15th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 2 p.m., “and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Will he inform the Senate what direction has been issued relating to the disclosure to police officers of the list of silent telephones T
– The PostmasterGeneral informs me that he has nothing to add to the statements already publicly made.
Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice. -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer: -
The information is being obtained, and will be furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following answers : -
Inquiries will be made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as early as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.The Treasurer has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice- -
In view of the statement made recently by the Lender of the Government in the Senate that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is satisfied that” rabbit virus “ cannot be contracted by human beings or any animal life other than the rabbit, will the Government give consideration to its release, even if the test on Wardang Island is not altogether satisfactory so far as its distribution is concerned, so that settlers may have some assistance from its use in their efforts to keep down the rabbit pest?
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer : -
The Government must rely upon the advice of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in regard to the use of the virus for the destruction of rabbits. The Council states that it is not yet in a position to make a recommendation in this regard, and that this stage will not be reached until experiments have been carried through further stages. Extreme care must be exercised in dealing with this matter, but the honorable senator can be assured that the council will make a recommendation to the Government as soon as it is able to do so, and if this recommendation is favorable the necessary action for the release of the virus will be taken without delay.
Motion (by Senator Foll) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act to amend the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1020-1937.
Motion (by Senator Allan Mac-
Donald) agreed to -
That leave be given to introduce a bill for an act relating to the registration of aliens.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
. -I move-
That so much of the Standing and Sessional
Orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
I discussed this matter yesterday with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) . The bill is of a technical nature, and the reason why the Senate is asked to treat it as an urgent measure is that the Commonwealth Government could not introduce it until the States and the Commonwealth had reached an agreement regarding the problem of assisting the wheat industry. When the bill has been passed, the administrative details must be attended to by the staff of the Commerce Department, and this involves an enormous task. The Government is anxious to have the bill passed as quickly as possible, but does not desire to prevent reasonable debate upon it. If any honorable senator wishes to obtain informationregarding technical points before the motion for the second reading of the bill is submitted, I shall be pleased to supply it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Foll) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– Does the Minister propose to deal with all these related bills together ?
– The main explanation of this stabilization scheme will be made on this bill, but short speeches will be made in moving the second-readings of the others. In view of their close relationship, I suggest that all these bills be debated together.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - There is ample precedent for cognate bills to be debated together. Therefore, with the approval of the Senate, the procedure suggested by the Minister will be adopted.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– The purpose of this bill is to bring into operation a plan whereunder wheat-growers shall secure a stabilized price in regard to the proportion of. their crop which is used for human consumption in Australia. The welfare of this great industry is of very great importance to Australia. The wheat industry has received serious shocks in the last seven or eight years, and the future, to say the best, is uncertain. Statistics reveal that the wheat industry is suffering adversity in a far greater measure than are other export industries, and the Australian community as a whole. During the years of adversity, wheat prices generally have not only been low, but also they have fluctuated rather seriously from time to time. For example, in January, 1930, the export price at Williamstown was 5s. 2d. a bushel, whereas in December, 1930, the price was 2s. 5d. a bushel. In January, 1936, the price was 3s. 8d. a bushel, and in December, 1936, it was 5s. 3d. a bushel. By December, 1937, the price at Williamstown had declined to 4s. 4d. a bushel, and to-day it is about 2s. 7d. a bushel. Shortterm violent fluctuations of the price of wheat aggravate the adversity of the industry. These fluctuations are also bad for the Australian community generally. For one thing, fluctuations of the purchasing power of the wheat-growerscause fluctuations of the general level of business activity. For another thing, wheat being such an important constituent of the regimen of the people, violent fluctuations of the domestic price result in quite important fluctuations of the cost of living index figures, and therefore, of the basic wage.
On all counts, it would be an excellent thing for the Australian community if the domestic price of wheat could be stabilized at a reasonable price, and attempts to ensure this domestic stability have received the attention of governments for several years past. The problem, however, has proved a baffling and elusive one. It is not easy to organize the wheat industry from the standpoint of domestic stabilization. Thousands of individual farmers are concerned, and their product is marketed both domestically and overseas in the forms of both grain and flour. In this the wheat industry differs from the butter and dried fruits industries, the products of which are treated entirely in factories or packing sheds and are therefore capable of being dealt with at a small number of concentration points. By reason of this form of domestic organization, the dairying and dried fruits industries are particularly well suited to adopt measures on a co-operative basis for obtaining a homeconsumption price. It is otherwise, however, in the wheat industry. If homeconsumption price methods have to be adopted, then the wheat industry must rely upon governments to a greater extent: The dairying and dried fruits industries have enjoyed homeconsumption prices for a considerable time, but all efforts to secure a home-consumption price for wheat, coupled with the domestic and export organization of the industry, have hitherto failed.
An attempt to secure a homeconsumption price for wheat is likely to be permanently successful only if there is an interlinking of Commonwealth and State legislation, because, if seven different parliaments can be induced to carry complementary laws to deal with this matter, it is not very likely that they will be upset. Such a procedure will give very much greater stability than would any method which depended entirely on the legislation of one parliament.
In 1935 an attempt was made, in conjunction with the States, to cover the whole field of wheat-marketing. The Commonwealth Parliament passed its legislation - the Wheat and Wheat Products Act - and certain States also passed theirs. The decision of the Privy Council in the James case, and the failure to secure the alteration of the Constitution by means of a referendum in 1937, prevented the operation of that legislation.
Droughts in the northern hemisphere caused an appreciable rise of world prices in 1936 and 1937. Since July, 1937, however, the price has declined and from March of this year the decline has been very rapid, until it has now reached an unprofitable level. The prospects have become so alarming that the present plan, which is based on the price-fixing powers of the States, combined with a Commonwealth levy, has been devised. Viewed in its most favorable light, the present outlook offers little hope of any appreciable rise in prices during this and the next season.
During the periods of low prices, financial assistance was granted by successive Commonwealth governments to the wheat industry. The amounts were -
In view of the unpromising outlook for the wheat industry, due to the position of the international wheat markets, the Premiers of the various States met in Sydney on the 26th August last with a view to devising some method of assisting the growers. The conference had before it several plans for effecting some degree of stabilization of the industry, and, after having explored the various means available for this purpose, the following resolutions were agreed to: -
The State Premiers conferred with Commonwealth Ministers in Canberra on the 29th August, 1938, with a view to seeking the co-operation of the Commonwealth in bringing their plans to fruition. The Prime Minister advised the Premiers that the proposals submitted by them contained an element of permanence which had not hitherto existed. Later, the Commonwealth Government considered those proposals, and agreed to accept them.
A further conference was held with the State Premiers in Canberra on the 29th September, 1938. The discussions at that meeting were devoted to clarifying certain matters, the meaning of which was in doubt, and to securing uniformity in the legislation to be introduced in the various States. It was agreed that the home-consumption price for payment to growers should be one based upon 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, Victoria, representing an average of 4s. 8d. a bushel at railway sidings.
Subsequent to this conference, it became apparent that the very dry conditions that had existed in important wheat-growing districts in most of the States, particularly in Victoria and in the north-eastern districts ofWestern Australia, necessitated, in the view of the Premiers of those States, the granting of special relief to distressed growers. Several of the States made special representations to the Commonwealth Government for some portion of the funds, which were to be raised to provide for the payment of a home-consumption price, to be devoted towards the relief of distress caused through the disastrous seasonal conditions. Another conference with State Ministers was therefore arranged, and was held in Canberra on the 16th November. A full examination was made of the new situation which had arisen, and the best means available of coping with it. The conference recommended that £500,000 should be set aside from the general fund for distribution amongst growers as special relief this year. It was also recommended that the balance of the fund be distributed amongst growers upon a production basis. An exhaustive discussion took place at the conference regarding production in marginal and sub-marginal areas, and it was recommended that, in years subsequent to 1938-39, a sum not exceeding £500,000 in each year should be set aside from the general fund, and distributed amongst the States, upon the condition that it should be applied towards the cost of transferring wheat farmers from lands unsuitable for the production of wheat.
The Commonwealth Government has decided to ask Parliament to adopt the plans recommended by the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. The legislation necessary to do this comprises this bill - the Wheat Industry Assistance Bill - and several taxing bills, and the tax assessment hill, which are already before the Senate. Taken as a whole, these bills set up a plan which I shall now endeavour to describe to honorable senators. A fund will be provided from a sales tax on flour sold for consumption in Australia. The amount of the tax will fluctuate according to variations of the export price of wheat. The amount at any time will be equal to the variation of flour prices due to the difference between the export price of wheat and 5s. 2d. a bushel f . o.r. Williamstown. At the present price of wheat, namely, 2s. 7d. to 2s. 8d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, the fund will be built up at the rate of nearly £4,000,000 per annum. Should the average price at which wheat is sold during the next twelve months rise above present levels, the total fund will be somewhat smaller. Should the price fall, the fund will be larger. The fund will be applied in the following way: -
The whole of the Commonwealth legislation is complementary to legislation to be passed by the States to fix the price of flour, and provision is made in this bill for the suspension- of payments to any State which fails to implement its pricefixing legislation. The full co-operation of the States is confidently expected, but it is considered desirable to provide a safeguard in order to protect the plan from possible breakdown through the inclination on the part of a future State government to withdraw co-operation temporarily.
Provision is made in the taxation legislation already referred to for the impo sition of a special sales tax, or export tax, on wheat when world parity rises above 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown. This tax will be sufficient to prevent the price of wheat used for domestic consumption in Australia from costing the miller, and therefore the ultimate consumer, more than the equivalent of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown. This special provision, taken in conjunction with the other provisions of the legislation, provides a complete plan which ensures that the price of wheat used for domestic consumption ‘in Australia will always be 5s. 2<L a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, whilst the wheat producers of Australia will always receive simple world parity for the wheat exported by them.
Provision is made in the bill for the refund to Tasmania of the amount of the tax collected in that State. This is in accordance with the unanimous agreement of the Premiers representing the wheat-exporting States, and amounts to a continuance of the practice adopted in previous legislation of this kind.
– Why should that be?
– There are special circumstances associated with the growing of wheat in Tasmania.
– Should consumers in Tasmania get wheat at a lower price than will be paid by people on the mainland?
– The money will be paid to the State Government. The reason for this provision is that the wheat grown in Tasmania is of a particularly soft, type, which, although suitable for biscuit-making, is not favoured by bakers for bread-baking. Consequently, the flour used in Tasmania for breadmaking is obtained from the mainland States. All previous legislation of this nature has contained a similar provision.
The Government believes it is performing a national duty in co-operating with the States to secure to farmers a certain measure of stability and security for the proportion of their product which is consumed in Australia. I commend the bill to honorable senators.
– The Labour party recognizes the urgent need to make some provision to ensure reasonable prices being paid to Australian farmers for (heir wheat. For some years the people of Australia have known exactly where the Labour party stands in this connexion. Requests ‘ for financial assistance to wheat-growers are no new phase of this industry; in past years assistance in various forms has been granted. Although it is ready to do its utmost to render assistance to the wheat-growers, the Labour party is not in agreement with the proposal embodied in this bill. We on this side know that wheat prices in Australia are influenced by prices overseas; that there is a surplus production of wheat throughout the world; and that there is a huge carry-over from year to year. This afternoon the Minister in charge of the bill has warned, us that the conditions which now prevail in the industry are likely to exist next year also. Thus, there is urgent need to take steps to enable wheat production to be carried on in Australia on a basis which will permit growers to pay their way. The situation is serious; it affects not only the wheat-growers, but also the community generally. In addition to approximately 70,000 wheat-growers there are many others in the community who, either directly or indirectly, are deeply concerned with wheat production. If both direct and indirect employment be taken into account, the wheat industry is probably the largest employer of labour of any industry in the Commonwealth. Accordingly, the Labour party recognizes the need to assist the wheatgrowers; but it disagrees with” the proposals embodied in this bill for raising the finance necessary to render that assistance. It believes that money for the purpose should be provided out of revenue. It agrees with the recommendations of the Wheat Commission, that the growers of wheat should be paid 3s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b., which represents 4s. a bushel to the millers. That recommendation would permit of bread being sold to the people of Australia at 4d. a loaf. In saying that, I do not lose sight of the fact that the price of bread varies considerably in a big country like Australia. That, however, was the recommendation of the body which was appointed to make a thorough investigation of the industry. Its recommendations, which were made only after extensive research had been undertaken, at considerable cost to the taxpayers, should command the respect of this Parliament. The Labour party contends that the valuable work of the. commissioners and of those who gave evidence before it, should be recognized. What is the proposal of the Government! It proposes to levy a sales tax on flour. Under the existing sales tax legislation, we already levy a sales tax of 5 per cent, on a large number of commodities, but for the purpose of this bill, wo are now called upon to approve of the imposition of an additional sales tax of not less than 66 per cent. That is an astounding figure. Who is to pay this tax? The poor are to be called upon to help the poor. Those with the largest families, and therefore, the consumers of the largest quantity of bread, will be called upon to pay the greater amount of this tax, because it is a direct tax on the consumer of bread.
– The Labour Government in Western Australia supported this bill.
– That the man with the largest family should be called upon to contribute the greatest amount for the assistance of the wheat industry is inequitable and wrong in principle, particularly in view of the fact that no provision is made for the limitation of its duration. Because no provision is made for a review, we believe that the bill cannot stand the test of public opinion. That is where we differ from the Government. I assure all honorable senators that those on this side of the chamber are just as anxious as are those who support the Government to render that measure of financial assistance which is so urgently required by the wheat-growers of Australia. Senator Wilson said that the Labour Government of Western Australia supports this measure.
– The honorable senator also knows perfectly well that unless this bill be passed the farmers will get nothing.
– The honorable senator might also have said that the governments of Queensland and Tasmania are also in accord with the provisions of this bill. That does not restrict the rights of Labour senators in this chamber to express their opinions concerning the rights and wrongs of the proposals, and to protest against the inequity of the imposition of a sales tax such as is provided for in this legislation. After all it is our duty, notwithstanding any agreements that may have been entered into between Commonwealth and State governments of whatever political complexion they may be, to see that the people are given a square deal. It is proposed to set aside from the fund to be established by means of the imposition of the sales tax on flour a sum for the purpose “of rehabilitating those farmers who are settled in marginal areas. Under the provisions of this bill the eaters of bread in Australia and the users of flour - the poorer people - will be called upon to make financial provision for the drafting, transferring or removing of those in supposed wheat-growing areas who have proved that they can no longer make a success of their operations, to other areas more suitable for the production of wheat. Is that fair? Should not the- nation as a whole accept that responsibility? Should not the revenues of the Commonwealth be drawn up for this purpose instead of directly taxing the consumers of bread and the users of flour? The principle of this bill does not do justice to the National Parliament. Why should we call upon those people who are the largest consumers of bread to pay for the mistakes made by governments of every State in permitting people to engage in wheat-growing in marginal areas where they were almost certain to fail?
– What form of taxation would the honorable senator adopt in order to provide the £4,000,000 required for the purpose of this bill.
– The money should be found out of general revenue. My friend knows well the sources from which the Consolidated Revenue Fund is derived. It is from that fund that this money should be made available rather than from the proceeds of a sales tax on flour, even though that tax was agreed to at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers.
– If the honorable senator is sincere he will say what form of taxation he would impose to meet the requirements of the bill.
– Senator Wilson questions my sincerity in this regard. I am sure the electors of Western Australia will not do so. I am here to assist the wheat-growers of my State, but at the same time, I must do justice to the whole of the people of Western Australia. We must take the broader view of these matters. My only reply to Senator Wilson is that the Commonwealth already has the taxing machinery to provide the necessary funds for the purpose of rehabilitating farmers who are trying to produce wheat in marginal areas.
– Did not the honorable senator tell the Western Australian Farmers Association that he would support this bill?
– Until a few days ago the bill was unheard of. How could I, or any other honorable senator, give an assurance of support in respect of a bill of which nothing was known until a few days ago?
– What does the honorable senator think that the Premier of his State agreed to?
– I am not concerned about that. I gave a definite pledge to the wheat-growers of Western Australia that if I were elected to this Senate I would do my utmost to support, or if the opportunity offered, to introduce legislation which would provide a decent living for those engaged in the wheat industry.
– Did not the honorable senator say that he would support the resolutions of the Sydney conference of State Premiers?
– No ; I made no such promise. The only promise I made was that I would assist the Parliament to provide a home-consumption price for wheat with a view to enabling the wheat-growers of Australia to enjoy a decent standard of living. Need I point out that during the years when the wheat industry was receiving assistance from the Commonwealth Government a total amount of £14,000,000 was made available, of which only £3,200,000 was raised by way of a sales tax on flour. Even although this legislation is before us as the result of conferences between Commonwealth and State governments, have we any assurance that the proposed sales tax on flour will bring in a sum adequate for the purpose for which it is intended? That is the point with which we are concerned. In addition, we believe that this legislation should come up for review at the end of twelve months with a view to the adoption of remedial measures, if necessary, in the interests of successful wheat production.
– Have an annual football match over it.
– Senator Johnston knows full well that this is in the nature of emergency legislation, and that emergency legislation introduced in any Parliament usually has a tenure of only one year. That limitation is imposed expressly for the purpose of providing opportunity for review in the interests of those for whose benefit the legislation is enacted.
– Then the honorable senator would prefer wheat legislation on an annual basis?
– I believe that the measure now before us should be subject to annual review, because I am satisfied that it is not the best form of legislation that could be enacted for the purpose of assisting wheat production. I am prepared to act upon the undertaking I have already given, to support a bill to assist the wheat industry out of the Consolidated RevenueFund of the Commonwealth.
– Would the honorable senator do that every year?
– No ; if the provision of money for this purpose were made a charge against the Consolidated Revenue Fund, I would be prepared to agree to the legislation remaining on the statute-book during the pleasure of the Parliament.
– The honorable senator was not prepared to go so far as that in connexion with the national health and pensions insurance legislation.
– We have already had a long debate on national insurance, and I need not remind the honorable senator that the Government is suffering from a real ‘headache over its national insurance plan.
– The Government is prepared to do what is right despite the consequences.
– Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are prepared to protect the interests of, not only the wheat-growers, but also the people generally, and to grant to the wheat industry that measure of financial assistance which will make itpossible for it to continue in profitable production. We realize its importance and, as I stated earlier in my remarks, we are prepared,’ to introduce legislation to that end when the opportunity is afforded to us. That opportunity will be afforded only when there is a change of government.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that assistance should be rendered on an acreage basis or a bushelage basis?
– We differ from the Government only with respect to the method by which the money necessary for the rehabilitation of the wheatgrowers is to be found. I have made the position clear. We owe a duty to not only the farmers, but also the people of Australia. Honorable senators opposite misrepresent Labour’s attitude towards providing necessary financial assistance to the wheat-growers. Irrespective of any suggestion made by Senator Wilson, the only promise made by this party to the wheat-growers as a whole was that we would be prepared to assist them financially. We say, however, that the industry can be aided by means other than levying a tax on the bread of the people.’
– I congratulate the Government upon introducing this measure, which is the first that has been designed to provide real permanency and stability to the wheat industry. I, personally, should not have drawn the bill exactly in the same form ; my bill would have differed in certain features, but I appreciate that, when we are faced with a national calamity, as we are at present in the wheat industry, we must sink personal ideas and opinions and adopt a scheme which is acceptable to Parliament, to the people, and to all interests concerned.
– Does the honorable senator say that this measure is acceptable to the people?
– Definitely. It is always very difficult to get the Labour party to agree to any scheme designed to help the farmers.
Members of the Opposition inter.jecting.
– Not only was this particular scheme put forward by nonLabour Premiers, but also it was supported by three big Australian Labour Premiers, who were prepared to do the right thing in order to place the wheat industry on a sound and sure basis. It is amazing, therefore, to find that Labour members in this Parliament are prepared to sacrifice, the wheat industry in order to make political capital. On this occasion they raise the bogy of the flour tax.
– How much wheat does the honorable senator grow?
– I do not grow any wheat, but I am big enough to realize the value of the industry to Australia; unlike some honorable senators opposite, I do not approach proposals of this kind from the standpoint of their effect upon myself.
I propose now to deal with the urgency which has made the introduction of this legislation imperative. Any examination of the 75 years’ recorded history of the wheat industry must show that it has a record of great achievement. The production of wheat has increased from 4S,000,000 bushels in 1900 to 180,000,000 bushels in 1937, or an increase of . 400 per cent. The farmers have gone out on to the land and conquered virgin scrub; they have largely eliminated the ravages of pests, and, on the production side, we can say that our farmers are the equal of any in the world. In spite of this remarkable achievement in production by our wheat farmers, however, we find that this industry is the most bankrupt of all industries. In South Australia, for instance, there were, in 1936, 549 bankruptcies, of which 358 involved wheat farmers. Although there are only 16,000 farmers out of a population of over 500,000 in that State, we find that more than 50 per cent, of the total bankrupts in one year were wheat farmers. The causes of the existing distress in this industry are, I suggest, perfectly clear; I disregard entirely the nonsensical and utterly wild assertions of honorable senators opposite who raise the bogy of the villainous banker. One has only to look at the actual facts in order to realize the cause of the trouble in the industry to-day. Its main difficulty is the wide price fluctuations with which the growers have to contend. During the last 39 years the price of wheat a bushel has been over 8s. in two years, over 6s. in four years, over 5s. in thirteen years, and, for a number of years, under 2s. a bushel. No industry in the world can carry on in the face of such price fluctuations, which, in one instance, varied from 2s. to 8s., or 400 per cent., in the space of twelve or eighteen months. Only eighteen months ago the price of wheat was 5s. a bushel, whereas, to-day, in Adelaide, it is 2s. 3d. a bushel. What industry can adjust its costs to* so wide a fluctuation as that? This brings me to the point that costs in the industry are completely beyond the control of the grower. A reduction of wage costs in the industry by 10 per cent, would not make a difference of Id. a bushel in the price. I emphasize that production costs are entirely beyond the control of the grower, and, that being so, it is beyond his capacity to meet these wide fluctuations of price in any way whatsoever. According to the second report presented by the Royal Commission on the Wheat, Flour and Bread Industries, the cost of production of wheat was estimated at 3s. 6d. a bushel at the outport, made up as follows : -
Honorable senators will notice that all of those items, with the exception of labour, are entirely outside the control of the wheat-farmer.
– Does the honorable senator say that it costs 3s. 6d. a bushel to produce wheat 1
– Tes, at the outport. However much he may endeavour to do so, the grower finds it impossible to adjust his costs to meet wide fluctuations of prices, and this is one of the main difficulties confronting the industry. His second greatest difficulty is due to the fact that he is obliged to export from three-quarters to four-fifths of his production. We, as Australians, have proudly set up a standard of living which is higher than that in nearly every other country. Eventually the burden involved in this higher standard of costs rests upon the man who has to sell his goods in the world’s markets. If I may be excused for mentioning sugar, I point out that we have established an Australian price for that product in order to give employees in the sugar industry an Australian wage. The cost of that protection amounts to £5,000,000 a year. The wageearner and consumer pay the increase in the first instance, but through the cost of living index it is automatically adjusted in his wages; he is able to pass on his share of that excess cost. Similarly, the secondary industries, through the medium of the tariff, are able to pass on their share of it. Thus, every one shifts this burden until it rests finally on the export industries. In regard to a product, such as sugar, Professor Giblin says that 60 per cent, at least of the costs are finally borne by the man who has to sell his goods in the world’s markets. I do not deny the right of the Australian workman to a high standard of living; indeed I approve of that principle. Neither do I deny a similar right, to the secondary industries, but it is absolutely unreasonable and unjust to ask for a high standard for the wage-earner in secondary industry, and, at the same time, deny an equal standard to those engaged in the most bankrupt of all industries, the wheat industry. All that the Government seeks to do under this measure, is to grant to the wheatgrowers an Australian standard of living. In the past, all that we have given to them is a dole, with the result that they have never been able to get ahead of their difficulties. Honorable senators opposite apparently desire to perpetuate that iniquity ; they say that they are prepared to give the growers a dole by appropriating some undefined amount from general revenue, but they fail to explain how the extra expenditure involved will be raised. Not very long ago in this chamber - and I gave them some support on that occasion - they opposed an increase of the sales tax; they could not, therefore, justify the raising of this sum of £4,000,000 by that means. Under present conditions, with wheat at an almost record low price, the income tax rate would have to be increased by about 50 per cent, to provide the amount required.
– What about the land tax?
– The land tax would have to be increased by 400 per cent. Senator Cunningham’s proposal is absolutely fantastic, and, in view of the promises he has made to the Western Australian farmers, I am amazed that he should have advanced it.
The two fundamental problems which face the wheat industry relate to compensation in respect of the burden of excess costs imposed upon it by our protectionist policy for other industries and to the provision of an equalization scheme. The Government’s plan will provide compensation in respect of disabilities caused by the tariff. Although I personally would not have suggested the scheme in exactly these terms, I shall not oppose it. That would be ridiculous, simply because I do not agree with every aspect of it.
The five Australian economists, Professors J. B. Brigden, D. B. Copland, and L.- F. Giblin and Messrs. Dyason and Wickens, who some years ago inquired into the ‘effects of the Australian tariff, stated, at page 69 of their book, The Australian Tariff -
We may infer that the net burden (of protection) on export industry averages about 8 per cent., and would be met by a rise in prices of 9 per cent. This is probably very nearly true of wheat.
Nine per cent, on a cost price of 3s. 6d. is over 3d. a bushel. Over a period of years, this scheme will assist the wheat- 1 growers to the extent of 3d. a bushel. I have prepared a table which shows that, had this legislation been introduced in 1926-27 and remained in force until now, an amount of £15,800,000 would have been received from the tax, which is only £200 short of 3d. a bushel over the whole period. I feel justified, therefore, in stating that, taken over a period of years, the amount provided under this scheme would just about offset the excess costs which our tariff policy places upon the wheat-growing industry. I, therefore, argue that the money to be provided by this means will .be neither a bounty nor a dole to the wheat industry; it will simply be compensation in respect of payments made by the wheat-growers in order to provide protection for other industries. Put in another way, if other industries of this country are to be placed upon pedestals, the wheat industry should also be placed upon one. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has frequently claimed in this chamber that Australian producers should receive Australian prices for their products. As a Queenslander, he has emphasized this in relation to sugar. If the sugar producer is entitled to an Australian price for sugar, the wheat-grower is entitled to an Australian price for wheat.
– We all agree with that.
– Honorable gentlemen opposite may say they agree with it, but whenever the Government introduces legislation to assist the wheatgrowing industry, they may be relied upon to obstruct its passage.
The next problem of the wheat-growing industry relates to equalization. Wide fluctuations of price have done tremendous damage to this industry. When wheat prices rise to a high level, farmers are frequently induced to purchase all sorts of implements which they cannot afford. They make commitments on the strength of the high prices, and when the prices fall they cannot meet their obligations. So, in many cases, they lose their equity in their property.
– Who gets the equity?
– That is beside the point. Wide fluctuations of wheat prices not only spell disaster for the wheat industry, but also damage the whole
Australian economy. Although some provision is made in this legislation for an equalization scheme, it does not go far enough, in my view. If the Government’s scheme is put into operation, I hope that, later, a bill will be introduced to carry it further and provide an equalization price over a long period of years. To some extent, at least, this plan will meet the inequalities that are sure to be experienced, in that it provides a bounty on a sliding scale according to the overseas price of wheat. My calculations show that when the price of wheat at Williamstown is 2s. 2d. a bushel, the amount of bounty will be 7d. ; when the price is 3s. 2d. the bounty will be 5d.; when it is 4s. 2d, the bounty will be 2d. ; and when it is 5s. 2d., the bounty will cease. When the price of wheat rises to 5s. 6d. a bushel, the scheme will work the other way, for, instead of the bread-eater paying a tax to subsidize the wheat farmer, the wheat farmer will then pay a tax to subsidize the bread-eater. If a provision of that description were not included in this scheme I should oppose it.
– Will the honorable senator read the provision to which he is referring?
– I direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition to the Wheat Tax Bill which provides that in respect of every penny that wheat rises above 5s. 2d. a bushel, the wheat farmer shall pay a tax of one farthing. That means that if wheat goes to 5s. 6d. the farmer will pay a tax of Id.
– Then the wheat farmer will be supporting the consumer?
– That is so, and it is only just that he should do it.
– That 13 the week’s best joke.
– If the Leader of the Opposition calls this a joke he can have no sense of justice. It would be definitely unjust for the consumer to be called upon to help the wheat fanner when the price of wheat is low, and for the wheat farmer to be relieved of all responsibility to assist the consumer when the price of wheat is high. It is only just that the scheme should work both ways. Because it does so, I regard it a3 an equalization scheme and not as a bounty scheme.
– The honorable Senas’ tor’s class does not eat bread, and so they will pay none of this tax.
– That remark is about as sensible as some others that Senator Keane has made. I leave the public to decide whether we eat bread or not.
– The honorable senator will leave the question to be decided after the public has been deceived.
– I am stating the case honestly and fairly, and .am putting both sides of it. I say quite candidly that if provision were not made in this bill for the wheat farmer to help the consumer when prices are high, as well as for the consumer to help the wheat farmer when prices are low, I should be opposed to the whole scheme.
– The Scullin Government provided £3,500,000 out of revenue for- the assistance of the wheat-grower.
– It did not find a single shilling. The Lyons Government found the money.
– In mentioning the items contributing to the cost of the production of wheat, I included an amount of only £120 for the farmer’s own labour. Would .honorable gentlemen opposite deny the basic wage to the farmer?
– We would not. The honorable senator is deliberately misstating our case.
– I repeat that on every occasion when the Government attempts to do anything to assist the wheat farmer, honorable gentlemen opposite place obstructions in its way. Quite evidently they do not understand the mentality of the wheat farmer, or they would realize that he is sick and tired of annual doles. Apparently, the members of the Labour party in this chamber can only say, as did their colleagues in another place : “ Tour scheme is no good. Our scheme is the only one that is of any use. But we propose to limit any scheme to one year. We want it reviewed year by year.” . Such a policy must oblige the wheat-growing industry to continue” in its present state of chaos. Would honorable senators opposite agree to an annual review of the sugar policy of the Government or of our general tariff policy? Of course they would not. They realize that that procedure would make stability impossible in this country. An Australian price should be an Australian price.
– What does the honorable senator mean by that?
– I think the statement will be clear enough to sensible people. When I said that the price of wheat should be 3s. 6d. at ports, I allowed £125 a year for the farmer’s labour, and £1 a week for each son working on the property. Is that unreasonable? It may be true that Senator Uppill and I consider that some slightly different method should be adopted to help the wheat industry, but “we do not intend, on that account, to follow the example of the Labour party and oppose this bill. I shall support the bill because I know that unless it is passed the farmers will get nothing.
– I agree with that attitude. The Labour party has not said that it will oppose the bill; it has said that it does not agree with it.
– I have more respect for Senator Fraser than to think that he will oppose the bill.
– Tet the honorable senator is misrepresenting the Opposition in almost every remark he makes.
– I am anxious that this bill shall be passed. Failure to pass it would be tragic for the wheat industry. Last year the Australian wheat crop totalled 180,000,000 bushels, which realized approximately 3s. lid. a bushel. For ready reckoning I put it down at 4s. The total income therefore under this heading was about £36,000,000. This year the crop is estimated to yield 128,000,000 bushels for wich we expect to receive about 2s. 6d. a bushel. The national problem that we have to face is that this year the farmers’ wheat cheque will be £16,000,000 as against £36,000,000 last year. Not only the wheat-growers suffer when the price of wheat is low, but many others also, including the workmen employed by machinery merchants and manufacturing concerns. Unless the purchasing power of the farmers is maintained, sales of all classes of commodities decline and employment is jeopardized. If we have learned anything from the depression, it is that by intelligent planning we can maintain the purchasing power of the people on a fairly even keel. These measures will go, perhaps, half way towards maintaining the purchasing power of the farmers, and if action in this direction be not taken, not only the wheat industry will suffer, but practically every other industry in the Commonwealth as well.
– What does the honorable senator consider the principal weakness in the bill?
– It should stabilize the price of wheat at 3s. Sd. a bushel.
– For all wheat?
– There should be a stabilized minimum of 3s. Sd. a bushel. If the measure is to be improved it needs to be amended in only one direction. If a tax on wheat over 8s. Sd. a bushel were imposed, and 50 per cent, of the excess over 3s. 8d. were placed into a fund, it would enable the farmer to collect up to 3s. Sd. a bushel when the price of wheat fell below that figure. In the booklets which I have circulated it is shown that over a period of years such a fund would be actuarially sound, but unfortunately the present scheme goes only a part of the way. This bill contains two desirable features. It stabilizes the price of flour and also stabilizes the price of bread. One of the most unsatisfactory features of business is the fluctuating cost of raw materials. In future bakers will be able to purchase flour at a fixed price, within a small margin of deviation, and the millers will also pay a fixed price for wheat. Consequently there will be a stabilized price of bread and a stabilized price of flour. Another feature which appeals to me is the permanency of the scheme. If the scheme were not permanent, it would not be of any advantage. In that respect the legislation is different from that introduced by previous governments, including a Labour government. This legislation does not merely provide a temporary dole to assist farmers for twelve months; it provides a permanent plan for an Australian price.
– Wc approve of a permanent plan.
-A11 of the legislation introduced by this Government is opposed by the Opposition. This scheme has been introduced at the unanimous request of all parties and of all interests in Australia.
– That is not true.
– At a meeting held iu Sydney on the 25th August, the following organizations were represented: - Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, the Wool and Wheatgrowers Union of Western Australia, South Australian Wheatgrowers Association, Victorian Wheatgrowers Association, Farmers and Settlers Association, Wheatgrowers Union of New South Wales, Primary Producers Association of Western Australia, Primary Producers Union of New South Wales, Agricultural Bureau of New South Wales, combined committee from South Australia representing wheat-growers, superphosphate manufacturers, motor traders and motor body builders, merchants, millers and the Housewives’ Association. At that meeting, the following ‘ resolutions were passed unanimously : -
That this conference declares as follows: -
A stabilized price for wheat in Australia.
Th:it any scheme shall provide for continuity for a term of years.
That we believe the Commonwealth Government is the right and proper authority to introduce and back this necessary action and it is hoped the State governments will co-operate and act harmoniously to bring this about.
That this conference representative of wheat-growers throughout Australia, agrees with ‘the principle of establishing a scheme to give stability to the wheat industry and a reasonable price.
They might also have stated that the members of the Federal Labour party would decline to co-operate. The resolutions continued -
– We believe in a home.consumption price, but we do not believe in taxing the dole workers.
– A moment ago, the honorable senator said that he was opposed to a home-consumption price. A meeting of Premiers held the following day was attended by the Ministers of Agriculture of Western Australia and
Queensland and the Premier of Tasmania. Three Labour governments supported the scheme. At that conference, the following resolution was agreed to : -
What will they think when they find the members of the Labour party in this chamber are opposing the scheme. I suggest that their action is utter humbug. They intend to oppose the bill in order to make party political capital out of it.
– The honorable senator is thinking not of the wheat-growers, but of the Wakefield by-election.
– Honorable senators opposite are trying to make party political capital by saying that this proposal means a tax upon the people. If a stabilized price is a tax upon the people, the assistance rendered to the sugar industry and protective duties and bounties can also be regarded as a tax. The price of commodities cannot be raised without directly or indirectly imposing a tax on the people.
I wholeheartedly support the bill because I believe that it is the first step towards the desirable objective to provide a permanent plan of stabilized prices. The bills have been carefully drafted, and are easy to administer. The tax, as it is called, is simply the difference between the day to day or week to week price of wheat at Williamstown and 5s. 2d. If the price of wheat to-day at Williamstown is 2s. 2d., the tax will be 3s. a bushel, and that tax, through the medium of the Treasury, is used to increase the price to the farmer. I confidently expect that on present prices the farmers will benefit ‘by 6d. a bushel on the whole of their crop, which will afford greater assistance than that given by any previous government. It is easy to speak of taxing the food at the people’s breakfast table, but I ask honorable senators to realize that, with wheat at 3s. 6d. a bushel, the value of wheat in a 2-lb. loaf of bread is only lid. On a 2-lb. loaf of bread, the wheat-grower receives 1.5d., the flour miller .6d., less recovery from offals .4d., a net of .2d. ; the bread maker 2.6d.; and the flour tax on the homeconsumption price absorbs one-halfpenny. Those figures are contained in paragraph 70 of the fifth report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry. It is common knowledge that variations of less than 6d. in the price of wheat make no difference in the price of bread. It requires a very substantial alteration of the price to bring about any alteration of bread prices. However, I am not going to suggest that the price of bread will not increase from its present low level. The price of bread in Adelaide at the present time is very low, because the price of wheat is only 2s. 3d. a bushel, but over a period of years the average price of bread will not increase because of the home-consumption price, or, if it does, the increase will not be more than
– The honorable senator who has just resumed his seat, has made a speech which, coming from him, was somewhat of a surprise to me. I should not be at all surprised to hear a speech of that kind from a government supporter, but there must be some reason why Senator Wilson should have thrown his usual fair-mindedness to the winds.
– I hate humbug, and the Opposition is merely humbugging.
– There must be some reason for this reversal of form by Senator Wilson, for whom I have occasionally entertained some hope, and in regard to whom I was even so optimistic as to believe that some day he might be found sitting over here with us. I can suggest a reason, however. Senator Wilson comes from South Australia. Next Saturday week, there will be an election for the return of a member to the House of Representatives for the Wakefield
Division in South Australia. The Labour candidate is a farmer. The one thing that must be done by Senator “Wilson and his conservative comrades is to discredit the Labour party on the matter of relief to the farmers as virulently and as quickly as possible, so that it can be used as propaganda before next Saturday week. The honorable senator set himself out to misrepresent the attitude of the Labour party on this subject.
– I think the Labour party is misrepresenting itself.
– The honorable senator is so paternal in his feelings towards us that he is even afraid that we might misrepresent ourselves. I can assure him that we do not need hi3 assistance. We can protect ourselves, and there are several of us on this side who can give a Roland for his Oliver, and a little to spare, despite the fact that, while he was at home sleeping last night, we were here doing the jon that we are paid to do.
– As I was here the whole time, I ask that the honorable senator be required to withdraw that statement, which is offensive to me.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - It was a personal remark, and must be withdrawn if objected to.
– I hasten to withdraw the statement that the honorable senator was at home sleeping. However, I must be suffering from ophthalmic trouble, because I could not see the honorable senator in his place. He must have been under the desk asleep.
The Labour party has always been willing to assist primary producers, and I challenge the Country party, and particularly its champion in this battle, Senator Wilson, to point to one division, or one speech, in this chamber to indicate that this Opposition, or those that preceded it, have ever been otherwise. When there were only three of us in this chamber we never failed on the job. We fought for the primary producers on every occasion. Now that we are sixteen, there is not a man on this side of the chamber who would not fight for the primary producers, honestly and honorably, because of his conviction that there cannot be any division of interests between the primary producers in the country and the workers in the cities. We know that if we injure one farmer we injure, not only him, but also every member of the community who works with his two hands -to get a living. J challenge Government supporters to show that we have ever departed from that attitude.
– The Labour party is doing it now.
– I must pass over the interjections of Senator Wilson, because it is clear that he is not amenable to the truth when it is plainly stated. The honorable senator was unkind and unfair enough to remark that at least Queensland senators would have to support this bill because of the protection which the sugar industry is receiving. When this Government is prepared to do for the wheat industry what has been done for the sugar industry in Queensland - and New South Wales; when it is prepared to bring down what the Opposition is always pleading for, namely, a long-range planned economy in regard to primary industries, every member of this party, no matter what State he comes from, will support it. Nowhere else in the world has the same thing been done for any primary product as has been done for sugar in Queensland and New South Wales. By definite legislative action of the State governments concerned, assisted by this Parliament, every phase of the sugar industry has been controlled from the point of production to the final stage of consumption. Every interest is securely safeguarded. We safeguard the man who plants the cane, the man who cuts it, and the miller and mill-hand who mill it. We also protect the consumers. This Government, however, of which Senator Wilson is such a thick-and-thin supporter, has never attempted to do anything of that kind for the wheat industry. The scheme now before us does not do it. The Opposition is not opposed to the bill, but is definitely opposed to the cowardly methods by which the Government proposes to finance the scheme. I do not know what practical experience Senator Wilson has had, but half a century ago I was one of those who tried to get a living out of the land. I know what it means. No one can tell me anything about the struggles of the farmers that I do not know; and to suggest that I could he lacking in sympathy with the primary producers is to suggest the impossible.
– Does the honorable senator believe in a home-consumption price for sugar?
– Of course I do.
– Then why deny it to the wheat-growers?
– We do not, as I shall demonstrate to the honorable senator if he can contain himself for a little while. We support the bill, but we will oppose the levy on the workers’ bread with our last breath. The honorable senator, in his remarks on wheat, showed great ignorance of a great industry, but it was nothing to the colossal ignorance he is displaying on the subject of sugar. I know the sugar industry, and I assure the honorable senator that it is of no use for him to fire off those kindergarten interjections. The Prime Minister himself does not believe in the flour tax.
– I know.
– If the honorable senator knew that, then he was not politically honest when he pointed across the chamber at the Opposition, and said - to the electors of Wakefield - “Every member of the Opposition is opposed to the wheat-growers “. On the subject of a flour tax, the Prime Minister said -
The attitude of the Commonwealth Government in respect of this matter has been made entirely clear in recent times. Its position in regard to the use of its excise and bounty powers has also been made particularly clear. That proposal has been considered many times, and the Government has indicated” that it is not prepared to adopt a policy which is merely based on that principle. That is to say, if it is merely a collection of tax on bread or flour and the distribution of proceeds to the growers of wheat, the proposition is not acceptable to the Government ; nor do I believe that it would be acceptable to the farmers. . . . The system of excise and bounty, which some one said is a simple solution of the difficulty, not only raises political difficulties, but in addition lacks stability.
– Hear, hear!
– The approval of the honorable senator indicates that he is the champion sword-swallower among Government supporters.
– Order ! The Leader of the Opposition must not make remarks of a personal nature.
– I shall do my best not to come in conflict with your ruling, Mr. President, but for the last half-hour I have been subjected to considerable provocation. I wish to be fair. Therefore, in order that I may not be accused of doing what one other speaker has done, I shall read further from what the Prime Minister said before he escaped from the conference -
I do not wish to be misunderstood. When I spoke of the Government’s attitude towards excise and bounty, I said that if that were the entire basis, the proposals would not be acceptable to the Government, and, indeed, would not be practicable. That is the true position. But the proposal this morning is not only for an excise bounty; it provides for action by the States to fix prices, and therefore it comes into a different category. I suggest that the matter be left for the present.
About two minutes after the Prime Minister left* the conference, it adjourned, for fear, possibly, that it should become involved in further political complications, the effect of which would be difficult to foretell.
As might have been expected, some people feel very sore about this proposal. The Opposition is supporting the bill, because it knows that the position of wheat-growers to-day is much worse than it has been on many previous occasions, and certainly is as bad as it has ever been. Some farmers will not get more than ls. Hd. a bushel for their wheat, which, as everybody knows, is a starvation price.
Yesterday, when this legislation was being debated in the House of Representatives, no less a person than Sir Henry Gullett opposed this tax in terms more savage than are likely to be employed by any member of the Opposition in this chamber. Sir Henry Gullett is reported in the press as follows : -
The present proposal was a violation of every decent principle of taxation. It was nothing but a tax on the poor, and even a child of poor parents would pay more than a rich man. An outrage on the bread-eaters of the country is being attempted.
Another member of the House of Representatives, a Government supporter, but not quite so illustrious as Sir Henry
Gullett, also made a fierce attack upon the proposal. As Senator Wilson will know, the debate in the House of Representatives was not by any means a onesided affair. This imposition on bread will fall heavily on the basic wage-earner, the relief worker, and the man on the dole, the old-age pensioner, and, in fact, on all those people who can least afford to pay it. These people eat more bread and use more flour and the products of flour, than do any other classes of the community, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to pay higher prices for the better classes of foodstuffs. I wish Senator Wilson could forget his political affiliations and view the Government’s proposals through the eyes of Opposition members, representing, as we do, the working classes.
The purpose of the bill is to assist wheat farmers. To that we do not object. But we do object to the means proposed to raise portion of the revenue. We resent the proposed tax on flour. Lately, I have had something to say in this chamber about the undesirable living conditions in even this fair city. Next week, probably, I shall have an opportunity to comment on the very vicious attack which is being made to reduce the standard of living in Canberra. These are matters of great moment to the people concerned. I could take Senator Wilson to a number of homes in this city to-night and I feel sure that he would be surprised at the undesirable conditions in some of them. Indeed, I would like him to accompany me to some homes in Brompton, in the vicinity of the Adelaide Gas Works, and it would give me some pleasure if he introduced me to a householder, saying - “This is Senator Collings, who opposed the flour tax.” I, in my turn would then say to the householder, “This is Senator Wilson, who supported the flour tax.” I know what would be. the’ attitude of the average worker living in those homes. They know that from every meal table something will be filched which they can illafford to lose, and this will go on every day of the year from Christmas to Christmas. It is a tax which these people can ill-afford.
– So is the price of sugar.
– The honorable gentleman displays profound ignorance on the subject of sugar. The Australian consumer of sugar pays less for it than the average price paid by householders in any other country where sugar is produced. But there is nothing about sugar in the bill, so I must not pursue the subject. Frequently, members of the Labour party are accused of being influenced by the opinions of outside institutions. The same may be said of Government supporters. Often we are told that we have to take our instructions from the Trades and Labour Council. Apparently, Senator Wilson has received his brief from the organizations which he mentioned, because in an unusual burst of candour, he told us that the resolutions to which he had directed attention, were put before the Premiers Conference and accepted by that gathering. While the honorable gentleman was speaking, I interjected that there was no mention of representatives of the relief workers at the conference, whose resolutions have been accepted by the Government and, so we have been told, embodied iri this measure. But the fact is, that this bill does not truly represent the resolutions of the conference of Commonwealth and State authorities. I say this because a few moments ago, I had a telephone conversation with the Treasurer of Queensland, who was at that gathering. He informed me that he had been trying to get in touch with me all the morning because he wished to make a statement about the measure. This is what Mr. Forgan Smith said -
The bill which you are now debating is not the hill which we agreed to in the conference. I waa of the opinion that while the £500,000 this year was to be for drought relief in three States, in future the £500,000 would be so distributed that those States affected by drought might allocate the money to drought relief or to the transfer of farmers from marginal areas. Queensland has no marginal areas. Consequently under the bill it will not be a participant in tlie relief fund. All that Queensland asks for is that if and when it is affected by drought it will bo able to participate in that £500,000 fund.
In view of this statement, Senator Wilson must not say that the Government’s proposals represent in their entirety the agreement reached by the conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers. We say that, whilst the allocation of the sum mentioned for drought relief may not he objected to this year, it is not fair to divert it in the way suggested for the whole of the four-year period; because, as I have shown, Queensland has no marginal areas.
The Opposition is frequently taunted by ministerial supporters that all that it can do is to offer criticism of governmentproposals ; that il has no constructive suggestions to make. In the first place, that statement is not in accordance with the facts. Occasionally when the Government displays evidence of intelligence and introduces worth-while measures which we feel that it can support, we are told that Labour is merely supporting the Lyons Government. We do not oppose measures merely for the sake of obstruction, and we do not offer specific remedies for evils which the Government so often attempts to perpetrate, because that is not our responsibility. We are not yet the Government. But it will not be long before there is a change of government. Whenever we point to the defects in legislation that is brought before us, a more or less brilliant supporter of the Government is primed with information and put up to, if possible, discredit us.
I finish by offering a remedy for the evils which we see in connexion with this proposed tax. It will be a constructive remedy. The motion before the Senate is -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I move -
That all the words after “ That “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide grants for the States to enable a homeconsumption price of - wheat at 4s. 8d. at country sidings, and to permit of adequate relief being given to wheat-growers suffering seasonal adversity, the financial provision to be effected out of the Consolidated Fund of the Commonwealth.”
Opposition Senators. - Hear, hear!
- Senator Wilson asked, by interjection, what tax we would impose if we did not accept the one now proposed. What a puerile interjection! This Government has a Consolidated Revenue^ Fund derived from various sources - I should imagine, principally from income tax. At least, I should hope so, because I am a. great believer in direct taxation. This flour tax is one of the most vicious and vexatious imposts that has ever been proposed. Even the sales tax law, which was imposed in a time of financial emergency and was never intended to be permanent but still remains on the statute-book, exempts almost all the needs of the basic wage workers from its operation. Whereas millions of pounds of revenue is derived from a sales tax of 5 per cent., the rate of the bread tax will be about 60 or 65 per cent. Let me elaborate what the Opposition’s proposal means. Under it the wheat-growers will still get a return of 4s. 8d. a bushel at country sidings. The bill as it stands contains provision for the allocation of £500,000 per annum for drought relief and the evacuation of marginal areas. That money will come out of the revenue produced by the flour tax, and it will reduce the amount of money available to provide a home-consumption price. We want that home-consumption price to be a very real thing for the wheat-growers of this country.
– Therefore, the Opposition is supporting a flour tax.
– Nonsense ; we object to a flour tax.
– The Opposition cannot have it both ways. It says it wants a home-consumption price.
– We say that we want the home-consumption price to be a real thing for the wheat-growers.
– It wants a homeconsumption price, and, to provide that, the consumer will have to pay.
– We want a home-consumption price of 4s. 8d. a bushel at country sidings.
– The Opposition wants the farmer to have 4s. 8d. instead of 2s. 3d. a bushel. The people will have to make up the difference..
– Under the proposal of the Opposition, the amount required for drought relief and evacuation of marginal areas would be raised from Consolidated Revenue. In addition to that, there would be the amount required to give a home-consumption price of 4s. 8d. a bushel. The wheatgrower would receive greater financial benefit under the proposals of the Opposition, than under the bill as it stands.
There is another phase of the question which is worthy of consideration. We are told, and we know that it is true, that arrangements have been made with the States to pass complementary legislation in order to ensure the adequate protection of the different factors in the production and consumption of wheat. At present none of us, not even Senator Wilson, knows just what arrangements have been made. Consistent with our fighting against what we think are bad- proposals, we shall do our best to comply with the request for the passage of this legislation in sufficient time’ to enable it. to come into operation at midnight on Sunday next. But at midnight on Sunday no one will know what arrangements have been made to protect the miller and the baker, or at what level the price of flour and bread will be fixed in the different States. Parliament will be imposing on the millers and bakers increased costs without acquainting them of their exact position. If they knew what would be imposed on them by the legislation of the Commonwealth and the States, they could make arrangements to-day to meet it, but on Sunday at midnight, when this law will come into operation, they will not know where they are. We should not put them in that. position.
In submitting my amendment, I concur in the advice given by you, Mr. President, to myself and other honorable senators earlier in my speech, that we should not display undue heat in this matter and should not interject more seriously than is necessary. I have endeavoured to conform to that advice. I myself now tender a little advice to Government senators in reinforcement of the kindly advice given by yourself. I have served under several Presidents in this chamber, but I have never served under one so kindly to all as the present occupant of that high office. Therefore, Mr. President, if I sometimes offend, as I may do, to your annoyance and discomfort, I wish now to take an opportunity to buttress your kindly advice. Accordingly, I ask Government supporters to debate this amendment without suggesting that we are trying to injure the wheat-growers. What we are trying to do is the opposite.
I take this opportunity to answer the slander which appears in the Sydney Horning Herald of to-day. That newspaper gave a more or less lurid description of the donnybrook which occurred in the House of Representatives, and’ it goes on to say that nothing happened of any importance. It then says that the Opposition in the Senate will probably be more embarrassing to the Government because the strength of the parties here is more even than it is in the House of Representatives. It declares further that even that does not appear to be serious, because it is well known that the Opposition in the Senate is afraid of an election and that, therefore, we shall probably squib the issue and fall down on the job. Just imagine the Opposition senators being afraid of an election! There will be an election about two years hence; about fifteen honorable gentlemen on this side will not have to go before the electors, whereas eighteen of the nineteen honorable gentlemen opposite - Senator Wilson will continue as the one lone Government senator - will have to face the people.. In these circumstances, we on this side have nothing of which to be afraid. I move this amendment, because I wish to test honorable senators supporting the Government. We, of the Opposition, shall- be here when the division bells ring. We shall be protecting the wheat-grower, while alao doing our best to protect the consumer. I want to give honorable senators opposite the chance to say, by their votes, “ So long as the wheat-grower gets his bounty we do not give a hang for the rest of the people. We have no sympathy with the unemployed. We have no sympathy with the basic-wage worker. We do not care a hang for the people on the dole “. I wheel that right up to honorable gentlemen opposite. They will either say that by their vote or come over here and vote with us.
My final word is that there should be an annual revision of the provisions of this measure in the light of experience gained during the year. If it is essential to- carry on the legislation, it can be continued without alteration; or if it is not essential in its entirety it can be modified. To honorable senators and to the people outside, I make the position of the Opposition in this matter perfectly clear. After the speech that I have made and the speeches of my colleagues who will follow, no* misrepresentation, however unfair, unkind and untruthful, will carry weight with the people outside because they will know exactly where we stand in this matter.
– On a point of order, I should ‘ like to know whether the amendment is in order.
– I think it is relevant. It simply proposes another way of finding the money.
– I refer you to Standing Order 194 which sets out amendments that can be moved on the second reading of bills, and to Standing Order 195 which reads -
No other amendment may be moved to such question, except in the form of a resolution strictly relevant to the bill.
The amendment, which affects the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Commonwealth is not relevant to the bill, because it proposes a charge on the public which is not provided for in the bill which we are considering.
– I submit, sir, that you have already decided that the amendment is relevant.
– No, I said that I think that it is relevant. The whole matter is complicated, because we are dealing with a group of related bills. I should not have the slightest hesitation in saying that it is relevant to some of them, and, as Ave are, by consent of the Senate, debating all of the bills together, I should say that the amendment is relevant to this measure.
– I should like you, sir, to consider whether we would be initiating a money bill if we adopted the amendment.
– I submit, Mr. President, that the point taken by Senator Johnston should be the subject of a ruling from the Chair. The mere fact that several bills relating to the wheat industry are being debated simultaneously does not imply that we are dealing with more than one bill at the moment.
– We agreed to debate them as a complete scheme.
– I suggested that there should be a discussion at this stage on all the measures but each bill will in turn come before the Senate. The measure now under consideration is being dealt with just as independently of the others as it would be if these bills were not correlated. At the request of the Government, the measures are being discussed simultaneously; but I submit, Mr. President, that that fact should not affect your ruling as to whether the amendment is in order. I submit that it is not strictly relevant to the bill.
– I call attention to Section 53 of the Constitution which provides :
Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys or imposing taxation shall not originate in the Senate.
The amendment now before the Committee seeks an appropriation of revenue, and I submit that it is beyond the power of the Senate to deal with it.
– The bill we are now dealing with provides for the granting of certain financial assistance to the States. The amendment submitted by Senator Collings suggests an alteration of the method by which, this should be done, but it does not seek to initiate legislation. It merely suggests that the financial assistance proposed should be provided out of the Consolidated Revenue instead of by the method proposed by the Government.
– What is the ruling on the point which I have raised?
– If the honorable senator desires a ruling as to the interpretation to be placed upon the provision of the Constitution to which he has referred, I shall take advice on the matter and give a ruling later.
– Obviously the Government cannot accept the amendment. If it were agreed to by the Senate, the Government would have to withdraw the bill and would not proceed further with it. The scheme for financing the wheat-growers by establishing a homeconsumption price for wheat has been formulated as a matter of government policy, and the proposals now before the
Senate were agreed to at a conference between the Premiers of six States and the Commonwealth Government. Senator Collings says that he believes in a homeconsumption price, but what does that mea« if it does not imply that those people in Australia who use the wheat shall pay a certain price for it? This proposal is similar to other legislation enacted by this Parliament. It is on all fours with the measures passed for the protection of tlie butter industry, the dried fruits industry and the sugar industry, each of which has received valuable assistance through the medium of a homeconsumption price. The Government is not prepared to meet the cost of assisting the wheat industry by a vote from the Consolidated Revenue. It considers that the method provided for in the bill is the most practical one that could be adopted. This is the first occasion on which a serious attempt has been made to place the wheat industry on a permanently’ sound financial basis. I hope that the amendment will be rejected.
– I have listened with interest to the remarks of the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator Foll). He lias made it clear that, if the amendment were carried, the Government would drop the measure, and the wheat-farmers would get nothing, which is precisely what they have received from the Commonwealth for the last two years. Of course, it was not necessary two years ago to assist the wheat-farmers except in the drought areas, because they received a good price for their wheat. However, in view of the statement of the Minister on the subject, and my own knowledge of the position, I shall not give up the substance for the shadow. I shall not endeavour to defeat the Government’s plain and practical proposal for the immediate relief of the industry in order to assist in carrying an amendment which might “ tickle the ears of the groundlings,” but would not provide any assistance at all for the industry. It would have the effect of denying to the wheat-farmers the substantial measure of help that would be given to them under the Government’s proposals. I welcome the plan embraced in the six bills, all the more because it provides for putting into practical opera tion a part of the policy of the Australian Country party, which, for a good many years, has striven for the provision of a home-consumption price for wheat. I cannot understand why honorable senators opposite, who favour a homeconsumption price for many other primary products, including sugar, butter and dried fruits, should in any way oppose this simple and practical proposal for bringing the wheat-growers within the scope of the same Australian policy.
– We shall not oppose a home-consumption price.
– Then members of the Opposition should cross over to this side when the division bells ring. This measure will, I think, give a reasonable degree of stability to the great Australian wheat industry. It will ensure that the wheat-farmers of Australia shall get a permanent and fair Australian price for that portion of their crop which is used in this country, and which ranges from one-fifth to one-third of the total production. It will give proper Commonwealth and State assistance to an industry which directly and indirectly is a greater source of employment than any other Australian industry. It will also belatedly put into effect the first recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry. In its first report, the commission recommended -
That the policy applied to most other rural industries of ensuring better returns by means of the principle of a home-consumption price for that part of the product consumed within the Commonwealth should be applied to the wheat industry.
That recommendation was made on the 30th July, 1934, and the commission repeated it twice during the ensuing few months. In its second report, of the 2nd February, 1935, it again recommended -
That assistance be afforded by the Commonwealth to the wheat industry through the application of a home-consumption price for flour by an excise duty on flour used within the Commonwealth, as recommended in the first report dated 30th July, 1934, and in the supplement to the first report dated 27th November, 1934.
This home-consumption price, on the very lines of this measure, was recommended by the commission as its primary proposal on three occasions. It is true that it went on to make other recommendations regarding a compulsory wheat pool; but these were subject to certain votes being taken. The first recommendation was the primary one, and subsequently the commission recommended -
That, if for any reason, it be found impossible or undesirable to apply the principle of a home-consumption price through an excise duty on flour, it bc applied in some other manner, as, for instance, through the agency of the compulsory marketing scheme, as set out in recommendation (iii) below, or by such other means as may be considered desirable and appropriate.
That proposal was entirely secondary to the primary recommendation in favour of a home-consumption price on the lines of the measure now before the Senate. The proposals contained in this measure emanated from a conference of representatives of all the governments of Australia which met in August last, and carried the resolutions to which the Minister in charge of the bill has already referred. Those resolutions, as well as the bill itself, are entirely in harmony with the decisions of meetings of Australian organizations of wheat-growers, including the Primary Producers Association, the Farmers and Settlers’ Association and the “Wheat-growers Union. The conference of wheat-growers which was held in Sydney on the 25th August, the day before the Premiers met, was representative of all the States. I point out, in reply to Senator Cunningham, to whom I listened with a ‘great deal of amazement, as I had anticipated that all Western Australian senators would support the proposals, that Mr. Stevens, the Premier of New South Wales, in the presence of the other Premiers, informed the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) of the decisions arrived at. Speaking on behalf of all the Premiers, including those representing three Labour governments, Mr. Stevens said -
The Premiers believe that wheat-growing, being a staple industry which has an important bearing on our financial and economic structure, should be helped, by Government action, to organize on a basis which will enable the wheat-growers to look ahead for a number of years. We realize the need for long-distance planning.
This is long-distance planning. It is not the first of a series of annual bills, nor is it an emergency measure, as was stated by .Senator Cunningham. On the contrary, it is a measure for the permanent relief of the wheat industry. As time goes on, and an increased population leads to a greater consumption of wheat in the Commonwealth, the value of this legislation to the industry will- be greater. On the occasion to which I have referred, Mr. Stevens continued -
We realize the need for long-distance planning, so that the industry may be organized to diminish the gap between export prices and the cost of production and to provide a reasonable price for wheat in the home market.
He concluded by reading the six resolutions to which reference has already been made. I direct particular attention to the remarks of Mr. Troy, the Deputy Premier of Western Australia, who was present at the conference on the 29th August, because there is a great difference between his views and those of Senator Cunningham. Speaking on behalf of the Labour Government of Western Australia, Mr. Troy said -
I am in agreement with what has been said by previous speakers respecting the necessity for Commonwealth action. The conference, which met in Sydney a few days ago, explored thi3 matter from every aspect, and we reached the conclusions announced by Mr. Stevens. It is’ very important to the wheat industry itself that it should be put on a stable basis. This is vital to the welfare of Western Australia, where 00 per cent, of the financial advances for agricultural development have been made by the State Government. Financial assistance to agricultural industries has been granted by other State governments, also, but not to the Baine extent as in Western Australia; in the eastern States private finance has borne a greater share of the burden. Stabilization on the lines we suggest is essential to the soundness of Australia’s economic structure. The first step is surely to provide a payable price for wheat for home consumption.
He was pleading with the Prime Minister to introduce the legislation that we are now considering. As Minister for Lands, and therefore in close touch with agricultural matters inr Western Australia, he declared that he regarded such legislation as vital to the welfare of Australia. In his opinion, the first step was the provision of a payable price for wheat for home consumption.
– He did not advocate a flour tax.
– The Government, of which he is a member, has already agreed to a tax on flour; it has fixed the price of wheat in Western Australia. This bill is supplementary to legislation introduced into each of the State parliaments, including the Parliament of Western Australia. The States which alone have the power to fix prices, agreed to do so if the Commonwealth Government would agree to introduce legislation to provide for an excise duty. The Commonwealth Government agreed to introduce this legislation only after all the State governments, including the Labour Government of Western Australia, had passed complementary legislation. At a later stage Mr. Troy said -
If our State governments are prepared to shoulder their responsibility in this regard I feel sure that the Commonwealth Government will also stand in with us.
He like all the other members of the conference, took the big view. Mr. Troy concluded by saying -
The problem of markets will have to be faced, and we, as representatives of the Commonwealth and the States, will have to do something to meet the situation. If wheatgrowers obtain 4s. 8d. at country sidings for wheat for home consumption it will not mean very much to them at present export prices, taking their whole crop into consideration. We may have to go further than that. Still we must do something at once for this industry, and I supportwhat the other speakers have said regarding the need for immediate joint action.
Not only did the State governments accept the full responsibility for their action; they actually took the initiative in introducing legislation to give effect to the decision of the conference.
Before federation the wheat industry enjoyed many advantages that it does not possess to-day. There were then cheap machinery, low duties, cheap transport, a low cost of living, and comparatively cheap labour. The low production costs of those days enable wheat-farmers to compete with other wheat-growing countries in the markets of the world. With federation came high tariffs, arbitration court awards, increased social services, and other burdens which raised production costs. At the moment I am not criticizing those things; I merely point to the fact that they added to the costs of the wheat-growers. The legislation before us is the culmination of many years of endeavour on the part of the wheat industry to obtain some benefit from the established protective policy of the country. Most of the organizations of wheatgrowers and wool-growers throughout Australia opposed the tariff, but they were defeated. Under this legislation they will get a slice or two of the loaf which hitherto they have not shared. The measure will provide some degree of compensation to the farming community for the burdens imposed on it under other phases of national policy. I am glad that these measures are framed on a national basis in respect of the distribution of the receipts from the sales tax on flour. This legislation will operate without regard to either State boundaries, or the proportion of each State’s wheat production that is consumed within its borders. In other words, the legislation has been framed on broad lines. Of the wheat grown in Western Australia only about 15 per cent, is consumed locally, whereas the local consumption in Victoria and New South Wales is much greater. Western Australian wheat-growers will participate in the revenue from the higher home consumption of wheat by the more populous eastern States. Owing to the severe drought in Victoria, this year’s wheat crop in that State is estimated at only 14,500,000 bushels as compared with an average of about 50,000,000 bushels, and it is probable that that State will have to import wheat from the Riverina district of New South Wales to meet its requirements. The price of 4s. 8d. a bushel at sidings fixed under this measure is very favorable to the Australian consumer, compared with the following prices obtaining in other countries: - Germany,11s. 3d. a bushel; France, 7s. 2d.; Italy, 10s.; Great Britain 6s.81/2d. Australian; South Africa, 6s. 101/2d. ; and New Zealand, from 5s. 8d. to 5s.11d. a bushel. It cannot be said, therefore, that under this legislation the Australian consumers will be asked to pay an unfair price for wheat. In fact, from the figures I have just quoted, it must be admitted that they are receiving very fair treatment, inasmuch as under this bill the price is on the basis of 5s. 2d. at Williamstown export price, and 4s. 8d. average at sidings.
-What is the price in Queensland ?
– Five shillings and twopence a bushel, as fixed by this bill, and I point out that over a number of years, mainly as the result of domestic legislation, which I do not think would stand scrutiny by the High Court, the wheatgrowers in Queensland have enjoyed distinct advantages over those in other States. As the result of that legislation, the Queensland grower, over a period of years, has received from1s. to1s. 6d. a bushel more than the average price received by growers in other States.
Under this measure a sum of £500,000 a year, for a period of five years, will be set apart for the assistance of necessitous farmers, and their removal from marginal areas. To some extent I agree with the contention advanced by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin) that it is not proper that the proceeds of the sales tax should be used for this purpose. In my view this Government, and the governments of the States, should appropriate the funds necessary for this purpose from general revenue. I shall not, however, oppose the bill for that reason. As the result of long experience, I have come to the conclusion that politics consist largely of compromise. Therefore, as I have for so long fought for the establishment of a homeconsumption price for wheat, and in view of the fact that each of the States has approved of this scheme, I support the bill. But I point out that this amount of £500,000, which will be distributed annually - this year on the basis of £200,000 to Victoria, and £100,000 each to New SouthWales, South Australia and Western Australia - is negligible considering the present serious plight of many growers; it would not be sufficient to meet the needs of distressed growers in either Victoria or Western Australia alone.
– How will growers be prevented from returning to marginal areas should the price of wheat rise to 7s. a bushel?
– No provision has been made to deal with that contingency. At the same time no provision has been made in respect of the cultivation by new owners of areas taken over from those who are rehabilitated elsewhere. Under this measure the States and the Commonwealth will co-operate in the amalgamation of vacated farms with adjoining farms, and I have no doubt that so soon as good seasons come, and the price of wheat rises, the farmer who remains will crop just as big an area as was cropped by both himself and his previous neighbour. In such circumstances, the full area will, no doubt, be cropped again unless the States pass legislation to limit production. For my part, however, I do not think that any State should, or would, take such action. Another point to remember is that unless these marginal areas are regularly broken up and cropped, say every three or four years, the growth of the wonderful grass which follows cropping will gradually diminish. For these reasons 1 believe that cropping in these particular areas will be continued. I repeat that as growers in the outer areas in Western Australia, particularly in the northeastern district of the wheat belt, have had a long run of bad seasons, that State’s share of this amount of £500,000 will be insufficient, and therefore, I urge this Government to supplement most handsomely the grant under this bill byintroducing further legislation for that purpose. We cannot, of course, forecast the future price of wheat. If it rises to 5s. a bushel, or over, which was the price ruling eighteen months ago, the growers, under this legislation, will be making recoups to millers in order to maintain flour at a stable price and prevent a rise of the price of bread. Consumers, therefore, will benefit greatly under this measure. The main advantage that will accrue from it to the grower is that for the first time prices for that proportion of his crop which is consumed in Australia will be stabilized at a figure which will enable him to live according to decent standards. Unless the price overseas substantially improves our exports must decline, and should this occur Australia’s trade balance will be seriously affected. Last season Australia exported wheat and flour equal to 126,174,844 bushels of wheat, the exports from the various States being -
The present price of wheat in Western Australia is 2s. a bushel at sidings, and unless the distressed growers be adequately assisted there is a risk that the industry may gradually sink during years of low prices to proportions which will be able to supply only our home market, in which case serious unemployment will result. The growers certainly cannot continue indefinitely producing wheat for export at a heavy loss, even though they have the advantage of a stabilized price for that portion of their crop which is consumed on the home market. I again congratulate the Government on having introduced this measure, but I remind it that it has a national obligation to provide greater security against drought, grasshoppers and other adversities which confront the growers, in order that our exports may be maintained at their present volume.
– A wonderful opportunity presents itself to the Government to provide this financial assistance to our distressed wheat-growers without increasing taxes. According to the royal commission on the wheat, flour and bread industries, one of the greatest difficulties confronting the growers is due to the fact that the bulk of our wheat lands are mortgaged to banks and financial institutions to the amount of £161,000,000. Consequently, growers now experience considerable trouble in financing harvests. When a financial institution advances money to a grower of any product, such as wheat and wool, the grower is obliged to assign his product to the institution with the result that the proceeds from the sale of the product never reaches him. Further, we must not forget the fact that any land over which the bank has a lien is absolutely the property of the bank. An ordinary mortgage is a contract in which the period and the rate of interest to be paid are specified. Such conditions do not apply in. respect of a legal assignment. In the latter transaction the money is at call, and the rate of interest can be altered from time to time as the lender of the money decides. In considering the financial affairs of distressed wheat-growers we should not overlook this difference between the two classes of transactions.
I suggest that the money required to afford relief to the growers can be provided through the utilization of national credit, and, as my authority for that, I refer honorable senators to the finding of the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems that the Commonwealth Bank can issue money to the Government free of interest. However, as we know, this Government persists in disregarding that finding. We can expect, therefore, that this money will be borrowed from the banks in the usual way at, say, 4 per cent, interest. It will then be disbursed ostensibly to the growers, but the latter will never receive any of it. The banks will provide the money and it will cost them nothing to do so, because, after all, they only advance credit; they do not lend money; that principle is fundamental in the present banking system. Money to the same value will be returned to the banks, and, in the meantime those institutions will collect interest on the credit extended. This is the swindle that is worked in every transaction of this kind. If the Government persists in financing, in this way, assistance to farmers, the people as a whole, including the growers themselves, will have to shoulder extra taxes. I cannot understand how any sensible government can justify adherence to orthodox finance in- this way. On previous occasions I have mentioned the manner in which money can be raised for purposes such as this without interest.
Tie DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator James McLachlan). - I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the subject-matter of the bill.
– The honorable senator is speaking to the amendment.
– Yes, I am dealing with the amendment and showing honorable senators how money can be provided free of interest in order to assist the wheat-growers, not only this year, but also in future years, should they have to contend with drought conditions. The position in which the wheatgrowers are placed is due to intense nationalism. France, Germany, Italy and other European countries are producing wheat, regardless of cost, in order to ensure some measure of economic security. The United States of America decided to export 100,000,000 bushels of wheat, regardless of the price, in order to. assist the wheat-growers in that country. This is a subject of great national importance, and I again contend that credit should be made available through the Commonwealth Bank free of interest as recommended by the Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems. It is the responsibility of this Government to use the credit of the nation, as it has a right to do on occasions such as this.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. -I remind the honorable senator that the amendment is not now before the Senate. That will be discussed later.
– I rise to a point of order. The amendment having been moved, can be debated. Those honorable senators who have spoken since the amendment was moved were entitled to discuss, not only the bill, but also the amendment.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Senator Darcey may proceed.
– I have converted almost every member of the party to which I belong to the financial policy which I advocate, and I believe that I have several likely converts on the other side of the chamber. I regret that I did not hear all that Senator Gibson said yesterday, but from what I heard of his speech I believe that he is only at the kindergarten stage. I again remind honorable senators that money for this and similar purposes can be raised free of interest, and the wheat-growers assisted without any cost to the taxpayers.
SenatorUPPILL (South Australia) [5.17]. - I congratulate the Government upon having introduced this bill which I regard as one of the most important measures which has been brought before this Parliament for some time. I also congratulate Senator Wilson upon the able manner in which he has explained the measure, although his remarks did not meet with the approval of some honorable senators opposite. It is scarcely necessary for me to emphasize the importance of the wheat industry to Australia. It is second only to the wool industry and is responsible for 20 per cent, of our exports. It also provides, directly and indirectly, more employment than any other Australian industry. The Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry estimated that approximately 1,000,000 persons are dependent upon it for their livelihood. In order to maintain the present volume of exports the wheat-grower must have some security, but in recent years the price received for his product has not been sufficient to cover the cost of production. The wheat-growers have the same claim to a profit on their product as have the wage-earners through the Arbitration Court, to a living wage, and the manufacturers to protection through the tariff to enable them to carry on efficiently. Under a freetrade policy wheatfarmers could compete with wheatgrowers in other parts of the world and maintain a reasonable standard of living, but such conditions do not obtain. Markets in other parts of the world are not free, arid protection is the accepted policy of the Commonwealth. Sincethe inception of federation, and the adoption of a protective policy, the costs of the wheat-grower have increased by over 50 per cent. The wheat-growers can therefore justly claim that as Australia’s fiscal policy forces up costs they are entitled to compensation to the degree of the excess cost imposed. With reasonable prices and fair seasonal conditions the industry was able to weather the storm until the depression year of 1930 and the following years, when it had to contend with low prices. Even during the last two seasons when the price was approximately 5s. and 4s. a bushel respectively, it has been’ unable to re-establish itself on anything like a sound basis. During, the past twelve months the price has again fallen from 4s. to below 2s. a bushel at many country sidings, which is approximately ls. Sd. a bushel below the estimated cost of production. It has been suggested that we should expand the production of other export commodities, but there are definite limitations in that respect. In many instances the land is unsuitable for any other form of production, and, .further, immediately other industries are expanded, they are placed in the same difficulty as the wheat industry. Consequently the only way to overcome the trouble is to endeavour to place the wheat industry on a sound basis.
I support the main principles of the bill which provide for the stabilization of both wheat and flour. The homeconsumption price aimed at is based on 5s. 2d. a bushel at “Williamstown, Victoria, which is equivalent to about 4s. lOd. at country sidings throughout Australia.. “When wheat is ‘below 53. 2d. a bushel the local co’nsumer will subsidize the grower, but when it is above that price the grower will subsidize the local consumer. That is a fair and equitable arrangement. It would be unfair to the consumer to be taxed when wheat was low, and not to derive any benefit when the price was high. From the fund £500,000 is to be appropriated for distribution among the States which have suffered most severely from drought.- It would appear that since the return to the grower on to-day’s price will still be at least about ls. a bushel under the cost of production, which was estimated by the “Wheat Commission to be 3s. Sd., one section of farmers is being asked to assist a less fortunate section. However, I realize that the grower who has a crop is getting what he would have received during a normal season. The estimated crop this year is 123,000,000 bushels, as against an average crop of 160,000,000 bushels. The bill also provides that £500,000 shall be paid to a reserve fund for the next four years for drought relief and other contingencies, one of which relates to the marginal area problem. That is a wise provision.
Although I do not support drastic action being taken by governments, the problem- is an urgent matter and one which every government will have to face. Certain areas declared unsuitable for wheat-growing should not be used for that purpose. It will probably be said that the wheat farmers themselves are responsible for their own difficulties, because they purchased land when prices were high. It may be true that a number may be suffering on that account, but that is not the cause in many instances. In any case, the high price of land is due to periods of high prices for wheat over which the grower has no control. Farmers sometimes purcha’se holdings for their sons, and are compelled to pay a high price because land is seldom sold when land values are low. Violent fluctuations of prices are not only disturbing to the growers, but also adversely affect every other section of trade associated with the wheat industry. The scheme is incomplete and in that respect I agree with the opinions expressed by Senator “Wilson. I have previously advocated the general principles embodied in the bill. It provides a basis upon which can be built a permanent scheme. I regret that no provision has been made for equalization, whereby in a year of low prices such as the present, wheatgrowers will receive a price not below 3s. 8d., which the “Wheat Commission states is the cost of production. The equalization scheme mentioned by Senator “Wilson may be summarized in this way:
When the price of wheat f.o.r. ports is 5s. 2d. a bushel, or above that figure, the merchant shall deduct from the sale price one-half of the excess over the 3s. 8d. and pay that amount to the farmer. The fund shall pay to millers, on wheat used for home consumption, the difference between the price paid by millers for home-consumption wheat and 5s. 2d. a bushel. When the price of wheat f.o.b. ports is between 3s. 8d. and 5s. 2d., the farmers shall pay to the fund half the difference between the sale price and 3s. 8d., and the miller shall pay to the fund the difference between the purchase price and 5s. 2d. When the price of wheat f.o.r. is below 3s. 8d. a bushel the farmer will draw out of the fund sufficient of his credits to bring the price to 3s. 8d. a bushel with a maximum withdrawal of ls. 4d. a bushel, and the miller will pay to the fund the difference between the price at which he purchases wheat and 5s. 2d. a bushel.
Under such a scheme not only would the farmer’s business be stabilized by the assurance of a payable price for wheat, but the manufacturers of machinery, merchants, those handling farmers’ requisites and others will have their industries stabilized.
The Leader of the Opposition commented on the action of the banking institutions during the depression. Although some farmers may have felt that they were being dealt with harshly, I think that by and large, the attitude of the banks was to be commended.
– The honorable senator is saying that as a wheat-farmer?
– Yes. I speak from experience. I was actively engaged in the wheat industry during that trying time. I have no apology to offer for my support of this Government’s proposal. I approve of it because it will stabilize the price of wheat to the farmer when prices are low, and will also stabilize the price of bread to the consumer when the price of wheat is high. The scheme will be permanent and will confer substantial benefit, not only on wheat-growers, but also directly and indirectly on every section of the community. The amendment would, I believe, destroy the entire structure of the Government’s scheme which, as is well known, was agreed to at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers.
.- I listened with interest to the clear exposition of the bill given by the Minister (Senator Poll) and to the criticism by my leader (Senator Collings). Members of the Labour party have definite views concerning the best scheme for the assistance of wheat-farmers. That, has been a prominent plank of our platform for many years. In 1930 the Scullin Government, with the collaboration and support of Country party members and leading wheal organizations throughout the country, submitted a proposal which would have been of immense advantage to wheat-growers.
– The Scullin Government could not have done less, because it had urged primary producers to grow more wheat.
– The bill presented by the Scullin Government provided for a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, plus 8d. to cover rail freight and other expenses, and the Commonwealth Bank agreed to find the money subject to a government guarantee. That measure was passed by the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate by three votes, Senators Carroll and J Johnston, members of the Country party, voting against it. Then followed a long discussion between the Scullin Government and the Commonwealth Bank Board, resulting in the board giving a definite promise to make advances available to wheat-growers. That undertaking was not honoured. At the end of 1930 the Scullin Government arranged with the Commonwealth Bank for an increase of the advance on wheat from 2s. to 2s. 4d. a bushel. This advance was made available to the voluntary pool in respect of all unsold wheat. On the 24th October, 1931 - this statement answers criticism of Labour’s policy by Senators Dein and Wilson - the Scullin Government’s Wheat Bounty Bill was introduced, providing for an amount of £3,296,000, to be paid by way of a bounty of 4£d. a bushel to growers. This may be news to some honorable ‘ members supporting the Government.
– The Lyons Government had to find the whole of that money.
– I place the facts on record in order to show that during the worst depression in the history of the Commonwealth the Labour Government was not asleep; but, on the contrary, realized to the full its responsibilities and did all that was humanly possible to assist wheat-growers in a time of unprecedented stress. The brutal hostility of the Senate, as then constituted, in mangling the Scullin Government’s proposal for the reform of banking, caused the Government considerable embarrassment. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Labour Administration made available for wheat-growers nearly £3,500,000, and gave relief to the unemployed amounting to £250,000. It benefited 65,000 wheat-farmers and 400,000 workers.
My objection to the bill may be summarized briefly. I believe, with Senator Cunningham, that the scheme should be subject to review at the end of twelve months, also that the amount to be provided under it should be taken from Consolidated Revenue. The amount of £500,000 for the relief of necessitous farmers should not be a charge against the amount to be appropriated, for the payment of a home-consumption price. I think that Senator Wilson agrees with me on this point. Whatever sophistries or legal jargon we may employ in the debate on this scheme, the fact remains that under it the working classes will have to pay more for their bread. They may not understand or be interested in the arguments concerning stabilization, but they are concerned about the price of bread. This is all important to them. A year or two ago the previous Lyons Government imposed a tax on flour, but dissatisfaction became so widespread that it was withdrawn on the eve of an election, the Government knowing full well what a harvest its supporters would reap if the tax were retained.
While members on this side support the bill and realize the necessity for assistance being given to farmers, we are entitled to point to its defects. During Senator Wilson’s speech I interjected, perhaps, somewhat facetiously, that this scheme would not affect the wealthier sections of the community because they do not eat bread. In point of fact, that statement was true. The wealthier people in this and other countries seem to be obsessed with the belief that bread increases weight. Perhaps it does. But the working classes are not troubled with these thoughts. Bread is their staple article .of food, because many of them cannot afford to purchase the more costly foodstuffs, and as representatives of the workers, Labour members of this Parliament would be recreant to their trust if they did not state in plain terms what they think about this proposal, which will increase the price of bread.
I am pleased to know that up to this stage of the debate, at all events no attempt has been made to make political capital out of the Government’s proposal, and I join with my Leader in repudiating comments in a section of the Sydney press that Labour is divided on this issue. The Labour caucus was never more solid than in its attitude to the Government’s proposal.
– Did the Labour caucus tell senators representing Western Australia what should be their attitude to it?
– Labour members of all States give loyal support to Labour’s platform. They move as one team. The platform is laid down by the rank and file of the movement, but allowance is made for a little flexibility. Labour members are selected by the rank and file- of the movement, which includes wheat farmers. Thus Labour senators are truly representative of all sections of workers. Within the next year or two when the farmers become more aware of the manner in which they are being exploited, they will be more loyal than ever in their support of our party. Senator Darcey has several times exposed the fallacy of present-day methods of finance. I am convinced that the policy which he advocates will bear fruit at a very early date, for the simple reason that circumstances will compel a review of the monetary policy of the Commonwealth. If Senator E. B. Johnston had remained a member of the Labour party ho would have been in the forefront of this agitation for the reform of the banking system in the interests of primary producers, and, indeed, of all sections of the people. The criticism of the press does not concern me very much, because members of the Opposition do not deviate from the platform of the Labour party. I contend that the amendment is necessary, and that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) had every right to submit it. Some honorable senators have referred to the terrible plight of the wheat-farmers and the primary producers generally, but I remind them that, up to the end of the current year, £6,317,000 will have been paid to the States by the Commonwealth Government for farmers’ debt adjustment. Victoria’s share of this huge sum will have been £1,972,000 and
South Australia will have been paid £790,000. The figures for the other States are: New South Wales, £1,733,000; Queensland, £545,000; Western Australia, £1,061,000; and Tasmania, £213,000.- I read in the press that the Premier of Western Australia, Mr. Wilcock, had stated that the Government of that State would make application to the Loan Council for an emergency loan of £150,000 for drought relief in the agricultural areas, and that this amount would be additional to the £100,000 to be allocated to Western Australia out of the special grant of £500,000 to be provided by means of this legislation. In Victoria, £200,000 is to be made available under this legislation for the assistance of the wheat industry. It will also receive a special loan of £850,000, which will make a total of £1,050,000, apart from the receipt in the current year of almost £2,000,000 for farmers’ debt adjustment. Altogether, almost £5,000,000 is to be made available for one section of the community. I suggest that if certain honorable senators became hot under the collar in support of motions submitted with a view to the relief of the unemployed, they would be doing better work for Australia than they are !by pointing to the grievances of the man on the land. Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland can have no grouch against this Parliament. Senator Johnston should have been the last to urge the request made by him. The farmers are getting all that they could expect to receive under any system of government. The Labour party does not regard the claims of any section of the community as being more important than those of other sections. The farmer is certainly getting a substantial share, and I hope that when these proposals become law, the members of the Country party, who are getting their own way in both the State and Federal political arenas, will at least realize that the man on the land is not the only person in Australia who is entitled to consideration.
.- I could say a great deal on this’ bill, but I shall be very brief. The Queensland Government has fixed a homeconsumption price of 5s. 3d. a bushel for wheat, and bread is sold at Hd. a 4-lb. loaf. Is any complaint heard from the people of Queensland? No. All that is asked for the wheat-farmers of the rest of Australia is what is granted to the producers in Queensland under a Labour administration. In Queensland, there is a compulsory wheat pool. I support this bill and I shall be extremely surprised if Senator Collings and his colleagues from that State do not vote to provide in every other State benefits similar to those enjoyed by wheat-farmers in Queensland.
– In the last three or four months, both honorable senators and people outside have been supplied with a great deal of information in regard to the wheat industry. The wheat-growers have been searching diligently for the best means of stabilizing the price of their commodity. They early realized that wheat prices for the coming season would be considerably below normal, and practically every week they have become more concerned over the situation. To-day, the growers are not merely faced with the problem of finding a favorable market, but they are also threatened with the danger of having no market at all. The Senate now has before it the bills necessary to implement the decisions reached at the various conferences held to consider the position of the industry. One wonders why so much negotiation and discussion were necessary before an agreement could be reached in regard to this legislation. The proposals had to run the gauntlet of the parliaments of the six States, which have about 500 members before they could be brought before the National Parliament. Joint legislation by the Commonwealth and the States in regard to this matter was considered desirable for obvious reasons. It was thought, no doubt, that if objection were taken to it, the States would be able to put the blame on the National Parliament, and that this Parliament would be equally able to cast the responsibility for it upon the States.
I understand that the Commonwealth legal advisers consider it necessary to embody this legislation in several bills instead of only one in order to overcome constitutional difficulties. If
Australia is to go on much longer in this way, the people will begin to doubt the sanity of members of this Parliament in trying to work under a Constitution which is full of anomalies. A revision of the Constitution is imperatively necessary if Australia is to engage in world trade under existing conditions. It may be said that at the recent referendum with regard to marketing and civil aviation, the people refused to consent to an extension of the powers of this Parliament, but 1 should give such an assertion an emphatic denial. Admittedly, the people voted in the negative at the referendum, but, as a large section of the community was led to believe that the Constitution was sacred and should not be amended, tlie main issue was overlooked.
Many people in my own State who voted “No” complain of the dilatoriness of this Parliament in respect of the granting of assistance to the wheat industry. Amongst the many schemes advanced for the stabilization of the price of wheat was an equalization scheme with a fixed price for the whole of the wheat produced in Australia. Personally, I regard the present time as inopportune to draw on the funds of the Commonwealth to the extent that would have been necessary under, that scheme, in view of the heavy expenditure required for defence purposes. I am satisfied that the proposal before us is long overdue. Some speakers have pointed to the amount of assistance given to the primary producers throughout Australia. I realize that the wheat-growers have had their share of this .assistance; but it has been given as an act of charity, -and has left the impression on the minds of the people that the industry is of very little importance, although the primary producers are the mainstay of this country. The plea of the farmers has always been for a stabilized price for wheat, compatible with Australian standards of living. During the last few years, millions of pounds has been granted to primary producers. Some people have said that the wheat-farmers have had their full share of compensation for the losses occasioned during the drought period. Yet I claim that the position of the farmers should be considered over a longer period than the last two or three years. During the depression, the primary producers of Australia piled up a huge debit against their fellow citizens. The total exports *of primary products between 1930 and 1936 were greater than during any similar period in the history of Australia. I do not need to remind honorable senators that that production was not at a payable price, but it had the effect of establishing overseas a fund which enabled Australia to pay its interest bill and meet its commitments for goods imported. Australia was kept solvent, so that it was the first country in the world to recover financial equilibrium after the depression. For that happy state of affairs the primary producer was responsible; therefore, anything which is given to him now merely represents payment for services rendered.
Senator Wilson contended that the wheat growers of Australia should be recompensed for the effects on them of the country’s fiscal policy. I do not agree with him. I take it that the tariff is universal in its application, and affects every section of the people. If Senator Wilson’s contention were to be the basis of our legislation, we should have to assess actuarially the cost of the tariff to the farmer. Senator Wilson estimated it- at 3d. a bushel of wheat. I have heard other estimates, some of them as high as 9d. a bushel. The followers of Henry George would assess the tariff burden at ls. 6d. a bushel.
Sitting suspended from 6.8 to 7 p.m.
– Some people base their claim for a homeconsumption price for wheat on the ground that the tariff places a burden on wheat-growers. I prefer to base, the claim on the right of the wheat-growers to enjoy the Australian, standard of living. I believe that that standard is the best in the world, despite a remark by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) a few days ago that Australia had dropped back in that connexion. At the time, Senator McBride asked him to name a country with a better standard of living, and the honorable gentleman’s only reply was that he was not going to allow himself to be drawn off the track.
In my opinion, he would have to go a long way off the track to find a country with a higher standard of living than we enjoy in this country. Under our fiscal and industrial’ laws, both manufacturers and their employees are protected. Those laws are so comprehensive as to cover practically every section of the community, except primary producers and rural workers. The object of this legislation is to protect the primary producers.
This bill has been objected to on the ground that it will lead to an increase of the price of bread. It is argued that as bread is a commodity which is extensively used, this bill provides for a class tax. I can only say that if this be a class tax, it has the .approval of every parliament’ and every government in Australia.
– That does not necessarily make it right.
– Australia has three and a half Labour governments which have approved of this so-called class tax.
– Where is the half Labour government?
– It is in Victoria. I ask any honorable senator if he can point to any tax that is not a class tax. I maintain that the consumer pays on every occasion, whether the article that he buys is something that has been manufactured in a factory or grown in a field. My aim is to ensure that the amount paid by the consumer shall be distributed equally among all the people engaged in the production of the article purchased, right down to the producer of the raw material. Already we have laws fixing the rates of pay and conditions generally for those who transport wheat to the gristing mill, as well as those who do the gristing and deliver the bread to the customer. All those charges have to be met by the consumer. I am concerned that the person who supplies the raw material for the bread shall receive a fair share of the price paid by the consumer of that .bread. It is generally acknowledged that, with bread at Gd. a loaf, the farmer gets the equivalent of 2d. That is to say, the producer of the raw material receives one-third of .the price ultimately paid for the manufactured article. That leaves two-thirds of the price paid by the consumer to be shared by the miller and the baker.
It has been said that if the price of wheat be raised the cost of bread will increase also. Wheat and flour prices fluctuate considerably. It is true that a reduction of the price does not always benefit the consumer, but I think that too frequently people claim that prices are manipulated by millers. Prices of bread and flour are not always related. It is generally admitted that it costs 4d. to manufacture a loaf of bread.
– Does the honorable senator mean that, even if the baker received his wheat for nothing, it would still cost him 4d. to produce a loaf of bread ?
– Yes. I do not complain of the State awards which increase the overhead charges of the baker and the miller, because our standard of living is based on them. I only want the wheat-grower to be brought into line.
– The honorable senator is endeavouring to show that the men employed by the miller and the baker get more than their employers.
– No ; I am contending that the primary producer who supplies the wheat, which is made into flour, and later into bread, should get a remuneration at least equal to that of the man who works in the mill or delivers the bread.
– He is entitled to it.
Senator JAMES. McLACHLANThat is all for which I plead.
– There is no need to plead with the Opposition to grant that much.
– The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin) said recently -
Lower prices for wheat have not in past years been reflected in any substantial reduction of the price of bread.
It is true that the price of bread is not always influenced by the price of wheat. During this discussion honorable senators opposite have frequently interjected that, if this legislation be passed, the price of a loaf of bread will be raised by l1/2d. I have here some figures, obtained from a reliable source, which show the fluctuation of the prices of flour and bread in the two years ended the 30th June, 1938. During that period the price of wheat ranged from 3s. 4d. to 5s. 9d. a bushel - a variation of 2s. 5d. a bushel. Flour prices ranged from £8 10s. to £14 12s. 6d. a ton - a variation of £6 2s. 6d. a ton. During that period bread prices fluctuated by only1/2d. a loaf. In the light of those figures, how can honorable senators say that, as the result of this legislation, the price of bread will increase by l1/2d. a loaf? Many honorable senators can remember the days when a 2-lb. loaf of bread cost only 21/2d. or 3d. In those days the wheat-grower received just as much out of a loaf of bread as he gets to-day. Since then the costs which have to be met by the wheatgrower have doubled. Yet he has to sell his product in a market 12,000 miles away from the country in which it is grown, and immune from the laws which he had to observe in growing it.
I repeat that the consumer always pays. As the result of our fiscal and industrial laws, he pays enhanced prices for every manufactured article that he buys. He does not complain, because by so doing his fellow workers are enabled to enjoy the Australian standard of living. Every pound of sugar consumed in the other States, gives to the sugar-grower of Queensland a chance to enjoy that standard. Why are not honorable senators opposite prepared to give equal treatment to the wheat-grower?
– We are not trying to deny that right to the wheat-grower, but we object to the Government’s method of financing the scheme.
– Honorable senators opposite, who are not without intelligence, know well that if this bill be thrown into the waste-paper basket, the wheat-growers will be left without protection.
– It is a fact. Before legislation incorporating any other scheme could be passed into law, six State governments would have to be consulted, and fresh legislation passed through six State parliaments. There is notsufficient time for that to be done.
– Some parliaments are already in recess.
– As has already been pointed out, this legislation contains provisions designed to safeguard the consumer. As soon as the price of wheat rises beyond a certain amount, there is to be an export duty which will bring the price back, so that the consumer will not have to pay any more. I am not greatly enamoured of that provision of the bill under which a sum of £500,000 annually will be set apart during the next five years for the assistance of growers in distress and to meet the cost of transferring farmers from the marginal lands where their position is now hopeless. In the past, we have provided assistance to the industry to relieve distress arising from drought, either on a production basis or on an acreage basis. In the one case, we have assisted the man who sows and plants the wheat, and, in the other case, the man who produced the wheat. In some respects, it can be said, we have taken from the manwho really produces the wheat to pay the man who only sows it, and, in that way, we have penalized the real agriculturalist. In his opening remarks, the Minister pointed out that possibly next year most of this amount of £500,000 would be devoted to transferring growers from marginal areas to better country. On that point, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) contended that as Queensland had no large area of marginal lands, growers in that State were being treated unfairly in the allocation of this assistance. One might ask justly, “ Why pay a bounty on sugar, seeing that it is produced only in Queensland “
– Sugar is grown in New South Wales.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.The quantity of sugar grown in New South Wales is negligible.
-But the growers there receive the same benefits as do the growers in Queensland.
– In any case, itcannot be justly contended that the wheat-growers in Queensland will not benefit substantially under this legislation. Considerable areas of marginal lands exist in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and there are lesser areas in New South W ales. It would be absolutely unwise to continue to pay a dole annually to growers in marginal areas who cannot possibly hope to succeed. I suggest, however, that a sum of £500,000 is not sufficient to provide full assistance for distressed growers, and, at the same time, effect the transfer of many farmers from marginal lands to better areas. Therefore, the State governments should consider favorably a proposal to augment this assistance. However, that aspect is not nearly so important as the establishment of a home-consumption price, which is the dominant feature of this measure. There can be no real objection to that principle so far asthe wheat industry is concerned because it is wholly and solely an Australian industry. Furthermore, many fine Australians who are endeavouring to grow wheat for a livelihood receive nothing better than coolie wages. The world outlook for wheat shows no prospect of improving in the near future. The Sydney Morning Herald recently published the following cablegram from Ottawa : -
The Premier of Manitoba, Mr. John Bracken, giving evidence before the royal commission which is inquiring into relations between the Dominion Government and the provinces, demanded a national policy regarding what he described as the increasingly grave world wheat situation.
Undoubtedly the world position of wheat is grave. Only quite recently it was disclosed that under the Anglo-American trade agreement Australian wheat farmers will lose the preference of 2s. a quarter on the English market. Some people have stated that this will make no real difference to our wheat-growers. Such a statement is so ridiculous that it is hardy worth refuting. The latest London market reports state that the world carry-over of wheat during the coming season will amount to 1,150,000,000 bushels. Obviously, therefore, we cannot expect the world position of wheat to improve in the near future. I wholeheartedly support this measure. I cannot understand how any honorable senator opposite can oppose it.
– It is unfair to say that we are opposing it.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.Well, then, we can expect all honorable senators to vote for the second reading.
– After the amendment is carried.
– The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is a direct negative of the bill, and if carried it will mean that this measure will be thrown into the wastepaper basket and, considering their present serious plight, the growers will go with it.
– On what does the honorable senator base that assumption?
– On the wording of the amendment itself and the attitude displayed by honorable senators opposite to support it. Furthermore, and this is the important point, if the amendment were carried, the States would not be able to pass the necessary complementary legislation in order to enable this scheme to be implemented expeditiously.
– The honorable senator would rather sink the wheatgrowers than sink the Government.
– No. The growers are urgently in need of this assistance, and we should enable them to secure it before it is too late to be of any use to them. I support the measure wholeheartedly, and I conclude with these appropriate lines -
Great is the sword and mighty the pen,
But greater far the ploughman’s shining blade:
For by its oxen and its husbandmen,
An Empire’s strength is laid.
– One cannot but be amazed on hearing the criticism levelled by honorable senators opposite against the Labour party in this debate, when one remembers that Tory senators have enjoyed a majority in this chamber since 1916, during which period the wheat-growers have, on many occasions, been in as bad a plight as they are in to-day. In view of the control which they have exercised for so long a period in this chamber, one would have expected the predecessors of honorable senators opposite to have extricated the wheat-grower from his difficulties long ago. But they did not do so, and it ill becomes honorable senators opposite to abuse the Labour party by alleging that it is desirous of preventing justice from being done to the wheat-grower. Not even the growers themselves will be deceived by such tactics. Although this problem has existed for many years, we are now asked in the closing hours of this session to deal with it. We have been told that it is imperative that this scheme be brought into operation next week-end. We, of the Opposition, are fully acquainted with the farmers’ difficulties; we realize that they urgently need assistance, and we are fully prepared, so far as lies in our power, to give them that help. I absolutely deny the allegation that we are opposed to the establishment of a fair price for the wheat-growers. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (SenatorCollings) recognizes that principle. However, it goes further and. seeks to provide greater and more effective assistance for distressed growers than it is proposed to provide under this measure. It is all very well to give a bounty to those farmers who can grow wheat, but assistance of that kind is of no use to the farmer, who, through seasonal adversity, is unable to grow any wheat at all. The wheat-growers, who, it is alleged, will receive some benefit under this proposal, would rather that the money should be paid out of Consolidated Revenue than that it should be obtained at the expense of the unemployed, the invalid and old-age pensioners, and the working class generally.
– Did not the Lang Government introduce a flour tax in New South Wales?
– I am dealing with the action, not of a New South Wales government, but of this Government. There is no reason why additional burdens should be placed upon the poorer section of the community when sufficient money to provide assistance to necessitous vheat-growers could be made available through the Commonwealth Bank. The members of the Labour party have always been in favour of the wheat-growers receiving a fair price for their product, but they have also to consider the vast army of consumers. Do honorable senators opposite realize that this tax will fall with undue severity upon thousands of unfortunate recipients of the. dole, who have to exist on 7s.6d. a week, and that after this measure becomes operative, that amount will be reduced owing to the extra price which they will have to pay for bread, which is practically the only food they can afford? The unemployed and the invalid and old-age pensioners will not blame the wheatgrower, but they will place the whole responsibility upon this Government which is imposing the tax. A man with two or three children to support will have to contribute more than a single man, who may be in receipt of £1,000 a year.
– Dole recipients receive an additional amount when the cost of living increases.
– The dole has not been increased. I suppose Senator Dein will suggest that the invalid and old-age pension has been increased because prices are again soaring.
– Pensioners paid the flour tax imposed by the Lang Government.
– Apparently, the honorable senator overlooks the insurmountable difficulties which confronted the Lang Government when that tax was imposed. This Government has sufficient money at its disposal to assist the wheatgrowers without burdening poor people in the manner proposed.
SenatorFoll. - The honorable senator should compare the wheat prices to-day with those prevailing at the time of which he is speaking.
– There is not a marked difference in the prices. This legislation, instead of improving the conditions of many settlers, will accentuate their troubles. Recently land has been made available at Goonoo Goonoo and Green Hill, Guyra, under conditions which will prevent the settlers from maintaining their wives and families in reasonable comfort. Many of them have invested £500, and I believe that before long they will be seeking assistance.
– It is likely to te the most successful closer settlement scheme in New South Wales.
– I am referring to the more recent subdivision, and am repeating opinions expressed to me by competent authorities. Recently I spent some time in Tamworth, where I was informed that the prices paid are much too high, and that the settlers will soon require government assistance. A few years ago legislation was introduced in this Parliament to assist the needy farmers, but before long it was amended so that the money that was made available could be grabbed up by the greedy. That will happen in this instance.
– Is the honorable senator referring to the bounty paid by the Scullin Government in 1931? .
– No, to legislation passed by this Parliament three years ago. The money made’ available under this proposal will be paid, not to needy farmers, but to speculators who have not taken any risks. A good deal has been said regarding wheat production in Queensland.
– The Leader of the Opposition who represents that State refrained from explaining the policy in that State.
– Queensland has a compulsory wheat pool.
– Speculators are eliminated and the wheat-growers receive 5s. 3d. a bushel.
– The consumer pays there, too.
– The consumer pays 5£d. for a loaf of bread - in some instances it is sold at 5d. - and the farmer receives a fixed price for his wheat. There is nothing in this measure to prevent the price of bread from being increased. The tax is likely to increase the price by 66 per cent. I have received the following telegram from the Flour Millers Association : -
Flour tax will not affect price consumers utterly ridiculous. Taxing people’s bread should be strenuously opposed. Results will be calamitous to consumers and traders.
A deputation representing the Master Bakers Association which waited upon the Treasurer this morning pointed out that the tax would increase the price of bread by at least Id. a loaf and that the increase would have to be passed on to the consumer. It is apparent that the Treasurer waa not very much concerned about the prospect of children of the unemployed being deprived of this staple article of diet.
– Supporters of the Government are just as much concerned as the honorable senator is.
– Nearly every action taken by this Government has been against the interests of the workers. Senator Wilson this afternoon delivered what was, in effect, an electioneering speech in the interest of the Government candidate for the division of Wakefield, and endeavoured to besmirch the good name of Labour, but I feel sure that the voters of ‘ Wakefield will give their answer in no uncertain terms. The deputation to which I have referred put its case clearly before the Treasurer, and proved beyond all doubt that the Government’s proposal would result in an increase of the price of bread. When the Government instituted the inquiry into the effect of the scheme, it should have invited representatives of the trade union movement in all States to indicate their views of the effect of this legislation upon the consumers. It is difficult to understand the underlying reason for the introduction of this bill to implement the resolutions of the conference about which we have heard so much. Nothing that can be said will convince me that if the price of flour be increased by 66 per cent, the price of bread will not be increased by at least Id. a loaf. The Leader of the Opposition yesterday made it quite plain that this Government was not concerned with the welfare of the unemployed, because his appeal for Christmas relief passed unheeded. I remind the Government that not all the unemployed live in the capital cities. They are to be found also in all the larger country centres, and I am sure that they will remember this legislation when next an- appeal is made to them. This Government is in line with the Pitt-street farmers and speculators in wheat, and the bill will destroy what little confidence the workers may have had in the parties now in power.
– I commend the Government for its proposals to assist the wheat industry. I listened with somewhat mixed feelings to the arguments of honorable senatorsopposite, and I was amazed at the pitiful tales which they told. Senator Amour endeavoured to persuade us that this scheme will have dire results on the poor, and Senator Collings, for whom I have very high respect, seemed to forget that similar legislation has been operating in Queensland since 1920. Farmers there receive 5s. 3d. a bushel for all wheat gristed. I have not heard any one suggest that the State law, which was designed to assist Queensland wheatfarmers, hasoperated harshly against any section of the people. Yet honorable senators opposite, in their criticism of this scheme, have endeavoured to make it appear that the Commonwealth intends to rob the poor, as Senator Lamp put it. The fact is that, as I have stated, similar legislation was introduced in Queensland as far back as 1920 and is working well. No one will suggest that Mr. Forgan Smith, the Premier of that State, has not at heart the interests of the working classes. I point out, too, that this legislation implements an agreement reached at a conference of Commonwealth and State Minister’s, and that Mr. Forgan Smith was a party to the agreement. Boiled down, the opposition to the Commonwealth Government’s proposal is due to the fact that it has been introduced by the Lyons Government. Ministers and their Supporters are described by Opposition critics as despoilers of the poor. The Queensland scheme, framed on the same lines, is working quite well. So also will this scheme.
SenatorFraser. - Queensland is the only State that has put into operation a price-fixing scheme.
-We had one in New South Wales also.
– This Government and its supporters have a close regard for the interests of workers on the basic wage, for the unemployed, and for all pensioners. In these proposals the Commonwealth Government is attempting no more than has already been done by the Labour Government in Queensland, and the bills have been introduced in agreement with the governments of all the States. The
Queensland scheme for a homeconsuniption price for wheat has proved successful.
SenatorCollings. - But the Queensland scheme differs from that now under consideration. There is a compulsory pool in Queensland, and all interests concerned are protected.
– Is the price charged for flour in Brisbane different from that in Sydney?
– In Queensland we arrange our prices.
– Yes, and we hope to arrange our prices under this legislation. The wheat-farmers in Queensland have received a good price for their wheat for many years.
– The best in Australia.
-And the consumer pays.
– That is inevitable. The consumer will pay under this scheme as he does in Queensland. This Parliament alone cannot fix prices. In Queensland the farmer receives 5s. 3d. a bushel f or his wheat, and under this legislation the wheat-farmers in other States will get 5s. 2d. a bushel. The price of a’ 2-lb. loaf of bread in Queensland is 5d. cash, so how can Senator Ashley say that under this scheme the price of bread in New South Wales will be increased by l1/2d. a loaf. If that be so, there must be something wrong with the bakers and millers of New South Wales.
-Because they are not controlled.
– That is a job for the State authorities. With wheat fetching 5s. 2d. a bushel at Williamstown, or about 4s. 8d. a bushel at country railway sidings, the price of bread should be as cheap in New South’ Wales as it is in Queensland. But that is not a matter for this Parliament. I understand that in New Zealand the farmers receive 5s. 8d. a bushel for wheat. I suppose that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Savage, has humane instincts similar to our own.
– That price is obtained in a way different from that in which the price contemplated under this proposal will be secured.
– But cash is cash, and the consumer must pay. My friends opposite contend, in the main, that the sanctioning of these proposals would make the people’s bread dearer; but I claim that it would give to the wheat-farmers a fair deal without resulting in the price of bread being raised.
– The Parliament of Queensland has passed legislation which is probably more progressive than that of any other State parliament. I admit that the governments of the States have agreed to the scheme now placed before us, as it was necessary under the Constitution for agreement to be reached in regard to the matter between the Commonwealth and the States; but there is no reason why the Opposition should not endeavour to improve the scheme. Even Senators Johnston and Wilson found fault with it. No member of the Opposition desires to see the wheat-farmers suffering under the deplorable conditions with which they are faced to-day. I have travelled the greater portion of the wheat belts in Western Australia, and, as I have already mentioned in the course of another debate, appeals are being made for left-off clothing for needy farmers whose income has been so reduced that they are in a serious financial plight. Members of the Opposition are just as anxious as are other senators to assist the wheat-growers. We differ from the Government only with regard to the method to be adopted. It is unreasonable to say that because the wheat-farmers in Queensland are satisfied with the scheme in operation in that State, the Opposition should not attempt to improve the proposal now submitted to the Senate. Senator Wilson complained that if the amendment were carried the scheme would be wrecked. Senator Collings was right in saying that Senator Wilson had taken advantage of the remarks of Senator Cunningham, and had misquoted him, so that supporters of the Government could say, in connexion with the Wakefield byelection, that the Labour ‘ party was opposed to helping the wheat-farmers. Senator Wilson is prepared to put that by-election before the interests of the wheat-growers. The statutebooks of the Parliaments of the
Commonwealth and the States, however, contain proof of the Labour party’s interest in the welfare of the man on the land. This is the first time that some of the State parliaments have attempted price-fixing. In Western Australia attempts have been made to control not only the prices of commodities, but also rents. That State, however, unlike Queensland, has its “ House of Lords “, and any legislation which the members of that chamber do not like is vetoed.
– Legislation is not always submitted without guile.
SenatorFRASER. - Reflections were cast by the Assistant Minister (Senator Allan MacDonald) on some of the legislation passed by the Parliament of Western Australia. In my opinion, that legislation compares more than favorably with any similar legislation in the world.I refer to the Workers’ Compensation Act, That it ever became law was largely due to the late Dr. Saw, who understood the situation, and was a member of the Tory upper chamber in Western Australia. I always believe in giving credit where credit is due, even if it be to my political opponents. The measure before us has been forced on this Parliament. Because of the difficulties which the State governments have to face in obtaining moneys from the Loan Council, they are not in a position to assist the wheat industry by any long-term plan. The circumstances of Western Australia and Queensland are not comparable. It is probable that wheat can be grown in Queensland at costs below those in Western Australia. I should like information on a number of points. First, 1 desire to know whether this Parliament has any control over breakfast foods.
– Has the honorable senator seen the State legislation?
– No; I have inquired for it, without success.
– It contains the information which the honorable senator seeks.
– I also desire to know what protection this bill will give to the farmer who has already made arrangements for the sale of this year’s crop, and who now will lose the benefits of this measure.
– This legislation was foreshadowed two months ago.
SenatorFRASER- -That would not make much difference to a number of farmers whose circumstances are such that, as soon as they can find a buyer for their crops - at almost any price forced upon them - they must sell. Many farmers have already sold this year’s crop. I wish to know what protection will be given to them.
– Under the method proposed by the Labour party, would a man who had sold his crop be protected?
– We are now dealing with a measure concerning which the conflict of opinion is in relation to the incidence of taxation. We agree on the principle.
– The honorable senator is finding it hard to find any fault with the bill.
– I was amazed at Senator Wilson’s attack on the Opposition. He accused the members on this side of trying to destroy the bill, and named me as one who had given certain promises. I have been in public life for a good many years, but I have yet to learn that at any time a promise given by me has been repudiated. In the circumstances, Senator Wilson would have been wiser had he said nothing about promises. If the honorable senator says that I gave certain promises in respect of this bill, I reply that no promise was necessary, because every honorable senator recognizes the circumstances of the wheat-growers of this country. I have first-hand knowledge of the conditions under which many farmers in that State are living. Some of them have had no crop at all for four years.
– Did not the honorable senator promise to support the decision of the Premiers?
– The persistent interjections of Senator Wilson, suggest that he thinks that he knows more than I do about what I have promised. Despite anything that may be said by honorable senators opposite, we, on this side, will support legislation to assist the wheatgrowers. Senator Wilson would have the Senate believe that I gave certain promises, and that, therefore, I am bound to support this bill, but he himself has shown that he is not satisfied with it, for he has intimated that he will introduce an amending bill later.
– The Wheat-growers Association has said that the honorable senator promised to support the decision of the Premiers.
– The bill provides that the producers of wheat will have to set aside £500,000 from the proceeds of their crop for the relief of droughtstricken farmers and the transfer of men from marginal areas. That is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government. Senator Wilson said that this bill will not help the farmer because it will simply put into his pocket what has been taken out of it. Whatever may be said by the honorable senator, I want to make it clear that the policy of the Labour party is to assist the wheat-growers of Australia and provide’ them with some security.
– We desire to know whether the honorable senator intends to support the unanimous decision of the Premiers.
– Senator Wilson knows that the Opposition is opposed to a tax on flour, and so are the wheatgrowers.
– Obviously’ Senator Wilson has much to learn concerning the association of Senator Cunningham with farming interests in Western Australia. As an ex-Minister of the Crown in that State, who was in charge of water conservation, Senator Cunningham knows a good deal about the conditions of the wheat-growers of that State. Moreover, he himself is a farmer. He has done so much on their behalf, particularly in providing them with water, that his administration will be remembered with gratitude for many years.
– The wheat-growers of Western Australia will wonder what has happened to him now.
- Senator Cunningham agrees that the wheat industry should be stabilized, not for one year, but over a period of years. Senator Wilson criticized the Opposition before he knew what it intended to do. That was because he wanted his speech to be used in the Wakefield by-election. By innuendo, the honorable senator endeavoured to take away my reputation.
Honorable Senators. - No.
– The honorable senator said that I promised to support any decision of the Premiers. I shall repeat just exactly what I did say. This is a telegram which I received from the president of the Australian Wool and Wheat-growers Union -
Will you exert all your efforts persuade your party and government accept Wheatgrowers Federation proposals for wheat stabilization scheme. Federation desire distribution home-consumption price on production basis and federal loan to States affected drought conditions. Please collaborate all members and senators.
I am supporting that proposal wholeheartedly. Whereas Senators Johnston and Wilson are prepared to accept £100,000 as Western Australia’s share of the 6um of £500,000 to be provided under this measure as assistance to distressed growers, I, in supporting the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, seek to secure a greater measure of help for them. A sum of even £500,000 would not be sufficient fully to rehabilitate the distressed wheat-growers in Western Australia alone. I agree with Senator Johnston that this Government cannot completely rid itself of responsibility for the plight of growers now operating on marginal areas.
– That is a matter for the State governments.
– The Government of Western Australia has not attempted to shirk its share of that responsibility; it has already expended £200,000 on drought relief. Surely the Commonwealth Government must share that responsibility. My reply to the message which I have just read is contained in the following letter from Mr. Powell : -
Very many thanks for your wire reading as follows: “Wire received. Will support after State legislation enacted. Reserving right support amendments for improvement”.
In supporting the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, I am honouring that promise.
– If the honorable senator votes for the amendment he will help to kill the bill.
– That is ridiculous. I am prepared to support any amendment designed to improve this measure, even though it should emanate from an honorable senator opposite. The method by which it is proposed to distribute this sum of £500,000 is not in keeping with the spirit of the measure. This Government should make a direct grant for the relief of drought-stricken farmers. On the ‘5th September I received the following letter from Mr. T. C. Stott, secretary of the Australian Wheat-growers Federation : -
I herewith enclose copies of resolutions that were carried at the Wheat Conference held under the auspices of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation in Sydney on the 25th August.
For your information, I might mention that representatives of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation were invited to address the Premiers Conference, and explain what the wheat-growers of Australia required. The wheat-growers’ representatives were: Messrs. T. H. Powell (president), Senator Wilson, H. Tj. Simpson, and the writer.
The previous scheme which was submitted to you, known as the Simpson Stabilization Plan, was found to contain several difficulties in the way of making the scheme work, and th« Victorian Department of Agriculture were not prepared to submit it to the Agricultural Council for their consideration. We now ask you to give all possible support to carrying into effect these resolutions, the principle of which is a stabilized price over a long term to enable the growers to secure a minimum payable price. Copies of the Wilson Stabilization Plan, I understand, will be forwarded to you from another source. 1 trust you will give this scheme your consideration together with the proposals enunciated in the Simpson plan. The present position, wo understand, is that the Commonwealth Government are prepared to bring down legislation to provide a homeconsumption price of 4s. 8d. per bushel, but I would point out to you that this would only mean approximately 6d. per bushel over the total crop to the grower. My federation considers this to be totally inadequate, and asks you to take every step to expedite finality in the consideration of tlie equalization scheme so as to make it work for the coining harvest.
We on this side are anxious to carry out the proposals contained in that letter, yet we are accused of doing everything possible to hamper this measure. The only point on which we differ from honorable senators opposite is as to the source from which the money required to afford this assistance should be derived. That point has already been fully dealt with by honorable senators on this side. In respect of taxation generally, the Labour party stands for the principle that those who are best able to pay should be taxed. I repeat that it is inequitable to impose a tax on flour in order to raise this money. It should be appropriated from Consolidated Revenue. In spite of the criticism which I have levelled against this measure, I hope that even though the amendment be defeated, the scheme will prove of immense benefit to those whom it is designed to assist.
– ‘This debate has been particularly interesting. It has been made perfectly clear that honorable senators on both sides are equally anxious to help the farmers. Our main difference of opinion arises in respect of the method by which we should raise the money required to provide assistance. Under the measure it is proposed to raise it by the imposition of a flour tax; that does not sound nice, perhaps, but we know what it means. Honorable senators opposite, however, claim that it s’hould be provided from Consolidated Revenue. We know that a flour tax is imposed on a specific article of consumption, whereas Consolidated Revenue is really the pool into which all moneys received by the Government are paid. Like some honorable senators opposite, I also have had experience in farming, and I am able to appreciate the view which the growers themselves would take of the Opposition’s proposal. Under the measure, the farmer will be enabled to secure this assistance from a specific fund into which every shilling paid will be ear-marked for that purpose. As a fanner, he will thus have a special claim on that fund for assistance, but it cannot be said that he would have a special claim for assistance from Consolidated Revenue, into which no sum paid is ever ear-marked for any special purpose. Keeping that fact in mind, honorable senators should ask themselves which of these two funds the farmer would prefer to rely upon as a source of assistance. It is obvious that he would prefer the fund specifically established for the purpose of providing such assistance, and he would not overlook the fact that whilst, in prosperous times, he might experience no difficulty in securing assistance from Consolidated Revenue, it would be a different story in times of economic stress. What would be the farmer’s position in the latter instance ? Do honorable senators opposite suggest that, in such circumstances, old-age pensions, interest payments, repatriation payments, public servants’ salaries, and other government commitments, should be reduced in order that this assistance should be given the farmer? Obviously, the farmer would be more confident of obtaining assistance from a fluid from which no disbursements could be made except for the specific purpose of granting assistance to him. If a ballot were taken, it would be found that 999 out of every 1,000 farmers would realize that the provisions of this bill are the better. The object of the bill is to afford protection to the wheatgrowers who are at present faced with many difficulties, and I am sure that every honorable senator is anxious to help them. Let us consider the principle adopted by the Commonwealth Government to afford assistance to any primary or secondary industry. Practically every primary exporting industry receives assistance from the Commonwealth in some form, and the same can be said of our secondary industries which are afforded some degree of protection by the tariff for many years and justly so. Each industry has its own measure of protection. Dealing first with the primary^ industries, I shall cite only the sugar industry, which has been mentioned during this debate. How is that industry assisted by the Commonwealth? The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) said, this afternoon that the sugar agreement provides reasonable standards for the cane-grower, the canecutter and the millers, and, in fact, for every one engaged in the industry. I supported that agreement when it was last before this Parliament. But I remind honorable senators opposite that the Australian consumer pays 4d. per lb. for “ Queensland sugar, whilst in New Zealand sugar cane be bought at 2-Jd. per lb.
– The honorable senator is referring to black-grown sugar.
– No Queensland sugar is sold in New Zealand. Queensland sugar is sold in Great Britain at £9 a ton, but the price charged for the same product in Australia is over £20 a ton. The local consumer pays the difference. The Australian consumer, by paying 4d. per lb. as against the lower price charged’ overseas, is making up the losses incurred on overseas sales. It is said that under this bill the consumer will “get -it in the neck “, but the principle is the same. The Leader of the Opposition is sufficiently fair not to deny the accuracy of the statement I am making because he knows that the consumer pays. Sugar production in Australia is confined almost entirely to Queensland, but because the industry should be encouraged in the interests of Australia, we support it.
– The same principle applies to butter.
– Yes, and to many other primary products. Local consumers pay the loss incurred in exporting. We regard it as a sound principle to adopt what might seem the lesser of two evils it is essential that we should do so. The Leader of the Opposition was strong in his advocacy of that principle.
– If the Government will do what is done in respect of sugar, we shall support the bill.
– The consumer pays a higher price for sugar, butter and many other products in order to assist local industries, and there is no valid reason why the consumer should not pay a slightly higher price, if necessary, for bread in order to assist the wheat industry.
Dealing with the secondary industries, I cite textiles manufactured from wool. Although a portion of Australian wool is used for manufacturing purposes in Australia, the bulk of it is sent overseas - a distance of 12,000 miles - where it is made into cloth. It is then shipped another 12,000 miles to Australia and when it reaches here, notwithstanding the fact that it ha3 travelled 24,000 miles and has been handled three or fourtimes, it is not admitted into this country until a fairly high duty has been paid. What does that mean? The consumer has to pay for the transport both ways and, in addition, a heavy import duty. I suppose that it can be said that he, too, “ gets it in the neck,” but there is n» alternative. The additional cost is passed on to the consumer. The same principle is involved in this bill. The Leader of the Opposition did not give to the Senate sufficient information concerning the Queensland wheat-growing policy, but Senator Gibson clarified the position. A wheat board was set up in Queensland in 1920, and special legislation was passed to fix the price of wheat. Although wheat can be purchased in Sydney at 2s. 6d. or 2s. 9d. a bushel, the Queensland consumers are paying 5s. 3d. a bushel. Some honorable senators may say that it is remarkable that wheat-growers at Moree do not truck wheat to Queensland and sell it at the higher price. They are observing a gentleman’s agreement, and if they do not do so they are up against high freights which prevent the wheat going into Queensland. The result is that the unfortunate basic-wage earner, the family man and other workers - I am citing those mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition - are in Queensland paying 5s. 3d. a bushel for wheat which can be . bought in the open market in New South Wales for 2s. 6d. or 2s. 9d. a bushel. Is that not sufficient to show that the consumers of bread in Queensland are paying the higher price? Of course they are, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it. That is the principle involved in this bill. The Leader of the Opposition and his supporters say that the measure is unfair and that the consumers are being penalized. Why does he not tell Mr. Forgan Smith that his government is robbing the unfortunate people in Queensland ?
– The Queensland Government does not raise the money by means of a flour tax.
– The Leader of the Opposition should not endeavour to split straws. He knows that the consumers are paying the additional price.
– And lid. for a 4-lb. loaf of bread.
– If the principle adopted in Queensland is right, it is also right in this instance, but the Leader of the Opposition, for the purposes of political argument is ignoring the facts. Whatever measure is before the House, he and his supporters like to give the impression that this Government is penalizing the people. Who asked for this legislation? The Premier of Queensland, because it has been so eminently successful in that State. This measure provides merely an extension of the same principle that has been in operation in that .State for some time. That is why Mr. Forgan Smith attended the conference, and supported the proposals contained in this bill.
– He did not ask. for it. He was asked by this Government to assist in the job.
– If Mr. Forgan Smith read the speeches of some honorable senators opposite he would read in them a condemnation of himself. I cannot understand how any Labour senator from Queensland can refrain from supporting the bill. We have heard a good deal about the unfortunate basic-wage earner and those who are on the dole; but bread is one of the commodities considered when wages are fixed. Tho unfortunate recipient of the dole in New South Wales - I am more familiar with the conditions in that State - receives a higher amount when the cost of living increases. The Government of New South Wales is sufficiently fairminded and sympathetic to ensure that the basic-wage earner or recipients of the dole are. not penalized when prices rise. There is only one way in which to ensure the stability of the scheme for a home-consumption price for wheat and that is by raising the money by a special tax instead of taking it from Consolidated Revenue. Under the latter proposal, when revenue was buoyant, funds might be available for the wheat-grower, but when money was scarce in the Treasury, help might bc withheld from those who really need it. I do not like the term “ flour tax “, but, whatever name is used, the consumer will pay. The principle involved in this measure is the same as that which we have always adopted, and I feel that I can conscientiously support the bill.
.- I agree that something must be done to assist the wheat-growers whose position this year is very serious. All members on this side sympathize with that section of our primary producers, but we protest against the Government’s proposal to place the major portion of the burden on the working classes, relief workers, and invalid -and old-age pensioners. The money necessary to finance the scheme should be taken from the Consolidated Revenue. Our principal complaint against the Government’s proposal is that the flour tax will operate harshly, and do an injustice to those who are least able to bear it. Persons in receipt of higher incomes should make their contribution.
– Everybody will contribute by means of the tax on flour.
– That may be true, but as I shall endeavour to explain, the scheme,, in its present form, will press more heavily on the wage-earners, the unemployed, and pensioners than upon persons in receipt of higher incomes. For example, a relief worker having a wife and several children, would consume very much more bread, and. therefore, would pay a higher tax than would a wealthy young man with no home of his own. This unfair aspect of the proposal cannot be too strongly emphasized. Our objection would be met by the imposition of a super income tax to finance the scheme. Senator Wilson stated this afternoon that the standard of living in Australia is higher than that of any other country. I think that the honorable gentleman drew largely upon his imagination. He stated also that if this scheme had been in operation since 1926 it would have accumulated a fund of - approximately £15,000,000. If the honorable senator’s calculations are accurate, they give added strength to our complaint that the scheme is intended to exploit the wageearners, for we can argue that if, as Senator Wilson suggested, this project or one similar to it, had been in operation since 1926, the wage-earners of Australia would have been despoiled to the amount of £15,000,000. I think that Senator Wilson’s main purpose this afternoon was to deliver a political speech in the interests of the Government candidate . at the by-election for Wakefield Division in South Australia. At all. events, his remarks might appropriately have been directed to people living in a country centre where newspapers are rarely seen. I have had considerable experience as a primary producer, and I know what it means to pioneer new country. I doubt that Senator “Wilson has any knowledge of the disabilities of the man on the land, otherwise he would not have made some of the statements which he did. The honorable gentleman appeared in the role of accuser, judge and executioner of all Labour’s critics of the Government’s proposal; but he did not take the trouble to hear all the evidence. Senator Allan MacDonald also stated that the standard of living in Australia was higher than that in any other country. That statement may be applied to some people in the Commonwealth. It is equally true that a considerable number of people in Australia have to conform to a standard as low as that obtaining in almost any other country.
– That is unavoidable, I should think.
– No doubt it is, but we contend that the Government should initiate proposals to raise the living standard of all the people. Senator Dein declared that if wheat-farmers who are to be assisted under this scheme had to choose between one based on a flour tax and one under which the necessary funds would be taken from the Consolidated Revenue, they would prefer the former, because the principal burden would then fall upon the working classes and pensioners, instead of on taxpayers generally. If I am any judge of the spirit of the farmers they are prepared at all times to take their chance with other sections of the community. They have no desire whatever that the cost of any scheme designed for their assistance should press more heavily on the working classes, tlie relief workers and pensioners, but would prefer that it should be a charge upon the general revenue.
.- I confess that I do not feel Very comfortable over the Government’s proposal. I am. not satisfied that either the bill in its present form or as it would be if the Opposition amendment were adopted is the best way of deal ing with this problem. It is no use to blink the fact that whatever term may be applied to the method of raising the money, it is a tax, which should be borne equally by all the people in the community. I do not think it will press more heavily on the Wage’ earner than on other sections, as has been suggested, because he is protected by the cost of living figures.
If it were not for two things, I should be very much inclined to vote against the bill. In the first place, I recognize that the wheat-farmers are having a very bad time indeed, and that some assistance must be given to them. To my mind the best part of the bill is the provision that a certain sum is to be set aside to remove necessitous farmers from marginal areas where they will never be able to grow wheat at a profit. Some honorable senators have endeavoured to show that customs duties imposed for the protection of secondary -industries are analogous to the proposed flour tax for the assistance of farmers. In this connexion, I am reminded that some years ago a committee of economists, appointed to investigate the effects of the tariff on primary industries, reached the conclusion that the net effect of protection for secondary industries was equivalent to about 3d. a bushel on all wheat grown in Australia. I would point out, however, that the investigation was made several years ago, and that many changes have taken place since. For instance, the Cost of galvanized iron, wire netting and steel which are largely used in primary industries, is now lower in Australia than in many df the world markets, so it is not true now that the protection given to our secondary industries is equivalent to a charge of 3d. a bushel on Australian wheat. Now every industry has to undergo a searching investigation by the Tariff Board before it receives- the duty it needs. Without reflecting on the wheat industry, I claim that it is not efficient, not because the men on the marginal or other areas do not know their job, but because wheat can be grown at a profit in ordinary seasons for a much lower price than is’ contemplated under these proposals. In ordinary seasons the farmer who cannot produce wheat at a profit for less than from 5s. to 5s. 2d. a bushel is inefficient. The best feature of this scheme is that it will result in a start being made to remove farmers from areas where they cannot get a living by wheat-growing, to other areas. For this reason alone I should be inclined to vote for the measure.
References have been made to the recommendations of the royal commission that inquired into the conditions of the wheat industry. That commission declared, I believe, that 69 per cent, of the wheat grown in Australia could be produced at considerably under 3s. a bushel, after allowing 8d. a bushel for accrued interest on capital outlay. The commission expressed the opinion that on a large portion of the wheat country wheat could be grown in ordinary seasons for from 2s. 6d. to 2s. Sd. a bushel. The granting of a very much higher price than that would have the effect that men on good land, and receiving crops averaging from 20 to 30 bushels to the acre, would make a fortune, but it .would not help in any way those farmers who, struggling in the back country, reap only eight or ten bushels to the acre. No matter from what aspect the scheme is examined, it does not altogether meet the needs of the case. The effect, eventually, of legislation of this kind, must be to help very much those farmers who are doing well, without assisting those who are doing badly.’ I am not altogether satisfied that the States have done their part. I should be much more satisfied if, before being called upon to vote for these proposals, I knew what the price of bread will be. Will the price be 5d., fid. or 7d. a 2-lb. loaf?
– It is 5d. cash in Queensland.
– In Melbourne it is 5½d. a loaf. I should have been much more satisfied, had I known that the price of bread would not exceed 6d. a 2-lb. loaf, in the capital cities.
– Why should the farmer be expected to provide cheap bread ?
– I do not say that ho should. But if the price is 5£d. a loaf in one State, how would the farmer be providing cheap bread if the price elsewhere were 6d. a loaf?
I do not agree that this scheme pro- “vides for a permanent solution of the problem of the wheat-farmers. I know that it is claimed that the farmers should be sure of their position over a term of years, but all they will know under these proposals is that they will receive approximately 6d. a bushel above the world price, which may drop as low as ls. 6cl. a bushel. Therefore, they have in this legislation, no guarantee of permanency. I should have preferred the operation of the scheme to have been limited to say, two years, in order to ascertain whether there is any ground for the fears expressed by honorable senators opposite that it will impose too heavy a burden on the poorer classes of the community, and whether a better scheme can be devised. Although I shall vote for the secondreading of the bill I confess that I feel uncomfortable about the measure.
Honorable senators opposite have reason for saying that the proposed contribution to the industry should come out of the general revenue. They can fairly argue that that would make this undoubted tax more equitable than the present scheme. One outstanding virtue of the proposals is that some assistance is to be given to the wheat-growers at a time of very great hardship, and the principal reason why I. am induced to vote for the bill is that at last an effort is being made to take farmers off the marginal areas where wheat cannot be grown at a profit. I regret that an effort has not been made by the industry itself to put its house in order. If the scheme enunciated by Senators Wilson and Uppill had been put into operation, an attempt would have been made by the wheat-growers to protect themselves over a number of years, laying by a reserve to tide them over lean periods, and I would have been much more satisfied. To my mind, an effort of that kind should have been made before calling upon the Parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States to make this large contribution to the industry. Such a plan should have been adopted years ago, but the predicament of the farmers at the present time is such that they must have assistance immediately.
– When .the Opposition says that it stands for assistance to the wheat-farmers, it is not prompted merely by sentimental reasons. It knows that the more the workers in the primary industries are impoverished, the poorer will the workers generally be. Therefore, to help the workers in secondary industries, the Labour party desires to advance in every possible way the interests of those in the primary industries. We are opposed to anything which will impoverish them, and shall do our best to prevent it from happening. Honorable senators opposite have admitted that a flour tax is a tax on consumers.
– It is a tax, first on consumers, and then on industry.
– This “bill is based on the principle which underlies many measures introduced into this Parliament, namely, the exhausting of the possibilities of wrong methods, and straining the tolerance of the people to the limit. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Foll) has said that, if the amendment be carried, the bill will be abandoned. He wished to convey the impression that those who vote for the amendment .will, if successful, be guilty of leaving the farmers to starve and do the best they can for themselves. I shall not be intimidated by threats of that kind, and I am confident that I speak for my colleagues also. We are prepared to take the risk. Despite the threat of the Government, on the one hand, to drop ‘the bill, and, on the other hand, the threat contained in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Argus, and the Melbourne Herald, that there will be a double dissolution if the bill be not agreed to, we are prepared to take the risk. I do not think that honorable senators opposite are prepared to do the same, because a double dissolution would mean the end of the present Government. I object to the method adopted in connexion with this bill, and, indeed, with many other bills, namely, the delay in introducing it, and then the attempt to bludgeon it through. This legislation could have been brought before the Parliament months ago. The Government knew then that the state of affairs which has arisen was developing, and that something would have to be done. Nevertheless, everything was left to the last minute, and now we are told that, unless we pass this bill as it is, it will be dropped, and we shall have to accept the consequences. I repeat that we on this side are prepared to take the consequences.
– The States have only just passed their legislation.
– That legislation could have been dealt with weeks ago. Some years have passed since the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry gave warning that the present position was developing, but, beyond making a grant, the Government has done nothing since then to relievo the position. During this debate a good deal has been said about stabilizing prices. Under existing conditions prices must continue to fall. There must be a re-organization of the whole of the internal economy before stabilization can take place. If, however, our internal economy were re-organized, it would be possible to trade overseas without much trouble, and to dispose of our surplus wheat, wool, meat and other primary products at a profit. When honorable senators opposite speak of stabilizing prices, they use a term which conveys an entirely false impression. Prices may be steadied temporarily, but that is as far as we can go; the permanent stabilization of prices is an economic impossibility under existing conditions. If honorable senators opposite were more careful in their choice of words, they would not find their way so difficult. Where there are privately controlled monopolies, such as exist in connexion with tobacco, liquor and sugar, prices can be stabilized for a period; but with the wheat industry, where the competition is so widespread, and where the farmers, like the workers, are pitted so effectively against one another, in order that their share of the wealth of the country may be reduced to the minimum, it is not possible to stabilize prices to the same extent. Throughout the debate there has been considerable argument as to who really will have to pay. Although it is generally agreed that the- consumer will pay, there is no agreement as to the proportion which he will pay. In a memorandum which was attached to the first report of theRoyal Commission on the Wheat Industry, Professor Giblin set out the position clearly and correctly. He then said -
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 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.
This conception of the home price as sharing among all the nation the burden of assisting a distressed industry will be seen on consideration to be entirely mistaken. We may first, however, assume that the burden is really spread over all consumers, and note one or two consequences.
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 £1,000 per annum would pay an additional15s. per annum through the home price of butter. He would contribute less than one-fifth of a penny in the £ 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 £ of his income. . . .
The reasons for using the home price rather than any open form of taxation for giving assistance to the dairy industry are chiefly political! It has the appearance of relieving governments from direct responsibility in the matter, and certainly makes the matter less liable to discussion in parliament. This suits the producer, because a subsidy once gained in this way is likely to continue without criticism even when circumstances no longer justify it. Land values are restored or even enhanced, so that financial interests are also favorably disposed to a home price. With governments, producers and money interests in the unholy alliance, criticism can safely be dismissed as “academic”.
Professor Giblin’s reference to criticism is exactly what I would expect honorable senators opposite to say. The professor is correct; the reasons are chiefly political; they affect mainly capitalists, private bankers and others who are interested in our primary production only because of the capital which they have invested in it at a profit. Professor Giblin is a man with high qualifications who holds an important position in the University of Melbourne. His opinions cannot be dismissed, as honorable senators opposite would be disposed to dismiss the opinions of honorable senators on this side of the chamber, as those of neophytes and amateurs who know nothing about the subject. He is a man who has been tested through the years, and as the result of those tests holds his present high position. That is what he has to say, and we on this side agree with him. We say that it is the consumers who pay, but the point is that the poor, who are least able to pay, contribute more than the rich. On those grounds we are opposed to the flour tax, and the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition is designed to reverse the incidence of the tax which will have to be levied in order to provide this assistance. We wish to reverse the process of distributing the burden so that the rich, who are best able to pay, shall pay the most, and the poor, who are least able to pay, shall pay the least. That is the practical effect of the amendment that the amount necessary for the wheatgrowers shall be paid out of Consolidated Revenue, because those who draw the most from the social purse pay the most into Consolidated Revenue, and those who draw the least, like workers on the dole, pay the least. We say that the farmers should be assisted from that social fund. Such a charge is not only legitimate, but also would be far more equitable than the provision in this measure for the taxation of the poorest section of the community.
– Every worker pays customs duty, and that goes into Consolidated Revenue.
– I am merely pointing out that when the money that is needed is raised in the form of a direct tax on bread, the workers pay the most as consumers of bread, but when it comes out of Consolidated Revenue they pay in proportion to the income they receive. The difficulties confronting the wheat industry in Australia are not peculiar to this country. I find in the report of the royal commission to which I have already referred that the Government of the Argentine buys up the surplus wheat at a fixed price. That appears to me to be a more equitable way of assisting the industry. Furthermore, the proposal under this measure, whereby the poor will be asked to pay the major portion of a flour tax, will not end there ; we shall find that as a result of the imposition of that tax, unemployment will increase. This expenditure will not add one penny to the consumers’ total purchasing power. All it will do will be to transfer something from the pockets of one section of the workers to the pockets of another section, and those who pay the tax will not be able to purchase the same quantity of the necessaries of life as previously. They are bound to go without something; the demand for commodities will be reduced, and, consequently, unemployment will be increased. Two important features of a tax of this kind are: first, the poor will pay the most; and, secondly, it will increase unemployment. The position which it is sought to relieve will not be improved in the slightest degree.
If we, as honorable senators, fail to deal with these aspects of this problem, we shall be recreant to our trust. During the last election campaign I visited a number of farming centres where I had excellent meetings. Invariably I found the -farmers very inquisitive. They wanted to know how Labour’s policy would operate, and how it would effect them. I entered upon that campaign with a press-made reputation which was not viewed very favorably by the farming community. My press critics intended that the farmers should view me as an impossible extremist. On one occasion I was condemned by the Argus as a dangerous extremist. However, in spite of that reputation I was able to convince the majority of the farmers who attended my meetings that Labour’s policy is the only policy likely to give them any relief ; consequently, I have the privilege to speak in this chamber this evening. I mention this matter merely to indicate the change of outlook which is developing in the farming communities. Senator Wilson asked us to say from what source this money should be derived if a sales tax on flour were not imposed. If the Government really desires to effect a lasting improvement of the position of the farmers, it will have to do a good deal more than merely impose a flour tax. Interest rates will have to be reduced, land values will have to be written down, speculators will have to be put out of commission, and merchants, also, will have to be dealt with. When the Savage Government assumed office in New Zealand in 1934, and was confronted with a position similar to that now existing in the wheat industry in this country, it decided to bring about reforms in these directions, and, with that object in view, enacted a Mortgages Relief Act. The object of that measure was stated to be -
To make such adjustments of their liabilities as will ensure - (a) that the liabilities secured on any property do not exceed the value of that property;
Later the same Government enacted the Mortgagors and Lessees Rehabilitation Act 1936, under which the following amounts were written off up to the 30th November, 1937:-
Similar action will have to be taken in Australia before the position of the wheat-growers can really be improved.
– Were those amounts written off Crown land or off freehold property ?
– At the moment, I cannot say.
– It would make all the difference.
– When Mr. Robert Smillie, a member of the New Zealand Cabinet, visited Melbourne quite recently, he emphasized that the farmers in New Zealand had bought land at boom prices, and I assumed from his remarks, and the action which his Government took in writing down land values, that most of the land affected was freehold.
– Until there is a steady levelling up of wheat prices that will always occur.
– .Such a position will never arise unless prices are controlled through the banks which lend the money or through those who conduct the financial operations associated with primary production. At the British Empire Producers Conference held in Sydney on the 28th March to the 7th April this year, Mr. J. E. Maycock, who represented the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation dealt with the position of the wheat-growers. Quoting from paragraph 4 of the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry, which relates to interest rates, he said that the percentages of farmers paying interest and the amounts which their interest charges represented a bushel of wheat were - 21.5 per cent., 3d. ; 25 per cent., 4d. to 6d.; 14.6 per cent. 7d. to 9d.; 14.4 per cent., lOd. to 12d. ; 9 per cent. 13d. to 15d.; 5.5 per cent., 16d. to lSd.; 2.8 per cent., 19d. to 21d.; and 6.6 per cent., lOd. and 12d. It will be seen from those figures that the wheat-growers have to pay very heavy interest charges, and that if any relief is afforded it will be paid by the poor and not by the rich.
– The wheat-growers are paying interest now and therefore will be better off.
– Many of them have not paid their interest. Mr. Maycock made many other interesting observations to which I do not wish to refer in detail, but when a delegate asked “ What is your remedy ?” he replied, “ My final remedy is that money shall be issued at its true cost - nothing”. Evidently his views coincide with those of Senator Darcey. If I were asked how the farmers should be assisted, I would say by the issue of credit at bare cost. Mention has been made of the attitude adopted by State Labour governments, and it would appear that their actions in this connexion have been contrary to the policy embodied in the amendment now before the Senate. The position of State governments is totally different from that of the Commonwealth Government in that their resources and scope of action are limited. Moreover, they have to act under duress. They have not the opportunities that this Government has to afford relief to the wheat-growers or to the workers. It cannot truthfully be said that, the State governments have defaulted in their responsibilities; they have not the financial powers that this Government has, and therefore, they cannot be responsible. Finally, I emphasize the point, stressed by honor able senators on this side of the chamber, that a flour tax is designed deliberately to tax the poor man to save the rich. It is a tax which ultimately will defeat the object in view, and arouse the same resentment among the people as has the iniquitous national insurance scheme. I support the amendment.
– This measure is sufficiently important to demand the earnest and close attention of the representatives of all political parties in this chamber. The wheat-growers of Western Australia and Victoria are confronted with serious difficulties owing to severe drought conditions. Recently, I visited Wagga and Leichhardt where the crops are as poor as many in the drought-stricken- portions of Western Australia. I have always contended that every worker or producer is entitled to a fair return for the service which he gives, and as -the wheatgrowers are rendering a very valuable service to the community, they deserve assistance. If our primary industries should fail, our secondary industries could not possibly continue. In Western Australia, we have few secondary industries, and, therefore, primary production is our mainstay. Moreover, as our wheat and wool exports are largely responsible for providing our overseas ‘ credit, the producers of them should be assisted. The Commonwealth Government should also ensure that sufficient wheat is held in the Commonwealth to protect the public against exploitation. Ever since I have been in Western Australia, I have realized that, although the gold-mining industry is of inestimable value to that State, the wheat industry is of primary importance. As the Western Australian wheat-growers have had particularly poor crops and prices are low, every effort should be made to keep them on their holdings. The wheat-growing industry needs a permanent scheme of stabilization so that those engaged in it will be able to make a. reasonable profit and have some equity in their holdings. If the price of wheat were fixed at 4s. a bushel at sidings, it would be a simple matter to assess the value of properties; buyers would soon appear and the interest in wheat-growing would be stimulated. A stabilized price of 4s. a bushel at sidings would give to the farmers some security of tenure, and such a price could be regarded as a poultice which would remove the sting caused by secured creditors. Nothing should be allowed to interfere with the adoption of a home-consumption price which is regarded as the first step towards stability. Some farmers in Western Australia have already sold their crops. I have been informed that the present drought in Victoria is the first which that State has had for nineteen years, and although Western Australia is now experiencing drought conditions, it is quite possible that we shall have a good season next year.
The Labour party favours the granting of substantial financial assistance to the wheat-growers of Australia, but we think that the money for this purpose should be drawn from Consolidated Revenue and not, as the bill provides, from a tax on flour, which means a bread tax.
– The purpose of this bill is to “provide for financial assistance to the States in the provision of assistance to the wheat industry and for other purposes “. Previous speakers on this side of the chamber have made it clear that the Labour party is wholehearted in its desire to assist this section of the community, which, at the moment, is undoubtedly suffering severe hardships. This afternoon Senator Wilson questioned the sincerity of the attitude of the Labour party on this subject, and endeavoured, by every means in his power, to infer that Labour had no real wish to help the farmers. The speeches delivered from this side of the chamber since the honorable senator made his contribution to this debate must have convinced him of hie error.
– The amendment of the Labour party would destroy the whole scheme.
– That is not so. Senator Wilson, and those who hold views similar to his wish the bill to be passed in its present form. The Labour party desires the bill to be amended to make the provision of the assistance the responsibility of the whole community. Judging by Senator Wilson’s speech, this bill is, to him, something like a longlost friend. He is most solicitous for its welfare. But I remind him that even if the measure passes in its present form the farmers will still have trials and tribulations to face. They have other problems than the price of wheat. It is alleged that the purpose of this bill is to stabilize the wheat industry, but, at the very most, it can help the farmers only in respect of wheat sold for home consumption. I have pointed out on other occasions in this chamber that only a relatively small proportion of our crop is consumed in Australia. In many respects, the farmer may be compared with the worker. The worker sells his labour power in the market for a certain wage. The wheatfarmer also sells his labour power, which is represented by his wheat, in the market at whatever price may be offering. Under this bill wheat sold for home consumption will bring a certain return, but the remainder of the crop will have to be sold at world parity.
The Labour party strongly resents the proposal that the money needed to finance the payment of a homeconsumption price for wheat shall be obtained by means of a bread tax. It should, of course, be obtained from Consolidated Revenue. The objection of honorable senators opposite to that procedure is to be found in the fact that it will adversely affect their wealthy friends, who, under a bread tax, will contribute next to nothing, but under our scheme would have to contribute according to their taxable capacity. Ministerial supporters represent the wealthy people who hold the major interests in our big financial corporations. Such individuals eat very little bread. I suppose it could be said” that they consume only a few ounces a day. The workers, however, use bread as their staple article of diet. In these circumstances the workers will be obliged to contribute the bulk of the money required for thi3 scheme. That is the iniquitous part of it. When Senator Dein was a member of another place, he described as “ this dole “ a proposed bounty on wheat, to be paid in respect of the 1933-34 harvest. But, after various somersaults and gyrations, he supported the bill because, he said, it would operate only for six months. He said that it was a “fleecing measure “. The Labour party desires that a scientific principle shall underly the granting of assistance to the wheat industry, and, in fact, to all other needy industries. We believe that, if this scheme be put into operation, the position of the wheat-growers will shortly be worse than it is to-day, for the capacity of the working people to buy bread will be seriously impaired, because they will have to contribute so heavily to this tax. The workers can buy bread only according to their purchasing power. The policy of this Government has undoubtedly reduced the purchasing power of the people. If this bill becomes law the workers will have less money than ever to spend. Any diminution of the wage fund must be detrimental to the best interests of the wheat-growers. The Opposition has declared that one result of the passage of this bill will be to rob the poor. In spite of the denials of honorable senators opposite, this contention cannot be refuted. Men on or near the basic wage, and also sustenance workers, pensioners, and certain other unfortunate classes in the community, will be hard hit by this bread tax. I repeat that the fair way to provide money for this scheme is to draw upon the Consolidated Revenue for it.
For many months we have been urging the Government to do something for the relief of the unemployed people in our community, but so far our efforts have been in vain. In view of the need to increase the .consumption of wheat in Australia, so that the yield from this proposed tax may be as large as possible, and therefore more helpful to the farmers, it is essential that as many people as possible shall be provided with work. Yet Senator Wilson and his colleagues wax indignant when we propose that a shorter working week shall be inaugurated in order that such employment as is available may be distributed over a greater number of people. If the farmers are to be helped by this scheme, the local market must be expanded, and not contracted. We contend, therefore, that everything possible should be done to increase employment in this country, so that the workers will be able to buy more bread. Those who profess to be solicitous for the farmers’ welfare usually endeavour to belittle the efforts of the Labour movement to assist this section. They tell the farmers that the Labour party favours a reduction of the hours of labour, and, naturally, owing to the terrible conditions under which they are compelled to work, the farmers do not investigate the assertion as they should. It does not become apparent to them so readily as it does to others that their interests would be best served by having large populations of workers in industrial centres.
– The farmers are intelligent, and they know that.
– I am pleased to hear that remark. In recent years, the ideas propounded by the Labour party have become more popular than formerly among the farming community, which is recognizing that Labour is preaching the correct doctrine. I feel certain that the efforts of honorable senators opposite, particularly Senator Wilson, to put doubt into the minds of the farmers regarding the policy of the Labour party, will not have the desired effect.
The principle of this bill is solidly supported by the Opposition. There is only one phase of the measure to which we object, and that is the method by which the money is to bo raised.
-Does the Opposition want the scheme to be put into operation for one year only?
-We desire to place the growers in such a position that they would not have to go cap in hand to the Government annually over a long period. The reason why Ave ask that the scheme should operate for only one year is that we realize that it is not perfect; but we recognize also that the farming community is in dire straits at the present time. We say that the industry should be placed permanently on a stable basis. Will the assistance provided for under this scheme benefit the wheatfarmers to any considerable extent? Are there not many factors in connexion with farming which should be taken into consideration? Possibly, because the farmers are now in desperate straits, they will grasp at this straw, but the Labour party proposes to do something more substantial for the farmers by protecting them against exploitation. The farmers, after the passage of these bills, will be in the same position as the workers of this country. A few months ago, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court awarded them a prosperity allowance of 6s. a week. As soon as that became available to the workers, the landlords stepped in and increased house rents. This caused an increase of the cost of living, and, after a short period, the whole of the prosperity allowance passed from the hands of the workers to those who continually exploit both the workers and the farmers.
Immediately the proposals embodied in these bills become law, the ring that controls the price of superphosphate will demand its share of the few extra pence a bushel proposed to be handed to the farmers. The machinery firms and others will look for their share of the extra money that will be collectedfrom the poorer sections of the community through the increase of the price of bread. Probably the banking interests will seize the opportunity to increase the rate of interest on loans. Instead of the relief to be given to the farmers being of permanent value, it will soon have disappeared entirely.
– How would that position he altered, if the amendment were accepted?
– Because, under the amendment, the money needed would be subscribed largely by the financial interests instead of being taken from the bread-winners. Given an appropriate opportunity, the Labour party will bring forward legislation to protect the interests of the working classes. The Queensland scheme for the assistance of wheat-farmershas been cited. Queensland has done this job thoroughly and well. It has not passed piecemeal legislation such as that now proposed by the Government. Before the wheat-farmers are many years older, they will again be approaching the Commonwealth and State parliaments for further assistance, because the present proposals will not permanently meet their needs. Supporters of this bill will then be looking for a way out.
– What about the Labour Premiers who have supported this scheme?
– The Premiers of the various States attended conferences, but the Commonwealth Government dictated the terms. This scheme cannot operate unless it be agreed to by this Parliament. How great are the powers of this Parliament to levy taxation by comparison with the powers of the State parliaments. This Parliament has certain means of raising revenue by indirect taxation, but the parliaments of the States must depend for their revenue on direct taxation, . and in every State the cry has gone up for a reduction of taxes. The Commonwealth Parliament, with many fields of taxation at its disposal, should finance the present scheme out of the Consolidated Revenue. It would suit some honorable senators opposite if the governments of the States would resort to some form of taxation for the raising of the necessary money.
It should be patent to honorable senators that it is a serious matter to tax the people by increasing the price of bread. The consumption of bread is governed by the amount of money in the purse of the housewife, and any reduction of the income at the disposal of the housewife would make it difficult for her to provide sufficient bread for her family, One of the complaints of the industrial movement against the present basic -wage is that it is insufficient to maintain a worker, his wife and family at a reasonable standard of comfort. Immediately the price of bread is increased, there is a corresponding reduction of the consumption. This afternoon, certain of the speakers on the Government side suggested that the Labour party had no monopoly of sympathy for those whom it was proposed to tax. Well, I am now taking them at their own estimate. I suggest that they should seriously consider the proposals of the Opposition for financing this scheme. It is wrong for the Government to hold a pistol at the heads of honorable senators, by saying that the bill must be accepted in its present form or it will be dropped. Was that the attitude adopted by the Commonwealth Government at the Premiers Conference? It seems that the wheat-growers are to be assisted only on terms dictated by the Government.
– And agreed to by three Labour governments.
– Under political duress. There can be no other conclusion than that the Government, which poses as the saviour of the farmers, is prepared to rob the workers in order to help the farmers. The Government, while willing to exploit the poorer sections of the community, hastens to protect those whom it represents. That is why Senator Wilson was so anxious to make out that the Labour party was opposed to the interests of the wheat-growers. I am confident, however, that the people will see through the manoeuvre. They will recognize the mock heroics of Senator Wilson for what they are worth. Senator Wilson admits that this scheme is far from perfect, and he has said that he could evolve a better one himself. Even the farmers will, I imagine, recognize that those who pose in this chamber as their friends are, in reality, false friends. They will recognize that the real friends of the farmers are to be found in the Labour party.
– Will the honorable senator make that speech to the wives of the poor farmers?
-I have made it to the farmers on. a score of occasions, and I have explained to them the ideals of the Labour party.
– The honorable senator made that speech on the Yarra bank.
– Honorable senators opposite are mistaken in assuming that all Labour men must necessarily have grown up on the Yarra bank. When we see honorable senators opposite, whose interests, perhaps, lie with those who exploit the farmers, posing as the champions of the farming classes, we are able to estimate how sincere is their sympathy. I have seen for myself the trials and tribulations of the wheat-farmers. I know their difficulties, and how they have to struggle against adverse climatic conditions. There are in the Labour party many men who have tried to wring a living from the land, and the honorable senator’s gibe about the Yarrabank was a cheap one, indeed. The only interest some honorable senators opposite have in the farmers is to see how much they can make out of them. I trust that, when the division is taken on this amendment, the proposal of the Labour party will be agreed to, and that the farmers will be given something real, instead of the shadow which is all they would get from the proposal of the Government.
– But for the exhibition of mock heroics, of which the last speaker seems to be a master, I should not have spoken upon this bill. We have been treated to an exhibition of lip service to the interests of the primary producers, and particularly of the wheatfarmers, in circumstances that made me wonder whether I was dreaming. A few years ago, a prominent plank in the platform of the Labour party was a scheme for a home-consumption price of wheat. What does a home-consumption price connote if not that the man who buys the wheat must pay an Australian price for it? Now,when the Labour party hasa chance to apply its protective policy to the wheat industry, it resorts to devious means to defeat the proposal. We have heard from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), and from Senator Sheehan, who spoke with the moving eloquence that we have heard so often in the courts, a great deal about the pitiful plight of many of those who live in the cities. I have travelled through the mallee districts in South Australia, and have seen men existing on far less than the basic wage.
-Whose policy was it that impoverished them?
– Honorable senators of the Opposition do not like to hear the facts.
– On a point of order. Is Senator A. J. McLachlan in order in making personal reflections on members of the Opposition.
– I did not hear him make any.
– After what I have heard this evening, I should say that it is impossible to make reflections upon members of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition made an eloquent appeal on behalf of those who live in tenements in this capital city, and I admit that I was moved. I tell him, however, that the conditions under which many of the men and women have to live in the mallee districts of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales are infinitely worse than anything in the great cities, or here in Canberra. I have seen women giving their children in the mornings a meal of pollard. I have seen them at the wash-tubs with flour sacks cut up to protect their clothing. These are the people whom this bill is designed to help. It is time that a permanent scheme for the assistance of the wheat-farmers was evolved. We know that, a few years ago, the wheatfarmers in the Calare electorate were promised 6s. 6d. a bushel by a Labour representative. Let me remind honorable senators how the farmers have been disappointed time and time again over promises of the Labour party. The Scullin Government promised to make millions of pounds available for the payment of a guaranteed price to the growers, but how was that promise fulfilled? I do not blame Mr. Scullin. His Government’s proposals were dependent upon the parliament and the power of parliament to give effect to them, but this bill prevents the parliament from interfering with the fund to assist the wheat industry, which is vital to Australia. Honorable senators opposite talk about the reduction of the purchasing power of money, but I remind them that there is no tribunal to which a farmer can go when wheat is1s. 6d. a bushel. Honorable senators opposite are endeavouring to thwart the Government’s attempt to assist the farmers of this country. These primary producers work for much less than the basic wage, and their working hours each week would shock Senator Sheehan. The honorable senator may have had some experience on the land when he was a young man, but he has never had to face farming in the fringe districts, or he would know more about conditions there, and he would believe, as’ I believe, that the farming industry should no longer be made the plaything of political strategy and manoeuvring.
– What will this bill give to the farmers?
– It will give to them something, whereas they would get nothing from the amendment. Senator Wilson pointed out that this bill is dependent on complementary action by the State governments and parliaments. The States have legislated to do certain things, which will not he done if we pass the amendment. If we accept the amendment the promises which were unfulfilled in 1930 and 1931 might again be unfulfilled. Senator Cunningham said that Consolidated Revenue should be drawn upon to assist the wheat industry, but I ask what revenue is left after our statutory commitments have been met. On more than one occasion, because of the exigencies of the financial position, we have had to interfere with our statutory commitments. I regard this bill as a sincere step to render some assistance to the farmers in accordance with the fiscal principles of this country. Any attempt to destroy it should be treated with scorn. The farmers of Australia know that it is in their real interests.
It has been said that the passing of this measure will decrease the purchasing power of the industrialists and others on the basic wage. That may he the result for a time, but they themselves will see that the position is soon remedied. Even if that be its effect for a time, the passing of this bill will increase by exactly the same amount the purchasing power of these unfortunate men who are engaged in growing wheat in the backblocks of our civilization. In Victoria, farmers are facing a drought unparalleled in the history of that State, and in addition they are confronted by a variety of plagues and difficulties which would appal the man in the city. Having regard to the condition of these people, and to the fact that this country has had to find £12,000,000 for farmers’ debt adjustment
– How much of that money has been expended?
– That is a matter entirely for the States. Their requirements are met each year by the Loan Council. The money is there. In the light of those figures, the £1,500,000 mentioned by Senator Cameron shrinks into insignificance.
– The Government of which the honorable senator was a Minister did not find the £12,000,000 it promised for the adjustment of farmers’ debts.
– Year after year, the amount agreed upon has been found. The requirements of the States, with the exception of Victoria, have been met. Everything that could be done for the primary producers was done by the Government of which I was a member, and which I now support. The Lyons Government has done much more for the farming community than was done by the Government which promised the farmers 6s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat, and gave nothing to them. I point out to Senator Cunningham, who is a practical man, that in this bill there is some element of security and continuity of policy. Under it the farmers will not be dependent upon whether the amount to the credit of Consolidated Revenue be high or low. Moreover, by passing this bill we shall assist the primary producers to maintain a steadier level of prices than in the past. The ups and downs of the market have brought a great deal of trouble upon the wheat-growers of this country. Some of them have been the victims of high prices. “When prices were high they incurred heavy expenses in the education of their children and the purchase of landon which to settle their sons and daughters. High prices for wheat meant inflated prices for land; many farmers over-burdened themselves by paying more for land than it was worth. With this legislation on the statute-book the farmer will know that he must accept world prices for his wheat. Before long Abyssinia will be a big producer of wheat, and with increased production in Russia the farmer will realize that more than ever before he must have regard to the home-consumption price. Had he been left to the Government which no doubt honorable senators opposite supported in 1930-31, he would, indeed, have starved, notwithstanding its profession of life-long devotion to a home-consumption price for wheat and its promise of 6s.6d. a bushel. Time and time again, both in my own State and in other parts of Australia, I have heard representatives of the Labour party claim that they believe in a home-consumption price for wheat. Now, when it is offered to them, either because of political strategy - on which I cannot congratulate the Opposition - or because of some change of heart, they say that they do not want a homeconsumption price. Accordingly, an amendment has been moved, which, if carried, will be a direction to the Government to withdraw the bill - which means that the farmer will be left where he is until next March - and in the meantime make a payment out of Consolidated Revenue. What a way to assist the farmers who are in urgent need of help !
– It was not my intention to speak on this measure until I heard the remarks of the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat. The honorable gentleman said definitely that if the amendment be agreed to the farmers of Australia will get nothing. He knows, and every honorable senator on the other side knows, that that is a deliberate misrepresentation of the position. I cannot think that the honorable senator honestly believes what he said. The proposal contained in the amendment is that, instead of taking £4,000,000 from 90 per cent, of the poorer classes of the community and handing it to the farmers throughout the Commonwealth, that money be taken from Consolidated Revenue. As one who in the past has been engaged in wheat-growing, and, later, as a royal commissioner, inquired into the cost of the production of wheat in New South Wales, I claim to know something of the subject and of the con’dition of the wheat-growers of this country. On the occasion of the inquiry into the cost of producing wheat in New South Wales in the years 1920 to 1922, there was an organized effort on behalf of the Country party, voiced principally by men, some of whom now hold ministerial positions in the present Government, to prove that the cost of producing wheat in that State was not less than 5s. 6d. a bushel. At the same time there was in New South Wales what was known as the Necessary Commodities Commission which fixed the prices of all commodities including bread. On that occasion Judge Rolin and Mr. Black drew up a formal document setting out what the price of bread in relation to the price of wheat should be. On one occasion, when wheat was 9s. a bushel bread was sold over the counter for 6d. a loaf. To-day with wheat at less than 2s. 6d. a bushel on the average, the price of bread delivered at the home in Sydney is 5^-d., and if sold over the counter, 5d. a loaf.
– That is the point.
– What I have stated is a -fact. A few miles from Sydney in a town with less than 16,000 inhabitants there is a co-operative bakery which sells bread at 4d. a loaf in competition with private enterprise which also is making a good living. As most honorable senators have received telegrams from the Flour Millers Association on this subject, I remind them that within six months of every election for the last 25 years the flour-millers have increased the price of bread. The proceeds of that increase on each occasion drift into party funds. The findings of the Necessary Commodities Commission of 1921 made it clear that if aid is to be given to farmers it should not be given at the expense of the other poor classes.
Members of this Parliament receive £1,000 a year. I, who am one of them, have a wife and one child seventeen years of age. My next-door neighbour is a man who receives £6 a week, and has ten children, all of them less than eighteen years of age. Is it not equitable that I, in my circumstances, should be called upon to contribute more than he, in his circumstances? Yet, when I buy one loaf of bread, he buys six, and, accordingly, will pay more tax than J. Can honorable senators claim that the farmer wants money obtained in that way? I know the farmers, and I say that they do not. My peregrinations around New South Wales have been greater than those of Senator Dein, who so persistently interjects. He cannot claim knowledge of the needs of the farmers, whereas I can. I am positive that, if the farmers were given the opportunity to vote on this, they would reject the bread tax in favour of the plan submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. They would as one declare that any assistance that they receive should be given by those best able to bear the burden. I should willingly contribute ten times as much towards the fund as my next-door neighbour, who, when he has work, has about £6 a week with which to maintain his large family. This bill, however, not only prevents me from doing so, but also imposes upon him the obligation to contribute to the relief of the farmers an amount substantially greater than that which I shall be called upon to contribute. Is that fair? Is it fair also hat men who are even more illcircumstanced than he, men subsisting on relief work or the dole, should be called upon to carry a greater load in respect of assistance to the farmers than I and other honorable senators, and even men who have great wealth? Every honorable senator who votes for this bill will vote to take from recipients of relief and dole workers that which honorable senators opposite, and those who keep them in power, should contribute.
– Is that not what Lang’s flour tax did? The honorable senator supported that.
– I am not concerned about what any other person did. If it be the desire of the Senate to tax the poor, let us be frank about it and amend the bill to provide that the poor shall pay for the poor in order to relieve the idle rich.
In order to understand why the wheat farmers need this assistance, one has to delve into history. The condition of the farmers is not due, as some honorable senators opposite would have the people believe, to anything done by the Labour party. On the contrary, it is due to the failure of the tory governments which have held sway in this country for a great many years to take steps to prevent inflation of land values, and to prevent the settlement of men on land on the outer fringes which was sold at fictitious prices. In 1915, or 1916, when the first soldier settlement blocks were provided on the Oban estate, at Coolah, New South Wales, a man named Morton bought the land at £4 an acre and within three months sold it to the State Government for £8 an acre. Ever since then the unfortunate soldiers have been trying to make a living out of the growing of wheat on that land. They cannot even pay the interest on their mortgages. In order to help to rectify that mistake, the Government asks the Senate to call upon the poorer classes of the community to provide financial assistance for the wheatgrowers.
– The honorable senator knows that many of the men went in for wheat production in 1930 when Mr. Lang promised 7s. 6d. a bushel and gave nothing.
– A royal commission, which was set up by the honorable senator’s own party, brought to light the fact that the wheat-farmers are indebted to the mortgagees to the amount of £150,000,000. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition provides an alternative method for raising the £4,000,000 that is needed.
– The amendment does not say how the money is to be raised.
– The amendment suggests means, other than a bread tax, of raising the revenue. Honorable senators opposite declare that the method proposed in the bill is the best, and holds a gun to the heads of those in opposition by declaring that if the farmers do not get what the Government proposes they will get nothing. Senator A. J. McLachlan made an appeal for the passing of the bill on the ground of its urgency. This Parliament could sit until Christmas Day, if necessary, and to decide to tax the wealthy section of the com- munity in order to provide assistance for the wheat-growers. Is it necessary that honorable senators opposite should run away from Canberra and not come back until March?
– If the honorable senator would sit down, wo could give the farmer something for which he is waiting.
– The millers are waiting for this legislation, too, because they have stacks of wheat which they bought at 2s. Id. Honorable senators opposite say that the Labour party is opposed to assisting the farmers. ,1 deny that.
– So it is.
Opposition Senators. - Be fair!
– Who gave the farmers of New South Wales the Moratorium Act when the United Australia party was going to hunt them from their holdings? Labour! Who appointed accountants to take charge of their holdings, one of whom is earning £3,000 a year at Dubbo for looking after 30 farms ? The Fascist Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Stevens! The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition shows conclusively that we desire that the farmers shall be assisted, but that the money for their assistance shall be raised by a tax on income and not by a tax on flour and bread, of which the innocent little children will have to go short if the bill is passed in its present form.
.- Senator A. J. McLachlan said that the mock heroics of Senator Keane brought him . to his feet. The mock heroics of Senator A. J. McLachlan bring me to my feet. Nothing that I oan say on the merits or demerits of the bill and the amendment will shed any new light. I believe that this measure has been debated to such a degree that the subject has been worn threadbare. I must, however, take Senator A. J. McLachlan to task. It was like watching a heartrending play to hear the honorable senator tell of his visit to the Mallee, where he witnessed the wife of a poor farmer don hessian to protect her dress while she was washing up. The state of affairs which he so eloquently described is, unfortunately, true, but one does not have to go to the Mallee to see it. There are many parts of New South “Wales where conditions are similar.
– That is nonsense.
– I do not talk nonsense. Everything that I say in this Senate I oan back up with personal proof, and I shall go on to prove what I have said. During the last State election campaign it was my fortune to campaign in the central-west of New South “Wales. I found there s state of unrest that was a revelation. Senator A. J. McLachlan talked about the £12,000,000 that had been made available for farmers’ debt adjustment. I compare what he said about that money with the reaction of the people in the western districts, who were precluded from receiving any assistance from that money. It was a shame. I should like to see honorable senators opposite conducted on a tour, not only of the Mallee, but also of other wheat-growing areas in Australia. They could say to themselves then, “Well, we have been in charge of the government of this country for all of these years, but have allowed this state of circumstances to exist.” Who is to blame? What have honorable senators opposite ever done for the wheat-farmers? A few miserly thousands of pounds have been allocated to them, but the storekeepers and business men are the ones who keep the farmers from year to year. When money is made available for the assistance of the farmers, the first call on it is not for a new dress for his wife, or to pay his debt9 to the storekeeper ; the money goes to the bank in order to pay the interest on the mortgage.
– How many seats did Labour win in rural electorates at the last election?
– If the position were clearly understood by the people in the country, the Country party, which professes to represent them, would be wiped out of existence. Labour’s voice is never heard in the country except when visiting politicians speak at street- corner meetings. The subsidized country rags keep the truth from the people.
– Who subsidizes them!
– The United Country party and the United Australia party powers in Sydney. I can prove that these papers are subsidized by instancing the Goulburn Penny Post. I saw in that paper a long article attacking Labour. Desiring to reply to it, I approached the editor. He said, “ You can reply to it if you like to pay 3s. an inch, the same as they paid to have it published.” There is the proof. We followed this matter through every country town as far as We3t Wyalong. Labour’s voice is silenced; but whenever it is heard, it is understood. Senator A. J. McLachlan made quite a fuss about the £12,000,000 voted by this Government in. respect of farmers’ debt adjustment. I wonder whether the honorable senator realizes that any one owing money to tha Crown is excluded from receiving assistance under that grant. Recently, when I visited the south-west portions of New South Wales, I was informed on good authority that between West Wyalong and Condobolin, 700 farmers were in such a precarious position that it was only a matter of weeks before they would be obliged to walk off their farms. These men owe money to the Rural Bank, and when that sum of £12,000,000, of which the honorable senator spoke so proudly, was voted, they learned that they were excluded as debtors to the Crown from receiving assistance. Incidentally, only a small proportion of that £12,000,000 has yet been disbursed. The point I emphasize is that whilst farmers who owe money to the Government are excluded from this assistance, those owing money to the Bank of New South Wales, or to any other of the private banks, are helped. -It is only nominal assistance, however, because they are not allowed to touch any of tha money made available in respect of their debts. If a man owes £400, for instance, and £200 is made available to him from this grant, that £200 is paid directly te the bank, whilst the farmer himself receives no immediate assistance. But what does such an injustice mean to this Government? Surely by now it must realize that its duty is to ease the lot of the (primary producers. The only means by which the difficulties of the wheat-farmer can be permanently solved is through the recapitalization of farming lands. Until that be done, irrespective of the amount of money which this Government may make available to assist him, the farmer will never be enabled to get out of the slough of despair. As Senator Arthur pointed out, we have it on the authority of a royal commission that as much as £150,000,000 is owed by the primary producers of this country. In view of that fact, of what value is a grant of £500,000? Even if the farmers themselves were allowed to handle this money, and I doubt if they will be, they are so deeply involved in debt, particularly those who are operating on marginal lands, that it will be immediately swallowed up in paying the bank and the local tradespeople. It will not enable the farmer to buy a new dress for his wife, or to purchase more of the necessaries of life. Senator Foll stated that the Labour party had never done anything in the interests of the farmer, yet throughout this debate, honorable senators opposite have eulogized the Labour Government of Queensland for what it has done on behalf of primary producers. The Labour Government of New Zealand has guaranteed farmers in that country a definite price for their products. Further, it has revalued all farming lands, with the result that a farmer knows with certainty the value of his land and to what extent he may safely effect improvements upon it. It is because of the necessity for similar reforms in Australia that many of our farmers have gone bankrupt; their properties to-day are practically valueless. I repeat that Labour’s policy is the only practical way of dealing with the problems confronting primary producers. I am not opposing this measure; if we on this side cannot secure the adoption of the amendment, we shall do the next best thing and support the bill. Nobody can seriously suggest that the amount proposed to be made available under- the measure for the relief of wheat-growers is sufficient; it is ridiculously small. If the Government refuses to tackle this problem in a far more effective way than is indi cated by this bill, we shall find it asking this Parliament to make further grants year after year for this purpose. The sum of £500,000 will do little to relieve distressed farmers. Furthermore, when it is being disbursed, we shall probably find that friends of members of Parliament will be able to get assistance from this grant ‘more quickly than others who may be much more greatly in need of assistance. This debate has served a very useful purpose in that it should help the Government to realize that such proposals as are embodied in this bill do not tend to a permanent solution of the problems confronting primary industry. The criticism voiced may influence it to take more effective steps with the object of rehabilitating our primary industries until, eventually, they will be enabled to play the part they are destined to play in our community by supporting thousands of workers at award wages. If this debate does nothing else but awaken the Government to a greater sense of its responsibilities in this direction it will have been more than justified.
– I was suprised to hear the remarks made by Senator A. J. McLachlan. Perhaps I should not say I was surprised, because, during the twelve months for which I have been an honorable senator, I have gained some insight into the tactics employed by the honorable senator in his endeavours to “put it over “ his fellow members. He would have us believe that he is always very distressed concerning the problems of the primary producers, and other serious matters. I know that some honorable senators opposite appreciate what I am saying. Despite my knowledge of the honorable senator, however, I was at least taken aback to hear what he had to say to-night concerning the state of affairs which he said he discovered among the wheat farmers. I am astonished that he should wait until he got out of the Ministry before making a statement of that kind. I deprecate very strongly his allegation that the Labour party is opposed to the best interests of our primary industries. I was also very disappointed to hear Senator Foll, by interjection, express a similar view, particularly as the honorable senator must know of the wonderful achievements of the Labour government in Queensland on behalf of the primary producers in that State. That government is the only one which has accomplished anything of lasting benefit to our primary industries. I can well recall my early experiences as a sugar-grower, at a time when a tory government was in office in Queensland. Whenever the growers sought any redress, or improvement, they were obliged to interview certain people who had the power to determine what prices should be paid to the grower for his cane. On every occasion on which we waited on those gentlemen in order to secure a fair deal, they would reply, “ It is your business to grow the cane, and it is our business to tell you what we will give you for it”. Time after time, we urged the tory government then in office to redress the grievances of cane-growers, but it replied, in effect, that every plank of its platform would be splintered if it granted our requests. It was not until the advent of a Labour government that the conditions of the growers were improved, and they were enabled to secure a decent standard of living.
– The growers owe thanks to the Hughes and Bruce-Page Governments for what they did for the sugar industry.
– The original sugar agreement was brought about by the Fisher and Ryan Labour Governments. I admit that anti-Labour governments have renewed that agreement, and, of course, Senator Poll, and the Australian people as a whole, will agree that that was the right thing to do in the interests of an industry which is of such great importance to the economic welfare of this country. If honorable senators opposite can instance one thing accomplished in the interests of primary industries by their political predecessors, who have had control of this Parliament for twenty years, I shall be very pleased to hear it. Senator Leckie is somewhat doubtful as to whether the measure of assistance proposed under this measure should be given to the wheat-growers. I am not surprised that Senator Johnston so often criticizes this Government. He has every justification for being sour with it because of its neglect of primary industries. For too long, they have been carrying an excessive load because of the low prices ruling for their products overseas. If this Government were more progressive, it would do something in order to develop our industries more rapidly. I am a firm believer in “protection for our secondary industries, because I believe that primary production will never prosper unless our secondary industries prosper. Because of their outlook, those who favour freetrade will never achieve any permanent improvement on behalf of our industries, either primary or secondary. Any attempt on the part of this- Government to stabilize the price of wheat, or of any other primary product, in order to give to the producer a fair return, will always be supported by the Labour party. This measure is a step in the right direction. However, it is somewhat belated. I realize that the Commonwealth is faced with many constitutional obstacles in the way of stabilizing primary industry. Therefore, I am very pleased to see that the State governments have agreed on a common policy which this Government has undertaken to put into effect on a national scale. Any proposals framed on that basis will always have my wholehearted support. Our only objection to this particular measure is as to the method by which the Government proposes to raise the money necessary to provide this assistance. Like every other honorable senator on this side, I propose to support the amendment, but when it is defeated, as I feel sure it will be, I shall support the passage of the measure. We can only raise industrial standards in our rural industries by ensuring that the producer receives a fair price for his product; we cannot establish such standards merely by the making of awards. Our primary producers must first of all be enabled to stand on their own feet. A good deal of the trouble is caused by our unbalanced economy. Most of the markets of the world in which we have to dispose of our primary products have reached saturation point. I am disappointed at the failure of the Australian trade delegation which recently returned from overseas to achieve any good results for our primary producers. The Labour party stands four square behind the producers in every respect. It realizes that there can be no permanent advancement of this country unless the primary producers are fairly treated. Several honorable senators .during the course of this debate referred to the sugar industry. I only wish to say in reply that many sugar-farmers to-day find great difficulty in remaining on their farms because of the large proportion of their crops which has to be sold in the lowprice overseas market. The gibe that the Labour party is opposed to the granting of any assistance to primary industries is entirely unwarranted. To those who have repeated it to-night, I say that I do not think it represents the true expression of the opinion of honorable senators opposite.
– I congratulate Senator Courtice on his excellent summing up of the attitude of the Opposition towards this measure. He told us that the bill is belated; complained that it should have been brought forward long ago ; and having shed these tears at its belatedness then told us that he would support it. His support - and the support of his party - is summed up in their endeavour to postpone its operation.
– This debate was commenced today by Senator Wilson, who in his contribution indulged in vilification of honorable senators on this side of the chamber. He is doing it now. When he is not on his feet vilifying senators on this side of the chamber, he endeavours to use his legal knowledge in interjecting and cross-examining as would a police prosecutor in a police court. I do not ask for your protection, Mr. President, but would suggest that the honorable senator should at least try and be orderly during the debate. Even Senator A. S. McLachlan, who recently fell out of the Government buggy, abused the members of the party to which I belong. This party has never opposed the granting of relief to necessitous farmers or any other section of the primary industries of Australia; but it is opposed to the method proposed to be adopted in this bill to raise the money necessary to provide that relief. Another point which I regard as of importance is the proposed method of distribution of the proceeds of the tax. No mention has been made as to whether wealthy farmers who do not require assistance will participate in it. Senator Wilson said that the wheat industry is the most bankrupt of all industries, and that 50 per cent, of the wheat-farmers have no incomes; but the honorable senator did not offer any remedy for that state of affairs for which the ‘Government he supports is responsible. He also complained that the plight of the wheat-growers has resulted from the fluctuations of the price of wheat that have taken place during the last 30 years; but no suggestion has been made by honorable senators opposite as to the cause of these fluctuations. The greatest factor responsible for the unfortunate position of many of our wheatfarmers to-day, is the high prices which they have paid for land during boom times when the price of wheat was high. Most of them are carrying very heavy interest burdens and when wheat prices are low they are unable to meet their commitments. When wheat prices have been high, they have been able to show a fair margin of profit; but, immediately there is a fall of the normal price, they find themselves in difficulties. Another reason why many wheat-farmers are in difficulties today is that many of them have engaged on production in marginal areas. Mention has been made that there is no provision fo’r a permanent plan to fix the price of wheat to the farmer or to the miller ; but nothing has been said by honorable senators opposite with regard to the objection that might be raised to the fixing of the high price of bread to the consumer. Once this tax is imposed it will remain for all time. Senator Gibson said that in Queensland the price of wheat is fixed at 5s. 3d. a bushel under a compulsory pooling scheme. That scheme Avas introduced by a Labour government. The honorable senator omitted to mention, however, that bread is sold over the counter in Queensland at 5d. a loaf, compared with 4$d. a loaf in Sydney, where wheat is sold at 2s. a bushel. Senator Herbert Hays has complained of the necessity for having to rely on the States to implement legislation for the assistance of the wheat industry. I suggest that that could be remedied if the policy of unification adopted by the Labour party were given effect. Many protests have been made by organizations of wheat-growers all over Australia at the action of the Australian Trade Delegation, led by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), in agreeing at the instance of the Government of the United States of America to the removal of the preference of 2s. a quarter in respect of Australian, wheat on the British market. That preference, which was one of the few benefits we derived from the Ottawa Agreement, should never have been forfeited. To show how the wheatgrowers have been betrayed by the Leader of the Country party, and also how they will suffer great financial loss as the result of the forfeiting of this preference, I quote the following resolution agreed to by the executive of the Farmers and Settlers Association of Australia : -
We consider the surrender of the 2s. per quarter preference of Australian wheat, equivalent to 3d. or 4d. a bushel, the greatest injury the wheat industry has suffered in recent years, and is badly timed, and we strongly disapprove of the Australian Trade Delegate’s indifference and utter disregard of the protests of the leaders of the industry.
The Honorable Mr. Cambridge, M.L.C., general secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Farmers and Settlers Association of Australia, said that it is reliably estimated that in the four years up to March this year, the United Kingdom preference resulted in a direct monetary advantage of £2,231,000 to the Australian wheat-growers. The Federal Government, however, failed to take the wheatgrowers into its confidence. Instead, it went behind their backs and dealt a severe blow at a time when they were least able to bear it. The three largest wheat producing countries in the world, the United States of America, Canada and Argentina, are at present paying a guaranteed price for wheat out of Consolidated Revenue.
Friday2, December 1938.
The Government of the United States of America guarantees 60 cents, which is equal to 2s. 6d. a bushel in Australian currency, and Canada has agreed to pay its farmers according to grade, 80 cents at Fort William or Port Arthur, equal to about 60 cents at the railway stations in the provinces. The Argentine Government has already announced that it will guarantee its wheat-growers the minimum of seven pesos a cental, which, in Australian currency, is about 2s. 6d. a bushel.
Every honorable senator opposite who has spoken has intimated that he intends to support the measure, but I shall be interested to know how each will explain his attitude to consumers, and, particularly, those who cannot afford to pay an increased price of at least1d. a loaf on bread. Honorable senators appear to overlook the fact that the workers on the basic wage and dole recipients will be compelled to shoulder an additional burden. I wish to refute the following paragraph which appeared in a newspaper to-day : -
Voting in the Senate will be close, but it is known that the Labour Opposition in the Senate is unwilling at the moment to embarrass the Government for fear of precipitating a double dissolution. This “ noelection “ policy of the Opposition will probably mean that the Government will have a slender majority.
I dissociate myself and the members of the party entirely from that statement, and, if there has been any fear or suggestion of compromise in regard to legislation in this chamber, those overtures were made by the Government; that has actually occurred here to-night in respect of the measure with which we are dealing. Had that newspaper report been allowed to go unchallenged the people would have had an entirely wrong opinion of honorable senators in Opposition.
I understand that the proposed tax on flour will vary from £5 to £7 10s. a ton, which is the maximum tax to be imposed. If the tax be £5 a ton the price of bread will be increased by 1d. a loaf, and if it be £7 10s. a ton the price of bread will be increased to 61/2d. a loaf. Although the additional cost to small families or to persons in comfortable circumstances may be slight, a family of six children and two adults, who would consume at least four loaves of bread a day, will have to pay an additional 4d. a day, 2s. 4d. a week, or approximately £6 a year. That is an unduly heavy tax to impose upon the staple food of the working class.
– I cannot recall the honorable senator protesting against the action of Mr. Lang, who imposed a similar tax on flour.
– I am dealing, not with Mr. Lang, but with the action of this Government. I cannot rectify what happened some years ago, but I shall endeavour to prevent this undue tax being imposed upon the people, particularly when it will affect more particularly the poorer sections of the community. Up to the present only three farmers have supported the bill. I refer to Senators Dein, Wilson, and Johnston. I do not know what experience they have had in primary production, but, as I was reared on the land, 1 can speak with some authority of the hardships experienced by those who are wheat-growing, particularly in poor country. The proposed tax abrogates the main principle of taxation - that it shall not fall with undue severity upon the poorer people. If this tax were to be borne equally by all sections of the community, my opposition would not be so pronounced. Senator Dein endeavoured to show that the consumer always has to pay; but large families will suffer more severely than small families or those who do not consume much bread. I was surprised to hear the outburst of Senator A. J. McLachlan, who gave us the benefit of his experiences in the back country, where he had seen a woman protecting her clothes with a bag. He complained that many people outback had to live on porridge and use bag aprons to protect their clothes. Let me inform the honorable senator that many unfortunate people in city areas cannot get even porridge to eat, and have no clothes worth protecting.
– If the honorable senator will give me the names of any persons in that condition, I shall see that they receive assistance in 24 hours.
– I can furnish a long list of names. Senator A. J. McLachlan told us that he was not now a member, but only a supporter, of the Government. It seems to me that he actually repudiated the Government.
The bakers will be in a very difficult position if this bill is passed. I am informed that as assessors will have to be appointed to calculate the rate of tax that will be payable, the bakers will not know for a fortnight how much they will have to pay, although the tax will become operative from midnight on Sunday.
– The rate of tax can be calculated without great difficulty.
– That is not my information. I am told that the bakers will have to pay tax at an unknown rate and so will not know how much to put on the price of bread to meet it.
SenatorFoll. - One reason why the Government desires the bill to be passed without delay is to enable the rate of tax to be announced, so that the bakers will know where they stand. But, in any case, it will not be difficult to calculate the tax fairly accurately.
– I am glad to have that assurance. The Labour party is always favorable to the granting of assistance to necessitous farmers and other primary producers, but it does not think that bounties should be paid to farmers who are not in need. It is also opposed to the raising of the money for this bounty by means of a bread tax which will inflict hardship upon the poorer class and those less able to bear it. For this reason, I shall support the amendment.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Collings’ amendment) beleft out.
The Senate divided. (President - Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 - (5.) Any amount paid to a State under subsection (2.) of this section shall be paid upon condition that it is applied towards meeting the cost of transferring wheat-farmers, in accordance with plans approved by the Minister after advice from the State Minister, from lands unsuitable for the economic production of wheat, or of arranging for such lands to be used for other purposes.
.- I move-
That, after sub-clause 5, the following sub clause be added : - (6.) Notwithstanding anything contained in the last preceding sub-section, the Minister may, after advice from the State Minister, approve of the whole or any part of any amount paid to a State under sub-section (2.) of this section being applied in the provision of relief to distressed wheat-growers in that State in accordance with such method of distribution as is decided by the Minister after advice from the State Minister.
– The Government accepts the amendment.
– I oppose the amendment. One of the best features of the bill is that the fund will be used for the removal of men who are farming on unproductive land, and, as the amendment would destroy that useful purpose of the measure, I protest against the Government accepting it. The removal of farmers from the marginal lands would help to make the wheat industry efficient.
.- The amendment would not have the effect suggested by Senator Leckie. I recognize the necessity for applying a proportion of the surplus funds towards the cost of removing farmers from marginal areas; but, after the first year, one or more of the States may be visited by drought conditions, and the amendment merely provides that the Minister may, on the recommendation of a State Minister, decide the method of distribution by which distressed wheat-growers may be assisted out of the special account. It is unfair to say that all of the surplus funds, after the first year, should be used entirely for the purpose of removing farmers from marginal areas. Queensland could, for instance, receive no relief of this kind, because it has no marginal areas. Therefore, it is proposed that, if any State is hard hit by drought conditions, the Minister shall have the right to use part of the funds for drought relief. I hope that Senator Leckie will reconsider his decision to vote against the amendment.
– I oppose the amendment. It is generally recognized that drought relief is the function of the States. I am not enamoured of clause 7 at all. I think that all the money should be used to build up a payable price. However, because of the severity of the drought. I do not oppose the clause. I can imagine that the States, when called upon next year to perform their proper function of drought relief, will point out that the Commonwealth has set aside a sum of money for this purpose, and they will endeavour to shift the responsibility to the Commonwealth.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 8 to 15 agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Billre ported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
, - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I mentioned earlier that certain taxation measures would form part of the scheme for assisting the wheat-growers. This measure contains the machinery for the collection of the various taxes, except the export tax on flour. The provisions of this hill are, in the main, based on earlier Commonwealth flour tax and sales tax assessment acts. The scope and subjectmatter of the tax for the present, and until the time when wheat prices, if ever, rise above 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, will also be practically the same as the scope and subject-matter of the earlier flour taxes.
Broadly, the exemptions from the flour tax to millers and to holders of flour at the commencement of the tax are as follows : -
Flour for use as or in the manufacture of certain foodstuffs for human consumption, viz. : -
Foods for infants and invalids (if exempt from sales tax).
Foods for the use of public hospitals, public benevolent institutions, religious organizations and organizations for the relief of the unemployed.
Flour for use as or in the manufacture of foods for animals and birds.
Flour for use in the manufacture of goods other than foodstuffs.
Flour for exports or for use in the Northern Territory.
Bran and pollard.
The general scheme of the exemptions is to remove the burden of the tax from flour where it is used to produce goods which are directly competitive with goods which are not produced from flour, that is, breakfast foods produced from other cereals. Nearly the whole of the tax will fall on flour which is used in the production of bread, and the remaining field of the tax will be principally represented by semolina and other flour for use in the manufacture of macaroni, spaghetti and vermicelli. It is considered that the goods within the field of the tax are not in any direct or appreciable sense competitive with other goods.
Millers, as formerly, will be required to furnish returns and pay tax within 21 days after the close of the month in which they sold the flour or used it in the manufacture of other goods.
Persons, such as bakers and storekeepers, holding flour in stock, in excess of 1,000 lb. weight, at the commencement of the tax, will be required to furnish a return and pay the tax, if it does not exceed £5, on or before the 8th December, 1938. If the tax exceeds £5, they will be permitted to pay £5, or 20 per cent, of the tax, whichever is the greater, on or before the 8th December, 1938, and the balance by equal monthly instalments of 20 per cent, of the tax, or £5, whichever is the greater, except where, in any month, the unpaid balance is less than £5, in which case the instalment shall be the amount of the balance. Flour in transit to any person on the 5th December, 1938, shall be deemed to be held in stock by him on that date.
Tax is payable on flour produced by millers from wheat supplied by wheatgrowers for gristing and will also be payable by wheat-growers, if wheat prices should exceed 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, on wheat supplied by them to millers for gristing. Flour will be deemed to be sold by a miller at the time when he parts with possession of the flour. With the exception of certain cases in which the property in wheat is transferred without a contract for the sale of the wheat, wheat will be deemed to be sold at the time when the contract for the sale of wheat is entered into and the rate of tax applicable to the sale will be the rate in force at that time. Severe penalties are provided for the evasion of tax by failure to furnish, or by furnishing false, returns. The legislation provides for reference to the Income Tax Board of Review as a means of settlement of disputes between taxpayers and the Commissioner of Taxation. The legislation contains secrecy clauses similar to those contained in the sales tax law. I think that I have said sufficient to give honorable senators a general idea of the contents of this measure. If necessary, I shall be pleased to give further information in committee.
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.
This hill imposes the tax on all flour sold by millers or used by them in the manufacture of goods other than flour. This tax is really an excise on flour for home consumption. For the time being and for an indefinite period of time the tax will be confined to flour consumed in Australia, supplemented by a compensating tax on the more or less negligible imports of flour and of goods manufactured from flour. The rate of tax in this field will be designed to provide a fund sufficient to return to wheat-growers as a whole, and in the main on the basis of wheat individually produced, the equivalent of what they, as a whole, would receive if wheat for home consumption were sold at 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r.Williamstown. The rate of tax will vary according to the fluctuations of the price of wheat. It will increase when wheat prices fall and decrease when wheat prices rise. The tax will disappear when wheat is 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown.
The variations of the rate, and the period for which any particular rate will be operative, will depend upon the recommendations of the Wheat Stabilization Advisory Committee as to the amount by which, and the time when, flour prices ought to be increased or decreased in consequence of rises and falls of wheat prices during the period in which the price of wheat a bushel does not exceed 5s. 2d. f.o.r. Williamstown.
It should not be assumed that the operation of the tax is at the discretion of the Wheat Stabilization Advisory Committee. The terms of the imposition make it quite clear that the tax is imposed by Parliament and the control exercised by Parliament over the rate of the tax is evinced by the provision of a maximum rate of £7 10s. a ton of flour and by the provision of a rigid formula for the variation of the rate within the limit of the maximum. The only real discretion delegated by Parliament to the committee is the selection, with due regard to fluctuations of wheat prices, of the appropriate times for variations in the rate of tax. The maximum rate of £7 10s. a ton is conceived as the rate which would be appropriate if wheat prices fell to the lowest point, about 2s. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown, to which they could reasonably be expected to fall.
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.
This bill imposes the tax on all flour held by persons other than millers, for example, bakers and storekeepers, at the commencement of the tax. This bill is necessary not only to ensure that the tax is imposed on all flour for home consumption after the commencement of the tax, but also to obviate dislocation of the flour market by forward buying of flour in anticipation of the tax.
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.
This measure provides, first, for a tax on imported flour and on the flour content of imported goods manufactured from flour. Such imports are at present almost negligible but they would no doubt reach considerable proportions, and would also impose a serious competitive disability on local flour, if they were not made subject to the tax. The bill also provides for the taxation of exported wheat. It provides that, in the event of wheat prices rising above 5s. 2d. a bushel, f.o.r. Williamstown, a portion of the excess shall be levied upon the export of wheat which has not, prior to export, been the subject of a sale to a person in Australia. This part of the bill is complementary to the tax imposed by the Wheat Tax Bill on sales of wheat in Australia. The operation on the export tax which, like the imports tax, is a duty of customs and is therefore associated with the tax in the one measure, is a matter for the uncertain and, according to appearances, the fairly distant future when wheat prices rise above 5s. 2d. f.o.r. Williamstown.
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.
This bill will impose a tax on the first sales of wheat to persons in Australia, and will, like the export tax, operate only when wheat prices rise above 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown. This, with the tax on the export of wheat, is the farmers contribution to the stabilization scheme and is an essential feature of the long-range scheme visualized and recommended by the State Premiers. Its effect will bo that, whereas consumers of certain wheat products, namely, bread and macaroni will, in the interests of wheatgrowers, bear the burden of the tax in times of unprofitable wheat prices, wheatgrowers, in times of high wheat prices, will provide a fund designed to prevent increases in the prices of those products when wheat prices are high, and, of course, profitable. Normally, this wheat tax will not amount to more than from one-fifth to one-fourth of the excess of wheat prices a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown over 5s. 2d. As in the case of the flour tax the rate of tax depends, subject to the specified maximum of1s. a bushel, upon the recommendation of the wheat stabilization advisory committee. Parliamentary authority for the rate will be preserved by limiting the recommendations of the committee to a rate equal to such part of the excess of Williamstown wheat prices over 5s. 2d. a bushel as is proportionate to that part of the total Australian production of wheat, during the harvest year commencing on the preceding first day of October, which is used for home consumption.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I take this opportunity to protest against a procedure adopted in connexion with this late sitting which I consider to be an insult to honorable senators. It has been the practice to provide supper whenever the Senate sits on until the early hours of the morning. This evening no arrangements for this were made. I am not concerned so much about the inconvenience thereby caused honorable senators, although I consider it an insult to members of this chamber, but I am concerned about the great inconvenience caused to members of the Hansard staff and the Senate staff. I understand that it was on the order of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that the refreshment-room staff was instructed to go homo. I might add that members of both Hansard staff and the Senate staff were on duty until very early yesterday morning, and the very least the Government could have done was to provide supper for them this morning.. 1 do not think that this action speaks very much for the Government.
– in reply - I regret very much that the honorable senator has raised this matter. I point out, however, that members of the refreshment-room staff have had to work all through the night on three occasions this session, and when it was reported to me that they wore feeling very weary, I suggested that they should not be asked to provide supper this morning. Furthermore, I anticipated that we would make better progress with the business in this chamber than proved to be the case. It was agreed, however, that a skeleton refreshment-room staff should remain on duty, so that any one who was anxious to obtain a light supper could do so. I regret that the honorable senator has protested against action which I took simply in order to do something to help those men iv ho have had such a gruelling time. Furthermore, I was most anxious to get through the hills dealing with the wheat industry because certain members of the staff of the Commerce Department have not slept for three nights ; they are worthy of some consideration. The delay was no fault of the Government or of any Minister. I was prepared to take the risk in doing what I did in order to do justice to the members of the Commerce staff who have rendered excellent service in the preparation of these bills. I might add that after the Senate adjourns these officers have still to attend to the preparation of important documents associated with that legislation. ‘
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 1.16 a.m. (Friday).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 December 1938, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1938/19381201_senate_15_158/>.