16th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon.J. Cunningham) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the fourth progress report of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries.
asked the Minister assisting the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
Owing to the unfortunate misunderstanding that has arisen this year with regard to the price of blue peas, will the Minister consider reimbursing the growers the difference between the price paid for seed and that received for the crop?
SenatorFRASER. - The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer : -
The Government is unaware of any misunderstanding, and, as the price approved should return a reasonable profit for producers, further payment in respect of seed is not contemplated.
General Banking Business - Exemp tion of Employees from Military Service.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice-
Will the Treasurer issue instructions that the Commonwealth Bank shall accept general banking business without having it first referred to the private banks?
SenatorKEANE. - The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will the Postmaster-General consider granting the penny postage concession to the Women’s Auxiliary Services?
– The matter is already under consideration, and officers of the department have had discussions with the service departments. It is hoped that some statement of the position may be made at an early date.
Sites fob Distilleries.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for Supply and Development has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister assisting the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answers : -
Debate resumed from the 27th May (vide page 1543), on motion by Senator Keane -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– As the Minister in charge of the bill has pointed out, this measure represents the fulfilment of a promise made to Senator Spicer, on whose behalf I am now continuing the* debate, in respect of some amendments which he proposed when the original bill was before the chamber. The measure now before us gives effect to the wishes of the honorable senator, who was a member of the special committee which considered the draft bill before its introduction to the Parliament. Some comments have been offered by outside bodies regarding the effect of this legislation - comments which, I understand, have already been communicated to the Minister and his officers, and are now under consideration. There has been some criticism of the measure on the ground that it is contrary to all rules of equity and seeks to sanction the adoption of a value utterly unrelated to the real value of the subject of the gift. It is obvious that shares in a private company which carry restrictions in regard to transfer and voting power are of less value as a marketable security than if such shares were free from such conditions. The ignoring of such disabilities means that the tax is levied on an artificial basis unrelated to the real value of the asset and therefore it carries its own condemnation. The provision that the commissioner shall, be at liberty to act on the assumption that the company is in liquidation when in fact that is not so is scarcely a satisfactory solution in the view of a number of people who have no desire whatever to do anything which would be detrimental to the revenues of this country, but believe that where a company has certain restrictions on the transfer of shares, the basing of their value upon a liquidation of the company - which could not be brought about except with the sanction of the shareholders - is an unrealistic way to deal with the matter. There has also been some criticism of clause 9, which governs the amending of assessments. Having conferred with Senator Spicer on the subject, I am able to say that he appears to be satisfied that the provisions of the bill deal with that matter effectively.
Where in this bill, as well as in another measure which was before us yesterday, provision is made for assessing the value of life assurance policies taken out on behalf of another person, and where the premiums have been paid, it would be well if the Government were to harmonize the provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act, the Estate Duty Assessment Act and Gift Duty Assessment Act, so that they may be brought into line. I understand that this matter has been brought to the notice of the Minister, and that consideration is being given to it. The Opposition has no other criticism of the bill, and will not oppose its passing.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 2:7th May (vide page 1545), on motion by Senator KEANE -
That the. bill be now read a second time.
– This bill also represents the result of a promise given by the Government to certain suggestions made by honorable senators on this side of the chamber to treat more generously certain classes of persons who are affected by legislation relating to estate duty. The measure has been carefully considered by Senator Spicer, and generally the Opposition has no objection to offer to it, although there have been some observations as to this country’s lack of generosity to those members of the fighting forces who are serving us so gallantly in various fields of war. As, however, this measure gives to them some relief in that an exemption is made of the first £5,000 of their estate, whereas previously a man who left an estate valued at £5,001 had its whole value taken into consideration in assessing the amount of duty, that objection has largely -been overcome. That is certainly a step in the right direction, but the measure still falls far short of what other portions of the Empire have done in their treatment of men who risk their lives in its interests and whose estates are likely to be affected. Very strong comparisons have been made between the treatment we meted out to our soldiers during the last war, and Britain is meting out to its soldiers on this occasion, and the treatment which we propose to mete out to our soldiers during this war. However, these are the Government’s financial proposals. On the whole they represent an improvement od what was originally suggested. They are also much fairer. At the same time, they do not satisfy some critics, who are of opinion that our income tax, estate duty and gift duty provisions are not in keeping with each other. The arguments which I used in relation to the Gift Duty Assessment Bill apply to this measure. As the Minister pointed out in his second-reading speech, an effort is being made under this measure to give a degree of relief to people who benefit under life assurance policies. “Were that principle applied all round, honorable senators on this side would be better pleased. Senator Spicer desired me to make these remarks, and also to say that the matters with which we were mainly concerned, were brought to the notice of the Minister and departmental officers who have promised to give early consideration to them. Senator Spicer also said that the departmental officers were impressed with the views he had expressed. I have no criticism to offer of this measure; but certain people outside seem to think that it is not easy to reach finality in dealingwith the commissioner even in cases of taxpayers who are perfectly honest. The provision to permit the re-opening of assessments is likely to giverise to a great deal of trouble so far as taxpayers generally are concerned.
.- The treatment of soldiers under this measure was considered by the special committee, and its decision on the matter was unanimous. The only other comment I wish to mate at this juncture is that the easy passage of these two measures, which otherwise would have been highly contentious, is an excellent illustration of the usefulness of our present committee system. So long as such committees are representative of both Houses, and, as far as possible, of all parties in the Parliament, they promise to do very useful work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 -
Section 20 of the principal act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead : - (2.) Where an administrator has not made to the Commissioner a full and true disclosure of all the material facts necessary for the making of an assessment, and there has been an avoidance of duty, the Commissioner may -
Where he is of opinion that the avoidance of duty is due to fraud or evasion - at any time; and amend the assessment by making such alterations therein or additions thereto as he thinks necessary to correct an error in calculation or a mistake of fact or to prevent avoidance of duty, as the ease may be.
SenatorMcLEAY (South Australia - Leader of the Opposition) [3.25]. - Recently in Adelaide I received a deputation of taxation experts who complained of the practice developing in the taxation department of going back into the earnings of taxpayers for considerable periods. They cited investigations which had gone back as far as nineteen years. Having regard to the present high rates of taxes, the commissioner evidently is after all he can get. In cases of the kind I have mentioned, the taxpayer very often has no records for all of the periods to be re viewed. There is evidence in this Parliament of a bureaucratic tendency to reverse the established order by placing the onus of proof on the accused. That has happened on many occasions. Honorable senators will recall that when I was chairman of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee that body drew the attention of the Senate to the growth of this tendency,and showed that power in that direction was being abused in somecases. This trend is not peculiar to Australia. The same spirit has crept into legislation in other countries. The subject is admirably dealt with by Viscount Hewart in his book The New Despotism.
In view of the tendency of the commissioner to go back into the earnings of taxpayers for such long periods as I have mentioned, I contend that some limitation should be provided in that respect. For that reason I move -
That, in proposed new sub-section (2.)of new section 20, the words “ at any time” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words” within twelve years from the date upon which the duty became due and payable under the assessment”.
Twelve years is double the period fixed by the Statute of Limitations and I consider that is a reasonable term to fix in this case. I hope that the Minister will accept my amendment.
– I realize that there is much merit in the submission of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay). My official information is that this clause repeals section 20 of the principal act and inserts a new section in its place. The present section limits the time within which assessments can be amended to twelve months after the payment of duty, or, under certain somewhat unusual circumstances, to eighteen months, and it is proposed to extend this time to three years or where there has been an avoidance of duty due to fraud or evasion,to enable the assessment to be re-opened at any time. The insertion of these provisions in the act will bring it generally into line with other taxation measures. The proposed new section is to apply to assessments issued on or after the date of commencement of this act. I realize that it would be unreasonable to expect me, as an individual, to state now the condition of my affairs eighteen or nineteen years ago. I might be suspected of having infringed the act so long ago, but I would have no proof now to refute a charge of infringement. I am sorry that Senator .Spicer is not present to-day owing to illness in his family, because I should have liked to have discussed this matter with him. I shall accept the amendment because I think that it is reasonable.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 9 to 11 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That, in the opinion of the Senate, having in mind the difficulties confronting the wheatgrowers of Australia, particularly as the result of increased production costs and the effect of the war on flour and wheat exports, the Commonwealth Government should immediately authorize the Australian Wheat Board -
to limit charges on wheat in the No. 5 Fool to an amount not exceeding 9id. a bushel; and
to pay to farmers the guaranteed price, on the basis of bagged wheat at 3s. lOd. a bushel free on board, for all wheat delivered into the No. 5 Pool.
That this resolution be transmitted to the House of Representatives requesting its concurrence therein.
I propose, first, to furnish for the information of honorable senators an historical survey of the establishment of the different wheat pools, the operations of which have become somewhat complicated. At the outbreak of the war, Senator McBride and I were entrusted with the administration of the Department of Commerce, and we had to follow carefully the ramifications of these pools. When the war broke out in 1939, there was a surplus of a little less than 20,000,000 bushels of wheat in Australia. The wheat was acquired by the Australian Wheat Board and dealt with in the No. 1 pool. The wheat harvest of 1939-40 was placed in two pools, designated the No. 2 and No. 3 pools. The Australian Wheat Board received into the No. 2 pool 196,000,000 bushels. In that harvest there was a small quantity’ of wheat, particularly from New South Wales, affected by rust, and it was placed in the Ho. 3 pool. The quantity so dealt with was approximately 1,000,000 bushels. The harvest of the next season, 1940-41, was put into the No. 4 pool, and because of the dry year, the crop was small and the Australian Wheat Board received only 64,000,000 bushels. The No. 5 pool was established for the 1941-42 crop. Up to date, the board estimates that the quantity of wheat that will be received into the pool will be 153,000,000 bushels. I am pleased that the Australian Wheat Board was able, with the assistance of the Department of Commerce, to handle the crops received into Nos. 2, 3 and 4 pools and dispose of the wheat in a very satisfactory manner. The figures I propose quoting are based on a rough estimate and are given in round numbers, but J think that on the basis of the information that has been published the Minister who will speak to the motion will find that my figures are approximately correct; if they are not, he will have the opportunity to show honorable senators where my figures are inaccurate. In the 1939-40 season, the Australian wheat crop totalled 196,000,000 bushels, which was one of the biggest crops we had ever had. Fortunately we were successful in disposing of large quantities of that wheat to the United Kingdom. Some of the wheat for which the United Kingdom Government paid was not shipped, and I understand that there is still a small quantity of it in this country. However, it has been paid for, and for all practical purposes, the pool has been finalized. I gather from reports that I have seen from time to time that there is still l£d. a bushel due to the wheat-farmers of Australia from that pool, and my suggestion is that the Government should authorize the Australian Wheat Board to pay that amount forthwith. Wheat-farmers are having rather a difficult time, and the wheat for which payment is still outstanding was delivered in 1939 - three years ago. Honorable senators will be pleased to know that when the final lid. a bushel is paid, that pool will have realized 4s. Id. a bushel f.o.b. for bagged wheat. All the figures which I am quoting refer to bagged wheat because the payment for bulk wheat was 2d. a bushel less. As I have said, the pool will have realized 4s. Id. a bushel f.o.b., the charges for storage, freight, &c, amounting to approximately 9£d. a bushel. A perusal of records at the Department of Commerce will show that when the original calculation was made in respect of this pool, it was estimated that 9d. a bushel would cover all charges, based on an average rail freight throughout Australia of 4 1/2 d. a bushel. It will be realized that in cases where the freight amounted to. more than 4£d. a bushel, the additional cost had to be met by the farmer, but if the freight was less than that, the farmer received the benefit. In effect, therefore, for that crop the farmers received approximately 3s. 3£d. a bushel at country sidings. The first point that I wish to make is that the Government should pay to the farmers the amount still owing from that pool. I have written to the Minister for Commerce on several occasions in regard to this matter, but so far I have been unable to induce the Government to take action. It will he appreciated that portion of that wheat was not paid for when it was sold. That money is now in Australia and it should be only a matter of transferring it from the Treasury to the Australian Wheat Board.
– I am pleased that the honorable senator has made that correction. Previously he said that all the wheat was delivered to the United Kingdom.
– I said that the whole of the wheat purchased by the British Government had been paid for, but a small quantity still remained to be shipped. The amount still owing to farmers from that pool is approximately £1,250,000.
Then we come to the No. 4 pool, which was estimated to total 64,000,000 bushels. I believe that in respect of that pool, 4£d. a bushel is still owing to the farmers, making the total about 4s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. or 3s. 7£d. a bushel at country sidings, allowing charges at 9-Jd. a bushel. That additional 4 1/2 d. a bushel amounts to approximately £1,250,000, which is the same amount that is owing from the previous pool.
It is estimated that the receivals for the No. 5 pool totalled 153,000,000 bushels. It has been reported in the press that the Government does not propose to pay the wheat-farmers the full amount lor the 13,000,000 bushels received by the board in excess of the quantity guaranteed. That would amount to repudiation, or breach of promise, and I urge the Government to reconsider the matter. Press reports indicate that because the receivals amounted to 153,000,000 bushels, the total payment that the previous Government promised for 140,000,000 bushels would be spread over the larger quantity. That would mean that the farmers of Australia - I understand that they are entitled to ft further 5d. a bushel from this particular pool- would lose £3,250,000. I point out that this arrangement for a stabilization scheme and the guaranteeing of payment for 140,000,000 bushels was made by the Menzies Government in October, 1940. The then Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) introduced the necessary legislation in November, 1940. Since then the position has altered considerably because of the entry of Japan into the war. So far as the No. 5 wheat-pool is concerned, the Australian Wheat Board now finds itself in the same position as did the Apple and Pear Board in connexion with the export trade of the fruit which is handled. I think that the export on 153,000,000 bushels would be something like 80 per cent, in a normal year, but owing to the war position, it will be impossible for the Australian Wheat Board to dispose of the exportable surplus until the end of hostilities. In the handling of that problem the board and the Government have been confronted with the problem of meeting interest on overdrafts and very heavy charges for storage, &c. I understand that up to the end of June this year, the charges for which the board is liable will amount to something like 9£d. a bushel. As we consider that to be a reasonable charge for one season’s wheat, we suggest to the Government that in view of the war situation, charges on that pool should be limited to 9 1/2 d. a bushel, and that the farmers should be paid for the 153,000,000 bushels delivered to the pool. Costs of production have increased greatly since 1940, when this proposal was first submitted. Superphosphate has increased by 50 per cent., the price of corn-sacks has gone up, and corresponding increases have taken place in other charges such as sales tax. For that reason, the Government should review the payment of 3s. lOd. a bushel and, if possible, go beyond the amount suggested in this motion. If that could be done, the farmers would be very grateful. What I have suggested is reasonable and fair to the large body of primary producers who are not blessed with the favoured! conditions enjoyed by some others in industry. I have been associated with the wheat industry very- closely, and know that the work of the farmers is arduous. They do not work only eight hours a day ; they are engaged from daylight to dark. Considering that invalid and old-age pensions have been increased by 25 per cent., and having regard to the payment of child endowment and pensions to widows, the wheat-farmers are entitled to some consideration from the Government, and I am anxious to hear an announcement by the- Minister before the conclusion of the present sittings. If the Government is prepared to accept the suggestion made to it, the farmers will receive a further £3,250,000 for the wheat delivered to the No. 5 pool, which means, in round figures, that the Government is now owing the wheat-farmers of Australia £5,750,000.
I take exception to the statements made by the Minister -for Commerce (Mr. Scully) from time to time about what the various pools are costing the Government. We have only to consider the facts that I have placed before the Senate to realize that the wheat delivered in 1939-40, and in 1940-41, has not cost the Government anything. The realization price of 4s. I’d. a bushel for wheat in the No. 2 pool and about 4s. 4d. or 4s. 5d. a bushel for wheat in the No. 4 pool is considerably above the 3s. lOd. a bushel’ which was guaranteed, in 1940. It is interesting to estimate whether the Treasury has .benefited up’ to date from the realizations on tie three pools. I recognize that interest would cost on an average about id. a bushel, and I think that the rate due to the Commonwealth Bank . was 3£ per cent. Taking the interest charges on the wheat for the three years, we find that the wheat-farmer has paid to the Commonwealth Bank approximately £1,293,750, half of that sum having gone to the credit of the bank and the other half into the Treasury. That figure is an estimate, and allowance must be made for the charges incurred.
Another interesting feature of the scheme should be considered. I desire to correct statements made from time to time that misrepresent the position. The Australian Wheat Board has been accused of incurring extravagant costs in the management of the pools. I mentioned earlier that I estimated the charges at 9 1/2 d. a bushel, out of which the State and Commonwealth railways receive on the average 4-Jd. a bushel, so it may be said that half of the charges are paid to the various railway departments for freight alone. On the. three pools, the railways departments have received no less than. £7,750,000 in freight charges. Of course, State governments have received other benefits such as harbour dues. That shows the value of the wheat industry to the various governments in. this country. I pay a tribute to the Australian Wheat Board. It was established at the outbreak of war, and it had to put the scheme into operation promptly. It has done an exceedingly good job for the wheat-farmers, and for the Government. That fact can be substantiated by the balance-sheets presented with regard to the operations of the pools. Some of the members of the board have given their services in an. honorary capacity.
– Some have been well paid.
– Not the members of the board. I admit that the manager. Mr. J. Thomson, is paid a good salary. Considering the millions of pounds lost during the last war period through purting inexperienced men in charge of the wheat scheme, the present board has rendered invaluable service.
– The board has benefited by the .experience gained during the last war.
– That is so. The board has shown great judgment in its colossal task. It obtained as manager a gentleman who was considered by it to be the best person available in Australia for the work, and it was prepared to pay to him what it considered to be a fair salary.
– The manager was well paid in his previous job.
– Yes. The appointment of Mr. Thomson was the best investment that could have been made in the interests of the wheat-farmers.
I am not able to state what were the exact intentions, under the scheme introduced by the former Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) in 1940, with regard to the method of disposal of any wheat received over and above the 140,000,000 bushels which was the basis of the guarantee. I do, however, know that provision was intended and made for the disposal of any such surplus. Any attempt to avoid payment on the present surplus of 13,000,000 bushels I regard as repudiation of the Government’s obligations in the matter. If the Minister has any doubt on that matter I refer him to the Hansard report of the speech of the then Minister for Commerce on the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill in 1940, in which the following passage occurs : -
It must be realized that any wheat grown in excess of the 140,000.000 bushels basis will not participate in the guarantee. The same must, of course, apply to surplus hay, but facilities for its disposal will ie provided. [t is clear that the intention of the Menzies Government was that any wheat in excess of 140,000.000 bushels would be paid for at realization. In view of the altered conditions to-day, due to the war, it would be impossible to realize on the crop, and, in the circumstances, the Government has no alternative but to pay on the full quantity. A payment of 3s. lOd. a bushel would only be fair to the wheat-growers, as even that rate would be considerably less than the realization from other pools, which turned out so satisfactorily. When th.e Minister’s statement appeared, there was great concern among the various wheatgrowing organizations of Australia. In order that the Senate may appreciate the nature of the protests which were received, I shall read the following extracts from a letter from Mr. W. C.
Cambridge. the general secretary of the Farmers and .Settlers Association of New South Wales, dated the 2-6th May:-
Rc Cutting Wheat Guarantee from 3s. lOd. f.o.r. to ‘is. fi.ld. 1 am directed by the executive of my asso ciation to strongly protest against such action. Hansard shows that Sir Earle Page announced when putting the bill through Parliament that 140.000,000 bushels would be paid for at 3s. lOd. f.o.t., and that “ facilities would be provided for marketing the surplus “. You stated you would honour the previous Government’s undertaking.
We are aware that a joint meeting, over a year ago, carried a certain resolution, but the matter was taken up straight away with Sir Earle Page and a definite assurance was given “ that up to the full quota would be paid for at ‘ the guaranteed price ‘, and if * surplus was produced on the licensed area it would be sold when possible and proceeds paid to the farmers “.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. CuIIen are both aware of the fact that Sir Earle refused to make any pronouncement departing in any way from the full guarantee provided by the act.
If you were to spread the money involved in the guarantee over 130,000,000 bushels, it would be taking 1 3.000,000 bushels of farmers’ wheat, probably worth over £1,500,000, for nothing; in the debate, nor since, did the previous Government make such a proposal. Sir Earle Page’s assurance was definitely to the contrary.
Even at the full guarantee, farmers will be nearly £7,000,000 short of the 1930-40 returns with 1940 a wash-out.
The Opposition suggests, as indeed the motion states, that this resolution be sent to the House of Representatives for its concurrence, and I hope that tie Minister will agree to that course. I suggest that it would be foolish to argue that certain things were intended, or that certain things should have been done, because since the original proposals were put forward, the international situation has altered considerably by the entry of Japan into the war. I conclude by summarizing my comments, which are set out in the motion before the Chair. It reads -
That, in the opinion of the Senate, having in mind the difficulties confronting the wheatgrowers of Australia., particularly as the result of increased production costs and the effect of the war on flour and wheat exports, the Commonwealth Government should immediately authorize the Australian Wheat Board -
That this resolution be transmitted to the House of Representatives requesting its concurrence therein.
– It is indeed a pleasure to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) endeavouring to do something for the wheat-farmers of this country. When I was in opposition, I endeavoured to do for them what lay in my power, and I am still endeavouring to be consistent in that attitude. I shall not go into the history of the various wheat pools, as the facta are well known to honorable senators, but I should like to know from the Leader of the Opposition whether any of the wheat-growers’ associations received a guarantee in the terms of the letter which the honorable senator has just read.
– The position is set out clearly in Hansard.
- Senator McBride’s remarks on the subject are also in Hansard. I shall quote what the honorable senator said on the11th December, 1940, as reported in Hansard, page 888, when, as Minister for Supply and Development, he moved the second reading of the Wheat Tax (War-time) Bill -
There will be a guaranteed price of 3s.10d. a bushel f.o.b. ports, for bagged wheat. This means the return to the grower will be the guaranteed price of 3s.10d. a bushel, less all costs, including receiving, handling, railage, storage and placing on board.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned to-day that those charges would be about 9½d. a bushel.
– That was expected to be the average charge.
– The speech of the then Minister continued -
This guaranteed price will apply to a marketed crop of140,000,000 bushels. This means actually a crop of160.000,000 bushels for Australia and about 20,000,000 bushels each year is retained on the farms for seed and other purposes, and is not marketed.
That was a very good explanation of the guaranteed price on aproduction of 140,000,000 bushels.
– I do not disagree with it.
– This Government intends to follow the policy laid down by its predecessor in that respect. The Leader of the Opposition has referred to the difficulties confronting the wheatgrowers generally, and has asked that the Government review the payments to growers in respect of deliveries to the various pools. In regard to his first proposition, namely, that the Australian Wheat Board be authorized to make immediate payment in respect of deliveries topools Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4, the Government has had this matter under consideration for some time, and is now awaiting certain advice in order to finalize the matter.
– For how long has the matter been under consideration ?
– The Leader of the Opposition has answered that question. He pointed out the difficulties which confront the Governmentin the matter. When he was Minister for Commerce he authorized the sale of wheat on credit to a country with which we are now at war.
– That has been paid for.
– No ; the Government has not been paid for that wheat, and arrangements are now being made to finalize that transaction.
– What is the amount involved?
– Approximately £260,000 sterling. So soon as a settlement is made, payments will be madeto the growers. Honorable senators will recognize that some delay has been occasioned in respect of that amount. That applies to wheat in No. 2 pool. The No. 3 pool is a subdivision of No. 2 pool, and, therefore, does not call for special comment, particularly as the Leader of the Opposition set out the facts in respect of it. The Government is carefully watching the position with regard to No. 2 pool, and expects in the near future to be able to announce the final payment which will be made in respect of that pool. No. 4 pool covers wheat harvested in the1940-41 season, and the Government has decided the amount of the additional advance which will be paid in respect of that wheat. Honorable senators will recognize that it takes time to make final adjustments in these matters. This Government is taking no longer in that respect than its predecessor. In some cases it has acted more expeditiously.
– I have not made a protest, but a request.
– That is so; and I am endeavouring to give the honorable senator the fullest information. In respect of No. 4 pool, the Government has already decided the amount of the additional advance which will be paid. I had hoped to be able to announce the amount of that advance to-day. I assure honorable senators that as soon as the details have been finally worked out, that information will be given to Parliament and to the wheat-growers.
The second point raised by the Leader of the Opposition referred to the limitation of charges on wheat delivered to the No. 5 pool. He suggested that these charges should not exceed 9£d. a bushel. He will recall that the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel, f.o.b. operated in respect of this pool, and that price was determined by the Government of which he was a member. I am informed that in arriving at this figure the Government of the day was of opinion that one of the essential features of the wheat industry stabilization scheme was thatlengthy storage would probably be required owing to loss of overseas markets and shipping difficulties; and that this guaranteed price made special allowance in respect of those additional charges. The total charges in connexion with No. 5 pool will not be determined for some considerable time. However, the adoption of the honorable senator’s suggestion would be tantamount to increasing the guaranteed price. That is what the honorable senator desires the Government to do.
– But the’ honorable senator did not desire to do that when he was Minister for Commerce. Honorable senators will appreciate that the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. was determined by the pre vious Government. It may be assumed that, in arriving at that figure, consideration wa3 given to the extra cost of production which would be incurred by farmers producing wheat during the 1941-42 season. This Government has endeavoured to adhere to the arrangement made under the wheat stabilization scheme in respect of the 1941-42 crop, and to carry out the wishes of the previous Government. We do not consider that any alteration of that arrangement should be made at this stage, particularly in view of the fact that a substantial advance against wheat already received into this pool has been made to growers throughout Australia. I am surprised at the proposal put forward by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government should authorize the payment of the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel, f.o.b., for all wheat delivered into the No. 5 pool. Surely, he is aware that that price was fixed specifically in relation to a marketable crop of 140,000,000 bushels under the scheme introduced by the government of which he was a member. In this respect, I propose to read certain extracts from the debate which took place in the House of Representatives when the present Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) moved the adjournment of the House on the 1st July, 1941, in order to discuss the wheat industry stabilization scheme. Replying to that debate, the former Minister for Commerce, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), repeatedly stated that the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. was fixed in respect of a marketable crop of 140,000,000 bushels. While the wheatgrowers of Australia have been united on the scheme as a whole, it is apparent that members of the present Opposition who supported the government which introduced the scheme must have been divided on the policy embodied in it. From official records of the Department of Commerce it is clear that, from the commencement of that scheme, it was always understood that the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel would be in respect of only a marketable crop of 140,000,000 bushels. That is borne out by the speech made by Senator McBride when a Minister.
– But the extra wheat lias to be realized and paid for.
– I shall deal with that point later. It was obvious that, if not in the first season, at least in later seasons, there would be variations of yields. Repeated attempts were made by various people to induce the then Minister for Commerce, the right honorable member for Cowper, to commit himself, orally or otherwise, that all wheat in excess of 140,000,000 bushels would be paid for; but he refused to do so.
– And the people who urged him to commit himself in that way now refuse to pay for that wheat.
– The people who asked, him at that time to commit himself were the wheat-growers. I repeat that this Government is carrying out the policy laid down by the previous Government. There were two alternative methods of payment. One is the method which was accepted by the previous Government, and which is being implemented by the present Government, namely, the total fund spread over total receivals. The second would be to pay the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel on 140,000,000 bushels and to place the excess receivals in a separate pool. Wheat-growers would be paid whatever amount was received for the sale of the wheat in the second pool.
I have been informed that the former Minister for Commerce at first favoured the second alternative method but that he sought the advice of the industry before making any pronouncement as to the Government’s policy. He therefore convened a conference of members of the Australian Wheat Board, the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board and the Wheat-growers Advisory Committee, which met in Melbourne on the 2nd May, 1941.
For the information of honorable senators, I would mention that the Wheatgrowers Advisory Committee consisted of representatives of the Australian Wheat-growers Federation which nominated a member from each of the four large wheat-growing Stales. The representatives on the committee were : Mr. Maycock of the South Australian Wheatgrowers Association, Mr. Marshman of the Victorian Wheat and Wool-growers Association, Mr. Watson of the Wheat and Wool-growers Union of Western Australia, Mr. Kendall of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, and Mr. Stott, secretary of the Australian Wheat-growers Federation. In addition to the foregoing, the following wheat-growers’ representatives were present at the meeting: - Mr. Cullen of the Victorian Wheat and Wool-growers Association, Mr. Field of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, Mr. Diver of the Primary Producers Association of Western Australia, and Mr. Clarke, representative of South Australian wheat-growers. Those four men were the wheat-growers’ representatives on the Australian Wheat Board.
I have detailed these names because they will indicate to any one familiar with the Australian wheat industry that those men were competent to represent the wheat-growers. After a lengthy discussion of the problem of the method of payment, the conference unanimously recommended to the Minister for Commerce the following resolution-
– Unanimously ?
– Yes, that is the policy on which the then Minister, Sir Earle Page, based the plan. The resolution read -
That when the marketable crop exceeds the quantity on which the guaranteed price is payable and the realizations from the sale of that crop do not return to growers the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. per bushel f.o.b. ports bagged basis, payment of 3s. lOd. per bushel on the guaranteed quantity be averaged for the whole marketable crop for tho year.
I would point out that the wheatgrowers’ representatives on this occasion conferred by themselves regarding this resolution and unanimously decided to support its recommendation to the Government. There is no indication that the Minister for Commerce accepted or rejected this recommendation, but it is obvious that it was a recommendation made to the Government through the Minister and as such expressed the views and the wishes of the majority of the wheat-growers of Australia. The Minister for Commerce, when he made his statement in the House of Representatives recently that he intended to pay the average price for the total receivals, adhered to the terms of the resolution which I have mentioned. I would point out that the total receivals by the Australian Wheat Board in respect of ibis season’s harvest- were 153,000,000 bushels or 13,000,000 bushels, in excess of the marketable crop of 140,000,000 bushels. When Senator McBride moved the second reading of the bill dealing with the matter, he assessed 20,000,000 bushels as “the excess of receivals by the Australian Wheat Board.
– That quantity represented the wheat held on the farms.
– The extra production accounted for the excess of 1.3,000,000 bushels.
– Important factors that must be considered were reduction of acreage sown, limitation of the supply of superphosphates and reduction of manpower.
– I do not believe that there is anything less than 20,000,000 bushels held back on the farms.
– The division of the total fund available over the total receivals. will result, in a payment of. approximately 3s. 6d. a bushel, f.o.b., to wheat-growers. The 153,000,000 bushels received by the Australian Wheat Board do not include any wheat produced by wheat-growers on excess areas. This wheat has been placed in a separate pool and the Government will deal with it as a special problem. The total receivals represent wheat grown on registered land in accordance with the provisions of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Regulations. The request now submitted would hive the effect of increasing the liability of the Commonwealth Government in respect of No. 5 pool by ?2,500,000, but I would suggest that the decision of my colleague, the Minister for Commerce, as already announced, conforms in every way with the policy of the previous Government as formulated and put into effect by its- representative, the former Minister few- Commerce- (Sir Earle Page)1. As far as this’ Government has been able to ascertain, it meets the wishes of the great majority of the wheat-growers of Australia, who knew and’ understood the position prior to the- harvesting of the crop. As: I have mentioned previously growers have been paid a substantial advance against the wheat in No. 5 pool, and the Government is not prepared1 at this stage to make any alteration of a scheme which received the almost unanimous endorsement of the wheatgrowers. I cannot appreciate the reason why the Leader of the Opposition has raised (he matter by means of this motion. He could have secured all the information he desires by placing a question on the notice-paper. As a former Minister’ for Commerce, the Leader of the Opposition must know that, wheat shipped- to- Japan has not yet been paid for..
– A small portion of it has not been, paid for.
– I shall now quote the resolutions of the conference of wheatgrowers’ representatives to which I referred.
– When was the conference held?
– It was held in Melbourne on the 1st May, 1941. I shall quote first a statement made by Mr. Teasdale, and I am sure Senator Johnston appreciates what Mr.-. Teasdale has done for the wheat-growers. He said -
It was necessary to be realistic. At- present there was no prospect of selling 140,000,000 bushel’s, and any excess’ over that figure had’ no value at all. Under present conditions1 it was1 actually a liability, although later with altered conditions’ it might become an asset; Until the Government, had recovered the ?26,000,000 involved in the guarantee there would not be anything available for excess production.
Mr. Cullen stated that ;
Growers, have realized the position in regard to the. excess over 1’40,000,0’00 bushel’s’ and they realized that there might be no returns- from; it. There would, however,, be charges in respect of. this excess and the: question was raised as. to how they should be provided for.
Similar views were expressed by other representatives of the various wheatgrowers’ organizations. The conference did not act hastily, or without adequate consideration. On the first day of the conference, the. following resolution was submi tted : -
That when the marketable crop exceeds the quantity around which the guaranteed price is’ payable”, and1 the- realization from the sale of that crop does not return to growers the guaranteed price of 3s.. 10d.. per bushel f..o.b. ports bagged basis-, payment of 3s. 10’d. per bushel on the guaranteed quantity bi> averaged for the whale marketable crop for the year.
The resolution was given further consideration when the conference assembled at 2.15 p.m. on the following day. It was carried and submitted to the Minister for Commerce as the basis of the stabilization plan. That is borne out in Senator McBride’s second-reading speech on the “Wheat Tax (War-time) Bill 1940 on the 11th December, 1940, in which he said -
The Commonwealth Government’s liability with respect to the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. is limited to a marketed crop not exceeding 140,000,000 bushels.
There is no difference between that and the resolution carried by the conference.
– There is.
– Not a bit of difference. The Commonwealth guarantee is limited to 140,000,000 bushels.
– And the farmer to get what the balance realized when it was sold.
– There can be no ambiguity about this matter. I am sure that neither the previous Government nor any other government would have exceeded what was demanded by the conference. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) is endeavouring to raise the enthusiasm of the wheat-growers in regard to this matter, especially in view of the fact that there are rumours of a second wheat stabilization plan which exceeds in detail the one now in operation. That is quite unnecessary because the Government realizes that something has to be done for the wheat-grower, just as it realized that something had to be done for the woolgrower. The Government intends to carry out the plan which was recommended in the resolution carried by the wheat conference.
– That resolution was agreed to six months after the legislation was enacted.
– Yes, but it endorsed what had been ‘done. At no stage did the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) say definitely that this would apply to the whole of tha production in excess of 140,000,000 bushels. The case presented by the Leader of the Opposition has been based on wrong premises. I do not accuse him of political motives, because
I realize that he is entitled to submit the motion now before us. I assure the honorable senator, however, that the Government will adhere to the scheme drawn up by a previous Government and endorsed at the conference of wheatgrowers’ representatives which was convened by Sir Earle Page.
– Is the Government likely to obtain £260,000 sterling which is outstanding? That money is now in Australia. ‘Senator FRASER. - It is, and I can assure honorable senators that every effort is being made to obtain it. As soon as the money is available it will be paid to the wheat-growers.
– I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) upon having submitted this motion, because it goes to the heart of the present problems of the wheatgrowers. The honorable gentleman certainly set out their present requirements in a highly capable manner. On the 1939-40 crop the quantity of wheat received was 196,000,000 bushels, which realized 4s. Id. a bushel f.o.b. In round figures, £1,500,000 is owing to the farmers, in respect of that wheat. If there is one thing the farmers require to-day more than another it is cash, and I fail to understand why amounts that have accrued to them for a crop that was harvested nearly 2^ years ago have not been paid. Reference was made to the fact that a sum exceeding £250,000 paid by Japan has not yet reached the Australian Wheat Board. That payment was obtained from a credit which was held before the war, and 1 understand that the money reached Australia some time ago. Surely the Government should pay that money out to the wheat-farmers without delay! When largesse is being handed out to other sections of the community, the least the Government can do is to see that wheatfarmers are paid money due to them in respect of wheat grown 1 years ago. The Government is a trustee for the wheat-growers, and I have yet to learn that it has power to retain money owing to this hard-worked section of the community.
The sympathy of the Assistant Minister for Commerce is appreciated, but sympathy without action is like mustard without beef. It was pointed out that about 4 1/2 d. a bushel is due to the farmers in respect of 64,000,000 bushels of wheat in the No. 4 pool, and representing the harvest of 1940-41. That was a drought year in most parts of Australia and the crop was consequently small. It seems reprehensible that, since this pool has been finalized, £1,500,000 due to the farmers nearly eighteen months ago has not yet been paid to them. I fail to see why the farmers should have to wait for their money at all. The Government compulsorily acquired their wheat and they were not permitted to trade a bushel of it. They could not send some of “it even to other properties which they owned. They were required to deal practically entirely through the board. I recognize that the board acquired the wheat under the provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution, and did so for the purpose of helping the wheat-growers; but that does not lessen the legal obligation of the Commonwealth to pay a just price for it. A just price to the farmer would cover the cost of production and a reasonable “profit, so that he could enjoy the same standard of living as the majority of those engaged in other industries. Evidence was given recently before the Joint Committee on Rural Industries by some of the leading wheat-farmers in the eastern States that the cost of production varied from 4s. to 4a. 6<L a bushel at railway sidings. That is the amount that should be paid for wheat under the ever increasing cost of labour and requisites. The wheat-growers are entitled to expect that, when the Commonwealth Government acquires the wheat compulsorily, it should pay a price which would cover the full cost of production, plus a proper wage to the farmer. The Government talks about a guarantee of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b., but, in. my opinion, that was not the proper way to give a guarantee to the farmers. Many people read in the press that the farmers were guaranteed the price of 3s. lOd. a bushel, and the “ f.o.b. “ was often excluded from the newspaper report, with the result that many thought that the farmer got well over 10s. a bag for his wheat, although, as a matter of fact, he received no such price. He has received only, about 2s. 6d. a bushel on last harvest. Now that Japan has come into the war and we cannot export our wheat, the Government should not act like Shylock and say that it will add storage charges for an indefinite period to the other charges which are to .be deducted from the guaranteed price. If the Government adopts that policy the farmers will not get another penny in addition to the limited advances that they have already received.
– To-day is not the first time the honorable senator has put forward that argument in this chamber.
– It is a good argument, which will bear repetition. Any government which departs from that attitude will hear it again and again from me. If a guarantee means anything, it should be a price to the farmer f.o.r. at siding which covers the cost of production and an Australian standard wage for himself and his employees. Then every one would know what the farmer was being paid for his wheat. I am an unfortunate wheat-grower who for last season’s crop received 3s. a bushel, less freight to the port, for bagged wheat, and 2s. lOd. less freight for bulk wheat. The price actually received in cash by farmers was an average of about 2s.’ 7d. a bushel for bagged wheat and 2s. 5d. a bushel for wheat in bulk, yet people say that farmers are being paid the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. for their product. Should . the war last for another three or four years, is the pool to be charged with storage for that period, notwithstanding that the Government of this country is under a legal obligation to pay a just price for wheat compulsorily acquired? I do not blame the present Government for guaranteeing so much a bushel f.o.b.: that arrangement was made by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) when Minister for Commerce. I point out, however, that the amount received by producers is not equal to the cost of production, nor is it anything like what 3s. 30d. a bushel sounds when the average resident of Australia hears that rate mentioned’. There is a deduction of at least 9½d. a bushel from that price for freight, storage and handling charges. The Government is under an obligation to pay without delay the £1,500,000 due to farmers from the No. 4 pool for the1940-41 harvest, particularly as we have been told that nearly all of that wheat has been realized.
I come now to the1941-42 pool. Here I express my amazement at the attitude of the Government in regard to the price of 3s.10d. a bushel f.o.b. for 140,000,000 bushels which was guaranteed under the Wheat Industry (War-time) Control Act. That measure was introduced into the Parliament on the 29thNovember, 1940, and provided that 3s.10d. a bushel f.o.b. would be paid for the whole of the140,000,000 bushels, and it was fully understood by every wheat-grower in Australia, and by every member of this Parliament, that farmers would be paid on that basis, and that if the crop exceeded140,000,000 bushels, as, in fact, it did, despite the attempt of the Government to limit the acreage to an area which would produce not more than140,000,000 bushels, the surplus would belong to the farmer and would be paid for at realization. When introducing the bill in the House of Representatives on the 29th November, 1940(videHansard, page 316), the then Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) said -
It must be realized that any wheat grown in excess of the 140,000,000 bushels basis will not participate in the guarantee. The same must, of course, apply to surplus hay, but facilities for its disposal will be provided.
Under the terms of that contract the farmers sowed their seed and the harvest in the pool amounts to153,000,000 bushels. The whole of the surplus of 13,000,000 bushels which hasgoneinto the No. 5 pool from the last harvest is the property of the farmers of Australia, and its realization price under the legislation, which amounts to a contract, with the farmers, should be paid to them, in addition to the 3s.10d. a bushel f.o.b. guaranteed to them.
I pass on to refer to a meeting which took place on the 1st and 2nd May, 1943. I admit frankly that when I entered the Senate to-day I was not fully aware of the representative nature of the gather ing, or of the exact terms of the resolution that it had carried - a resolution which certainly showed an exceedingly strong desire to help the Government of the day in a time of national emergency. At that time, Japan had not entered the war, and the position was entirely different from what it now is. I admit that the resolutions which have been quoted by the Minister were carried by that influential conference, but I do not agree that that could affect a contract between the Government and wheat-growers who were not at the conference. The farmers worked hard on their farms and expected to get3s.10d. a bushel for 140,000,000 bushels and realization price for any surplus which might be produced as was guaranteed to them by the terms of the Wheat Industry Control Act of 1940. The Menzies Government clearly intended that there should he a realization price on the balance.
– That is the point in dispute.
– Yes, and on my own showing the whole of the argument of the Minister isupset. I have here a copy of a letter which was sent to the present Minister for Commerce on the 26th May, 1942, by Mr. W. C. Cambridge, the secretary of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, an organization which was represented at the conference mentioned. I emphasize that the meeting was held on the 1st and 2nd May, 1941, whereas the previous Government’s proposal had been passed by the Parliament in December, 1940 - six months earlier.
This is what the Farmers and Settlers Association now says about the matter -
We are aware that a joint meeting, over a year ago, carried a certain resolution, but the matter was taken up straight away with Sir Earle Page and a definite assurance was given” that up to the full quota would be paid for’ at the guaranteed price ‘, and if a surplus was produced on the licensed area, it would be sold when possible and proceeds paid to the farmers “.
That is the policy which the Leader of the Opposition now asks the Government to honour. It is the duty of the Government to satisfy itself whether that statement is correct. I have little doubt that should it find it to be correct - and I am convinced that it is - it will honour the obligations entered into with the wheatfarmers by its predecessor. It is clearly the duty of the Government-to pay the price of 3s. 10s. a bushel f.o.b. in respect of 140,000,000 bushels; and in respect of the extra yield of 13,000,000 bushels to pay to the farmer the price realized for such wheat. Better still, it should take the broad Australian view, and, realizing the value of the industry to the Commonwealth, and making allowances in respect of the difficulties of marketing resulting from the entry of Japan into the war, immediately adopt the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that in respect of this extra wheat, it should pay the price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. less a deduction of only 9$d. a bushel for all charges. That would mean an additional payment of only 5d. a bushel to the farmer on last, year’s harvest, which, [ suggest, is very small indeed, particularly when we remember’ that the Government has distributed largesse in the form of charity to worthy sections of the community.. The wheatfarmers, however, now ask not for charity, but for justice; and that- the Government give to their industry that consideration to which it is entitled because it is the greatest source of employment in this country. The letter of the Farmers and Settlers Association continues -
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Cullen are both aware of the fact that Sir Earle refused to make any pronouncement departing in any way from the full guarantee provided by the act. No doubt, the right honorable member for Cowper appreciated the desire of the conference to assist him ; but he realized that the crop had been sold under the contract arranged under the Wheat Industry (War-time) Control Act 1940, whereby the Government was bound to pay 3s. lOd. a bushel in respect of 140,000,000 bushels and to give to the farmer the full price ultimately realized for the balance of 13,000,000 bushels. The Government can easily verify the evi’dence of Mr. Murphy and Mr. Cullen on this matter. I suggest that it should do so promptly, and thus clear up the matter with satisfaction to the growers. The letter continues -
If you were to spread the money involved in the guarantee over 153,000,000 bushels it would he taking 13,000,000 bushels of farmers’ wheat, probably worth over £1,500,000 tor nothing
An amount of £1,500,000 would be realized on 13,000,000 bushels at a price of 2s. 6d. a bushel. We now have the extraordinary position under Mr. Scully’s recent announcement that the farmers would have been very much better off had they supplied 13,000,000 fewer bushels to the pool. The Minister understands the problems of the wheatgrowers and, I believe, is anxious to help them. I cannot conceive that he would countenance for one minute any suggestion that the farmers should be paid the same amount for 153,000,000 bushels as it was originally intended to pay for 140,000.000 bushels, and to charge to the farmers all the extra expense of handling and storage, &c. Such a suggestion is ridiculous and cannot be justified in any circumstances. Why should the farmer pay freight, handling charges and storage on 13;000,000 bushels of wheat, if the Government intends to take it from him without any payment? The honest thing for the Government to do is to realize that the claims embodied in the motion of the Leader of the Opposition are just and proper, and be a little more generous than was originally intended and pay 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. for the whole of last years’ crop delivered to No. 5 pool, and totalling 153,000,000 bushels.
I was amazed when I saw the announcement by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully), published in the press a few weeks ago, that the price guaranteed in respect of 140,000,000 bushels was to be spread over the season’s crop of 153,000,000 bushels, with the result that the price per bushel would be reduced from 3s. lOd. to 3s. 6.1d. f.o.b. In other words, he meant to rest on the payment of 2s. 5d. a bushel for bulk wheat and 2s. 7d. a bushel for bagged wheat, which has already been paid, and, incidentally, is unprofitable to the grower and not sufficient to permit the industry to continue. The following report from Griffith appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 21st May. It is a report from Griffith -
The price under the stabilization scheme was fixed at 3s. lOd. a bushel at ports for a crop of 140,000,000 bushels. As 163,000,000 bushels were delivered, the total amount payable by the Government was spread over the whole crop, thus bringing the average down by nearly 4d. a bushel.-
A meeting of the executive council of the Farmers and Settlers Association yesterday protested against the fixing of this all-round price.
The association, it was stated, recognized that the Government’s financial responsibility was limited to 3s. lOd. on 140,000,01)0 bushels, but the legislation provided that all wheat grown on the licenced areas for sale hod to be delivered to the Australian Wheat Board, and the former Minister and sponsor of the act, Sir Earle 1’age, gave an assurance that, if the crop marketed from the licensed areas exceeded the quota, the excess would be marketed when practicable, and the proceeds paid to the growers.
Not only at Griffith, but also at every wheat centre throughout the Commonwealth, the growers were of the opinion expressed in that report. No government can afford ‘to play further confidence tricks upon the wheat-growers in respect of the guaranteed price for their crop. That report went on to say -
The executive also recognized that the Government was entitled to priority in the selling of the 140,000,000 bushels, and stated tho willingness of growers to defer claims for further instalments on the 13,000,000 bushels excess deliveries until it was sold, but It insisted that it would be “repudiation and confiscation “ if the Government used any of the proceeds of the excess deliveries to set off the guarantee on tho 140,000,000 bushels . quota.
I agree with that opinion entirely, ana I appeal fo the Government to investigate the matter thoroughly. I am sure that when it realizes its obligations tto the wheat-growers it will fulfil them.
– - “What was in the mind of the Minister for Commerce when he made the announcement, referred to?
– I cannot interpret the mind of the Minister. He is an honorable man, but I think he must have been misled. The Leader of the Opposition was justified in raising this matter in the Senate this afternoon, and I hope that the motion will be agreed to. The act of this Parliament, passed in 1940, and the promise made by Sir Earle Page when Minister for Commerce alike provide that the price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. would be paid on 140,000,000 bushels and the balance held in trust for the wheat-growers. Anything lless than that would amount to robbing the wheatgrower.; of 13,000,000 bushels of wheat at 2s. 8d. a bushel or £1,500,000. I am loth to believe that any Australian government would be a party to an act that would deprive the wheat-growers of portion of their reward for the production of. the harvest.
, - In supporting the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay), I desire to impress upon the Government the urgent need for giving effect to the request embodied in the motion to enable farmers to carry on their operations for the remainder of the year. The wheat-growing industry is now in a chaotic condition. The lack of guidance and direction to the farming community, the sudden change of demand for commodities other than wheat, the difficulty of making the necessary adjustments owing to financial conditions, and the serious lack of labour have left a sense of bewilderment and frustration in the minds of practically every wheatgrower in the Commonwealth, Consequently, many of the farmers arc losing the spirit and courage that have been so long an attribute of our country men. I would say that 90 per cent, of our wheatgrowers are financially embarrassed owing to the constantly increasing cost of production and the difficulty of selling their produce at a price equal t to the cost of production. I shall quote from a table in’ the third progress report of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries to show the high increases in nine items used by the wheat- farmers. In August, 1939, the wholesale price of superphosphate was £3 10s. a ton, and in March, 1942, the price was £5 Is. a ton, an increase of 44.29 per cent. On cornsacks, the increase of the wholesale price in March, 1942, as compared with August, 1939, was 30.12 per cent.; on woolpacks, 445.35 per cent.; on power kerosene, 43.48 per cent. ; on fuel oil, 86.19 per cent; on petrol,, secondgrade, 57.9 per cent.; on lubricating oil, 30.77 per cent. ; on bag and binder twine, 13.52 per cent.; and on stook-lick, 11.43 per cent. The items mentioned are only a few of the articles purchased by the farming community, but they serve, to illustrate the large increase in the cost of production. Commonwealth aand State Governments still insist on their dues with regard to land tax, water rates, interest, and rent on leaseholds, and interest and rates on freeholds has to he paid by the farmers. The farming community is expected to stand up to all these obligations. “What does the Government propose to do about it? Is the farmer to be allowed to become bankrupt and go out of production, and, moreover, is the Government not going to assume any responsibility with regard to these people and their industry? The Leader of the Opposition suggested an immediate payment to the farmers out of the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 pools. I support his request, and I want the Government to make the payment immediately. The Assistant Minister for Commerce (Senator Fraser) pointed out that certain details were holding up the payment of the money, but one matter that is agitating the minds of the farming community is that there appear to be millions available for practically every other section of the community. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) stated yesterday, during the debate on the bill dealing with widows’ pensions, that the Government had made arrangements to finance that social service. The farming community does not object to the Government providing money for such a purpose so long as the farmers receive equal consideration. What is worrying the farmers is that the Government is financing social ‘services at their expense. It must be realized thai the scheme for the wheat industry, as laid down by the previous Government, dates back to, November, 1940. Is the Government going to assume some responsibility on behalf of the wheat-growers whose difficulties have been increased in consequence of Japan entering the war twelve months after the scheme was formulated? Conditions have altered drastically since then and the Government should assume some responsibility. The farmers understood that they were to get the guaranteed price for 140,000,000 bushels, plus the realization on any surplus. There is no doubt on that score. Otherwise, would the farmers have delivered their wheat to the pool, knowing that they would not get anything for it?
– They were compelled to deliver their- wheat to the pool.
– No. They could have held the wheat on their farms.
Thousands of bushels of wheat affected by red rust were held on the farms. The basis of the scheme approved by both Houses was that the farmers were to be paid the guaranteed price on 140,000,000 bushels, plus the amount realized on the balance of the crop.
– The resolution was quite clear on the matter.
– That may be, but does the Minister not assume some responsibility in view of altered conditions? Senator Johnston has proved beyond all doubt what was intended by the legislation, namely, that the farmer should be paid for 140,000,000 bushels at the guaranteed price, plus the market price for the balance.
– The Leader of the Opposition accused this Government of repudiation. That is not correct. The agreement was made by the previous Government. “We are merely pursuing the policy laid down by that Government.
– The Minister is giving his own interpretation of the position. It seems to me that he has become very exacting, and is endeavouring to view the legislation in its worst possible light. I am sure that the interpretation given to the measure by the Minister was not intended.
– A resolution was carried by the Wheat Conference, and there is no doubt about its intention.
– The farmers are not concerned with resolutions passed by conferences. They are more concerned with the construction that is being placed upon the bill by the Minister. If the Government does not intend to pay the market price or to give some compensation for the wheat that it is holding, it should be obliged to return the wheat to the growers. That would be the only honorable course to adopt. In my opinion the Government should accede to the request made by the Leader of the Opposition.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (South Australia) T5.22]. - I see no reason why the Government should not pay the money that is still owing in respect of the Nos. 3 and 4 pools. Governments come and governments go, but neither this Government nor any other government should repudiate an agreement ratified byParliament. The Government has on hand the money obtained through those two pools. One pool worked out at. approximately 4s.1½d. a bushel, and the other at 4s. 4¾d. a bushel. The total amount outstanding in respect of the two pools is approximately £2,500,000. The argument advanced by the Minister is that the payments cannot be made because of the lack of funds. I am afraid that that argument will carry very little weight with the struggling farmers outback who have to fight for their living and whose difficulties include not only small crops, resulting from adverse seasonal conditions, but also curtailment of acreage, rationingof supplies, rising costs of production, the increased price of superphosphate and agricultural implements, the shortage of labour, and increased rates and taxes. In view of these hardships there is no reason why the Government should withhold this money. When the price was fixed at 3s. 10d. a bushel, it was not considered that the price would be a very profitable one. That figure was regarded as being sufficient to provide a living for the farmer. Surely he is entitled to that, and to the little extra which his wheat has realized.
– It was not meant to be a basic wage.
-By no means. It is futile to argue that the Government is unable to pay the money. A few days ago we passed an invalid and old-age pensions amending bill involving an additional expenditure of £1.500,000 a year; yesterday we passed legislation providing widows’ pensions which will cost a further £1,600,000, yet it is claimed that a similar amount cannot be found for the man on the land.
I admit that the circumstances surrounding payments from the No. 5 pool are in a somewhat different category, and possibly there is room for argument in that regard. However, any one who makes a careful study of the secondreading speech on the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill 1940 made by the then Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) on the 20th November, 1940, will admit that the right honorable gentleman’s interpretation of the bill was that 140,000,000 bushels of wheat should be paid for at the rate of 3s.10d. a bushel, and the balance at realization price. In existing circumstances there can be no realization price but it is a great pity that the Government should shelter behind that fact. Owing to the war with Japan, and the consequent lack of shipping space, there is no prospect of disposing of our surplus wheat in order to obtain a realization price. Possibly that is why Cabinet decided to spread the payment over 153,000,000 bushels. As my colleague SenatorUppill has said, the honorable thing for the Government to do would be to return the wheat to the growers if payment cannot he made for it, but it is impossible to separate the wheat, and that is one of the main difficulties. The position is most unfair especially to small growers who predominate throughout the Commonwealth. In South Australia there are about 13,000 growers, of whom 30 per cent. grow more than 1,000 bags of wheat a year. Therefore, if the payment is tobe spread over the 153,000,000 bushels, the small growers will be unjustly penalized. Their wheat is in the pool and it cannot be separated. The only just thing to do would be to pay the 3s.10d. a bushel and then wait tosee what the wheat realizes. Obviously, no reasonable person would expectthe wheat-farmers of Australia to produce exactly140,000,000 bushels. Sir Earle Page may have an extensive knowledge of certain matters, but I am afraid that he does not know much about primary production. We all know that wheat-growing is subject to seasonal conditions and that land which produces a certain quantity of wheat one year may produce much more or much less in the following season. Sir Earle Page also suggested that at hay time a farmer should look oyer his crop, estimate what the total yield would be, and, after allowing for his quota of wheat, cut the rest for hay. That is ridiculous, because the weather conditions experienced when a farmer is cutting hay may increase or reduce the yield of wheat. A good rain at hay time might increase the crop by 8 per cent. or 10 per cent. Taking into consideration the heavy costs of the primary producers, the shortage of superphosphate and the man-power difficulty, every consideration should bbe shown to this. deserving section of the community. I do not believe that any section is prepared to rob “the primary producers of the money to which they are entitled in respect oof tho extra 13 000,000 bushels of wheat; but unless payment be made to them in the way that 1 have suggested the producers will be robbed.
Senator McBRlDE ((South Australia) [5.32].- I support the motion. I listened with attention to the case presented by the- Assistant Minister for Commerce (Senator Fraser) with regard to the action or inaction of the Government of which he is a member. The excuses offered by him for the delay that has occurred in making payments to the wheat-growers of money already in hand were of the most flimsy nature, and his explanation will not be regarded as satisfactory by the wheat-growers. Ho has admitted that the Government has in hand over £2,000,000, which could have been distributed among the growers some time ago. Had that money been paid, considerable relief would have been obtained by farmers throughout Australia. The excuse offered by the Minister that, because £260,000 sterling already in Australia had not been made available to the Australian Wheat Board, £2,000,000 already available had not been distributed, will not bear investigation. Even though the £260,000 sterling had not been paid to the board, the Government had good security on which it could have made an advance to the fanners, so that the accounts in respect of the Nos. 2, - 3 and -4 pools could be finalized. Regarding the No. 5 pool I agree almost entirely with what the Minister has said as- to the measure passed through this Parliament containing definite undertakings which I have no doubt will be honoured by the present Government. A guarantee was given to the farmers of Australia that 3s. lOd. a bushel would be paid on 1-10,000,000 bushels of marketable wheat, and it was agreed that the Government would make ‘facilities available for the disposal of any surplus. Tho Minister tried to support the action of the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) in proposing an .average payment on the total crop of 153,000,000 bushels instead of payment of the guaranteed price in respect of the 140,000,000- bushels. He quoted the resolution passed at the conference of wheat-growers . in May, 1941, in support of a departure from the provisions of an act of parliament.
– I quoted an interpretation by the wheat-growers of what the act meant.
– - I suggest that the Minister is now getting deeper into the mire. It would be extremely foolish for him to go to a conference for an interpretation of an act of Parliament. The Minister has the legal advisers of the Government for that work, but the act is so clear that its meaning could be interpreted by him without assistance. I suggest that the conference was never asked for a legal interpretation of what was intended under the act.
– It expressed its unanimous opinion on the matter.
– - It was asked to express its views regarding a proposal made by the Minister as to how the act was to be administered. If the members of the conference were called together again, they would probably reach an entirely different decision. Production in the primary industries has been rapidly falling off. The present Government, having been in office for about eight months, cannot escape soma of the responsibility for the delay in the proper organization of our primary industries. We have heard a great deal lately about what the Government proposes to do, but we observe very few signs of action.
– The problems tc be dealt with are of a serious nature, and many difficulties have been encountered.
– Proposals were formulated before the present Government came into power.
– It did not take us long to get an extra £10,000,000 for the wool-growers. . Senator McBRIDE. - The Government cannot justifiably take credit to itself for the extra money that is to be paid by Great Britain for Australia’s wool clips. The original agreement definitely provided that it could be reviewed in May of each year. To suggest that the British Government, which had recognized the increased cost of wool production in Great
Britain and had accordingly granted to its own wool-growers an extra 2d. per lb. for their wool, had to be subjected to great pressure before it would extend the same conditions to Australia and the other dominions, is to ask us to stretch our imagination too far. I welcome the additional price which will be paid to Australian wool-growers, and in doing so I express my appreciation of the action of the British Government which is paying the money. I wish to draw attention to the rapidly decreasing production of many of our primary industries. The position in regard to vegetables has already been acute, and I fear that it will become worse before it is remedied. In saying that, I am not ignorant of the fact that efforts have been made to increase the production of vegetables. Before long, the same difficulty will present itself in connexion with the dairying industry. It is my firm belief that, in regard to many primary industries, including wheat-growing, the Government before long will not be troubled .by excess production, but by an actual shortage.
– There will be a carry-over of 100,000,000 bushels of wheat this year.
– I am aware of that, and I realize the difficulty of holding large quantities of wheat for any considerable period. Nevertheless, I do not wish the Government to be too complacent on this subject. Should war conditions continue for a few more years - and I am afraid that we must expect that to be so - the final result will be a shortage, rather than an excess, of wheat. I make that point because I believe that it is necessary to keep our farmers on their farms and in production. I raise that point prior to referring to the No. 5 pool. T have already said that excepting for a slight variation of the interpretation of the act in relation to the way in which it is being administered, I agree entirely with the conditions which that legislation provides for wheat-growers. Consequently, the only case that we can put up, in the strictly legal sense, in regard to the No. 5 wheat pool is that the Government should confine its payment to 140,000,000 bushels which the guarantee covers, and provide facilities for the mar keting of the balance. That, I admit, is u difficult problem.
– Would the honorable senator pay 3s. lOd. a bushel for that wheat?
– It may be worth while to do so, but I shall deal with that point later. I draw attention to the basis on which the payment of 3s. lOd. a bushel was arrived at. As has already been stated, it was never expected that 3s. lOd. a bushel would be a highly profitable price to the farmer. The Government of which I was a member thought that it could not guarantee a highly profitable price to any primary industry in these’ times, but it thought that the guaranteed price would be sufficient to enable the farmers to carry on production.
– What is the cost of producing wheat to-day?
– I shall not hazard a guess, but it is in excess of what it was when the figure of 3s. lOd. a bushel was arrived at. At that time, 9 1/2 d. a bushel was allowed to cover all charges from the railway siding to the ship.
– Was it not from the farm to the ship?
– No. The arrangement was that the farmer should deliver his wheat to a siding, and that the Government would take control of it there. Already, charges exceeding lOd. a bushel have been incurred in respect of the wheat in No. 5 pool. The farmers should not be asked to carry charges, which are mounting up all the time. No one can hazard a guess as to what they might eventually amount to, particularly as we shall have to take into account the deterioration, and even the destruction, of considerable quantities of wheat by weevils and other pests should it be found necessary to store the wheat for many years. In my opinion, it is reasonable that the Government should pay promptly 3s. lOd. a bushel on 140,000,000 bushels, and that the deductions from the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel should remain at 9id. a bushel, so that in respect of 140,”000,0O0 bushels, the farmers, would receive 3s. 0£d. a bushel. That is the least that the farmers might ask the
Government to do. I go further, however, and support the request that 3s.10d. a bushel be paid in respect of the whole yield of 153,000,000 bushels from the 1941-42 harvest. I do not make that request on the ground that it is a legal obligation resting on the Government. I admit that no such obligation exists; but I suggest that the Government should recognize increasing costs of production since the agreement was entered into. Those increased costs are reflected in almost every purchase. Taking these things into consideration, I suggest that the present Government would not be doing any more than any other government placed in a similar position might reasonably be expected to do. Had the Government which entered into the agreement in respect of a guaranteed price remained in office, I do not think that it would have insisted on the exact terms of the guarantee being adhered to; it Would have been prepared to review the agreement inthe light of changed circumstances.
– I am pleasedthat the honorable senator has been honest about the interpretation of the agreement.
– I do not think that we have questioned the correctness of the Government’s interpretation of its obligations, excepting the policy of averaging the guaranteed price over the 153.000,000 bushels instead of paying 3s.10d. a bushel on 140,000,000 bushels. I have not done so; and I believe that my interpretation is correct.
– Would the honorable senatorsay that this Government has repudiated the policy of its predecessor?
– I think that all honorable senators realize the plight of the wheat-grower.
-I recall the anxiety expressed by the Minister (Senator Fraser) when he was on this side of the chamber. Now that he is in a position to do something for the growers, we are entitled to ask him to act along the lines he then so frequently advocated.
– That will be done.
– I am glad to hear that; hut I point out that this delay is most embarrassing to the wheat- farmers. It is useless to talk about what the Government is going to do in the future. Unfortunately, the farmers’ costs have already been incurred. The cost of producing the crop of 153,000,000 bushels has, in the case of most individual farmers, already been paid. In other cases, the farmers are paying interest on the debts they have incurred in respect of their costs. Consequently, it is useless to talk about what the Government will do in the future. The farmers want it to act. During the last three years, they have not had a good”spin”. The 1939-40 season was a record, and the realization was satisfactory. In that year, the farmers received £40,000,000, less the charges which I have already mentioned.
– I notice that the honorable senator does not attack the interest rates which tend to keep the farmer poor.
– Actually, the Government is charging the farmers interest on approximately £18,000,000. My point is that I do not want the farmers to be saddled with that interest indefinitely. However, in 1940-41, the wheat crop realized only £14,000,000, compared with £40,000,000 for the previous season, although in the latter year the price per bushel was higher than that in the previous year. Under the Government’s scheme the farmers this year will receive approximately £26,000,000, less charges, which are substantial, unless the Government be prepared to pay the guaranteed price in respect of the extra production of13,000,000 bushels. If that be done, they will receive £30,000,000 which, I think, is the minimum income upon which the industry, on the basis of present charges, can manage to survive. In view of the importance of the industry to Australia, and of the fact that its importance will increase in the future, the Government should bear in mind the experience of other primary industries resulting from lack of foresight, and take early action to stabilize the industry in the light of present difficulties. It should realize that wheat production must inevitably be reduced as the result of the shortage of raw materials, such as fertilizers, &c, and, therefore, should ensure to the farmer sufficient to enable him. to remain on his land, maintain has plant, and to live comfortably, in order that he will be in a position to increase his production substantially when we require him to do so. The requests embodied in the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition are fair. I hope that the Government will give them early consideration.
Question put -
That the motion(xide p. 1632) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (Thepresident - Sestator -The Hon. J. Cnnnscham.)
Majority … Nil
– Thenumbers of “ Ayes “ and “ Noes “ being equal, the question is resolved in the negative.
Motion (by SenatorCollings) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to Tuesday next, the 2nd June, at 3 p.m.
Motion (fay Senator Collings) pro posed-
That the Senate do now adjourn.
SenatorMcLEAY (South Australia - Leader of the Opposition)[6.1]. - I protest against theaction of theGovernment in refusing to grant a pair to Senator Foll, who is absent on duty with the Volunteer Defence Corps. Itsaction in this respect deprives not only the important State of Queensland, hut also the party which I lead in this chamber of a vote when a division is taken. When, the Government realized that the voting on the motion which I moved concerning the wheat industry was likely tobe close it refused to grant a pair to Senator Foll, with the result that the motion instead of being carried was negatived.
Questionresorved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquiredat - Cuvaa, South Australia - forDefence purposes.
Mackay, Queensland - For Defence purposes.
National Security Act -
National Security (-General) Regulations - Orders - Control of Machine Tools. Prohibited places.
Taking possession of land, &c. (32) Useof land (25). National Securitv (Maritime Industry) Regulations- Orders Nos. 18, 19, 21.
Senate adjourned at6.2p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 May 1942, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1942/19420528_senate_16_171/>.