate I advocated a compulsory wheat pool, and T would be prepared to do so now if I could see that it would achieve satisfactory results. There is, I submit, a great difference betwen promises and results. That difference accounts for the great gulf which separates the parties constituting the composite government and the Labour party. At one time the Labour party had the opportunity to convert its promises into realities; but failed to do so. Any advocate of a compulsory wheat pool should be able to show how it could be brought into existence. No member of the Labour party, either in this chamber or in the House of Representatives, is able to’ show how that can be done. The Min ister in charge of this bill is a barrister of note. I suggest that, in committee, he should be asked to explain the difficulties which would confront the Government if it desired to establish a compulsory pool. In that case, he would probably deal with the history of the pools in the various States, the attempts to control commodity prices and the operation of Section 92 of the Constitution. An amendment of the Constitution would be necessary before a compulsory wheat pool could be established. Does Senator Brown, or any other member of the Labour party, suggest that, while the farmers are struggling for an existence, the electors should he asked by means of a referendum to change the Constitution?
– That is not necessary. The honorable senator is making grossly misleading statements.
– I am simply stating facts. We must remember that the main objective of this legislation is to place the wheat industry on its feet. Australia cannot afford to sacrifice any of its export industries. Wheat plays an important part in our national economy, and the industry must be maintained if we are to meet our overseas commitments. In 1930-31, the monetary value of Australia’s wheat exports was £14,000,000. Wheat then represented 14 per cent, of our total exports. During the next year the value . of the wheat exported was £19,000,000, representing 18 per cent, of Australia’s exports, and in 1932-33, 14 per cent, of such exports. This Parliament must decide whether the wheat industry, which is of outstanding national importance to Australia, and employs 70,000 persons, is to be allowed to continue. This measure, which is framed to afford some assistance to wheat-growers, does not provide permanent relief, but I am hopeful that next year an effective stabilization scheme will be adopted by this Parliament on the lines of a federal export board. The functions of such a board would be -
The advantages of such a system would be that it would remove the industry from continual political argument; it would secure the objective of farmers’ organizations of all States, namely, a home consumption pi-ice, and 100 per cent, co-operation on the part of farmers; it would satisfy both the advocates and opponents of pooling, for it would not in any way disorganize the present marketing system, and would insure co-operation and support of merchants.
In advocating a processing tax, we are not suggesting something which has not been tried in other countries. Under the legislation controlling agricultural organizations in the United States of America, and in practically every European country, a processing tax is imposed. I defy any honorable senator to name one primary industry in the United States of America that is not subjected to a processing tax. Under the scheme I have suggested, provision is made for a processing tax; a sales tax on flour is such a tax in another form.
I remind honorable senators of the Opposition that there has been no definite pronouncement that the price of bread is to be increased. In speaking of starving children and of the disabilities of the working class generally, they charge the Government with proposing to raise £4,000,000 by taxing the bread of the men on the basic wage, and even those who do not receive any wages. But everyone consumes bread. The Leader of the
Opposition (Senator Barnes) was incorrect in saying that there are 2,000,000 persons in Australia who do not receive any income at all. The statistics he was quoting were taken from the annual report of the Commissioner of Taxation, who stated that there are 2,000,000 people not without incomes, but without taxable incomes. Who is to pay this tax? I assert emphatically that if the State legislatures do their work, the price of bread should not be increased. In New South Wales, in which two-fifths of the population of Australia, resides, a bill has already been drafted to prevent an increase in the price. Why has that been done?
– Because an election is in the offing.
– The bill has been drafted because the State Government realizes that the gross profits of the millers and bakers are sufficiently high to enable them to carry the increased cost of flour which will follow the imposition of this tax. If the members of the Labour party thought that the price of bread would not be increased, they would not hesitate to support the bill, because they have frequently stated that they are anxious to assist the wheat industry. In 1921, when the price of flour was £19 lis. 7d. a ton, the gross profits of the bakers - that is the difference between the cost of flour and wages, and the retail price of bread - was £7 13s. lid. a ton. To-day, flour is £7 53. a ton, and even if the impost should increase the price to £11 a ton, the gross profits of the bakers will be £10 Ils. Id. a ton. Every State government should pass legislation to prevent an increase in the price of bread, because the millers and the bakers are able to stand the additional burden. If honorable senators of the Opposition wish to assist the wheat-growing industry, they should support the bill.
– I am surprised that Senator Hardy should have made such a belated and inaccurate charge against the members of the Labour party, who, he said, are not anxious to assist the agricultural industries. I challenge any honorable senator opposite to prove that during the last fifteen years the Queensland Labour Government has not done more to help the working farmers than has any other government in Australia, whether such governments are or are not influenced by the members of the so-called Country party. Labour governments have been responsible for the establishment of pools almost too numerous to mention, which have been of great benefit, not only to those engaged in primary production, but also to the whole State. When Senator Hardy, who once favoured a compulsory Commonwealth wheat pool, said that such an organization could not be established constitutionally, honorable senators on this side immediately reminded him that the butter industry is controlled by a similar organization under the present Constitution. Later the honorable senator said “ We “ - I do not know whether he meant the members of the Country party or the supporters of the Coalition Government: - “ advocate the establishment of a federal export board.” But such an organization is now controlling the butter industry. If the Commonwealth has not the constitutional power to dispense with the middlemen in the wheat industry, it certainly has the power to avoid the obstacles which present themselves to those engaged in the butter industry. Further, Senator Hardy, who contends that the Labour party when in office did not pass a compulsory wheat pool bill, knows that a Wheat Marketing Bill providing for a compulsory pool was passed by the House of Representatives, but was rejected in the Senate. Unfortunately, the Labour Government was in office during a period of marked financial depression, and owing to the prevailing conditions and the fact that it had not a majority in the Senate, was prevented from giving effect to many important planks of its policy. As our policy in this matter has been expounded in the House of Representatives, and as it is possible to have too much of a good thing, I shall not explain it at length here. There is too much indirect taxation in this country. That is the substance of the paragraph which has ‘been quoted by other Labour speakers from Professor Giblin’s comments. By means of indirect taxation, the worker is absolutely skinned alive. If he gains any money, he has to pay it back through diverse processes of taxation, as Senator Hardy would phrase it.
– Which is the worst form of indirect taxation?
– Customs duties. A man cannot get a rag of clothing or a bite of imported food without paying them.
– Is not the honorable senator a protectionist?
– I am, but a good deal of taxation is raised by means of revenue duties, and I object to paying customs duties which do not protect. It is the policy of theGovernment party at the present time to impose that kind of duty. With imports increasing at their present rate, we shall soon be back in the position of 1929, when Australia was toppling right over the precipice. Indirect taxes are borne by the general mass of the community more than by the wealthy, who are better fitted to bear taxation. The latter should be taxed by direct methods. There is a new form of indirect or direct taxation that hits the masses, in the shape of the sales tax.
– Sales tax, sugar tax, butter tax, flour tax!
– There are taxes on everything. The flour tax undoubtedly means a bread tax, in spite of Senator Hardy’s attempts to explain it away. Mr. Stevens, the Premier of New South Wales is uneasy about it, because he will have to face a general election four or five months hence, and does not wish to carry the odium of it.
– Did not a Labour Premier of New South Wales establish the precedent of the flour tax?
– If he did, he was wrong. He established quite a number of precedents with which I did not agree. There are many matters in regard to which I do not follow Mr. Lang. He made a number of appointments that I do not stand for, nor do I approve of his idea of a dictatorship, but no matter what Mr. Lang did, Mr. Stevens is in a very uncertain position. The Sydney Morning Herald this morning published a leading article dealing most gently and discreetly with the situation. After reading it, my impression was that the paper was asking Mr. Stevens to ease off to some extent because something had to be done. Had Senator Hardy been free to speak to-day in his old familiar style, taking the truth where he found it, whether on the Labour side or on the Government side, he would have pointed out the hostility of Sir Henry Gullett towards the flour tax a year ago. That gentleman, who was not then a Minister, said that a flour tax upon the people’s food was callous and cruel. Now, however, he is a member of the Government and will not repeat those sentiments. I heard another Minister in the House of Representatives the other evening make the claim that, whilst he believed in a national pool, it was not in existence and therefore the present scheme was the only practicable one. That was his clumsy effort to get out of the difficulty.
– Why not quote the ex-Minister who voted for the flour tax last year and opposes it this year?
– Sir Henry Gullett, speaking on the Wheat Growers Relief Bill on the 6th December, 1933, said -
There are some exemptions from the sales tax on flour. There are exemptions in favour of pollard and bran. Thus we have exemptions of chicken food, and taxation on children’s food; exemptions of hog food, and bread taxation on every human being in this country.
Yet I have no doubt that Senator McLachlan and Senator Brennan will sit cheek by jowl with. Sir Henry Gullett in the Cabinet, well knowing that that was his considered opinion last year. He went on to say -
The tax will fall most heavily upon the poorest people of the land, because they are the main bread consumers.
I had already noted that point for this speech. No doubt that is what will happen. The poorer people are the main bread consumers. We who earn a little more can eat more vegetables, fruit or meat. I have lived in the poorest of circumstances and I know that bread is (he real staff of life of the worker. The trouble for many years has been that too much of the goodness is taken out of the wheat in the endeavour to achieve whiteness. Still, with all its faults, bread remains the staff of life, and the poorer the people the harder this tax will hit them. Senator Hardy also contradicted Senator Barnes’ statement that there were 2,000,000 people in the Commonwealth without incomes. That figure includes dependants, and the latest information shows that this is not exaggerated. In Mr. McPhee’s census figures a statement is made to this effect -
The following table shows the number of persons returned as wholly unemployed at the time of the Census, 30th June, 1933, in the four States mentioned-
Those were New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. The total shown is 443,223, out of 1,933,133 wageearners in those four States. In the other two States, although they are the smallest in population, there would be at least another 60,000 wholly unemployed, making a total of half a million. Mr. McPhee goes on to say -
The foregoing figures include all persons who were wholly unemployed from any cause. Wage-earners working part time who were stated to be engaged on sustenance work have been regarded as employed.
The total number, therefore, of unemployed in the Commonwealth must at that time have been much above 500,000. To them must he added their dependants, taking the average working class family as numbering at least three.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– It is estimated that at least 2,000,000 people throughout the Commonwealth - the unemployed and their dependants - will bo seriously affected by this tax. Others who are practically on the bread-line will also be called upon to pay it. We on this side contend that the re-imposition of the federal land tax, which was remitted last year, would provide the Government with £1,800,000, nearly one-half of the amount required, and further large sums could be raised by means of income tax on . the higher incomes. This would be a much fairer method than the measures introduced by the Government to place the principal burden on that section of the community which is least able to bear it. As further proof of my contention that the flour tax is objectionable, I remind honorable senators ofthe statement made by Mr. Stevens, the Premier of New South Wales, a few days ago to the effect that, if necessary, action would be taken by his Government to prevent any increase of the price of bread ro consumers in that State. The subject is also discussed in a leading article in to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald, which states that apparently it is the intention of the Government to’ see that the consumers of bread are exempted from the tax, and that millers and bakers will have to fight it out between themselves to decide which section shall provide the money which the Government requires to give relief to wheat-growers. The writer of the article goes on to criticize the attitude of the Premier of New South Wales, but we claim that his action amply justifies our objection to the flour tax as a means of raising the money. We do not cavil at financial assistance being given to wheat-farmers, because we know that, as the result of world depression and the spread of economic nationalism in Europe many countries which formerly were importers of wheat now grow all their own requirements. Some, indeed, have an exportable surplus. This increase of indirect taxation, because that is what the Government’s proposals .mean, is indicative of its general attitude towards the different sections of this community. Its remissions of taxation during the last two years are evidence that it is a rich man’s government, so in taking objection to its methods of financing the £4,000,000 for wheat-farmers, we are on safe ground. I hope that the Senate will reject this bill to impose a flour tax, and insist on some other method for raising the necessary money to assist our wheatgrowers.
Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) 8.6J. - As hae been said by my Leader Senator Barnes) and other speakers from this side, it is not our intention to oppose the bill. We know that the wheatgrowers are in need of relief from the difficulties in which they find themselves owing to the low prices ruling in the world’s markets, but we object to the method by which it is proposed to raise a portion of the £4,000,000 required for their assistance. We have said time and again that the problems with which we are confronted arc .not isolated matters. All problems which arise in modern society in connexion with the production and distribution of the national wealth of a country are definitely co-related. All the difficulties which producers, primary and secondary, encounter, as well as the attendant consequences on employees engaged in them, arise from some basic cause which must sooner or later be located and dealt with in a practical way. The wheatgrowers ought to be the best judges of their needs, but this Government is not taking much notice of their views. It appears to be motivated much more by a desire to see other sections of the community get their full pound of flesh than by a desire to give to the position of our wheat-growers that consideration which it should receive. Other speakers have pointed out that after we have passed this series of bills designed to give relief to the wheat-farmers, and after the money has been provided, only a very small part of their difficulties will have been met. Next year the difficulties with which we are now dealing will arise again, and if the same Government should be in power, the problems of wheat-growers will, no doubt, be handled in the same piecemeal fashion. In my opinion, and I think that every member of my party is in agreement with me, this Government’s proposal is not even a decent palliative for the wheat-growers’ troubles ; but, as I have said, we shall vote for it for the same reason that we supported the measure brought in a week or two ago to appropriate £176,000 for the purpose of providing alleged Christmas cheer for the unemployed throughout Australia. We believe that the wheat-farmers need this assistance and should get it, but we say that the Government’s methods are futile, because the job is not being tackled in the right way.
I have said that the wheat-farmers are the best judges of their own needs. This was made manifest only a few weeks ago when a deputation waited on the Prime Minister in Canberra and urged the establishment of a Commonwealth-wide compulsory pool controlled by the growers themselves. The deputationists impressed on the Government that while they did not believe in taking extreme measures, if they did not get what they wanted they would have to decide whether or not stronger and probably less sane methods should be adopted in order to get relief from their present intolerable position.
– Did not they want to sell all their wheat to the Government)
– Not so long ago Senator Hardy was one of the most stalwart champions of the primary producers in this Parliament. Now, I regret to say, because of things that have happened recently, he is so complacent that he will not say the mildest of unpleasant things about the Government.
The Minister in charge of the bills (Senator Brennan), in introducing the measure this afternoon, treated us to one of his masterly attempts to justify the unjustifiable. The honorable gentleman endeavoured to lessen the severity of the onslaught which evidently he realized would be made from this side when he resumed his seat, by saying that he recognized that the unfortunate people who would have to pay the flour tax might regard it as a kind of torture. This is true because, let no honorable senator forget, whilst every person in the community is a consumer of bread, the poorest sections of our people, unlike those in more favoured circumstances, being unable to purchase the more expensive substitutes for bread, will pay by far the heaviest proportion of the tax because they eat more of this staple article of diet. The Minister in his kindly way told us that the Government proposed to ease the hurden by spreading the tax over twelve months instead of, as was originally contemplated, only six months of the year. As “honorable senators probably know, in earlier times a rauch favoured form of torture practised in some countries against offending persons was to place them on a rack and then, by mechanical means, to stretch them until they were properly accommodated to the size of the bed they must occupy. This flour tax will be torture akin to that, and, make no mistake, it will be paid by the working classes who, indeed, pay all forms of taxation with the exception, perhaps, of the land tax, which cannot be passed on to the consumer of commodities. In order to persuade us to pass the bill without protest, the Minister told us in effect that the Government is going to spread the torture over twelve months because it realizes how excessively brutal it would be to confine it to a period of six months. I know what a storm of disapproval will burst over my head when I say that people will benefit under this proposal who have no right .or title to any shadow of benefit under it. However, I do not propose to elaborate that aspect of the matter, iki regard to which a question was asked in this chamber to-<lay; the statement contained in it I know to be correct, but the honorable senator who raised it ‘was informed that
The Standing Orders of the Senate do not contain any provision to prevent members of the Senate from voting on a bill in which they will have a direct pecuniary interest. That may be true, but the Constitution and the electoral law contain such a prohibition, and any honest Parliament would take immediate steps to see that no member, who produces wheat and is not in need of this relief should get a fraction of the miserable amount to be provided.
– Would the honorable senator prefer the Government to pay a dole to the farmers?
– I much prefer that the wheat-farmers should realize that all that the Government measure is giving them i3 a dole, which will have all the degrading effects that doles have on not only the recipients but also the givers. I want to see every industry, and every individual also, freed from the soul-destroying and morale-killing system of doles. The people to whom, I believe, the Government is desirous of malting available this relief, will not be the ones who will receive it. I was very interested in the remarks made in this connexion by Senator Johnston. Honorable senators invariably are interested in the honorable senator’s speeches because usually he is in a fighting mood, and even though we may disagree with his views, we all like a fighter. I have never seen the honorable gentleman so happy or so convinced that everything is right with the world as he appeared this afternoon. He told us ad nauseum - for we have heard them repeated so often - of the horrors which beset the wheat-farmer. He referred in harrowing terms to the drought, as a result of which the wheat would not grow; to excessive rain, which caused the wheat to rust, so that either the farmers had no crop or one deteriorated by disease; and finally, to the plagues of grasshoppers, which consumed the sorry remnant of all that the farmer had not got. I admire the honorable senator’s ability to paint word pictures that would strike terror into the hearts of unsuspecting Labour senators, but I was amazed that he did not touch upon the real pests affecting the wheatgrower. He was silent upon the subject of interest; he had nothing to say of the toll taken of the farmers by those bloodsucking interest-mongers, those leeches of the financial system, who are never satisfied until their victim has been bled white. Not one tittle of his eloquence brought down the vials of his wrath on the heads of the shipping combine which is extracting the last penny of freight out of the primary producers; he said not one word about that incubus which is an evil, not only to the wheat-growers, but also to every class of primary producers; not a. word about the speculators who are always gambling in the food required by the people, rigging the market, gambling in futures, and watching every movement in order to be ready to take every opportunity of extracting more and more toll from the consumers; not one word of condemnation of the rake-off taken by those wheat-juggling firms, most of whom have never seen a paddock of wheat, or sown a bushel - gentlemen who operate in palatial brass-plated offices and play -no useful part in the industry from the production of the wheat to the time it reaches the consumer; not one word against the policy of this Government, which he was belauding this after.noon, but which last session he fought relentlessly, although it is impoverishing city dwellers in every part of Australia so that they cannot afford to buy the product of the wheat-farmer or any other primary producer to the extent they would like to do. On the contrary, Senator Johnston claimed that honorable senators should support this measure because the Government had received a mandate from the people to do this particular job.
– I said the Government had received a mandate to assist the wheat-farmer.
– We all know that the people of this country understood that if the Government were returned, the wheat-farmer would be assisted, but why does not Senator Johnston go the whole way and say that while the people endorsed proposals to assist the wheat-farmer, the Government at the election was discreetly, valorously and eloquently silent, about the methods by which it proposed to raise £1,700,000 of the proposed relief. Its spokesmen did not say that this relief was to be provided by the imposition of a flour tax. Senator Hardy has challenged the statement that the tax will cause an increase of the price of bread.
– I said nothing of the kind. What I said was that if price regulation were brought about by the Government in New South Wales, there would be no increase in the price of bread.
– I suggest that this tax will raise the price of bread, and that the Government knows that. It very wisely jettisoned the tax immediately preceding the election, and did not reveal to the people whose votes it sought, its intention to introduce this iniquitous imposition; on the contrary, it pointed to its action in abolishing the tax as a benevolent and magnanimous gesture in the interests of the people. It suggested that it realized that the flour tax was pressing hard on the bulk of the people, and for that reason had been removed. But having got the votes of the community, it immediately revived the infamous tax with the remarkable rapidity for which Senator Johnston has commended it. When any representative of the Government made a public utterance upon the possibility of a rise in the price of bread, did he say “We believe it is a villainous impost, and if we had power, would not allow it?” No; what was said whenever the Government was questioned regarding the tax, was to the effect : “ This is a side issue ; the Commonwealth Government has not the power under the Constitution to prevent the price of bread from rising as a result of the imposition of flour tax “. Why should statements to this effect be made on behalf of the Government, if the Government knew that the price of bread would not rise as a result of this tax? The Government has always been aware of tho fact that the price of bread would rise, and in fact, is now rising. The Government of New South Wales knows that the price of bread is about to rise, and, without suggesting any’ ulterior’ motives on the part of that Government, I contend that the fact that it is passing certain legislation is evidence of that knowledge. The Government cannot persuade honorable senators on this side of the House that it was unaware that this tax will result in a rise in the price of bread.
– Can the honorable senator see any objection to the legislation proposed by New South Wales.
– I not only see no objection, but I would go further and imprison every speculator in the foods of the people. The report of the royal commission says -
The commission has endeavoured to ascertain how much this will mean in added costs of living to the people of Australia. On the basis of a minimum reduction of 1,330 2-lb. loaves of bread, from each short ton of flour -(2,000 lb.) an increase or decrease of £5 10s. in the price of flour represents Id. per 2-lb. loaf of bread.
– Would not the fixation of a home price for wheat also affect the price of bread?
– That may be, but I cannot allow myself to be sidetracked by the Leader of the Senate. Senator Hardy referred to the wonderful things which were being done in the United States of America to assist primary production. Anybody who suggests that the courageous programme put into operation by President Roosevelt has got America out of the mire; in fact, anybody who denies that that programme has sunk America further into the mire, does not keep abreast of news from overseas. We on this side of the House make some attempt to keep abreast of world affairs, and to bring to bear on problems being considered by this chamber, some knowledge of their basic causes. For that reason, Senator Hardy’s remarks on the position in America will not convince us, because, while we recognize that a great experiment is being attempted in America, unemployment nevertheless has increased in that country, and, its people because they will not follow a programme similar to that of the Labour party, are getting further into trouble.
– By inflation.
– The honorable senator knows that I have said a good deal on that subject from time to time, and he has never been able, by interjection or debate, to show any flaw in the Labour party’s monetary policy. I have here a report published in the Sydwy Morning Herald which states that the value of agricultural production in Britain now totals £45,000,000 a year. When the Government knows that Denmark, Germany and other countries besides Britain, are subsidizing their primary industries and making it increasingly difficult for Australia to get rid of its surplus production of wheat at a fair price to the grower, why does it surround itself “with an atmosphere of serenity which prevents it from tackling this problem? The Government must know that destitution among the primary producers of this country must increase unless steps are taken to’ stabilize primary production on a permanent basis.
There is another phase of this subject which I cannot pass over, although I shall probably be accused of being harsh, unkind and uncharitable. I shall, however, have to accept that criticism, along with the other political crimes of which I am alleged to be guilty. Last July, two financial authorities in New South Wales spoke of the difficulties of the wheat-growers. I preserved the newspaper extracts containing a report of their speeches, because they appeared to me to be the latest word from the kingdom of Shylock. The first report reads -
Discounting loose talk about interest rates on bank overdrafts being high, Mr. T. B. Heifer, acting chief inspector of the Bank of New South Wales, told tho Wheat Commission to-day that in many cases wheatfarmers’ interests charges had been suspended by his bank for the time being.
No bank manager, especially a gentleman occupying the high position of acting chief inspector of such a great financial institution as the Bank of New South Wales, would mention interest charges to wheat-farmers being reduced if he regarded them as innocent propositions. When Mr. Heifer said that his bank would suspend the interest charges he thereby admitted the overpressing burden of such charges. At that time there was a possibility of the Government doing something for the wheat-farmers and accordingly Mr. Heffer went on to say -
The adjustment of debts should bo left until conditions were stabilized, and even this should be a matter not for Government action, but for arrangement between the creditor and debtor on the merits of each particular case.
In other words, that representative of one of the biggest financial institutions in the country said to the Government, “ Keep your hands off these unfortunate people. They are our victims. We will do the job. Leave the adjustment to us. They are ours. “
– Does the honorable senator know that the average holding of the 80,000 shareholders of that bank is ?48?
-Apparently, this is another case of the widow with seven children, the father of ten, or the family of eighteen. I know all about these” unfortunate “ shareholders. I am not one of them. Mr. Heffer continued -
In other depressions we have hung on to our men - “ Hung on “ is a good term - and pulled them through.
Honorable senators know what happens when a “ pull through “ is pulled through a gun? It comes out longer and leaner. Similarly the clients of the financial institutions are leaner after they have been “ pulled through “. Another newspaper extract contains a statement by a more outspoken official of banking institutions in this country, Mr. A. ScottOsborne, assistant to the general manager of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited. The following report is from the Sydney Sun, which is not a Labour paper: -
“NO INTERFERENCE”; WHEAT MEN’S DEBTS.
Bank Official’s Advice.
Interference between debtor and creditor will seriously increase the difficulties of farmers and others requiring financial assistance.
Mr. A. Scott Osborne, assistant to the general manager of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited gave that evidence before the Wheat Commission yesterday.
Mr. Duncan, assisting the commission, had asked him for comment on the general proposition put to the commission by scores of witnesses in all States - “A stage has been reached in the wheat industry when the debt burden is so great that the position is intolerable unless there be a reduction of the debt burden, or the suspension of portion of it, free of interest.” “ The idea put forward “, said Mr. Duncan, “ is that a tribunal should determine what proportion of a farmer’s debt should be suspended for the time being”. Mr. Osborne said the writing down of debts should be left for adjustment between the debtor and the creditor, without legislative interference.
Again we hear the same cry “ These are our victims. Leave them to us. We will do the job. We will pull them through “. Unless the Government comes to the rescue of these people, I can only say, “ God help them “. The relief which the Government proposes to give will not go into the pockets of the wheat-farmers; most of it will be used to reduce their overdrafts with the banks and other financial institutions to which they are indebted. I understand that an honorable senator who does not belong to the Labour party proposes to ask that something be done to ensure that the farmers themselves will get the benefit of this relief. If an amendment to that effect is moved, it will receive the support of every member of this party. It is well that we can turn up the pages of Hansard and confront honorable senators with their past perfidy. This afternoon I was guilty of a disorderly interjection while Senator Johnston was declaring that he had supported the Scullin Government’s: proposal for a wheat pool.
– The Wheat Marketing Bill (No. 2).
– The honorable gentleman was speaking to a wheat marketing bill in June, 1930.. In connexion with that debate, the late Senator Chapman, of South Australia, said -
Statistics relating to wheat prices from 1909 are to be found in theYear-Book of the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America. These show that in 1923, the year before the Canadian pool was established, the average year’s price at Minneapolis, United States of America, was 4s.10?d. a bushel, and the average price at Winnipeg, Canada, was 4s. 2d. The average price for the eight years 1909-23, excluding the world war period, was sa. 6?d. at Minneapolis, and 4s. 3d. at Winnipeg. In September, 1924, after the pool was established, the average price in Minneapolis, United States of America, was 5s. 5d., and in
Winnipeg, Canada, 5s.11d. a bushel. In October of the same year, the prices were - Minneapolis, 6s.1d.; Winnipeg, 6s. 8d. a bushel. The November and December figures in the same year show practically the same margin. For 1925. the year’s average in Minneapolis was 6s.6d., and in Winnipeg, 6s.11d. a bushel. According to the Melbourne Argus, of 24th June, 1930, practically the same margin exists to-day. Before the pooling system was introduced the Canadian wheat was lower in price.
– That was not said in connexion with the Wheat Marketing Bill (No. 2).
– Another South Australian representative, Senator O’Halloran, speaking to the same bill, said -
During one particular period in that twelve months the price of wheat in South Australia dropped from5s. 9d. to 3s.10d. a bushel, but there was no reduction in the price of bread. Either the bakers or millers or both are exploiting the people of this country. Senator Chapman pointed out that there is 2 penny worth of wheat in a 2-lb. loaf of bread which to-day is being sold over the counter in South Australia at 5d. a loaf. On that basis the price of wheat would have to rise by1s. a bushel to justify an increase ofd. in the price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread. Unless some form of control is exercised by the State governments, one cannot guarantee that the bakers or millers will not pirate the consumers in the future, as has been their practice in the past.
Senator Johnston voted against the bill because the Scullin Government did not place the full responsibility of financing the wheat pool on the Federal Parliament. The honorable gentleman knows that the only way to ensure that a rise in the price of wheat would not mean a rise in the price of bread also was to bring the State governments into it, so that they would accept their share of the responsibility.
– The Government of Western Australia could not afford it.
– What has all this to do with the bill before the Senate?
– I am attempting to prove that this measure will not do what it is allegedly designed to do. and that next year the same difficulty will confront us. I am trying to show what the Labour party would do if given the opportunity. Senator Johnston, then in opposition, did not support the proposal of the Scullin Government to establish a wheat pool, because the bill con tained certain provisions of which he did not approve. We, who constitute the present Opposition, do not approve of all the conditions attached to this bill, nevertheless we shall support it.
– When the Scullin Government brought in a bill which relieved the States of liability which they refused to accept, I supported the measure.
– The Government wanted the States to shoulder a share of the responsibility. Labour senators who supported the proposal had the assistance . of Senator Crawford, Senator Cooper, the late Senator Sir John Newlands, and Senator Plain. Reading through the division list, I wonder what has become of these alleged champions of the primary producers, who, when the whip cracked, voted in opposition to the Labour Government’s proposals to benefit the wheat-farmers. The Labour party proposes to support the bill because we know that -
The vast majority of wheat-growers are in a parlous position. As working farmers they should receive a just return for their labour. A basic wage as a minimum is as sound for a self-employed worker as itis for wageearners. With wheat at present prices farmers are working at a loss. It is the duty of the Federal Government to come to their aid for national reasons as well as humanitarian considerations. Production of wheat provides our people with the staff of life and produces exports with which to pay for necessary imports. The Federal Government can materially assist by organizing the marketing of wheat at home and abroad and by fixing a just price in the local market. This can be done by an Australia-wide compulsory pool on the lines of the bill introduced by the Scullin Government in 1930.
The influence of speculators and market manipulators caused the Senate in reject that measure.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable senator is reading and sponsoring a statement prepared by some other person, in which it. is stated that “ the influence of speculators and market manipulators caused the Senate to reject the bill.” The Standing Orders provide that any honorable senator shall not reflect upon a vote of the Senate. I submit that the honorable senator has reflected upon the vote of the Senate.
– In order to save time, I withdraw the remark. The statement continues -
A similar measure will be brought forward by a Labour Government, and, with a majority in both Houses, will be made effective.
With a national wheat pool growers will receive full return from the sale of their product without food speculators getting a rakeoff. The fortunes made by big wheat-buying linns arc eloquent testimony of how fanners and consumers are exploited.
Under the management of a national pool the home consumption price of wheat could lie fixed to give a fair return to growers and the price of flour could be stabilized. Producers and consumers would - so far as the amount consumed locally is concerned - be protected from the fluctuations of the overseas market and from thu manipulations of profiteers. The pool would control the price of wheat for homo consumption, and, through that, would control the price of Hour which, in turn, would govern the price of bread. During the years 191(i-17 and 191S. there was a compulsory wheat pool. The price of wheat was fixed as 4s. Od. per bushel. During the same period the price of broad was 4d. a 2-lb. loaf. Wilh wheat to-day at 2s. 9d. per bushel the price of bread is 4d. a 2-lb. loaf. Although wheat is 2s. a bushel lower than it was in 1916. 101” and 191S the price of bread is the same, and wages are approximately the same. Tt is evident from these facts that the farmer could be given a higher price for his wheat without increasing the price of bread, provided there was effective control by a national wheat pool.
There is only one country in the world where the problem of primary production has been tackled successfully by any government. Not long ago a gentleman attached to the Secretariat of the International Labour Office at Geneva visited Queensland. He informed me that he was not so much interested in what Queensland had done in industrial, economic, or social legislation, as in what it had achieved in stabilizing agricultural production. He said that what Queensland has done in connexion with the sugar industry is a marvel to the world. I expected the ribald mirth of disorderly senators opposite, but the statement is true. He further informed me that every time a delegate at Geneva says that certain things cannot be done, others arc able to point to what had been accomplished in Queensland. The Labour party contends that what has been done for the sugar industry - that great national industry which is the safeguard of our national White Australia principle - -can also be done for other industries. Although the sugar industry has been stabilized, those engaged in tilling the soil, growing and cutting cane, refining the sugar, and, in fact, in every branch are receiving a fair deal, and the price of the product is lower in Australia than in most other countries. When honorable senators opposite continually and with such unholy glee attack us and ask how we would control the wheat industry we are always able to reply that “ the labourer is worthy of his hire,” and that the wheatfarmer is one of the most important labourers, on the land. If given an opportunity, which perhaps we shall not have for a time, we on this side of the chamber propose to do for every primary producer what the people of Australia in their wisdom have been wise enough to do for the sugar industry.
.- It has been interesting to listen to the heroics of honorable senators opposite who profess to represent the poorer section of the Australian people, and who have endeavoured to show that this Government is interested only in the welfare of the wealthy. This bill is an honest attempt to deal partially with the distress which exists amongst the wheat-growers, and I am glad to know that Senator Collings and the members of his party intend to support it. If he and other honorable senators opposite refrained from criticizing the Government unfairly, their statements would have carried much more weight. Senator Collings, who represents a State where the price of wheat is fixed, knows that in consequence of a fixed price the people of Queensland have to pay more for their bread than is paid in any other part of Australia.
– That is incorrect.
– The price of bread in Queensland is much higher than that at which it has been sold in Victoria during the last year or two.
– I rise to a point of order. Quite unwittingly, Senator Payne has misrepresented the position in Queensland. The price of bread in that State is fixed by a price-fixing commissioner. The honorable senator first said that the price in Queenland is higher than in any part of Australia, but shifted his ground and said that it was dearer in that State than it is in Victoria. The complaint of the Queensland bakers is that bread has been sold by undercutting firms at from 2£d. to 3d. a loaf. The average price in Queensland is lower, and the proclaimed price is not higher than it is in any other part of the Commonwealth.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - That is not a point of order.
– When bread was being sold in certain suburbs in Victoria at 5½d. to 6d. for a 4-lb. loaf, I visited similar shops in Brisbane and found that the price charged was 8d. and 9d. I naturally concluded that the fixing of the price of wheat was responsible for the difference in the prices of bread in the two States, if the proposal supported by Senator Collings and others for the establishment of a Commonwealth compulsory wheat pool were adopted, and the price of wheat were fixed, consumers would have to pay a higher price for bread. There may be discrepancies, the margin of profit may be too large, but, taking the question by and large, if wheat can be purchased for 2s 6d. a bushel now it must follow that when the price of wheat goes up to 4s. a bushel those who want bread will have to pay more for it. So the hurden will be spread over the whole community and not placed only on the poorer section of it, exactly as will be the case with the flour tax; it will necessitate in all probability a slight increase of the price of bread, but every person in the community will have to pay that increase. The poorer sections of the community are the largest consumers of bread, but they still would be so if wheat went up to 5s. or 6s. a bushel, and would feel the burden just as heavy as they will feel it now with the imposition of the flour tax.
– Not if the Government refuses to allow it to be passed on in that fashion.
– The Government cannot refuse to allow it to be passed on if it is on a fair basis. The honorable senator suggested that the torture was to be applied to the workers gradually, that first this legislation was to operate for six months, and now it is proposed for twelve months, but, if the honorable senator has his way - if a compulsory wheat pool were established, and the price of wheat were fixed at such a figure as to increase the price of bread- the torture would be applied permanently to the people. I am sure the honorable senator does not want that to happen. Senator Barnes and Senator Collings accused the Government of being untrue to their trust in having remitted a large amount of taxation during the last two or three years. The truth is that the lower the. taxation is in any country the more prosperous ,that country becomes, because more work is found for the people. If capital is placed in the hands of individuals, it is spread over a wider area than can possibly be the case if it is retained by the Treasury. That has been the experience of every country in the world. I regard the bill as an honest attempt to meet the difficulty so far as is possible at the present time. I do not welcome it at all. I deprecate the necessity for any measure of this kind, and hope the day will arrive when, through the existence of a better market for our products, there will be no necessity for such expedients; but I would rather see this thing done piecemeal than place a permanent burden unnecessarily upon the people in the way that Senator Collings advocates. I believe there is a possibility, with relief being granted from time to time, as circumstances warrant, and to the extent that the Government can afford, of the old order of things returning and prosperity reigning again, even amongst the wheat-farmers of Australia. Senator Johnston to-day spoke of what he called the unfair distribution of the aid given to the wheat-growers a short time ago, but his computation as regards the discrimination shown had no sound basis. It cannot be contended that there is no unfairness in the distribution of relief to wheat-growers on an acreage basis, because it is well known that, whilst one acre of land used to produce wheat may have cost £20 to put into a satisfactory condition for the purpose, another may be made quite suitable for the production of wheat for an expenditure of two or three pounds. That shows that acreage is not a fair basis of computation at all. The yield also must be taken into consideration. I know some land devoted to growing wheat from which more than from eight to ten bushels an acre cannot be reaped, but I know other land which will return regularly 60 bushels to the acre. I hope that Senator Barnes, Senator Collings and others on the other side of the chamber will eventually realize that the Government is fulfilling the pledges which it gave to the people before the last election.
– Did it promise to put a tax on bread?
– Earlier, when the honorable senator was absent, I explained that if a price were fixed for wheat under the provisions of a wheat pool in all probability it would become necessary to increase the price of bread.
– Not necessarily.
– It would be necessary, provided that the present margin between the prices of flour and bread is fair. In some States and in some cases I believe that that margin ought to be reduced. I hope the measure will have a speedy passage. and that the relief to be afforded by the operation of the tax will substantially help the wheat-grower* in their difficulties.
.- I congratulate the Government upon doing something for the wheat-growers who, to our regret, are in a perilous position through the collapse of world prices, and through no fault of their own. This Government will find some real money to distribute to the wheat-growers. I shall not say whether it is enough, or whether the method of raising it is the best that could be found.
– What does the hon.orable senator mean by “ real “ money ?
– The Government will provide £4,000,000; that is money which will buy the necessaries of life and other things, whereas the Scullin Government, which the honorable senator supported, although it legislated for a dole of £4,000,000 - because after all this too is only to dole - made no provision to find the money. This Government is at least finding £4,000,000, whereas the Scullin Government simply gave an IOU, which the people of this country have been meeting ever since. This is the third dole- a Christmas dole of £4,000,000 to the wheat-growers. It is much better than nothing, but it will not bring the price of wheat up to anything like actual production costs. Senator Collings, who made quite a good speech to-night, was wrong in one figure. He based the amount of the dole on a wheat price of 2s. 9d. a bushel, but the average price of wheat at seaboard in Australia to-day from Perth right round to Sydney is 2s. 6d. a bushel, so that £4,000,000 is not nearly enough. If the Government could fulfil the promise that was really made to the wheat-growers of a bounty of £4,000,000 based on wheat at 3s. a bushel, seeing that the price to-day is only 2s. 6d., and the quantity to be dealt with is estimated at 120,000,000 bushels, an additional £3,000,000 would be required, unless the unexpected happened, and wheat went up to 3s. a bushel again. It may rise a little above to-day’s price, but I do not think it will reach 3s. I congratulate the royal commission on its reports, of which numbers 1 and 2 have already been issued. The commission has shown great ability, and done excellent work, and we look forward to the third report, which, I understand, will bring the inquiry to a conclusion. I should like to deal with the cost of wheat as it affects the price of bread, because honorable senators opposite have based the whole of their attack upon the Government’s policy on that part of it which provides for the finding of a certain sum of money by means of a sales tax on flour. I do not like that tax, nor does anybody else, because we must, in fairness, admit that the greatest consumers of bread are the poorer classes of the community. That is beyond argument, but the price of wheat should have very little to do with the price of bread. The anomalies that exist and the unfairness which honorable senators opposite have pointed out and as to which I entirely support them, are exemplified by the disparity between the price the farmer gets for his wheat and the price the consumer has to pay for his bread. In eastern Riverina, the returned soldier wheat-growers, whose lot I have ‘been trying to improve, sold their wheat delivered at the railway station in bags last March at 2s. a bushel. They had no facilities to bake their own bread, and the baker whose shop was within 100 yards of the station where they delivered their wheat charged them, and is still charging them, 6d. a 2-lb. loaf and ls. a 4-lb. loaf. There is a great disparity there. Senator Collings in his outburst of eloquence to-night was very scathing about the flour tax. This has its amusing side because the honorable senator would save the wheatgrower by fixing a home consumption price for wheat, forgetting that that would put up the price of flour and bread in just the same way as a flour tax does. The cream of the joke is that the honorable senator applauded the arrangement in the sugar industry whereby an embargo is placed upon the importation of sugar - this is equivalent to a fixed price - and the surplus of local production is sold on the open markets of the world just as we shall have to sell our surplus wheat. The honorable senator, however, did not state that the impost that the consumers of Australia will have to pay through the flour tax will be at the most 3£d. a family a week, whereas, year after year, with a fixed price of 4d. a lb. for sugar, which is 2d. a lb. above what the imported article could be landed here for, with an average consumption of 122 lb. a year, the impost on the ordinary family works out at over ls. a week. I am not necessarily saying that that is unwarranted, but why not be fair all round? The commission shows that the maximum impost on a family through the flour tax will He only 3id. a week. The figure I gave of over ls. a week for sugar is based on the Statistician’s figures. Whether it is absolutely correct or not, the honorable senator will admit that sugar costs the average family in Australia much more than the flour tax can possibly cost it.
– We do not admit anything of the kind.
– The honorable senator must know that the home consumption price of sugar is 4d. per lb., and that sugar could be landed in Australia for one-half that price.
– .Sugar is as much a household necessity as bread, but it happens to be a Queensland product. Senator Collings and his Queensland colleagues have made statements concerning this proposal which I maintain are not fair to the Government or the wheat-growers. The public should know the truth. It should be told that the maximum effect of the flour tax on the average Australian household will be 3*d. a week, whereas householders are paying three times that amount for the stabilization of the sugar industry, about which, let me say, I am not necessarily complaining.
– The honorable senator is wrong.
– I am quoting the Statistician’s figures. To me it is amazing that the Queensland representatives in this chamber should make such a concerted attack upon this modest flour tax in view of the fact that the Commonwealth has been- so liberal in its treatment of the sugar, cotton, peanut and butter industries and many others in which Queeensland is so vitally interested. What would be the position of the Queensland butter industry but for the stabilization scheme established as the result of Commonwealth legislation ?
– We are advocating that the wheat industry should have the same chance.
– Honorable senators opposite are endeavouring to mislead the people as to the probable effect which the Governments proposals to assist the wheat industry will have on consumers of bread. They claim that it will increase the cost of living, yet in the next breath declare that they would approve of proposals to fix the price of wheat. What is the difference between fixing the price of wheat and fixing the price of flour? Both must, to a certain extent, increase the price of bread to Australian consumers.
– We would fix the price of bread also if we were in power.
– That, I admit, has been done in Queensland, and I take this opportunity to put Senator Payne right about that matter.0 The annual report of the Queensland Price Fixing
Commission, states that with flour in Queensland at £9 5s.. a tan, the price of a 2r-lb. loaf is 4£d., whereas in Sydney, with flour at £8 a ton, the price of a 2-lb loaf is 5£d. The Government’s intention is1 to give the wheat farmer 3d. a bushel, plus a certain sum to be distributed on an acreage basis. This will amount to an all over average of about 6d. a bushel. In the case of the more efficient growers whose yield may be higher, it will not amount to so much. In my district it. will represent about 44d. a bushel - 3d a bushel bounty, plus the acreage allowance - but for the whole of Australia it will, I understand, work out at about 6d. a bushel, based on a price of 3s. a bushel at seaboard, which every one knows is considerably below the actual cost of production. The price to-day at seaboard is 2s. 6d. a bushel. “We have heard something during this debate about the price of wheat in relation to the price of bread, and, quoting from figures published in the latest issue of the Price Fixing Commission in Queensland, I have already corrected Senator Payne’s, statement, in regard to bread prices in. Brisbane and Sydney.. Let us now consider the position, in New Zealand. Last year the price- of wheat there was 4s. 9d- a bushel at country railway sidings, and although the price of wheat in Australia at country railway sidings was less than one half that amount, the price of bread in New Zealand was the same as in Australia. This disparity in bread prices discloses a serious leakage somewhere. The resultto the wheat-grower is most unfortunate, because directly and indirectly, through the tariff, our primary producers pay the bulk of the taxation- raised in this country.
I understand that Mr. Forde, in the House of Representatives yesterday, quoted wheat at 4s. 6d. a bushel in Queensland, and went on to say that bread in that State was cheaper than elsewhere in the Commonwealth where wheat prices were -much lower. He was quite right. Queensland authorities have wisely taken steps to prevent profiteering by fixing prices for wheat, flour and bread. When the Government introduced a sales tax on flour the equivalent of +d. a 2-lb. loaf of bread, the price to consumers was increased by Id. a 2-lb. loaf, but the existence of the machinery for pricefixing in Queensland enabled the authorities there to prevent the stealing by some one of the extra id. The same report states that the distribution of bread costs 1½d. a 2-lb. loaf, or one half as much again as the cost of making the bread.
As regards the method of raising the £4,000,000 required to give relief to wheat-growers,. I admit that no one likes to impose a tax, but the Government’s proposal is not so iniquitous as honorable senators opposite would have the people believe it. is. If the world’s price for wheat rose to 3s. 6d. a bushel, the tax about which honorable senators opposite complain would practically disappear. The average family spends more on chocolate creams. 1” admit that the £4,000,000 could have been, raised by other methods, but I do not know whether they would have been more acceptable. A home consumption price for wheat of 5s. a bushel, a very moderate price I contend, on a marketable crop of 110,000,000 bushels, would be equal to an increase of 8d. a bushel on the present price of 2s.. 6d. a bushel at the seaboard. That would return to the grower only 3s. 2£d. a bushel gross.
I am afraid the commission and the Government Have taken, a too optimistic view of the world wheat position. The Government’s proposal is based on the supposition that the price for wheat would be 3s. a bushel at seaboard. I fail, to see how it can reach that level, but I hope it will. If honorable senators will read the report on world trade contained in. the journal of the International Chambers of Commerce, they will learn that the present world depression is the effect, and. not. the cause of the fall in commodity prices. Commodity prices fell before the world depression manifested itself. The tillers of the soil are creators of wealth and are also the best buyers. It is estimated ‘that one half of the people in the world are engaged in some form of primary production. Many people are under the impression that the present collapse in wheat prices is due entirely to the fact that European countries which formerly were importers of wheat are now producing sufficient for their own requirements. Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland have so formulated their policies as to encourage the development of land industries. In Switzerland the price for wheat to-day is in the vicinity of 13s. 6d. a bushel, but the Government of that country feels that it is better to pay even that high price in order to prevent the people from flocking to the cities aud living on the dole. In France, Germany and Italy prices for wheat have been fixed at a high level. It is, however, erroneous to suppose that wheat production in those, countries has vastly increased. Actually, they are now up to their pre-war production figures. During, and for a few years after, the war, wheat-growing in most European countries declined seriously. The consequent improved demand and high prices resulted in an enormous increase of acreage under wheat in countries like Canada, Argentina and Australia, but as European countries are now meeting their own requirements, the market for surplus wheat is restricted.
This attempt by the Government is an honest one to do the right thing by our wheatgrowers and is in accordance with the findings of the Wheat Commission both as regards the amount of money to be made available and the method of distribution. However, we all are looking forward to proposals which will stabilize this important industry. Although 64,000 wheat-farmers are producing wheat at a loss to themselves, it has to be borne in mind that they are creating wealth for this nation - cheap foodstuffs for our people, and millions of pounds per annum brought into this country as the result of the sale of our surplus wheat overseas, because that wheat is saleable at some price, however low. The credits that are created overseas are available to help pay the external dent, and are doing a great national work. Although I cannot’ foresee world prices for wheat rising sufficiently to enable a farmer to grow wheat in Australia at a reasonable wage or any profit to himself, he is worth saving; we must try to keep him on the land, producing wealth for the nation, if not for himself. We must give this industry more solid assistance than doles at
Christmas time as we have been doing for the past three years. The Government must consider this problem at its base, with a view to devi.3i.ng a long range policy. 1 contend that such a policy must be based on a home consumption price for wheat sufficient to keep th« farmer above water. About one quarter of our wheat is consumed in Australia,” and allowing a home consumption price of 6s. a bushel, and 2s. 6d. for the balance exported, the average price would be a figure at which the farmer would be able to succeed in his industry. I hope, and pray, that this Government will deal with the problem from the angle I have suggested. The newly-formed composite Government, judging from its actions even at this early stage, promises to surpass any other government of which I have had experience during my sixteen years in Parliament. The statement by honorable senators opposite that through the remission of taxation the Government is lifting the burdens only from the shoulder3 of the rich, is ‘so much “ bunk “. Any business. ma« realizes that alleviation of taxation benefits every section; it tends towards reduction of the cost of living and increased employment. I again express the hope that the Government will formulate a long-range policy based om a home consumption price to help this industry.
– It is futile at this stage to repeat the causes of the difficulties of the wheatgrowers, but T shall draw attention to a few facts. It is because of the world policy of economic nationalism, in which Australia is a guilty participant, that we find our wheat industry in difficulties to-day. If Australia, Canada and other wheat-exporting countries had not adopted the idea of becoming selfsufficient through building up secondary industries by high tariffs, we would not be experiencing our present troubles. About 1925-26 mid-European countries, which previously were the largest customers for wheat from Australia, Argentina and Canada, found difficulty in selling their goods on the world’s markets, because the wheat exporting countries, including Australia, were attempting to build up secondary industries. Those mid-European countries then had to seek other means of employing their people. Because we refused to take their goods they eventually refused to take primary products from us. Prior to 1930 the main wheat-importing countries - Italy, France and Belgium - bought 205,000,000 bushels per annum. “When other countries erected tariff barriers against the goods of these countries, they retaliated by placing a tax on foreign wheat. This had the result of giving an impetus to the production of wheat in Italy, France and Belgium, and to-day they are growing sufficient wheat for their own requirements, whilst at present France is able to export wheat at a much lower price than formerly it paid for it.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that all this resulted because of Australia’s tariff policy?
– No; but because Australia has been a guilty participant in the policy of economic nationalism, which now holds sway throughout the world. In this respect Australia has followed Canada and America, and we have paid bitterly for that experience during the last few years, through the losses we have sustained in the wheat industry. It was gratifying to all farmers that the Government appointed a commission which investigated the difficulties of the wheat-grower. The findings of the commission bear out the opinions which have been expressed over and over again by those who have supported the claims of the wheat industry. Members of the Labor party are “ squealing “ that the tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton on flour will cause a rise in the price of bread. Naturally, this might happen under ordinary circumstances. For instance, if the price of wheat on the world’s markets were to be raised by 2s. 6d. a bushel and wheat, by some miracle, were to reach the price of 5s. a bushel - the price at which we have found production payable - the price of bread would naturally go up as a result, and no government would b blamed for such a development; but because the Government sees fit to raise by a flour tax a portion of a grant of £4,000,000 to assist the farmers through their present difficulties, there is a general “squeal” from honorable senators opposite, and particularly from the news papers, which are trying to influence public opinion on this matter. I remind Senator MacDonald that the stabilization of the butter industry is costing Australia £6,000,000 per annum. Last year, when the Dairy Produce Bill was being considered, we found Senator MacDonald supporting a grant to the dairying industry, which exceeded by £2,000,000 the grant which is proposed to be made available for the relief of wheat-farmers this season. And the impost of £6,000,000 to support the butter industry is to be continuous.
Honorable senators opposite have raised the question of whether any farmer who has paid Federal income tax has any right to share in the wheat bounty. I remind those honorable gentlemen that many wheat-farmers have other irons in the fire; they have to produce side lines or they would not be able to carry on. Thus it is probable that some wheat-farmers are making profits to-day, although not out of wheat growing. Is it right that any of these farmers should be condemned to continue growing wheat, and wheat alone, at a loss? Certainly not. Those who desire to protect this industry, which has been one of the strongest factors in bringing real wealth into this country during the past generation, will agree that if the wheat industry is allowed to fail, our secondary industries generally will fail also. In connexion with the suggestion that a discriminatory clause should be inserted in this measure to exclude farmers paying income tax from benefiting under the bounty, I point out that no such discrimination is made against the dairy farmers in the same category under the general grant of £6,000,000 to the butter industry. Does the Government investigate the income of manufacturers who are protected by tariffs? Are the incomes of these people investigated before it -is decided whether or not they are entitled to benefits under the tariff? That course is not followed in their case, but when a man on the land,’ failing to make money out of wheat growing, engages in other forms of primary industry at a profit, it is suggested that he should be deprived of any relief under this legislation.
– Discrimination is not proposed in this bill.
– It has been suggested during the general debate, that wheat-farmers who paid income tax last year should not receive any of this bounty. Honorable senators opposite also advocated the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. Judging by the opinions read by Senator Brown from a communication he had received from Senator O’Halloran, honorable senators opposite, when they suggest the establishment of a wheat pool, really propose that the Government should purchase the whole of the wheat produced in Australia, and thus control tho industry directly. The Labour party desires to get direct control of the industry. It does not matter to them whether the cost to the nation would be great or small. T. suggest that prices in the wheat industry could be stabilized in a better manner than that. For instance, a marketing board could be established, and through that board the Government could fix a price of, say, 2s. 6d. a bushel to be paid by the millers into a fund from which the Government would then draw money to assist the industry. Senator Brown submitted by the imposition of the flour tax a burden would be placed on that section of the people which is the least able to bear it. Does Senator Brown realize that the policy of protection by high tariffs which his party has advocated during the whole term of its existence, has imposed a far greater burden on the poor? In 1926-27, the Economic Mission reported that the tariff represented a subsidy to the protected industries of £5 a head for every man, woman and child of the population. The figures for the several States were - New South Wales, £5 10s. ; Victoria, £7 ; Queensland, £8 ; South Australia, £3 7s. ; Western Australia, £3 6s.; Tasmania, £4; the average being £5 a head of the population.
– That estimate included primary as well as secondary industries.
– I referred to protected industries, which, possibly, included sugar, bananas, peanuts and other primary industries. Ever since the inception of the Commonwealth we have subsidized certain industries by means of the tariff. Following the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, the Government is ‘prepared to assist the wheat-growers, who are crying out for help, and I am glad that £4,000,000 is to be made available for that purpose, if only as a palliative. The amount is greater this year than the assistance rendered last year because the need is greater. Australia’s production of wheat this harvest will be between 20,000,000 bushels and 30,000,000 bushels less than last year, and the price being lower, the income of the farmers of Australia will be considerably below that of a year ago. I trust that in its plan for rural rehabilitation, the Government will take that fact into consideration. I hope, too, that the Government will bring in legislation early in the new year to stabilize the wheat industry by means of a home consumption price rather than by periodical grants to the wheatfarmers.
Senator SAMPSON (Tasmania) [9.48J. - I should not have participated in this debate had not an Opposition senator, whose addresses to the Senate reveal a charming humility and modesty, introduced the name of a very gallant and honorable gentleman, a personal friend of mine, who fought with me in France where he was badly wounded at my side. I refer to Captain Tom Heifer, of the 15th Australian Battalion, now Chief Inspector of the Bank of New South Wales. The extracts from some remarks by Mr. Heffer quoted by Senator Collings to-night showed what an extraordinarily sound and humane policy the bank is pursuing. That institution has been carrying many of its clients, and will continue to do so, for the simple reason that it does not wish to destroy their* assets or to wipe out of existence those who are doing their best. Time after time I have observed instances of the banks assisting men to carry out various propositions, and I would say that, generally, the policy of the banks with regard to primary producers is sound and humane. I wish to disabuse the mind of Senator Collings, if possible, of the idea that compulsory pools are a panacea for all our ills, especially those associated with production and marketing. Many honorable senators will remember the long and interesting debate which took place in 1930 on the Wheat Bill of that year, and the close result when the division was taken. Because of articles in the press, tho eyes of the people of Australia wore on the Senate. We can trace the world’s troubles in connexion with wheat back t’o the days of the wheat pools of Canada and Argentina, and the Farm Board of the United States of America. With several other honorable senators, I was in Canada in the summer of 1928, when the Canadian harvest was in full swing. That year record wheat crops were harvested in many countries. The slogan of the men associated with the pools which I have mentioned was “wheat at 1 dollar 50 cents”. One of these men said to mc, “ These guys over there in Europe have got to pay 1 dollar 50 cents for wheat or they won’t get any.” They placed “a pistol at the head of European countries that year with the result that they had a carry-over of hundreds of millions of bushels of wheat.
– The wheat market has never recovered since then.
– If a pistol is placed at the head of any one possessing self respect or pluck, he will retaliate. That is what has happened in Europe. Countries which previously had imported wheat decided to grow their own cereals. Instead of being a big importer of wheat, France has produced1 so large; a crop this year that there, is talk of destroying some of the- wheat there. Far from being a cure for the ills associated with wheat throughout the world, compulsory pools only aggravate, the trouble. Some persons advocate wheat pools as if they were something new, but wheat pools are mentioned in holy writ. The Book of Genesis tells us that Joseph started the first wheat pool in Egypt. This bill provides the opponents of the Government with an opportunity to make political capital, for a. tax on flour is never popular. It is all very well for economists and others to- dilate on the iniquity of a tax on the poor man’s food. One honorable senator, almost with tears running down his cheeks, told us recently that he had seen young Australians playing tennis bare-footed because they had not the wherewithal to buy shoes. What an extraordinary state of affairs! Has the honorable senator compared the price of a pair of shoes with that of a ‘tennis racquet? Such ridiculous statements defeat their own object; yet we hear them repeatedly. Because of the opportunities which flour tax legislation affords an opposition to make political capital, it is reluctantly introduced by any government, I suggest, therefore, that in reimposing the flour tax the Government has acted courageously. It was faced with the need to assist the wheat industry, and of a number of methods, most of them distasteful, it chose that which it thought was least objectionable. Those who oppose this tax have not suggested a workable alternative. If we do not accept the temporary expedient of a tax on flour, we must either let the wheat industry perish - and no honorable senator would agree to that being done - or raise, a. loan to assist the wheat-growers thereby placing a permanent burden on the taxpayer. The world is so enmeshed in a net of financial and economic troubles that every country is trying to cut its way out, heedless of what becomes of the others. Australia, like every other country, must do the best thing possible in abnormal circumstances. I suggest that the Government did not reimpose this unpopular tax because of any liking for a tax on flour, but because it regarded it as the best palliative to apply at the present time. Australia cannot seriously consider the adoption of a policy of crop restriction in regard to wheat, for that would be a policy of despair. In a world where poverty exists in the midst- of plenty, the cure is not to abolish plenty. Such a policy does not appeal to one’s reason. The raising of £4,000,000 to assist the wheat industry is an expedient to ward off the great calamity of forcing many industrious wheat-growers off the land. The idea which prevails in the minds of a number of persons, who do not stop to think, that compulsory pools are a panacea for all the ills from which, the wheat, industry is suffering is quite fallacious. I should not have spoken had I not wanted to emphasize that one point. We hear so much talk and get so much fury and sound in this chamber that I am reminded of the wise old Dionysius who said, “ Let your speech be better than silence, or be silent.”
SenatorBRENNAN (Victoria- Assistant Minister) [10.1] . - What I shall have to say in reply will be extremely brief, but brief as it will be, I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Rep resen t ati ves.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLach- lan) read a first time.
NEW BUSINESS AFTER 10.30 p.m.
[10.6].- I move-
That Standing Order No. 08 be suspended up to and including the 14th inst. for the purpose of enabling new business to be commenced after half -past 10 o’clock at night.
Between now and midnight, at which hourwe hope to adjourn, other bills may be received, and unless that Standing Order is suspended they cannot be placed on the notice-paper so that the later stages may be taken to-morrow.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - There being an absolute majority of the whole number of senators present, and no dissentient voice, I declare the motion carried.
– Although this bill has paused a fair amount of discussion nothing very original has been suggested. I should be sorry, especially after the nice things said about myself by honorable senators opposite, not to reciprocate their kindness, but I can hardly refrain from saying in the most charitable sense, that they did not fail to recognize that this cry about taxing the food of the poor is quite a good one to place before their ‘Constituents. That is shown by the fact that although there has been a good deal of criticism there has has not been, as Senator Sampson pointed out. one practical suggestion put forward as an alternative to the Government’s proposals. It would appear from what we have heard to-night and what we have learned outside, that practically every political party in Australia is in favour of a home consumption price for wheat. As has been pointed out by the various speakers, the effect of such a price must be exactly the same as that of the proposals now put forward by theGovernment, with the exception that while the Government’s proposals are only of a temporary nature, in the hope that’ some other form of assistance may be devised later, a home consumption price as supported by honorable senators opposite would be permanent. But, even if such a plan were superior to that provided in this bill, it is, as I pointed out earlier, impossible of realization for the present harvest, owing to the constitutional difficulties. My friend, Senator Collings, said that the workers pay all the taxes.
– All but one.
– The honorable senator excluded the land tax with which I cannot deal at this juncture. If that is so, I am surprised that the honorable senator should have proposed that remitted taxation should be reimposed in order to provide what will be obtained by a flour tax. The tax on flour, after all, is providing a relatively small proportion of the £4,000,000 required. Senator Collings and others have referred to the sugar agreement, but I am reminded by one who knows more of the history of these things than I do, that the increase in the price of sugar came as a result of the efforts, not of the Labour party, but of the present VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Hughes) when leading a Nationalist Government, and the fixation of the price was done by a Liberal Government in Queensland. That is rather by the way. As to whether the workers pay all the tax, let me not rely upon my own ipse dixit, but cite the opinion of Professor Giblin, who has been quoted with approval by those opposed to the principle of this bill. He said -
The broad result of the above discussion is to show that assistance by a home price to any export industry is mostly paid by the export industries as a whole.
If it is true that the workers will pay slightly more than their proportionate share of the tax proposed in this measure, what amount will they pay? On page 9 of the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry I find the following:
The commission has endeavoured to ascertainhow much this will mean in added cost of living to the people of Australia. On the basis of a minimum production of 1,330 2-lb. loaves of bread from each short ton of flour (2,000 lb.) an increase or decrease of £5 10s. in the price of flour represents1d. per 2-lb loaf of bread.
Allowances must, however, be made for other costs. . . . Pending the completion of the investigation of the bread industry, the commission considers that an increase of £5 a ton in the cost of flour may be expected to result in an increase of1d. in the price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread to the consumer.
The Government proposes a tax of only £2 12s. 6d. a ton, which, on that analogy, means something just over½d. on a 2-lb. loaf, or an increased cost to the average working family of only about 3½d. a week. We may be asked why . people should have to pay even that small sum. The answer is to be found in a quotation from a memorandum by Professor Giblin on “ The Home Price and the Export Industries “, which is attached as appendix A to the commission’s report. Professor Giblin there says -
No one in general would willingly raise the price of the necessaries of life. All tradition is against it. When, however, an important primary industry like dairying - we may substitute “ wheat-growing “ for “ dairying “ in this instance- is threatened with disaster on account of a fall in the world prices- which is exactly the position of the wheat growing industry to-day - it is felt to be reasonable that the whole community should contribute to help it over the lean times. Such a contribution is felt, by the public and the press, to be made by a home price. Each consumer is called upon to do his share to sustain the threatened industry.
That is our whole position. We said at the outset that this bill does not actually follow in every detail the report of the Royal Commission, but that it at least follows in broad outlines what the commission recommended. That is the explanation of why the Government felt it to be necessary to give some help to the industry by the means it has adopted. It feels that a great industry is in peril, and that the need for assistance is urgent. The Government has not acted through mere love of imposing taxes. I shall not reply to those who suggest that some effort has been made to save our friends and to put the burden of taxation on to those who are least able to bear it. That sort of criticism does not add anything either to the reputation of the Senate or to our knowledge of the subject.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– Through inadvertence, the members of the Opposition missed the opportunity to call for a division on the motion for the second reading. We were fully determined to divide the Senate, and distinctly called “ No “, when the question was put. I desire now to record the fact that we were most emphatically against the second reading.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Definitions).
. -“ Public charitable institution “ means “ a public hospital, a public benevolent institution, or a religious organization”, and includes “ any public organization which the Commissioner is satisfied is established for the relief of unemployed persons “. I move -
That after the word “established” the wards “and maintained “ be inserted.
It is not to be sufficient that the organization should merely have been established ; it must be maintained for the relief of unemployed persons.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause as amended agreed to.
Clauses 4 to 13 agreed to.
Clause 14 (Exemptions).
– The clause provides that the flour tax shall not be payable by any persons in respect of a number of things set out in paragraphs a to j. I move -
That the following new paragraph be inserted at the end of sub-clause 1 : - “;or
held for sale, for use as, or in the manufacture of, any food for infants or invalids (being a food specified in the Third Schedule of the Sales Tax Regulations as in force from time to time), and in respect of which the commissioner is satisfied that the flour will be so used.”.
The object of the amendment is to exempt flour when used in the manufacture of foods for infants and invalids. I take it that this will meet with the approval of every honorable senator. During the passage of these bills in the House of Representatives the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Casey) said that the Government desired to accede to the suggestion that flour for this purpose should be exempted from the tax, and he gave an undertaking that if such a course were practicable, an amendment would be introduced in the Senate to achieve that result.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause further consequentially amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 15 to 19 agreed to.
Clause 20 (Time for payment of tax).
– I direct attention to what may be a small matter, but concerning which we should have some explanation. This clause enacts that where the amount of tax payable upon flour held in stock on the seventh day of January, 1935, exceeds £5, the tax may be paid in equal monthly instalments, the first of which is payable on or before the 10th January, 1935, and other instalments on or before the 21st day of each succeeding month. What is the reason for the variation in the dates of month ?
.- Clause 16 provides for the lodgment on or before, the 10th January, 1935, of returns of flour held by a non-miller on the 7th of that month. The requirement of returns within three days of the taxable date is intended to obviate evasion of tax which might occur if the returns were not required to be lodged until the usual date, viz., 21 days after the commencement of the tax. As the bill will become law some considerable time before the 7th January, 1935, it is considered that all taxpayers will be able to arrange for taking stock on the date of commencement of the tax, and in that event there will be no reason why the return of stocks so taken should not be forwarded forthwith to the Commissioner. Clause 16 should be read with clause 20, which provides for payment of tax at the time of lodgment of return unless the tax exceeds £5, when the tax is payable by equal monthly instalments of £5 or 20 per cent. of the tax, whichever is the greater.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 21 to 23 agreed to.
Clause 24 (Refunds of tax).
– This clause provides that where the Commisisoner finds that a tax has been overpaid and is satisfied that it has not been passed on by the taxpayer to some other person, or, if passed on,has not been refunded by the taxpayer, the Commissioner “may” refund the amount of tax found to be overpaid. Why is this provision permissive instead of being mandatory?
– The clause adopts a principle applying in the administration of the sales tax, viz., where a taxpayer who has overpaid tax has passed that tax on to his customers, a refund will not be granted to him unless he first of all credits his customer with the overpayment. At first sight it is difficult to understand why the word “may” is used instead of the word “shall”, but I assume that it will be construed as being mandatory on the Commissioner to make the refund.
– I fully support the remarks of Senator Duncan-Hughes. The discretion of the Commissioner in connexionwith refunds of lax should not be permitted. If the Commissioner is satisfied that there has bean an overpayment of the tax, it should be refunded. All through this long clause there is this permissive provision when, as a matter of fact, it should he mandatory on the Commissioner to make refunds of overpayments. It is not the intention of the Parliament that there should be any doubt about the matter. If the taxpayer is entitled to a refund, he should receive it. If Senator Duncan- Hughes moves an amendment to strike out the word “may” wherever it occurs throughout this clause with a view to insert the word “ shall “, I shall support him.
– The wording of this clause conforms to the language of all taxation measures, so it is rather late in the day to seek to alter it. It has been laid down by the highest legal authorities that in taxation measures of this kind, the word “may”, when used in what appears to be the permissive sense is, in fact, construed as being mandatory. If the commissioner does not do it, then, apart from the fact that he commits a breach of duty, he could, in fact, be compelled to do it.
– How are you going to compel him; take the matter to the High Court?
– That necessity could arise, but to imagine such a proceeding is as difficult as it is to imagine the commissioner refusing to refund money which he is satisfied he should refund. Senator Grant suggested, that on every case which arose, the commissioner might say “ I will not do’ it,” or “ I want to be satisfied.” If such an attitude were generally adopted, it would upset our whole legal system. A judge, for instance, might say “I know what is right, but I am going to do what is wrong.” The form in this clause, I assure the honorable senator, is the customary form employed in taxation measures of this kind. No evil is likely to arise under this provision, but I point out to honorable senators that by altering this clause in the way suggested, we would make it stand out in contradistinction to the other clauses, and possibly necessitate a re-survey of the whole measure to see if alterations were not involved elsewhere.
– Clause 24, sub-clause 7, provides that - “ Subject to this section, the Commissioner shall pay to any person . . “
In this instance, it is mandatory on the commissioner to refund the tax.
– And it should be so, because the tax will then have expired.
– The clause brought under the notice of the committee by Senator Duncan-Hughes refers to cases where tax has wrongly been imposed, and provides that the commissioner “may” make a repayment. Surely the language of the bill should be mandatory in both instances.
– I accept the Minister’s assurance, but in doing so I am a little bit shaken by the point raised by Senator Payne-
– In one case there is no appeal, the act having expired; but in the other case there is an appeal against the determination of the commissioner.
– In my early legal training I learned that “ shall “ is mandatory and “ may “ is permissive. But I accept the assurance of the Minister that a similar provision has been tested in connexion with other taxing legislation. I do not question the good faith of the Commissioner of Taxation; but I am seeking to ascertain why there should be a difference between the law as it lies on the commissioner and the law as it lies on the taxpayer. If the money is due to the taxpayer why should there not be a direct order that the money shall be repaid? In clause 25 it is provided that a taxpayer “ may “ lodge an objection; that is permissive.
But in clause 20, which is very important from the taxpayer’s point of view, it is provided -
Subject to this act, every person liable to pay tax under the provisions of this act shall pay the tax within the time within which he is required by this act to lodge the return. . . .
I realize that similar language occurs several times in the bill, and whilst accepting the assurance given by the Minister in the meantime, we might postpone detailed consideration of my point until a bill of a similar nature is being dealt with in this chamber next year.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 25 to 33 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Senator Brennan) proposed -
That the report he now adopted.
– I move -
That the bill be recommitted for the reconsideration of clause 14.
When this clause was before- the committee I missed my opportunity to speak on it. I intended to move an amendment to provide that the north-west portion of Western Australia be placed on the same basis as the Northern Territory under this measure, or, alternatively, that the same consideration be given to the taxpayers in the north-west of Western Australia as will be given to the taxpayers in Tasmania.
– It would be useless to recommit the clause, because clearly Senator Johnston’s proposal is unconstitutional. It would differentiate between States, or parts of States, and that is forbidden by the Constitution. The Northern Territory is in a different position, because it is a territory controlled by the Commonwealth Parliament under its constitutional power. The north-west portion of Western Australia is simply a part of the federation like any other part.
.- The Minister’s refusal to recommit the bill and thus give me the opportunity to put forward arguments which I have not yet expressed is unreasonable. He has also entirely ignored my alternative request that if the north-west portion of Western Australia cannot be placed on the same basis under this bill as the Northern Territory, we should at least put it on the same basis as Tasmania.
– What would be the use of moving the amendment if it is unconstitutional?
– It is not unconstitutional to treat the north-west of Western Australia in the same way that Tasmania is treated. I feel sure that if I were given the opportunity I would convince honorable senators that if it is unconstitutional to treat that part of Western Australia on the same basis as the Northern Territory, it would certainly not be unconstitutional to treat it on the same basis as Tasmania, where the whole of the flour tax paid is refunded.
– I oppose the adoption of the report because I was refused permission to move an amendment at an earlier stage, and also because of the refusal to recommit the bill, notwithstanding that I was advised by the Government whip that I would have an opportunity to submit the amendment.
Motion agreed to.
Motion (by Senator Brennan) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– I regret that this bill is likely to be passed in an incomplete form, in that it does not do justice to the north-west and Kimberley districts of Western Australia. Clause 14 provides that flour sold or delivered to persons in the Northern Territory shall not be subject to a flour tax; and if the Government had had proper regard for the interests of the north-west of Western Australia, it would have made provision for a similar exemption in respect of that area.
– The Minister pointed out that that would be unconstitutional.
– When that was pointed out I asked for the same refunds of tax as are allowed in the case of Tasmania. There the flour tax payments are refunded in full.
– There is no provision in this hill for relief to Tasmania.
– The honorable senator will have his chance when another bill is under discussion.
-I was refused permission to move for the recommittal of the bill after I had received an assurance that I would be given an opportunity to do so. The Senate has sat for only a few days this session, and although I left home to attend its sittings over four weeks ago, we have only sat once in that time. I object to rushing the business through. [ was refused an opportunity to move certain amendments to-night. I am glad that Tasmania has been given certain concessions, but I submit that the people in the north-west of Western Australia are not less worthy of consideration at the hands of the Senate than are those in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
.- I intended to divide the Senate on the second reading, but, apparently, the Opposition did not make its voice sufficiently loud to be heard. I, therefore, propose to test the Senate on the third reading.
Question - That the bill be now read a third time - put. The Senate divided. (President - Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLachlan) read a first tune.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion of Senator McLachlan) read a first time.
– I move -
That thebill benow read a second time.
The object of this measure is to impose a tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton on flour manufactured in Australia by any person, and sold or delivered, or usedin the manufacture of goods by him. It is one of the bills requiredto bring into operation the Government’s proposals for the imposition of the flour tax already agreed to.
Question resolved in the affrmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure is to impose a tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton on flour held in stock by certain persons on the 7th day of January, 1935.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Under this measure a tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton is to be imposed on the flour contained in certain imported foods set out in the schedule. It deals with a separate class of goods, but the tax imposed is the same as that provided in the bills just passed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Diabetic bread and flour;
Gluten biscuits, bread, flour and meal;
Mellin’s food biscuits;
– I move -
That the House of Representatives be requested to leave out -
Allenbury’s food, Benger’s food, Bowen’s food, diabetic bread and flour, gluten biscuits, bread, flour and meal, Mellin’s food, Mellin’s food biscuits, and Neave’s food.
The object of deleting these items on which the tax is levied on importation is to place them in the same category as comparable Australian goods. The Senate having by amendment exempted from tax flour used in the manuture in Australia of foods for infants and invalids, it is necessary to exempt also comparable imported goods so as not to disturb the present competitive position as between Australian and imported goods.
– As a fairly large number of items has been deleted from the schedule, will the Assistant Minister explain why passover bread, used for religious purposes, is not to be exempt? I think that it should be exempt.
– The passover bread, which is used by adults, is not in the same category as the other foods which the House of Representatives is being requested to delete. It is not exempt under any of the other measures in which these particular items are exempt.
Request agreed to.
Schedule agreed to subject to a request.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with a request; report adopted.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
It deals with one aspect of the assistance which the Government proposes to give to the wheat industry for the present season, namely a bounty of three pence a bushel Under, clause 5 the bounty is payable to the grower of wheat which has, on or after the 1st October, 1934, and prior to the commencement of the act, been sold or delivered for sale, or which is sold or delivered for sale on or before the 31st October, 1935, or on or before such later date as is prescribed. Under clause 10, the Governor-General may arrange with the Governor of a State for the payment by a State, on behalf of the Commonwealth, of the bounty payable under the act.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Under this bill it. is proposed to grant to each State such financial assistance as is necessary to make a payment of 3s. an acre sown by a wheat-grower for grain during the year 1934. The same assistance is also provided for wheat-growers in the Territory for the Seat of Government. Special provisions are made in clause 8 to meet the case of sharefarmers.
.- The bill provides for the payment of 3s. an acre to wheatgrowers, and it is important to ensure that the money does reach them instead of going entirely to their creditors. That is why I have circulated the following new clause: - “ Nothing in any act or State act which would, but for this section, vest in any authority constituted under that act the right to receive, or require payment to that authority of, the amount paid or payable under this act to a wheat-grower, shall have effect in respect of so much of the amount so paid or payable as does not’ exceed Fifty pounds.”
I referred in my speech in the general debate earlier in the evening to this matter. I hope the amendment will commend itself to honorable senators. I have heard of some institutions which have exercised a lien even over part of the maternity bonus granted under another act to distressed settlers. It seems to me very important, when we pass legislation for the relief of wheat-growers, to see that the money goes to the wheatgrowers. This is not a Creditors Belief Bill, but a Wheat Growers Relief Bill. The very proper amendment of which I have given notice will, if carried, ensure, to the amount of £50 on each farm, that the relief goes to the people who do the work and deserve the money - the wheatgrowers themselves, and not their bankers or creditors.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
In this act unless the contrary intention appears - “ Wheat-grower “ means any person who has sown wheat during the year one thousand nine hundred and thirty-four.
. - This definition appears to me to be capable of improvement. A definition passed last year in a similar measure was not satisfactory to my State, where the officer in charge of the Farmers Relief Act declined to pay over certain moneys because he was not satisfied, in the case of share-farming agreements, as to whom they should go. Clause 8 of this bill deals with share farmers; but the present clause does not make clear what a wheat-grower is. Who is the person who has sown the wheat? Is it the man who goes through the actual physical operation of sowing it, or the man who owns the land and gives the employment ? In other words, is it the proprietor or the employee ? Unless this is made clear, any man employed on a farm to sow wheat may step in and claim that, as he did the sowing, he is entitled to the relief. That anomaly could be overcome by inserting after the word “ who “, the words “ by himself or others thus indicating that the money belongs to the proprietor, whether the wheat was sold by himself or by an employee.
– I remind the honorable senator of the old legal maxim that he who does a thing by an agent does it himself.
– Under this definition the man who does the actual work may claim the money.
– Can it be said that he has sown the wheat as one having dominion over the land, or has he merely clone it for wages? The purpose in the first place was to amplify the definition of “ share farmer “, in order to exclude persons who had merely a financial interest in the products of a farm. I have no hesitation in saying that where a man owns a farm and some other person sows it with wheat for him, the owner who gives the instruction and does the sowing through his agent is the person entitled. The definition in clause 2 does not refer to the physical act of sowing. I refer the honorable senator also to the following wording in clause 6 : - “ for each acre which the wheat-grower satisfies the prescribed authority was sown by him with wheat for grain”. His suggestion is harmless and might, in other circumstances, be accepted, but in this case its adoption would involve sending the bill back to the House of Representatives, and as I can see none of the reasons for fear which the honorable gentleman entertains, I ask the committee to allow the clause to stand.
.- I still think that an employee who sowed wheat would he entitled to claim under this clause or under clause 4 or clause 5. The insertion of a few words, such .as those which I suggested, would make clearer the meaning of the clause. It would not then be left to the court to decide whether a person who has sown wheat on land, may claim under this bill. The delay caused by sending the measure back to the House of Representatives is not a valid argument for not making the amendment. The bill did not reach us until this evening. Surely we are not expected to swallow it holus bolus simply because we are nearing the end of the session. However, if the Minister and the committee are satisfied that an alteration is not necessary I shall not press my objection.
– I support Senator DuncanHughes’ request for a clearer definition of the word “ wheat-grower “. Last year the administrator of the fund in South Australia refused applications for a first payment of the bounty because of a doubt as to the eligibility of the persons claiming, and several share farmers were seriously inconvenienced. To overcome the difficulty I got in touch with the Minister, and I believe the Government had fresh regulations drafted for the guidance of the administrator in South Australia.
– Share farmers are dealt with in this bill.
– I am aware of that, but I agree with Senator DuncanHughes that the present definition is not sufficiently explicit to put beyond all doubt what persons are eligible to claim.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Payment to wheat-growers).
– This clause enacts that a person claiming assistance must satisfy the prescribed authority that the land was sown by him with wheat for grain. How can any man do that? In some districts the practice is to have tracks sown for hay around and through wheat paddocks.
– In areas where the regular practice is to sow wheat for hay, persons claiming assistance under this bill would certainly have difficulty in satisfying the prescribed authority that the wheat was sown for grain.
– It is extremely difficult to show intention. Probably Senator” Brennan will remember that a famous judge on one occasion said that no one could fathom the intent of man because the devil himself did not know the mind of man. Are we to assume that the prescribed authority under this bill will be wiser than the devil?
– The intention of the clause is relieving rather than restrictive. It has been inserted for the benefit of persons who might not participate in the bounty. Farmers who sow for hay are not entitled to this form of relief. There are others who sow for grain, but for one reason or another decide that the crop is not suitable for grain and so cut it for hay. This clause is intended to provide for persons in that position. If they can satisfy the prescribed authority that they did sow for grain, they will be entitled to the assistance provided by this measure. As the intention of the bill is ameliorative, I should think that the prescribed authority would consider the state of the mind of a farmer applying for assistance, and would not be harsh in its judgment.
-. - Is it intended that farmers who sow wheat for hay shall not participate in the acreage bounty this year as formerly? Under another bill a farmer who sows for barley or oats will be entitled to a rebate of 15s. a ton. Are w* to understand that a man who sows wheat for hay will be excluded from the benefits of this measure?
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
SenatorE. B. JOHNSTON (Western Australia) [11.59]. - I move -
That the following new clause be inserted: - “ 7a. Nothing in any act or State act which would, but for this section, vest in any authority constituted under that act the right to receive, or require payment to that authority of, the amount paid or payable under this act to a wheat-grower, shall have effect in respect of so much of the amount so paid or payable as does not exceed fifty pounds.”
My object is to ensure that at least £50 of any amount granted to an individual farmer shall go direct to him and not to his creditors. We have already passed an act under which 3d. a bushel is to be paid to the farmer, and we have put no restriction of this kind in it. No doubt a good many creditors will come down on farmers for a share of this grant. There is no question as to the Commonwealth’s right to apply such a condition as I propose in any grants it makes to the States for the Constitution empowers the Commonwealth to make such grants on such conditions as it thinks fit. In all grants which the Commonwealth has made to the States in the past, for the purpose of assisting wheat-growers we have prescribed certain conditions to govern the disbursement of those grants. For instance, we have said that certain money was not to be distributed on the basis of production; and we have said that it should not be given to persons with a taxable income. The latter provision was not adhered to in Queensland, according to information supplied by the Leader of the Senate.
Sitting suspended from 12.0 until 12.45 a.m.
Friday, 14 December 1934
– There are fewer things a farmer in necessitous circumstances needs so badly as a little ready money. Organizations throughout Australia representative of the wheatgrowers, such as the Wheat-growers Union and the Primary Producers Association, have been trying to ensure that out of his crop this season the farmer shall receive a little money that cannot be seized by a creditor. My amendment will afford the Government, which has laid down many conditions governing measures of assistance to the wheatfarmers, an opportunity to give a direct benefit to the farmer himself. I hope the committee will accept the amendment, in order that the grower may receive a little money knowing that his creditor will not be able to take it. I feel sure that if this concession is made under this measure, the farmerwillbe assisted much more effectively to stay on the land than if the money is allowed to be seized by his creditor, who often, when he receives a payment on account, is more inclined to restrict instead of extend credit.
– The amendment provides a striking instance of a proposed legislative action from which would follow results the reverse of what the proposal was intended to achieve. There are many objections to the proposal put forward by the honorable senator, however earnest he may be in his desire to help the grower. He claimed that this is a wheat-grower’s relief bill, and not a creditor’s relief bill. It is a growers relief bill, but it is not a bill to alter the whole relationship between Commonwealth and States with regard to certain of their respective laws. The point raised by the honorable senator was foreseen by the Government, and a similar proposal was considered by the Attorney-General and myself. We came to the conclusion that it would be unconstitutionalto give an authority to the Federal law to override the State law governing the relations of creditor and debtor. That being so, I ask the honorable senator to contemplate what would happen if this Parliament granted his amendment, and it were to be tested. A dispute would arise which would probably have to be settled in the HighCourt, and that would mean, as the ultimate destination of the money would be in question, that payments under this bill would be stopped. The authorities would not pay out until they knew who was entitled to receive the money. I assure the honorable senator that if such a position arose, the earliest opportunity the High Court would have to consider this matter would be in May of next year. The next sittings of the High Court are to be held in that month, but it does not follow as a matter of course that this case would appear early on the list. However, the earliest possible date on which this matter could be dealt with would be May of next year, and in the meantime the whole of the act would be paralysed. Apart from this consideration, I doubt very much whether the wording of the honorable senator’s amendment would effect what he has in mind. Its wording is extremely complicated. I have pointed out two objections to the proposal. First, the Government has very strong reason for believing that the proposal would be held to be unconstitutional and, that being so, a long and embarrassing delay to those whom this measure is trying to help, would result.
– The Commonwealth has power to make grants to the States upon such terms as it thinks fit.
– It has that power so long as the terms it imposes do not involve the Commonwealth embarking upon the exercise of power which it does not constitutionally possess. As the honorable senator is aware, the Commonwealth’s powers are limited and the provision in the Constitution that the Commonwealth may make grants upon conditions, means conditions which the Commonwealth has the right to impose. The whole question involved here is whether the Commonwealth has any right to vest any authority with the power which the amendment proposes to vest. The amendment seeks to give the Commonwealth control over State laws governing the relations between debtors and creditors, and the Federal Constitution does not endow this Parliament with that power. The other point I emphasize is that this amendment illustrates the view that legislation sometimes has the very converse effect to what was intended. What would happen in a case of this sort if we prescribed that the money payable was to be entirely free from the operation of the ordinary laws of the State governing debtors and creditors? I suggest that one result would be that whatever the credit the farmer is enjoying to-day would be immediately stopped. The farmer could not contract himself out of that. If his credit were running low he could not go to a storekeeper and say, “I shall be getting my £50 shortly; will you carry on my account a little further?” Such a statement would hold no guarantee that the storekeeper’s debt would be met, and, therefore, the farmer’s credit would disappear entirely, not because of any dishonesty on his part, but because of this provision in the law. I again put it to the honorable senator that the effect of his proposal would probably be disastrous to the very man he hopes to assist. In those circumstances, I hope that he will not press the amendment.
– I am inclined to sympathize with the amendment. Examining the report of the royal commission which inquired into the wheat industry, I find that the debts owing by the farming community total £140,000,090, and that another £10,000,000 would be required to repair or replace worn out machinery. These debts are owed by the wheat-growers of Australia to the Crown and such institutions as the trading banks, trustee companies, oil companies, machinery merchants, fertilizer companies, and stock and station agents and similar organizations. This debt of £140,000,000 is the present liability of those 70,000 people who, we are informed .by the royal commission, are engaged in the wheat-growing industry. This amendment, if adopted, would permit an individual farmer, one of those 70,000, to get off his farm if he so desired with £50 in hand. Many have left their farms and others have been squeezed off the land. The amendment at least would ensure to a poor farmer who has spent his energy, his money, and everything else he possesses, on his farm, at least £50 of the bounty which will be given to him. This sum could not be claimed from him by any person.
– This amendment will not ensure that.
– I am under the impression that it will.
– It will protect him from the State Relief Boards that are assisting him.
– I am under the impression that the amendment will have the effect that Senator Johnston desires. If there is any doubt about that, I suggest that the committee should be given an opportunity to consider a redraft of the amendment. I remind the committee that this Government has the power, and has used it in other acts, to provide safeguards that in the final resort definite amounts of money shall be paid directly and solely to those whom it is desired to benefit. Under State company law, whatever might be a man’s liabilities to various creditors, up to £1,000 of the amount of his life insurance policy will be available to his widow or dependants. That right is inviolable. If a State Parliament has the power to make such a provision, surely this Parliament also has the power to insure that a certain portion of any grant made to a farmer under this measure shall be reserved solely for the farmer himself. I contend that it is competent for us to provide that any one of those 70,000 growers shall not be forced, squeezed, or kicked off his farm by any of the creditors who are concerned in this total debt of £140,000,000.
– The proposed new clause will not do what the honorable senator desires.
– If there is any doubt about the matter, and as we have another day to sit, I suggest that the proposal be deferred for further consideration. I have no desire to delay the business of the Senate, but I want to be convinced that we shall not permit to be clone to any distressed wheat-grower an injury which this committee is competent to prevent.
[1.0 a.m.]. - In proportion to the total amount of farmers’ debts referred toby the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes),I suggest that the relief provided by this measure will be merely as a chip in a forest. That subject should be dealt with in another way. The rural recovery plan to be undertaken by the Commonwealth in conjunction with the States will tend to reduce those debts to an amount which will not impose too heavy a burden on producers. For the reasons given by the Assistant Minister, and backed by the Attorney-General, I appeal to Senator Johnston not to risk the dislocation which would ensue from the insertion of this unconstitutional provision, and towithdraw his proposed new clause.
– The Minister now knows the intention of the mover of the new clause, and it should be possible so to draft it. that it will give effect to that intention.
– Its unconstitutionality would be more patent if effect were given to the point raised by Senator Barnes.
– The relations between creditor and debtor are governed by State laws, and they would have to be altered to put things right.
– Does the Min ister suggest that it is not possible to frame a provision to secure what we desire ?
– Any such provision would be absolutely unconstitutional.
– The proposal of Senator Johnston should be considered by the Government, and an attempt made to give effect to it. Even in cases in which £100 was granted to a farmer last year on an acreage basis, no farmer in South Australia was allowed by the State Government to receive more than £11 19s.8d. to cover medical costs, clothing and other personal expenses, leaving nothing for insurance, notwithstanding that in some cases the premiums were practically paid up. In many cases farmers and their families are suffering dire distress, and it is on their behalf that the appeal is made. The Government should at least intimate to the State governments that it desires that necessitous farmers be allowed more than was granted to them last year.
– In other legislation every effort has been made to ensure that the payments reach the people who need the money. Our pensions legislation contains ample safeguards in that direction. Section 41 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act reads -
Subject to this act, a pension shall be absolutely inalienable whether by way or in consequence of sale, assignment, charge, execution, insolvency or otherwise howsoever.
– Notwithstanding the State laws, the pension is inviolate. The Commonwealth law over-rides the State law with regard to the relations of creditors and debtors.
– If the Minister assures the committee that the wheatgrower will get the bounty, I shall be satisfied. But if he wants to safeguard the position beyond doubt, he need only turn to the section of the act that I have mentioned, or to section 43 of the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act which is similarly worded, to see how it can be done.
– An oldage pensioner or a war pensioner may be sued for debt, and the debt recovered.
– But he gets his pension first.
– The provisions quoted by the honorable senator have been inserted in the legislation to prevent the pensioners from dispossessing themselves of their pensions.
– I shall be satisfied if the wheat-grower is placed on the same footing as a pensioner.
– I should like to know the position of persons who receive gifts from the Commonwealth, and are in necessitous circumstances. Can they be sued, and money recovered from them? Is it not possible under the Constitution for the Commonwealth to make a gift of money that is inalienable?
In the commission’s report, the wages of a farmer are set down at £125 per annum. Many wheat-farmers do not draw any wages at all. According to Senator O’Halloran, farmers in South Australia who drew 25s. a week from the State had the whole of the proceeds of their wheat taken from them by the banks. Wheat-farmers in such circumstances should be entitled to retain at least £50 of any bounty paid to them. Is it beyond the power of this Parliament to provide accordingly? If necessary, Parliament should seek that power and make it impossible for the money hogs to take the bounty from the farmers.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted - put. The committee divided. (Ch airman - Senator the Hon.
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Glauses 8 to 11 agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
– I move -
That clause 5 be reconsidered.
– The honorable senator should tell us why he wishes to have the clause reconsidered.
– My object is to correct an anomaly. Honorable senators are aware that under the wheat-growers’ relief legislation of last year farmers who sowed wheat for either hay or grain were entitled to a bounty on an acreage basis. Farmers who sowed barley, oats or peas are entitled to a subsidy of 15s. per ton on the superphosphates used for the purpose. But under the measure now before as the payment of the bounty on the acreage basis is limited to areas sown with wheat for grain, and no provision has been made to entitle farmers who sow wheat for hay to obtain a subsidy of 15s. a ton on the superphosphates used for the purpose. I maintain that farmers who sow wheat for hay are entitled to consideration. During the last four years the price of hay, like the price of wheat, has been very low. I wish provision to be made in this measure for the payment of a bounty of some description to farmers who sow wheat for hay.
– The honorable senator has called attention to an undoubted anomaly. The Government is well aware that farmers who sow wheat for hay have a grievance in that they will receive no special consideration in respect of that part of their agricultural operations. An endeavour was made to remedy this state of affairs, but so many difficulties were discovered in regard to the matter that in the time available no satisfactory provision could be devised. However, I assure the honorable senator that sympathetic consideration will be given to the matter, for the Government realizes that farmers who engage in this agricultural operation deserve consideration.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This is a machinery measure to give effect to a proposal which was agreed to when the Estimates were under discussion, to conduct a geological and geophysical survey of certain areas of Northern Australia. The object of the measure is to constitute a committee consisting of a Commonwealth Minister, a Minister of the Government of Queensland and a Minister of the Government of “Western Australia to direct the survey. As the outcome of certain negotiations which I had the honour to conduct, -the Governments of Queensland and Western Australia agreed to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in making a geological and geophysical survey of certain selected areas in Northern Australia, where auriferous deposits are likely to exist. The Commonwealth Government is to provide £75,000 of the total amount and the other two Governments £37,500 each, spread over a period of three years. Aerial photographs will be taken of the selected country with the object of determining which areas are most attractive for geological examination. Preliminary reconnaissances already made suggest that as the result of this work speedy developments may occur in certain areas of North Australia. The taking of aerial photographs by special equipment is desirable, for such photographs will disclose to skilled geologists the areas which justify closer geological examination. The timber on the country, as well as the topographical features of it, are clearly revealed by such photographs. I do not know whether any honorable senators have examined map mozaics made from aerial photographs of this description, but it has been my privilege to do so. I have seen some of the Rhodesian maps, and roy examination of them, and the information furnished to me regarding them, satisfy me that the adoption of this method of surveying Northern Australia is likely to prove both satisfactory and profitable. This system has been used no) only in Rhodesia, but in Iraq and other places with great success. It is possible by this means to determine to some extent the nature of the country for some feet below the surface. The survey will be limited for the present to areas north of the 22nd parallel. Tenders have already been called for the aerial work, and it is proposed that operations shall commence after the termination of the wet season, next March or April. Messrs. Munsie and Stopford, representing Western Australia and Queensland respectively, are my colleagues on the committee, and they have examined a draft of this bill, and are satisfied with it. It was necessary to introduce the bill to remove any doubts as to the legality of proceeding under the indefinite and vague power of an appropriation measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 (Officers and servants).
– This clause provides that the committee may employ officers and servants who will not be subject to the Commonwealth Public Service Act, and who may be engaged for such periods and under such conditions as the committee thinks fit. Under this clause the committee has power to employ whatever officers it desires and pay them salaries lower than those paid to persons occupying similar positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. Will the Minister explain what is intended?
– Sub-clause 3 of clause 11 provides that officers of the Commonwealth Public Service employed by the committee shall retain all their existing and accruing rights. That provision has been made for the seconding of public servants whose assistance may be required from time to time. For instance, Dr. Woolnough, the present Geological Adviser to the Commonwealth Government, is not a Commonwealth public servant, but his services have been co-opted in the past and his assistance may be required in the future. The committee has. secured the services of Mr. Nye, the Government Geologist in Tasmania, Mr. Ball, representing the Queensland Government, and Mr. Foreman, a recent appointee to the Western Australian Public Service, all of whom will receive extra (remuneration when working for the committee. This provision is not inserted to enable the committee to employ persons at lower rates or under less favorable conditions than those prevailing in the Commonwealth Public Service, but with the object of securing the assistance of men who may be employed in a State service or in a private capacity.
.–I am satisfied with the Minister’s explanation of the point raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes), but the language of the clause might convey a different impression. The concluding words in sub-clause 2 read - . . . “ but shall be engaged for such periods and shall be subject to such conditions as the committee thinks fit.” Thorn words could be interpreted to mean that the remuneration could be lower or the conditions less favorable.
– Is the honorable senator suspicious of the action of two Labour Governments.
– As the Governments of Western Australia and Queensland have two votes and the Com monwealth Government only one, it is not likely that conditions such as the honorable senator fears are likely to be imposed. For the present possibly only geologists will be employed.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bil] reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to remove the sales tax from goods imported from Fiji of a kind similar to those which are free from sales tax within the Commonwealth or are not produced in the Commonwealth at all. A proclamation has been issued exempting from primage goods the produce or manufacture of Fiji, including bananas. In addition, a reduction of from 2d. to 4d. a case of the quarantine inspection charges upon imported bananas will be gazetted. For many years wo have had an extraordinarily favorable trade balance with Fiji, the average exports to that country for the last seven years being valued at £419,000 Australian currency, as against average imports of a value of £42,000 Australian currency. In other words, the balance of trade between the two countries has been favorable to Australia in the proportion of ten to one. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the details of our general trading position with Fiji. Of our total exports to Fiji in 1932-33, valued at £347,000 Australian currency, Australian primary produce alone amounted to £45,000. The value of the 40,000 centals of Fijian bananas permitted to be imported under the Ottawa agreement is about £12,000. The value of our primary exports alone to Fiji is four times that of its exports of bananas to us. Of the balance, £31,000 is made up of other Australian primary produce such as preserved fruits, flour, jams, and so on. Perhaps the most interesting feature of our export trade to Fiji is that during the same period the volume of trade in Australian manufactured goods amounted to £1S7,000. It must be perfectly clear to all honorable senators that our export trade to Fiji provides infinitely more employment for our people than our imports from Fiji provide for the people of that country. An adjustment of our unfair tariff arrangements with Fiji was made at Ottawa. At the time the Ottawa Conference was held, the duty was Ss. 4d. a cental. Under that prohibitive duty we lost, to a large extent, the valuable trade we formerly had with Fiji. It was agreed at Ottawa that 40,000 centals of Fijian bananas should be admitted into Australia annually at a duty of 2s. Gd. a cental. The value of that quantity of bananas, roughly £12,000, does not represent more than ‘2-J per cent, of the value of the bananas consumed in the Commonwealth. Those imports, therefore, could not possibly be an important factor in fixing the prices for Australian bananas sold in this country. Unfortunately, the various taxes imposed upon Fiji bananas - for example, the primage duty of 5 per cent, on bananas, 10 per cent, on casing, the 5 per cent, sales tax, the Federal and State income tax on profits made on this trade, and the New South Wales special income tax - have made th°e concession practically valueless to Fiji, and its exports of bananas to Australia in any one year have not approached 40,000 centals. In one year it exported 40 per cent of its quota, but in the present year it will export less than 30 per cent. The benefit of this trade to Fiji has been virtually destroyed because of the additional taxation imposed upon it in this country. At Ottawa it was thought that Fiji was given the right to send 40,000 centals of bananas into Australia each year and the Fijian representatives believed that it would be practicable for them to take advantage of this trade, but I admit that some items of taxation to which I have referred were completely overlooked at the conference. In return for this concession of the right of entry for 40,000 centals of bananas into Australia the Government of Fiji transferred twenty important Australian export items from the intermediate to the British preferential column -of the Fijian tariff schedule. The total prohibition of the export of Fijian bananas to Australia so antagonized the Government of Fiji, that it had placed very many Australian items on the intermediate tariff list and, in respect of these, Australia was not being treated as a British country. The restoration of those items to the British preferential list was of great value to the Commonwealth. It would be difficult to justify the continued imposition on Fijian bananas of the various Commonwealth taxes to which I have referred and which should have been removed long ago. It is not proposed to give any concessions or exemptions to Fiji other than those enjoyed by Australian bananas or Australian goods similar to those imported from Fiji. All we are seeking to do in to give Fijian bananas a perfectly open opportunity in this country after the duty of 2s. 6d. a cental has been paid. Inreturn for this trade in bananas, valued at £12,000 per annum and in some other Fijian goods, valued at £30,000 per annum, Fiji buys primary produce and manufactured goods from Australia valued at £400,000 annually. The feeling in Fiji two or three months ago against Australia was so intense that the elective members of the Fijian legislature decided to move for the imposition of very heavy, and even prohibitive, duties and taxes on all goods imported from Australia. The people of Fiji felt that they had not been given a real concession. They considered that their export trade to Australia was being held up by other taxation in a way that was not intended. I have no doubt, that if we do not remove these disabilities a great deal of the very profitable trade that we are now enjoying with Fiji will be lost.
The bill does a bare act of justice to our neighbours in Fiji. To make a contract such as we entered into at Ottawa, and then by our own internal taxation to render it illusory, is scarcely cricket. I feel sure that tho result to the banana industry of Australia will be the reverse of injurious. The agreement has already spurred our growers to activity in many directions, particularly in putting an improved article on the market, elim’inating disease, and adopting better cultural methods. All this will be to the advantage of the Australian industry, and, after all, 40,000 centals is only about 2½ per cent. of the total consumption of the Commonwealth.
– Some months ago I asked a Minister in this chamber what further concessions had been made or were contemplated in respect of Fijian bananas, and received the very definite answer that nothing was being done or contemplated. At that time this very proposal which we are now asked to adopt was being contemplated. I have complained here previously of the misleading answers given to questions.
– How does the honorable senator know that it was being contemplated “ some months ago “ ?
– I knew when I asked the question. In the Melbourne Argus of the 10th November last, over the signature of Mr. C. B. Joske, appeared a statement which, from start to finish, is almost identical with that which the Minister has just read to this chamber. Mr. Joske, president of the Fiji Banana Association, wrote from Suva, Fiji, on the 30th October last-
– He is a very able man.
– I do not know him. I am interested only in the fact that what he said should be done is now being done by the Government which then told me, through its responsible Minister in this chamber, that nothing was being done. Mr, Joske’s letter was as follows : -
Treatment by Australia.
To the Editor of the Argus.
Sir, - Under the Ottawa Agreement Fijian bananas, which for some years had been excluded from the Australian market by a prohibitive tariff, were given the right of entry up to 40,000 centals a year at a reduced duty, which amounted to approximately 2s. a case. This small concession aroused hostile criticism in Australia, and it was necessary for Mr. Lyons to remind the Queensland Government that the concession was comparatively unsignificant compared with the Australian production of about 2,300,000 bushels a year, amounting to about 2.7 per cent. of Australian production. The hostility continued, and the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing in Brisbane - a quasi-governmental authority - attempted to organize a boycott by Queens land fruit-growers of any fruit agents in Sydney or Melbourne who handled Fijian bananas for sale.
The essence of the Ottawa Agreement was understood to be fair competition and no discrimination.WhenFijian shippers began to send shipments to the Australian market it was with dismay that they found that various charges and taxes were levied on Fijian bananas which were not levied on Australian bananas.
That is a glorious suggestion, that we must concede to the citizens of other countries the privileges that we accord to our own people. When did that become part of Australia’s national policy?
Among these items were primage, which in effect amounted to a duty of 10 per cent. of the f.o.b. value. The most glaring example, however, was a sales tax of 0 per cent. - subsequently reduced to 5 per cent. - on the wholesale selling price - a tax levied on Fijian bananas but not on Australian bananas. There were other items, such as Federal and State income taxes, tax for the relief of unemployment, and, finally, a quarantine inspection fee of 4.d. a case, as opposed to1d. a case charged for the inspection of Australian bananas. These additional charges rendered it unprofitable for Fijian shippers to send bananas to Australia-
That fact ought to be hailed with joy by every honorable senator - and consequently the concession granted at Ottawa is valueless to Fiji.
To obtain this concession-
We shall now hear all the threats which the Minister has put forward so timorously as a reason why we should share his fright and pass this bill -
Fiji had to jettison a preferential trade agreement with Canada and New Zealand, and this resulted in a loss to the Customs revenue of Fiji. In 1933 Australia bought from Fiji goods valued at £43,000, but Fiji bought from Australia goods valued at £380,000. It is no wonder that Fiji considers that Australia is not playing the game in the treatment of the tiny quantity of Fijian bananas permitted to be imported into Australia under the Ottawa Agreement. This feeling is exemplified by a motion introduced into the Legislative Council of Fiji on October 19by Mr. J. P. Bayly, European elected member, stating that in view of the discriminatory treatment thus extended by Australia-
They should have known all about those things - the Customs duties on all Australian goods importedinto Fiji-
Now listen to this for the utterance of a kindly neighbour - should be increased by a primage tax of 30 per cent., a sales tax of 20 per cent., and a special income tax of 10 per cent., amounting to an increase of 60 per cent. in all. This increase would remain operative so long as similar taxation remained operative in Australia. Such duties would effectually transfer to Canada and New Zealand the trade with Fiji at present enjoyed by Australia.
It was significant that the motion was seconded by Mr. Ratu J. L. V. Sukuna, Fijian member nominated by the Great Council of Chiefs, and supported by the senior elected European member, Sir Maynard Hedstrom; the Indian elected member, Mr. K. B. Singh; and all other European, Fijian, and Indian unofficial members. The official members were unable to speak on the motion, which could not be accepted by the Governor, but it was apparent in what direction their sympathies lay. Under the Deed of Concession in 1874 the Fijians gave Fiji to the British Crown to hold as their trustee. It is the Fijians who grow the bananas which might be exported to Australia, and we in Fiji hope that the British Government will not be unmindful of the position during the present negotiations with Australia. - Yours,&c.,
Not only do they threaten us with duties of 10, 30 and 60 per cent., but they also tell us that the British Government will rebuke us if we do not mend our manners. The Sydney Morning Herald of the 29th October published the following : -
Over-production the Chief Cause.
During the last few months a number of Richmond River district banana-growers have applied for food relief. Although normally the condition of the industry could not be judged by isolated cases, these applications h ave a special significance after months of low prices for the fruit.
Over-production is the principal cause of the growers’ trouble, and there is no immediate prospect of relief-
In other words, more and more Australian banana-growers will have to go on the dole- as 10,000 acres planted in Now South Wales last year will come into bearing after Christmas, and large areas have also been planted in Queensland.
At the end of last March there was approximately 4,700 acres under bananas in the Richmond River district, whichhas the smallest acreage of plantations of the three rivers of the far-north coast.
Growers in places difficult of access are suffering most because transport and marketing costs have not decreased in proportion to the fall in the price of the fruit.
Transport and marketing costs have not decreased. They are a burden on the Australian banana-grower comparable with that which we are now asked to take off the Fijian planter -
In the Brunswick district, growers are endeavouring to secure the abolition of the ripening charge of1s. a case. The smaller fruit is not now being marketed.
During the first six months of this year there was a weekly average increase of 8,553 cases of fruit marketed. The outlook for growers is not bright, especially for those who staked their small resources on plantations when the depression forced them out of their usual employment.
That shows that Australians who had been forced out of other occupations took up banana production with its hard toil, and so removed themselves from an overstocked labour market. Surely we will not penalize them further by giving greater concessions to the banana-growers of Fiji. We on this side of the chamber will oppose the bill, even though our opposition is futile, because the Government supported by Country party and United Australia party representatives of the primary producers will sacrifice Australian banana-growers on the altar of our black brother in Fiji.
– When the subject of the admission of Fijian bananas was before the Senate previously in relation to the Ottawa agreement we were assured that nothing more would be done. That promise is still ringing in the ears of everybody, particularly Queensland and New South Wales senators, yet this bill is brought before us. Honorable senators, particularly Tasmanian representatives, who expressed amusement while Senator Collings was speaking, should remember the dispute now going on with New Zealand in relation to Tasmanian and Victorian potatoes and Australian citrus fruits.
– Will £12,000 worth of imports ruin the Australian banana industry ?
– I was told during the last general election campaign that, in certain districts of Queensland, banana-growers were going off the land. The industry is not prospering. A great deal of sympathy for Fiji has been worked up, but according to the latest available official statistics, the Fijian
Islands, which form only a small group, with a mixed population, have a favorable Empire trade balance of over £200,000. They, therefore, have little to complain of. I understand that the Fiji banana-growers have a monopoly of the trade with New Zealand which has a white popoulation of 1,500,000. Labour for the industry in Fiji is supplied entirely by the coloured races, including about 200,000 Indians, and under this measure their product will be allowed to compete in the Australian market with bananas produced under white labour conditions. Recently, I returned from a visit to New Zealand and had, as fellow passenger, the Governor of Fiji, Sir Murchison Fletcher who, I suspect, came to Australia in the capacity of a commercial agent for Fiji for the purpose of smoothing out the difficulties in our trade relations with that colony.
– While he was here, he announced that these concessions were to be granted.
– I imagine that the gentleman did pretty well for Fiji while he was in Australia, for he seems to have persuaded this Government to grant to banana-growers in the islands concessions in addition to those given in the terms of the Ottawa agreement. When the first sales tax measures were introduced, bananas from Fiji were taxed in common with other imports competing in the Australian market with similar goods made in this country, and there was a definite understanding that no further concessions would be granted. I should like to know where this business is to end. We know that overtures from New Zealand with reference to the introduction of dominion potatoes met with effective opposition from Tasmania and Victoria, and that it is likely that the negotiations will break down. This being so, the Queensland representatives in this Parliament are fully justified in protesting as strongly as possible against further concessions being given to bananagrowers in Fiji, where the coloured population is exploited in the interest of profits. I consider this bill is a definite breach of good faith. Our trade balance with Fiji is in our favour, but Fiji does not buy our goods simply because of its affection for this country. It takes them because they are the cheapest and most suited to its needs. This proposal is a bitter pill for the banana-growers of Queensland and the northern districts of New South Wales, and it has my uncompromising opposition.
SenatorFOLL (Queensland) [2.4 a.m.]. - It is my intention to vote against the second reading of the bill. During the election campaign, I told the people that I would not support the granting of any further concessions to the bananagrowers of Fiji. I gave this undertaking because we had had an assurance from the Government, when the embargo was removed, and the duty on bananas lowered, that no further concessions would be given. I do not share the fears of my Labour colleagues from Queensland as to the probable effect on the Queensland industry of these further concessions, because last year Fijian imports of bananas represented only 9 per cent. of the 40,000 centals provided for under the agreement. Australian banana-growers are having a very lean time, but I fail to see how the comparatively small volume of the imports from Fiji can prejudice their interests to an appreciable extent. The present condition of the industry is due, I think, to the fact that, as banana-growing gives a quick return on capital invested, there has been a rapid expansion during the last two or three years of the area under cultivation, with every prospect of a much greater total production in the near future. The immediate outlook is so unsatisfactory that the Brisbane Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing, a very live organization, is giving its attention to the improvement of marketing facilities, and by means of an extensive advertising campaign, including the publication of recipes for special preparations having bananas as an ingredient, it is hoped to increase substantially sales in the Australian market. In view of present prices, I doubt that it will pay the growers in Fiji to expand their trade with Australia, even under the more favorable conditions that will obtain following the passage of this bill. For the reasons which I have given, I shall vote against the second reading of the bill.
– I was pleased to hear Senator Foll say ‘ that, in the interests of the banana-growers of Queensland, he intends to oppose the Government on this measure. Many persons interested in the industry have interviewed me. I know that representations have, from time to time, been made to the Government to remove the sales tax from various goods, often without success. The representatives from Fiji were more successful. I am always amused at the arguments of honorable senators opposite. They appear to think that if we restrict our production of bananas, peanuts, cotton, butter, and other foods, the economic problems confronting this country will be solved. That is the logical conclusion to be drawn from the arguments advanced by them in respect of the trade treaties which have come before this chamber. This bill will improve the opportunities for marketing Fiji bananas in Australia. If the arguments of Government supporters are sound, why should we limit the introduction of Fiji bananas to the 40,000 centals allowed under the existing agreement? Why not permit 100,000 centals to be imported? Only a few days ago, under a trade agreement with Belgium, we decided to limit the sale in Australia of a considerable quantity of locallymade glass in order that a larger quantity of glass made in Belgium could bc marketed here, and in return, we are to be permitted to export a larger volume of primary products to that country. Those who supported that arrangement failed to see that a reduction in the volume of Australian goods exchanged internally meant a lessening of employment, and, to that extent, a loss of power to purchase other Australian products. If the argument of our friends opposite is sound, why not remove all the barriers to trade and allow the free introduction of sugar from Cuba, potatoes from New Zealand, cotton from the United States of America, peanuts from China, glass from Belgium, and boots from Czechoslovakia, and in that way solve our economic problems? But, as any one who gives the subject a little consideration must know, the whole scheme is stupid in the extreme, and if we continue to legislate in this manner, the people will conclude that this branch of the legislature, at all events, is redundant. In support of the bill Senator McLachlan told us that Fiji buys from Australia £420,000 worth of goods, and in return we buy Fijian goods to the value of only £40,000. The honorable gentleman seemed to think that this was a good and sufficient reason for the acceptance of this proposal. Is it not clear that if our trade with Fiji is worth £420,000, Fiji must exchange goods of equal value, “ if not with Australia, then with some other country, in order to pay for its purchases in Australia? The position would be intolerable if every country having an adverse trade balance with the Commonwealth threatened to transfer its custom unless we granted concessions, such as are now being given to Fiji. How far has Fiji gone to carry out its threat? What quantity of goods are we exporting to Fiji ‘ at present? How much have we exported since the sales tax was imposed on bananas? Has there been a diminution in this trade? Will Fiji carry out its threat, and if so, will Australia be any worse off for it? If all those countries which have an adverse trade balance with Australia carry out their threats, what will be the economic effect on our people? I do not. condemn the Minister for the arguments be advanced. He has to use uneconomic arguments to bolster up the Government’s position, but such arguments will not bear examination. Australia will not go bankrupt or lose economically in the long run by looking after the interests of its own people. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber- contend that all who are engaged in the banana industry are buyers for other goods produced in Australia, and when the bananagrower puts goods on the market, and receives cash for them, he becomes a buyer of other goods produced by Australian workmen. We are told now that only 40,000 centals of Fijian bananas is to be allowed into Australia, but probably the Government will forget its promise in this respect, and allow a much greater quantity to be imported to the detriment of local growers. Under those conditions the local bananagrower will not get a fair return for his product, and therefore he will be unable to buy other Australian products. Yet we are told that we are going to be better off by allowing the importation of Fijian bananas. If such an argument is logical why not wipe out the local industry, and open up the entire Australian market to Fijian bananas? Likewise, why not close up the sugar industry, and open up the local market completely to black-grown sugar ? Those would be the logical consequences of the arguments advanced by the Minister.
– I would be very sorry if no honorable senator on this side of the Senate spoke in support of the very sound move which the Government has made in this matter. The position is a simple one, and the Government’s proposals do not justify any excitement or the claim that under the provisions of this bill, Australia will be swamped with products produced by men of various races and colours in another British community. Indeed, one might expect from those who believe in the brotherhood of man, more tolerance than has been shown by honorable senators opposite towards those who, although they happen to be of a colour different from that of our own race, are citizens of the same Empire. All the excitement among honorable senators opposite has arisen from the simple fact that the Government proposes that Fijian growers shall be allowed to participate in the Australian banana trade to the extent of l/40th part of that trade.
– The trouble has been that we have not allowed that up to the present.
– Onefortieth of the trade is the maximum share we propose to allow to Fijian growers. I was glad to hear Senator Collings quote certain words used by Major Joske during the tariff debates last year. I first quoted from a letter written by that gentleman, and I recall that he concluded with the remark that countries against which such methods were adopted as Australia had used towards Fiji “ should kick back with thegreatest pos sible vigour “. I suggested that we were running the risk of such treatment from Fiji.
– Are we going to lie down under the kick?
Senator DUNCANHUGHES.Briefly, the position is that all Australians are not banana-growers; there are other people who, though not growers, are vitally interested in this matter - I refer to those who produce goods which are sold to Fiji, such as bags and sacks, beer, fancy biscuits, coal, drapery, drugs, flour, sharps, hardware, machinery, soap, tea, timber, tobacco and cigarettes. These items represent a fairly wide range of commodities, and a wide range of industry. In 1925-26, the value of our trade with Fiji was £570,000, and in 1931-32 it had fallen to £268,000. Our imports from Fiji in 1925-26 were valued at £35,000, and in 1931-32 at £16,264. Between 1925-26 and 1931-32 the value of our exports to Fiji was eleven times the value of Fijian exports to Australia. Owing to the ludicrous attitude which we are adopting towards a country which takes so much more from us than we take from it, we are losing trade with that country and the tendency is for that trade to go to Great Britain instead of to Australia. When Fijian bananas were first imported to Australia I ate some of them.I might mention it was not easy to procure them because at the time an organized attempt was made to boycott them. In spite of the fact that Australia had made a trade agreement with Fiji, there was a deliberate attempt on that occasion to prevent Australians from buying Fijian bananas. I found the imported banana superior to the Queensland fruit.
– Why does the Queensland banana always bring a higher wholesale price than the Fijian banana?
– If the Queensland banana can compete with the Fijian banana on equal terms, why prevent the importation of the latter?
– Because by such measures as this conditions are being made unequal, to the detriment of the Queensland banana industry.
– HUGHES. - Surely the honorable senator does not make that suggestion seriously when we allow Fiji to participate only to the extent of 1/40 th of our banana trade?
– Is not the Australian grower entitled to the whole of the trade?
– Australia would not want to lose its trade with Fiji in the twenty or so lines I have mentioned because of the view the honorable senator takes on the importation of Fijian bananas into this country. I hope that, as is usually the consequence of competition, the importation of bananas will tend to stimulate our own growers. Perhaps Queensland keeps its best bananas for its home market; certainly the bananas I ate in Queensland last year were superior to any that can be procured in the southern States. Even in Canberra one cannot procure bananas of as good a quality as those obtainable in Queensland.
– Absolutely the worst fruit is supplied in Canberra.
– The importation of even a very small quantity of Fijian bananas has improved the local product; the resulting competition has had a stimulating effect on the growers, and possibly they will soon develop such efficiency that they will be able to compete successfully with their Fijian rivals. But to make such a fuss as honorable senators opposite have done over one industry where twenty lines of trade are concerned, is not good business. Such an attitude can only result in the definite loss of that trade which we have enjoyed in the past, and which is now slipping gradually from us, and which we are hoping to recover.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided. (Deputy-President - Senator the Hon. Herbert Hays.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to amend the act in two respects. In the first place, it is desired to remove a certain difficulty which has been encountered in the administration of the act in relation to the imposition of penalties for breaches or non-observance of awards. Amendments are also sought to facilitate the introduction, on a sound basis, of a system of supervision of the working of the act and awards. The imposition of penalties for non-compliance with awards is dealt with in section 44 (1) of the act, which provides that where there has been a breach or non-observance of an order or award, certain penalties “ may be imposed by the court or by any district, county or local court, or court of summary jurisdiction which is constituted by a judge or a police, stipendiary, or special magistrate, or by any State court specified in that behalf by proclamation “. By a proclamation dated the 23rd December, 1924, the Governor-General specified the Chief Industrial Magistrate, appointed under the Industrial Arbitration Act 1912, New South Wales, to be a State court for the purposes of section 44 (1). On the 30th June, 1930, in the case of the Printing Industry Employees Union of Australia v. The Market Printery Limited (29N.S.W.A.R. 120), an appeal against the decision of the Chief Industrial Magistrate was made to the Industrial Commission upon the grounds that the Chief Industrial Magistrate had no jurisdiction. It was held by the commission, on the authority of Le Mesurier v. Connor (42 C.L.R. 481), that the Chief Industrial Magistrate had no jurisdiction by virtue of the proclamation, but, Mr. Justice Cantor dissenting, that he had jurisdiction because he was, in fact, a stipendiary magistrate. Recently the point was again considered by the Industrial Commission in the case Starkey’s Limited v. The Federated Liquor and Allied Trades Employees Union of Australia, reported in the New South Wales Industrial Gazette of January, 1933, page 59. The commis sion, following the judgment of Mr. Justice Cantor in the previous case, held that the magistrate in his capacity of Chief Industrial Magistrate had no jurisdiction to entertain the complaint. Consequent on the decision in Starkey’s case, it has become the practice, in Sydney, to set down cases of this nature for hearing at the Central Police Court instead of before the Chief Industrial Magistrate. Because of the Commonwealthwide application of decisions upon proceedings instituted under section 44 and the desirability of uniformity, it is considered desirable that these cases should, if possible, be heard before one magistrate. It is particularly important that it should be possible for such cases to be heard by industrial magistrates when available. The second clause of the bill proposes to make in the act an appropriate amendment for this purpose.
The provisions with regard to investigation in relation to the observance of the act and awards are contained in section 50a of the act. This section provides for the appointment of inspectors in accordance with the Commonwealth Public Service Act. No inspectors have yet been appointed under the act. It is very desirable that any system introduced with a view to securing the observance of awards should be established on a sound basis, and be in the hands of persons thoroughly experienced in industrial matters. Further, any scheme initiated will necessarily be experimental, and it is not, therefore, expedient that any inspectors appointed should form part of the permanent staff. It is, accordingly, proposed that inspectors should not be subject to the Public Service Act, but should be appointed on such terms and conditions as may be prescribed by regulations made under the act, which in this respect will be brought into line with other Commonwealth acts relating to services which are, or are likely to be, of a temporary nature, or in respect of which it may be necessary to appoint persons having special qualifications. Such acts are the Development and Migration Act, the Science and Industry Research Act, and the Trade Commissioners Act. Clause 3 is designed to amend section 50a to give effect to this proposal.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Alleged Armed Organizations in Australia.
Motion (by Senator Sir George Pearce) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– If the opportunities for raising matters of importance were likely to be more, I should not worry the Senate at this hour with the subject which I now bring forward. Yesterday afternoon., the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) made the following statement: -
On the 28th November, Senator Collings referred to a copy of a report which was ordered to be laid on the table of the Senate, and which dealt with an alleged armed organization in Queensland. The report contained a statement that, during the last six months, rifles had been sold to the public from the Brisbane military ordnance stores in large quantities, and that only six transactions had been recorded.
Senator Collings stated that this report was official, that it was prepared by the Defence Department, and was presented to a department of the Queensland Government.
The Minister for Defence caused immediate inquiries to he made regarding Senator Collings’s statement that the document was official, and he has been informed by the Military Commandant at Brisbane that no such document was prepared by his head-quarters, and moreover the Home Secretary of the State Government has no knowledge of any such document.
It is clear, therefore, that Senator Collings’s claim is without foundation.
I resent strongly the concluding phrase, “ It is clear, therefore, that Senator Collings’s claim is without foundation.” I have made three or four speeches on this subject, one of the last being to the effect that the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) had admitted most of the things which I had claimed. There can be no argument about that, for the Minister’s statement is on record. I’ did not say, as is claimed in the statement of the Leader of the Senate, that the report was prepared by the head-quarters of the Defence Department at Brisbane, or that it had been submitted to the Home Secretary of the State Government.
– The honorable senator said that the report was official.
– I still say so. Moreover, I believe, but I shall not be positive about this, that the officer who prepared the report was transferred from Queensland to New South Wales, where he would not have an opportunity to make a similar report. I do not assert that to be a fact, because I have yet to obtain evidence on the matter. I am not speaking bitterly, nor do I desire that any of my remarks shall be construed to be a personal reflection on the Minister; but it is a month since I made my charges that there were armed organizations in this country, that the Defence Department knew of their existence, and that retired military officers were commanding them. How is it that wc could not get . this simple statement from BrigadierGeneral Ralph until the day before the session is to close? It is obvious that this statement could have been obtained from Brigadier-General Ralph weeks ago. The delay, in my opinion, has been deliberate, and was intended to prevent me from replying until the Senate reassembles next1 year, when the whole subject, it was hoped, would have faded from memory. But Brigadier-General Ralph made a statement on this subject in the Toowoomba Chronicle on the 16th November last, exactly a month ago. The report reads : -
Brisbane, Thursday. - The allegation that an organization known as the Australian Legion existed in Queensland and New South Wales, and that it was in possession of large supplies of arms, made by Senator Collings in the Senate-
I did not say that it was in possession of large supplies of arms - in not viewed seriously in Queensland.
Of course it is not intended by the Government to be viewed seriously. The report continues as follows: -
If there is such an organization in Queensland as Senator Collings says, with certain rifles, the military authorities are at a loss to understand where it would obtain supplies of suitable ammunition. So far as is known there is little if any of this ammunition in Australia. Brigadier-General Ralph (State Commandant) stated to-night that there had been many rifles of certain calibre here, and lie knew that they had been put back into a store. He could not say, however, if they had been sold until he had seen his ordnance officer.
Referring to the claim by Senator Collings, that the Queensland branch had in its possession parts for immediate assembling of two armoured cars-
I did not refer to the Queensland branch, but to an organization which I knew had been formed in Queensland -
Brigadier-General Ralph said that he wondered if Senator Collings really knew what an armoured car was. Brigadier-General Ralph said that the claim that certain rifles had been purchased from the Brisbane military authorities would be investigated.
A high official in the police force described thu allegation of Senator Collings as “rot”.
I have had no actual experience of armoured cars, although I have seen them assembled and on parade in the streets. That report stated that a certain organization had in its possession “ parts for immediate assembly of two armoured cars “. What insane people these would be if they assembled the parts! The natural thing would be, of course, to keep the parts which of themselves would not be incriminatory, so that they could be assembled if and when required. I have been informed within the last few days that 6 cwt. of explosives and fuses has been stolen from stores in Brisbane. I do not suggest that these have gone into the possession of the subversive organizations to which I have referred, but it requires no stretch of the imagination to think that they might have done so. The statement says that there is no evidence that large quantities of rifles are being sold. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the following advertisement, which appeared in the Truth newspaper of the 2nd December: -
Five hundred military rifles, .310 calibre, made by B.S.A. Company, wind gauge, sighted at GOO yards, sight protector and pull through; one rifle with 100 rounds ammunition, £2 10s. - Jack Isaacs, 82 Wickham-street. Orders sent C.O.D.
That advertisement has appeared regularly, and a similar advertisement has appeared in Toowoomba newspapers and the Sydney World’s News, week by week. It will be seen therefore that different firms arc iu a position to supply both arms and ammunition.
– The 310 calibre rifle is a sporting, and not a military, rifle.
– I admit that I do not know one from the other; but I am quite certain that the .303 rifle is not the only efficient weapon that is obtainable. Fascist organizations which possessed sufficient quantities of .310 rifles with ammunition, such as is used by hunters of buffaloes and kangaroos, would be quite capable of tackling thu job of suppressing an uprising if it occurred.
– The statement of the honorable member was that these organizations were getting military rifles.
– If the right honorable gentleman will refer to the Hansard report of my speech he will see that I made no reference whatever to 303 rifles. For the purpose of a subversive organization .310 rifles and ammunition would bc as good as .303 rifles and ammunition. I told honorable senators in this chamber a month ago that 1 Knew the kind of statement that would he made in reply to my allegations, and I volunteered at that time to give the Government every assistance in my power to inquire into the situation; but my help was not sought. I know who supplied me with the report, and I wish to make it clear that I did not say that it was prepared by an officer at the head-quarters of the Defence Department. If it is considered that the Minister’s statement, “It is clear, therefore, that Senator Collings’ claim is without foundation “ is a sufficient reply to the charges that I made, I can go no further. I said that the report was official. I believe that the individual who wrote it has since been transferred. I shall obtain the exact name of the department in which the report was prepared. In reply to the statement of the Minister that the Home Secretary of the State Government has no knowledge of any such document “, I wish to say that the Queensland Home Secre tary is a personal friend of mine, and he teased me in a joking way about this subject before I made any statement in the Senate. 1 did not say that the document was prepared in his department. I said that it was submitted, to a Queensland Government department. When I return to Brisbane next week I shall probe this subject to the bottom, and I hope subsequently to bc able to make a further statement in connexion with it. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) admitted in another place, and BrigadierGeneral Ralph admitted in the Toowoomba Chronicle, that many of my statements were true. I said that arms were in the possession of a certain organization ; that it was officered by retired military officers; that badges had been printed for one organization; and that a certain clothing factory in Brisbane had manufactured shirts expressly for the legion.
– What colour were they?
– I play golf in a brown shirt.
– I have seen the honorable senator attired in a brown shirt; but I am not talking of golfing shirts. I am now able to say that the Australian Legion was organized hi Queensland by u man named Fletcher. I hare received a letter from a friend in which he says, “ Surely you have not forgotten the man Fletcher who organized the legion “. I admit that I had forgotten him if I ever knew him, but I shall ascertain his christian name. I intend to follow this matter up and shall not rest satisfied with the bald statement of the Minister that my “ claim is without foundation “.
[2.58 a.m.]. - My recollection is that Senator Collings informed the Senate that he was quoting from an official report. That was surely intended to convey the idea that it was an official report to either the Commonwealth or the State Government. It could have meant nothing else. There could be no other kind of official report. Both Governments have now disclaimed all knowledge of any such report. I recollect also that the honorable senator’s sensational state- ment was that large numbers of rifles were being taken from some military stores for members of an unknown secret organization, or were being given to them from that source. It transpires now that the honorable gentleman was speaking of sporting rifles which may bc purchased in every capital city of the Commonwealth. If the honorable senator had said that at the outset, I doubt whether any inquiry would have been made into his statement.
– I did not use the word “ sporting “.
– Such rifles are advertised for sale and may be legally purchased under State laws.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 2.59 a.m. (Friday).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 13 December 1934, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1934/19341213_senate_14_145/>.