17th Parliament · 3rd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– On the 24th
July, Senator Fin] ay asked me questions concerning the installation of telephone services in South Australia, and further information was promised in respect of the number of telephones which have been installed in South Australia since the cessation, of hostilities, and the number of applicants on the waiting list, I am now able to inform the honorable senator that the number of telephones installed since the cessation of hostilities’ is 3,200, and the number of applicants on the waiting list is 7,450.
Coal Supplies - Diesel Traction
– In view of the great scarcity of coal, and the slim prospects of sufficient supplies being delivered for the purposes of the various railway system’s of Australia, will the Minister representing the Minister for Transport state what steps the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has taken, with a view to alterations to railway locomotives to enable them to burn oil instead of coal? At the same time, willthe Minister make investigations in order to ascertain the prospects of converting the trans-Australian railway system from coal to Diesel traction ?
– I shall confer with the Minister for Transport with a view to obtaining the information which the honorable senator desires.
– In view of repeated statements made in certain sections of the press, that the Commonwealth Government has sacrificed Great Britain, for the United States of America in the interchange of trade,because of the lend-lease agreement reached between the two countries, will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate whether any clause in the final agreement provides tariff preference for goods from the United States of America? Is there any agreement now in operation which gives preference to American goods as against imports from Great Britain or the Dominions?
– On the 3rd September, 1042, by an exchange of letters, the Commonwealth Government subscribed to the principles contained in the master lend-lease agreement, which was concluded between the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom on the 23rd February, 1942. Obviously this agreement does not. contain any provision which would result in trade discrimination by Australia against Great Britainor any of the Dominions. The answer to the second and third parts of the honorable senator’s question is “No”.
Vocational Training - Land Settlement of ex-Servicemen.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether it is a fact that ex-servicemen cannot be registered for post-war training in, certain trades, notwithstanding that prior to enlistment inthe fighting forces’ they had been trade apprentices and that they had no opportunity to engage in a particular trade during their period of service i In justice to these men, will the Minister confer with the Minister for Labour and National Service with the object of instructing local rehabilitation committees to grant permits for such training?
– I am not aware whether the position is as has been stated by the honorable senator, but I shall have inquiries made with a view to ascertaining whether his request can be complied - with.’
asked the Minister representing the Minister. for Repatriation, upon notice - 1, How many returned soldiers from World War II. have been rehabilitated under the land settlement scheme in (a) Victoria, (b) New South Wales, (c) Queensland, (d) Tasmania, (s) South Australia, and (/) Western Australia.!
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers: -
– Some days afra- 1, asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether his department had any official notification of the inflationary trend in the United States of America. At that time he was unable to supply an answer, but. I understand that information on the subject is now available. I .now ask the Minister whether he .has any official figures relating to the inflationary tendency in the United States of America, and whether he has any comparisons with Australian prices ?
– I am unable to supply full particulars regarding the position in America, especially in connexion with the -recent legislation restoring a modified form of prices control. Events happened so quickly on the lifting of prices control that it was almost impossible to keep up to date. - The latest cables to hand give, a summary of the position up to the 25th July, and include some interesting figures. The following is an extract from. one_ cablegram : -
The Official Bureau of Labour Statistics daily index .of 28 basic commodities priced on primary markets shows an overall increase tn the 23rd July of 25.3 per cent. Foodstuffs included in the list, vis., wheat, harley, corn, butter, tallow, hogs, ‘ sterso, lard, coffee, cocobeans and cotton seed oil increased 83 per cent. Baw materials, viz., flax-seed, shellac, hides, resin, print cloth, silk, burlap, lead, zinc and cotton increased 10.9 per cent.
Another extract dealing with wholesale prices reads -
Bureau of ‘Labour Statistics weekly index of wholesale pi-ices covering 000 commodities shows increase of 10 per cent, in three weeks to the 20tH July. Food prices were 25 per cent, higher than at the suspension of O.P.A.
The United States of America Bureau of Commerce made a comparison between the price rise in the first eleven months after World War I. and the corresponding period after World War II. The bureau took 23 basic commodity indexes and showed : World War I., increase 22 per cent. ; World War II., increase 35 per cent. It pointed out in connexion with the rise after World War I. that at that time “.the country was experiencing a serious inflation “, and that the increase to 35 per cent, after World War II. was somewhat restrained as it was in the interests of pressure groups lobbying for de-control to’ keep prices in check for a period, and that without the prospect of reversion to the 30th June prices the increases would have been greater.
Some price comparisons of individual commodities in mid- J une and mid- July show the following increases: - Beef, 37 per cent, to 48 per cent.; bacon, 20 per cent.; milk, 4 per cent, to 20 per cent.; butter, 35 per cent, to 48 per cent. ; bread, 3 per cent, to 10 per cent.; eggs, 5 per cent, to 12 per cent. There appears to be general expectation of. substantial increases under the modified prices control bill, and forecasts suggest that prices for consumers’ goods may rise by from 15 per cent, to 20 per cent, by the end of the -year. What has happened in America could, easily happen in Australia if prices control were lifted. Under this Government’s prices ‘ stabilization plan the increase pf prices of consumers’ goods has been only 25 per cent, since the outbreak of war. The American experience should be a warning to those interests in Australia which are urging the de-control of’ prices. The Government has no intention to lift prices control until it is satisfied that the danger of a damaging inflation no longer exists.
Sales to the United Kingdom Government.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Commonwealth Government had knowledge of the contract made by the United Kingdom Government for the purchase of its grain requirements for the next four years from Canada when those negotiations were proceeding? Was not the Government aware of its opportunity to make a similar contract with the Government of the United Kingdom for the sale of Australian primary products? How was Canada able to obtain this advantage over Australia ?
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Minister.
– On the 24th July, Senator Herbert Hays asked me the following questions : -
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has supplied the following answers : - 1 and 2. All haste is being made to restore full production at Nauru and Ocean Island. Details of. progress will be provided from time to time.
– When will the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture reply to the question which I asked about a fortnight ago relating to imports and exports of wheat, the prices obtained for such wheat, and the cancellation of contracts in relation to wheat? Now that the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill has been passed, will the honorable gentleman answer the questions?
– I do not know that there is a mystery about the question-
– There is a mystery.
-I shall confer with the Minister for. Commerce and Agriculture and endeavour to obtain a reply.
– On the 24th July, Senator A. J. Eraser asked me a question concerning a press report about synthetic butter. I am now able to advise the honorable senator that the press report concerning a “ synthetic butter process “ revealed by Allied technical experts studying German industry has been seen by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, but Australian officials in London have not as yet furnished him with a report on the matter.
– In view of the importance to Australia generally, and to the dairying industry in particular, of the reported synthetic butter process, will the Minister, send a cable message to London asking for a report to be supplied as soon as possible?
– That has already been done by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
– Is the Minister for Trade and. Customs aware whether the British prohibition on the import of certain luxury items has recently been relaxed in relation to Canadian goods, whereas the prohibition still applies to Australian goods of the same class? Will the Minister inquire whether there is a differentia-‘ tion, and if there is, will representations be made to the British Government to enable Australia to take advantage of the British market, having regard to the fact that Australia is giving every encouragement to the importation of British goods in order to help the United Kingdom export trade?
– I shall have the position examined, and will supply the information gained to the honorable senator. I know that there has been a slight relaxation of British trade restrictions.
– On the 3rd July Senator Collett asked the following questions, upon notice -
The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
The following members of this Parliament. left Australia on public service during the years 1942-1940 inclusive: - Senator the Honorable J. Al. Fraser, Senator A. Finlay, Senator D. M. Grant, Senator the Honorable B. V. Keane, Senator the Honorable George McLeay, Senator B. H. Nash, Senator J. M. Sheehan, H. C. Barnard, Esq., M.P., Bight Honorable J. A. Beasley, M.P., Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, M.P., J. J. Clark, Esq., M.P.., Eight Honorable J. Curtin, M.P., Honorable A. S. Drakeford, M.P., Eight Honorable H. V. Evatt, M.P., Eight Honorable F. St. Forde, M.P., L. C. Haylen, Esq., M.P:, B. James, Esq., M.P., Honorable G. Lawson, M.P., Honorable N. J. 0. Makin, M.P., Honorable J. McEwen. M.P., and the Honorable E. T. Pollard. M.P. 2. (a.) In March, 1942, the Eight Honorable H. V. Evatt proceeded abroad on a special mission to Great Britain and the United States of America to deal with special matters of importance to the Commonwealth in connexion with the conduct of the war. Mrs. Evatt accompanied her husband and he was also accompanied by Mr. A. V. Smith, Secretary of Supply and Development. The cost of the mission was £3,900.
Service, with Mr. W. L. Loveless, private secretary to Senator Fraser. The cost of representation at the conference amounted to approximately £8,500.
Right Honorable J. B. Chifley, and the Minister for External Affairs, the Right Honorable H. V. Evatt, left Australia for London to attend the Conference of Empire Prime Ministers and, subsequently, the Paris Peace Conference which was planned to open at that time. The Prime Minister returned to Australia in May last, after having visited the United States of America and Japan. Dr. Evatt, who is accompanied by his wife, remained abroad, and after attending the meetings of the Security Council of the United Nations Organization in New York, returned to London, and is now a Commonwealth delegate to the Peace Conference which has opened in Paris. The Prime Minister was accompanied on his mission by Sir Frederick Shedden, Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr. H. C Coombs, Director-General of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, Messrs. M.L. Tyrrell and D. K. Rodgers, private and press secretaries respectively to the Prime Minister, and Mr. S. Landau, personal assistant to Sir Frederick Shedden. Dr. Evatt was accompanied by Dr. J. W. Burton and Mr. L. B. Tilbury, of the Department of External Affairs. Dr. Burton returned to Australia at the end of May and has since proceeded, together with Mr. W. E. Dunk, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, and Mr. G. W. Legge of that department to attend the Minister at the Paris Conference. The accounts, which are. necessarily incomplete at this stage, cover payments amounting to £3,593, of which £753 represents the cost of the Prime Minister’s mission, while the balance is expenditure in connexion with Dr. Evatt’smission.
In May, 1946, the Honorable A. S. Drakeford proceeded to Montreal, Canada, where he attended the Provisional International Civil Aviation Conference, and afterwards returned to Australia via London where he dealt with other matters relating to Air and Civil Aviation. He was accompanied by Mrs. Drakeford and was also accompanied to Montreal by Mr. E. C. Johnson, Assistant Director-General, and Messrs. H. R. Adam, D. S. Graham and W. H. Burchett, all of the Department of Civil Aviation. Mr. B. P.. Lambert, Deputy Director of National Mapping, Department of the Interior, who will attend to other departmental matters during his absence abroad, M. F. R. Gullick, private secretary to the Minister and Miss M. Drakeford, secretary-typist attached to the Department of Civil Aviation. The accounts for this mission at present total £4,510.
Delegation to Japan
-Recently I asked
– Inquiries are being made, and as soon as information is available I shall make a statement in the Senate.
Australian Force in J apan : Amenities; Diseases.
SenatorFOLL. - Is the Minister representing the Minister for the Army aware of complaints that insufficient amenities are being made available to Australian troops in Japan? Is it a fact that army canteen profits accumulated during the war are to be retained by the Government? If so, will the Government ensure that a considerable amount of this money is expended on the provision of additional amenities for our- troops in Japan?
– I made a statement on this subject in the Senate last week. I shall refer the suggestion contained in the latter part of the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for the Army, who may take action upon it.
– Some time ago 1 referred in the Senate to the necessity for sending a medical specialist on infectious diseases to Japan. The Minister representing the Minister for the Army then said that no volunteers were available. In view of the seriousness of the situation in Japan, will the Minister ascertain whether it be possible to despatch an Australian specialist to treat some of the ills which are prevalent amongst our troops?
– I shall draw the attention of the Minister for the Army to the request of the honorable senator.
– It was expected that the steamship Taroona would have been restored to’ the Bass Strait service by the end of July, but it is now reported that the vessel will not be available for that service until December. In view of the increased trade and the shortage of shipping, what steps does the Minister for Supply and Shipping propose to take to supplement the present service until the Taroona is restored to it?
– The Government has under observation the shipping difficulties of not only Tasmania, but also the other States. These are due to the shortage of tonnage, and consideration is now being given to the requirements of all of the States. The tonnage provided between Tasmania and the mainland is 50 per cent, greater now than during the pre-war period, but, despite that fact, shipping facilities inconformity. with the tonnage available are being allotted to Tasmania to the best advantage.
Appointment of ex-Servicemen.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, upon notice -
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: - 1 to 4. - Interest liability at undermentioned dates was as follows: -
Debate resumed from the 24th July (vide page 2931), on motion by Senator J. M. Eraser-
That the bill be now read a second time.
– It was agreed that this bill and the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill should be taken as cognate measures for the purpose of the second-reading debate. The Opposition proposed several amendments to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill in order to improve the scheme, but they were not accepted by the Government. But my final request is that the Minister. (Senator J. M. Eraser) will consider extending the period of the operation of the scheme from five to ten years. If the Minister declines to comply with that request, I do not propose to take up any further time in the matter but I indicate to him that the ‘ Opposition regards the bill in its present form as an outrage, and it can only be classed as a measurewhich confiscates property belonging to the wheat-growers. In order that there shall be no misunderstanding whatever I now inform the Minister that if the Government refuses to amend the bill in any shape or form I shall have to show my disapproval of the measure in its present form by voting against the second reading.
– in reply - The Government does not propose to extend the term of the scheme to ten years. I hope, however, that the legislation will operate for more than ten years, but in five-year periods.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President -Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown.)
Majority . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Charge on export of wheat and wheat products).
.- This is the most important clause in the bill, because it imposes a charge on wheat, and thereby makes the Government’s stabilization plan a confiscation plan. Certain aspects of the deduction of 2s. 2d. a bushel from the price realized for farmers’ wheat calls for some elucidation. When debating a previous measure we were told by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) that any fanner in respect of whose wheat 2s. 2d. a bushel would be paid into the lune! would have an equity in the fund. Unfortunately, the Minister was not able to explain what he meant by an equity in the fund. Nor was he able to explain how a farmer could get his money back from the pool.’ It appears that his only equity will be something that he may get at some future time should the price of -wheat fall below 5s. 2d. a bushel, when he will be paid the stabilized price. As that may not happen for the next ten years, a farmer’s equity in the fund will be small indeed, notwithstanding that his contributions to the fund may be considerable. There does not seem to be any provision by which, a farmer’s equity can be converted into cash, or any other way in which he can receive back his share of the money in the pool. If a farmer has an equity in the fund because of the placing in it of 2s. 2d. in respect of every bushel of wheat grown by him, can the Minister say whether he will have to pay income tax on the amount of his equity?
– If he has an equity, he will have to pay tax.
– If he has not to pay income tax in respect of his contributions to the pool, what will happen should he eventually be repaid in a lump sum the amount that he has contributed to the pool ? If he has to pay income tax on such money, an anomalous position will arise. The anomaly arises in this way; a grower with a production of 5,000 bushels will pay into the fund* at the rate of 2s. 2d. a bushel, over £500 a year. In respect of five similar crops he will pay into the fund a sum of £2,500. Assuming that prices slump, and some of that money is repaid to the grower, how will he pay income tax on money paid into the fund ? If the money is returned to him in a lump sum, say, at the end of the- period, will. he pay tax at the rate applying to a sum of £2,500? If he is to pay tax as the money is paid into the. fund - that is on the sum of £500 a year - his tax will not be nearly so high. On a 5,000 bushel crop he will pay on £2,500, tax amounting to about £1,200.
Thus, his net receipts from the pool will be only about £1,300. I ask the Minister to explain this point, because it is of great importance to all growers, whether they be large or small growers. It would appear that the grower’s equity in the fund, if his contributions are taxed in a lump sum, will be reduced by nearly 75 per cent. I should like the Minister to explain how the growers will pay tax on their contributions to the fund. He may be taxed on the money as it is paid into the fund, or when the money is refunded to him. If he is taxed on the money as it is paid into the fund he may never receive any refund at all. Will the Minister explain this point?
– As I have said previously, the bill is not clear as to whom the money in the fund belongs. That point has been brushed aside by honorable senators opposite who contend that the grower will be more than compensated by the increase of the value of his land arising from the stabilization of the industry under the scheme. But growers yill not have such an equity, because under the bill, a farm must be registered and a farmer must obtain a licence to grow wheat. Under such conditions, noprovision is made to compensate the dependants of a grower in respect of his capital in the fund in the event of his death. Upon the death of a grower, his licence to grow wheat will automatically lapse. Therefore, he has no equity whatever.
-And the licences cannot be transferred.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.No. In addition, no one would bid a high price for a farm when he would have no guarantee that the farm would’ be registered-, or that he would be given a licence to grow wheat. Further, no provision is made in this respect to cover the cases of farmers and share-farmers, and others who’ are renting their farms. The bill does not enable the grower to draw his money out of the pool. If the Government intends to enable a grower to do so, does it propose to keep a separate account of the funds paid in by individual growers? Unless such an account l>e kept the Government will have no means of reimbursing individual growers should it wish to do so.
.- Clause 4 (1) reads-
A charge is imposed and shall be levied and paid -
on all wheat harvested on or after the first day of . October, One thousand nine hundred and fortyfive, and exported from the Commonwealth, whether by the board of by any other person, on or after the first day of December, One thousand nine hundred and fortyfive; lt is well known that much wheat was harvested between the dates mentioned in paragraph a. Does that mean- that no charge will be levied in respect of .wheat exported between those dates?
.- J cite the case of a grower who grew 3,000 bushels last year, in respect .of which he will pay approximately £1,000 into the pool, and who will grow the ‘ same quantity of wheat during the coming season, paying another £1,000 into the pool. Let us assume that that man is growing wheat on leased land, such as station properties, which are now being acquired by the Government. When his property is acquired he is immediately put out of business. Should he be unable to buy other land on which to continue to grow wheat, he would be deprived of the £2,000’ paid into the pool in his’ name. Will the Minister explain how such a case will be handled under the scheme?
– In reply to Senator Leckie, I may say that income tax would be paid on the amount refunded to growers at the end of the period should any surplus in the . fund exist at that time and be distributed among the growers. “ Senator Leckie. - Is that the decision of the taxation authorities?
– This matter is dealt with by the administration. The -cases cited by Senator James McLachlan and Senator Gibson strongly support the need for the registration of farms, be cause without such a record it would be impossible to determine the amounts paid into the pool by individual farmers. The licensing of farmers will show, to within bushels, the quantity of wheat delivered by each- individual farmer. The position of the share-farmer will be dealt with ‘by the administration. As I said last night, all details of that kind are not covered by a bill, but are matters with which the administration deals, if necessary, by regulation. At the end of the five-year period, or even at the end of ten years, there may be no surplus in the fund, and, consequently, the Government will be obliged to make up the price to 5s. 2d. a bushel.
– Each grower would be refunded his money at some time, and would have to pay tax upon that money.
– Should it become necessary for the Government to make up the price to 5s. 2d. a bushel, the farmer would not he liable to pay income tax on moneys paid into the fund.
– The grower will have to pay income tax on his contributions, either when they are being paid into the pool, or when they are being paid out.
– Not if the price falls below 5s. 2d., because the fund would then be being used to guarantee the price of 5s. 2d. a bushel.
– The Minister suggests that the farmer will have some equity in the fund. If that were true, honorable senators on this side of the chamber would find it much easier to support the measure; but the bill makes clear that the only persons who can participate in any distribution from the fund are growers of wheat in any year in which the price falls below the guaranteed price of ‘5s. 2d. a bushel. If the views that have been expressed by the Minister were correct, then clearly the wheat-grower would have to pay income tax upon his contributions to the fund ; but I agree “with the Minister that the grower will not have to pay tax until he draws from the fund, because he will not have any equity in that fund until such time as a disbursement is made.
Senator MATTNER (South Australia) imposition of a charge upon all wheat harvested after the 1st’ October, 1945; but that imposition is operable only from the 1st December of that year. Therefore, there is a period of two months during which wheat must have been exported, and if so, that wheat will not be subject to a charge of 2s. 2d. a bushel. I should like the Minister to clarify the position.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) has not yet answered my question. I should like to know whether a wheat-grower who is forced off his land by the Government after having paid say £1,000 a year into the stabilization fund for two years, will get any of his money back?
– He would not get anything until the term of the stabilization plan expired.
– Would he get anything then ?
– Although a five-year period has been fixed for the operation of the scheme, a review of it will be made before the expiration of that time. If the plan is to be discontinued the Government then in office will have to consider what is to be done with any moneys that may be in the fund.
.- I do not think that is a fair answer. The wheat-growers to whom I refer will bo forced out of business because their land has been acquired compulsorily. It is quite conceivable that at the end of five years, there will be a large sum of money in the fund. I believe that there will be, because I do not expect the price of wheat to fall as some people imagine it will. Again, I ask if wheat-growers who have contributed to the fund for say two years, and are then, forced to relinquish their properties, will get some of their money back, or will that money be payable only to wheat-growers who have come into the stabilization scheme in the last three years of its operation?
– I should think that the amount contributed to the fund by a wheatgrower who is subsequently forced off his farm, would become a charge on that property.
– That is quite impossible.
– If I were a wheat-grower, and had paid £1,000 into the fund in twelve months, would I not take my equity in that fund into consideration if I were to sell my property? The purchaser would have a guarantee under the stabilization plan.
– I point out that the State Government would be the purchasers of the properties to which 1 have referred,- and it is unlikely that it would pay back to wheat-growers the amounts that they had contributed to the fund. The growers would not have any equity in the fund unless an assurance were given by this Government that they would be given at least a proportion of their contributions back at the ‘end of five years. I realize that they would not get back all they had paid in, because some administrative charge would have to be . made. Scores of men in my district will be forced out of wheat-growing because of the acquisition of their properties by the. State. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) has said that the purchaser of the land will be responsible for the money which has been paid into the stabilization fund, but that will not be so. We cannot place upon State governments the responsibility for repaying growers’ contributions. It. is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to say what shall become of that money.
.- In view of the inability of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) to answer adequately the question that Has been asked by Senator Gibson, does he’ not think that further consideration of the measure should be postponed until he has had an opportunity to acquaint himself fully of its purport?
– It is a most serious matter.
– The questions that Iia ve been raised by Senator Gibson, Senator Mattner, and myself, are serious indeed. They were not raised when the bill was before the House of Representatives. I realize ‘that this is not the Minister’s own bill.
– It is fortunate for the wheat-farmers that it is not Senator Leckie’s bill.
– But it is my bill, as much as anybody else’s, because I represent the whole State of Victoria, and it is my duty to safeguard the interests of wheat-growers in that State. Obviously, the Minister for Trade and Customs has not had time to study the ramifications of this measure; but an answer should be given to the matters that have been raised by Opposition members before it is passed by this chamber. Again I suggest that further consideration of the bill be postponed until next week so that a clear statement may be made. With this measure is bound up the liberty and livelihood of Australian wheatgrowers. It is a most serious matter to them; yet on important questions such as those raised by Senator Gibson, Senator Mattner, and myself, the Minister is unable to give a clear statement of the intention of the bill. The Minister cannot fob us off with answers such as “ The matter will be attended to later “ or “ The plan will be reviewed at the end of three years “. In the meantime many wheat-growers may lose hundreds of thousands of pounds and some, as Senator Gibson pointed out may be ruined. Has the Minister no sympathy with these men ?
– I do not intend to delay the passage of the measure in order to satisfy Senator Leckie’s request. The cases raised by the Opposition are purely hypothetical, and the situations they envisage may never arise. However, should they do so, they will be treated in the light of experience gained in the operation of the scheme. It is impossible to make detailed provision in the bill .for all sorts of hypothetical cases. I am sure that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to the position of farmers who may leave the industry.
.- I am very disappointed by the Minister’s reply. We have not raised hypothetical cases. I can supply the names of individuals who will pay probably £1,000 a year into the fund for the7 next two years and whose land will be taken from them.. The bill will give them no equity in the pool, although they will be forced to cease wheat production because, when their properties are taken from them by the State government for closer settlement, they will be unable to acquire other land suitable for wheatgrowing.
– Why not take some of the land away from the squatters?
– I am talking about men who are farming on squatters’ land. One-third of their capital will be in the pool after two years, when they will be forced to leave their farms. Some payment should be made to them to assist their re-establishment in some other form of primary production. The Minister’s statement that such cases will. be. treated on their merits was a mere assumption. The bill, when it becomes law, will govern the operation of the scheme, and it provides no equity in the pool for those who contribute to it. The Minister should definitely state the position of the men I have mentioned so that they may make their plans for the future now. They should know whether they will get their money back or not.
– Honorable senators on this side of the chamber are dealing with a basic principle relating to substantial contributions by wheat-growers to a fund to which the Commonwealth Government will not contribute. The fund will consist of a portion of the earnings of wheatgrowers throughout the Commonwealth during the next five years. The amount that will be accumulated will rightly be the- property of those who contribute to it. the principle involved is similar to that which was involved in the system of post-war credits which was advocated by the Opposition in this chamber during the war. What will be the position of growers if their land is acquired compulsorily for closer settlement by a State government? It seems that their contributions to the pool will become the property of the Commonwealth Government, or of other wheat-growers. The Minister should state definitely now what will happen to farmers who may leave the industry after having contributed to the fund for two or three years.
– This discussion has become unduly heated. The point raised by Senator Gibson is important, and the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) realizes its importance. Senator Gibson referred to a man who may pay £2,000 into the stabilization fund over a period of two years and may then be forced by circumstances over which he has 1 no control to leave the industry. He wants to’ know what will become of that man’s contribution to the fund. I understand that, if the fund ha3 not been, exhausted at the end of five years as the result of a serious reduction of wheat prices, there will be a division of the amount in it. Surely the Opposition does not suggest that the amount of £2,000 mentioned “will be lost to the man who contributed it. The fund will be distributed proportionately amongst those who have established it.
– I am pleased that the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) has made that statement. However, there is another very important point at stake. Should the price of wheat fall to, say, 3s. a bushel during the last three years of the scheme, the fund may be completely exhausted. If so, the man whom I have mentioned, having paid £2,000 into the fund before leaving the wheat-growing industry, will lose the amount of his contribution and will, in. effect, subsidize other growers as the result of low prices. Why should he be obliged to do that?
– T have the greatest respect for Senator Gibson’s views on rural problems, but the honorable senator has now shifted his ground. He first asked whether a man who hnd contributed £2,000 to the fund before discontinuing wheat production would share in its distribution at the .termination of the scheme. He now envisages that there will be no money left in the pool at that time. The Opposition has contended that the price for wheat “will remain at a high level for at least ten years.
– I agree.
– The honorable senator now assumes that prices will drop and that disbursements will have to be made from the fund to maintain the guaranteed price, so that the man whose case’ is being considered will be penalized. I agree that, if the price falls to less than 5s. 2d. a bushel after two years, that man’s equity in the pool will diminish accordingly.
– There is a great deal in what the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) has said, and the farmers should know it. There will be nothing to fear, if the price of wheat remains high, because at the expiration of five years, when the distribution takes place, the farmers will receive a bonus in proportion to the quantity of wheat delivered by them. The surplus in the fund will be the farmers’ own money and they will be entitled to it. If the price of wheat falls, then the balance, if any, in the fund will, I suppose, be divided on a pro rata basis among those who have contributed to the scheme. A grower who happens to be in the position described by Senator Gib.=on will lose much of the money which he has paid into the fund, because he will not: have remained in the industry for five years. Undoubtedly, some growers will be penalized under the scheme.
Senator J. M. FRASER (Western Australia - Minister for Trade and Customs) 1 11.48]. - If the. plan operated over a period of ten years, and high prices, were still received for wheat, I assume that instead of the farmers contributing at the rate of 2s. 2d. a bushel for their participation in the stabilization plan, that charge would be reduced, to the benefit to all growers, large and .small. There. is nothing in the bill to suggest that the plan wil1 terminate at the expiration of five years. Provision is made for a review of the scheme at the end of three years. No doubt, after two or three years, anomalies will be discovered.
Senator COOPER (Queensland) 1 11.50 j. - What will happen at the expiration of five years? The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) suggests that there will be a distribution, but the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J.. M. Eraser) states chat a review of the scheme will be made after three years. ‘ If it should be decided to continue the. scheme for a second period of five years, what would happen to the money then in the fund? Would the Government have power to determine that the scheme . should operate for a further period of five years, and that the money in the fund should not be distributed among those by whom it had been paid? Senator Gibson was right in saying that a farmer who had paid £1,000 or £2,000 into the fund would find it, impossible to get his money back,, if the Government decided to continue the scheme for an indeterminate period.
– There is nothing in the bill to suggest that a distribution will take place ,at the end of five years or at any other period, but the measure states that the plan will be reviewed, say, within three years. How could honorable senators expect the money in the fund to be distributed among the growers at the termination of five years, if the scheme were to be carried on for a further five years? If the scheme were continued’, and world parity remained high, the present charge of 2s. 2d. a bushel might be reduced by, say, 6d. a, bushel. Would that not be better than distributing all of the money that will have been collected at the expiration of five years? Che grower will pay 2s. 2d. a bushel as a tax for his security for five years.
– I fear that, the Government is. defeating its own purpose. The growers would naturally think that, after five years, any sum in “ kitty “ would be distributed on a pro rata basis to those who had provided it. I was under the impression that this was to be a scheme for five years only, in order to give some stability to the industry. After five years there would be nothing to prevent the Govern- ment of the day from proposing another five-year plan, but why should money belonging to a grower, who, after having contributed a considerable amount to. the fund, went out of the wheat-growing business, be utilized for the purpose of advancing credit to other growers in the industry? That would not be just. Any amount left in the fund after five years should be returned to the contributors. The Government has no right to use the money accumulated in the fund in any way it wishes. I take it that the contributions will be held in trust for the farmers to whom they belong.
– The issue now : before us appears to be “ as clear as mud “, but one thing is crystal clear, and that is that we have had no satisfactory answer to the questions submitted by Senator Leckie and Senator Gibson. Despite what has been said in the debate, and the replies received from Ministers, we need have no doubt that in the circumstances outlined by Senator Gibson a wheat-farmer could say good-bye to his equity of £2,000 in the scheme. It is now suggested that the growers will have an equity in the scheme,, but we have not been shown where it’ will exist. If a farmer contributed to the stabilization fund for two years, and his farm were then acquired for the settlement of ex-servicemen, he would be put out of the industry.
– But he would be compensated.
– No. He might be in occupation of a rented property, or he might be a share-farmer. In all probability the farmer would lose his contributions. If Ministers would admit that, we should be making progress.
– I have already indicated that.
.- We have been told by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) that there will be a review of the scheme after three years, and that its operation may be extended for a further period. Senator Gibson has told us that a farmer who has contributed £2,000 to the stabilization fund in the first two years, and who relinquishes wheatgrowing, will have no equity whatever under the scheme. How, then, will the farmer be paid back the amount that he has contributed to the fund? These are not hypothetical cases. The same position will arise if a farmer dies after having paid money into the fund. The Government’s proposals can be justified only on the ground .that, in the interests of wheatgrowers generally, some hundreds of wheat-growers must be ruined. The Minister says that the money to the credit of the fund will not be distributed, or that, should it eventually be distributed, it will be divided among the farmers who are then growing wheat. When that time comes, many farmers who have contributed large sums to the fund will be dead, or will have given up wheat-growing.
– Persons who pay taxes are not given refunds.
– Is this a tax?
– Of course it is.
– I am glad to have that admission because it presents a new aspect of this legislation. I thought that the Government was reducing taxes, but here it seeks to impose a special tax on wheat-growers. They are to be taxed at the rate of 2s. 2d. a bushel on all the wheat that .they deliver’ to the pool. We have it on the authority of a responsible Minister that this is a tax, and. that therefore, no one will get anything back at all.
– No one said that. The farmers will be paid dividends all the time in the form of security.
– Ministers are making an unholy mess of their explanations. The position was bad enough before the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Collings) participated in the debate, but he has made confusion worse confounded. Does the Government say that a man who, in the first two years of the scheme has paid, say, £2,000 into the fund, and then dies, or for some other reason has to give up wheat-growing, will never get his money back - that it is gone forever - and that only those wheatgrowers who are actually growing wheat at the end of five years, or ten years as the case may be, will participate in the distribution? I presume that if a man died after paying £2,000 into the fund that money would be credited to his estate.
– Naturally. His equity in it goes to his estate.
– Senator Large has offered an explanation which differs from that of the two Ministers who have tried to explain what is meant. Thi? clause imposes a tax of 2s. 2d. a bushel on wheat.
– There .is no mention of a tax in the clause-
– There is mention of a levy, but the Vice-President of the Executive Council called it a tax.
– In the bill it is called a charge.
– “ A rose by any. other name would smell as sweet “. This’ bill does not smell very sweet. As Senator Large has offered an explanation which differs from the explanations already attempted by Ministers, I should like an. authoritative statement showing what will happen to the money paid into the fund. It has been said during the debate that the position will be reviewed at the end of three years. No stabilization scheme is any good unless it is permanent. I do not say that this legislation, in its present form, should remain permanently on the statute-book, but I do. say that a stabilization plan must be permanent if it is to be effective. There must be some way to deal with people who have contributed money to the fund and either die or relinquish wheat-growing. The Minister in charge of the bill must realize that there is room for an amendment of the clause in order to compensate such farmers, and not ruin them.
– Does the honorable senator say that they would be ruined at 5s. 2d. a bushel for wheat f.o.r. ports? Either the payment is adequate or it is not adequate.
– I was not dealing with the price of 5s. 2d. a bushel, I was dealing with the charge imposed on wheat. The farmer is to pay 2s. 2d. a bushel intothe stabilization fund. During the first two years, when the price of wheat is high, he may. pay £2,000 into the pool. He may then, for good reasons give up wheat-growing. I want t.o know what will happen to the money that he has contributed to the fund. It would appear from what we have heard this morning that he has lost it for ever. This is such a serious matter that some Minister, not necessarily the Minister for Trade and Customs, should explain clearly what is intended. The fears of the wheat-growers that their money will be confiscated would be removed, or at least lessened, if an authoritative statement were made on behalf of the Government that, in such an event, they could receive cash for their equity in the fund.
.- 1 emphasize that in this bill we are dealing not with government money, but with money which, is the property of wheatgrowers. I again point out that this is retrospective legislation as it covers the 1945-46 harvest. Honorable senators will remember that the 1944-45 harvest was a poor one, and many wheat-growers did not make a shilling that season. It was the worst year on record in Australia’s wheat industry. I would be satisfied if the Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) would ..say that, at the end of another four years, there would be a distribution of the money in the fund to the existing wheat-growers. If, however, the Government persists with the bill in its present form, these men will be “ sitting shots “. Such legislation is unfair. 1 suggest that at the end of the five-year period a fresh start should be made with another period of five years. I would not object to- that, but there must be a. distribution of any money belonging to the wheat-growers at the end of the first five years. That would satisfy me. I ask the Leader of the Senate to make a statement to that effect.
– There is nothing in the bill to say that there will be a distribution at the end of five years.
– There is nothing’ in it to say that there will not be a distribution.
– .Senator Leckie says that he believes in a stabilization plan for more than ten years. This plan does not provide for a distribution at the end of five years. What the Opposition wants is a provision that, at the end of that period, when the parity price of’ wheat may have fallen, the taxpayers shall again come to the aid of the wheat-growers. At the end of five years, the world parity price of wheat might be only 2s. 10d. a bushel, in which event the taxpayers would have to make up the difference between 2s. lOd. and the guaranteed price of 5s. 2d. a bushel. The Government is not prepared to do that. That is as clear a statement as I can make.
– Obviously, the Minister is prepared to confiscate the wheat-growers’ money.
– Sympathetic consideration will be given by the Government to any cases of hardship, such a’s those indicated by honorable senators opposite. Such cases will be reviewed in the light of experience.
– That is not in the bill.
– I repeat that the Government does not intend that the money to the credit of the fund shall be distributed at the end of five years.
.- I thank the Minister -for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) for the clear answer which, he has at last given to our inquiries. It is clear now that the farmers must finance their own industry. The Minister has made “it clear that he will not be a party to assisting farmers if, unfortunately, wheat prices fall, unless farmers have enough money to their credit in the fund to be given assistance from it.
– I do not want the honorable senator to misrepresent what I said.
– I am not misrepresenting the Minister’s remarks; I am stating them accurately. We now have a clear-cut issue before .us. Should there be any money in the pool at the end of five years, we know that although every penny of it has been contributed by the growers, the money will not be distributed. The Minister has said that there will be no distribution.
– If the plan is continued.
– The farmers will decide that.
– They will not. [ am grateful to- the Minister for his , explanation.
– I am not.
– It makes theposition clear, and shows where the Government stands. At the end of five years the . growers themselves should have the right to decide by ballot whether the pool should be continued. By that time a new set of conditions _ will prevail. Surely, the Government does not intend to bind growers forever to this scheme. The Government must realize that during a period of five years many growers will leave the industry and many new growers will enter it.
– The scheme provides insurance for the growers.
– But . a person who assures his life may, at any time, recovers’ a substantial proportion of his contributions on the basis of the surrender value of his policy. The Minister for Trade and-Customs made a most damaging statement when he said ‘that should there be a surplus in the fund at the end of five years that money would not be distributed amongst the growers! That means that the Government will confiscate this money to which it will have no right at all, having simply held it in trust for the growers. Yet the Government proposes to use the surplus in the fund as the foundation of a subsequent scheme. Do I interpret the Minister’s statement correctly?
– When this debate was commenced the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) said that, the Opposition would not impede the business of the Senate by prolonging this debate. However, honorable senators opposite are now adopting a different attitude. The points which they have. raised have been explained not once but several times by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) whilst I, myself, have endeavoured to clarify several points. I stated that the scheme would- be reviewed from time to time, and I also assured the Senate that sh’ould anomalies arise they would be rectified. The Minister for Trade and Customs has said definitely that there would be no distribution from the fund. He has been most tolerant in replying to honorable senators opposite. If the Opposition intends to delay the business of the Senate, I shall be obliged to take appropriate steps to prevent delay.
– I have said that should the scheme lapse at the end of five years there must be a distribution of any surplus in the fund. I also said that I should like to see the scheme continued after the first five-year period, but if that were done no distribution would be made of any surplus existing at the end of the first five years. I can do no more than to refer honorable senators to clause 31 (4) of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill, which reads - (4.) In the event of the amount’ standing to the credit of the fund being at any time insufficient to meet the payments required under this act to be made from the fund there shall be paid to the fund out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the amount necessary to meet the deficiency.
– The Leader of the Senate (Senator Ashley) has accused members of the Opposition of prolonging this debate in’ order to waste time. This measure is most important, and we have been discussing it only since 11 o’clock. TheOpposition did not oppose the motion for the second reading,’ but we are impelled to ask for an explanation of this clause. A simple explanation would have met the case. It- is not our fault if such an explanation has not been given by the Minister in charge of the bill. Therefore, the threat made by the Leader of the Senate to take appropriate steps to obviate delay for which, he alleged the Opposition was responsible, is most uncalled for. We have not wasted one minute in this debate, but, apparently, all of our efforts to have the clause clarified have been wasted. Our objective is simply to remove a vicious fault in the measure. Therefore, the threat made by the Leader of the Senate falls on deaf ears. The day is young, and the year is young. The bill is of great importance and deserves the most careful consideration by the committee. Honorable members in another place took three times longer than we have taken to debate this clause. The Leader of the Senate should lay the blame for any delay that has occurred upon the shoulders of those responsible for it.
– I point out to the Leader of Senate (Senator Ashley) that honorable senators have been given very little time to study this measure. We are not obstructing the business of the Senate. We did not oppose the motion for the suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders to enable the bill to be passed through all stages without delay. The Opposition has clone all that can he expected of it to expedite the business of the committee. However, the clause now before us embodies the most vital principle of the bill. The Government proposes to take from one section of the community millions of pounds, and to place that money in what may be described as a trust fund. Senator Large likened these contributions to premiums payable in respect of a life assurance policy. When individual policyholders surrender their policies they become entitled to a refund of a large proportion of- the premiums paid. When policy-holders die, or surrender their policies, their contributions are not retained by the insurance company to be used for the benefit of other people. The money paid is returned to the policyholder because such money belongs to the policy-holder. Wheat-growers are in u similar position when they contribute to the fund to be established under this scheme. Those contributions are part of their hard-earned income. The Government now says that should the property of a wheat-grower be acquired for closer settlement, it will retain the contributions he makes to the fund in order to use it for the benefit of other persons. Such an attitude on the part of the Government would he understandable if the Government itself were providing the fund to guarantee the price of 5s. 2d. a bushel. It would be justified that as part of a policy to make bread available to the people at reasonable prices. In that case it would simply be asking the taxpayers to subscribe to a fund in order that it might provide cheap bread for the people by stabilizing the price of the product of .a vital national industry. No industry has done more than the wheat industry to help develop this country. The wheat-growers have been the hewers of wood and the drawers of water of this nation. Yet they are now to be compelled at a time when prices of wheat are high, and are likely to continuefor some years, to relieve’ the Government of any obligation. Under this scheme every wheat-grower will be compelled! to contribute to the proposed fund. Any grower whose estate may be wound up during the next five years will not beable to .recover the money which he pays into the fund. Recovery of these contributions may be the means of saving many growers from being made bankrupt. When the Government confiscates that money, the growers cannot he said to have ari equity in the fund. The Government should set an example of fair dealing in this matter. A life assurance company repays a large proportion of- premiums to any policy-holder who surrenders a policy. We are simply asking the Government to apply that principle under this scheme. I doubt very much whether under the Constitution the Government has power to take contributions from the growers under the conditions imposed by this measure. I believe that, as happenedin the field peas case, the Government’s action will be .declared to be unconstitutional.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Duration of Act).
– This clause answers the doubt raised in the minds of honorable senators as to the duration of the scheme. It provides that the scheme shall continuein operation until a date to be fixed by proclamation, not being earlier than the 31st December, 1950. There is the strongest possible argument for the inclusion in this measure of some provision indicating what will be done at the end of the five-year period. It is all very well to say that contingencies will be met when they arise ; that is not good enough. The question that all wheat-farmers are asking is what does the Government propose to do when the stabilization scheme expires?
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator J. M. Fraser) proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
– The bill refers to a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r., ports. That is an unusual commercial term, and I should like the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Eraser) to explain why it has been used in this measure, and what is the difference, if any, between f.o.r. ports and f.o.h.
.- The difference is ‘Jd. a bushel in favour of the grower.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.’
Motion (by Senator Ashley) agreed to -
That the Senate, nt its rising, adjourn to Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of External Affairs - 6. D. Cunningham; S. W. Jamieson.
National Security Act - National Security (Prices) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 2504- 2021.
Senate adjourned at 12.34 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 August 1946, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1946/19460802_senate_17_188/>.