20th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to inform the House that the right honorable Lord Swinton of Mashman G.B.E., C.H., M.C., United Kingdom Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and a member of the House of Lords,- is within the precincts of the chamber. With the concurrence of honorable members, I shall invite Lim to take a seat on the floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
Lord Swinton thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that many officers of the Public Service are very dissatisfied with the method by which ballots are conducted in the service for the election of divisional representatives under the terms of section 55 of the Public Service Act and Regulation 139? Will the right honorable gentleman give’ consideration to an alteration of the system of election so that ballots for such positions can be conducted under the control of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, in the same way as trade union ballots are conducted?
– <I am not aware of the matters to which the honorable member has referred, but I shall make myself aware of them by appropriate inquiry and inform him of the result.
– I refer to the doubt and uncertainty in the minds of dairymen about the future of butter production and consumption in Australia in competition with margarine. Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture indicate whether any practical steps can be taken, by the Government to protect the Australian dairying industry from unfair competition by a product made largely from imported materials ?
– The Government is seriously perturbed by the problems of the dairying industry at the present time, and is very anxious that butter shall not price itself out of the market as against margarine. The problem is not easy to solve. It has been suggested, as the honorable member has implied, that an import duty be imposed on some of the imported constituents of table margarine. That suggestion raises a variety of problems. It involves the imposition of a duty on products of our own territories, our obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and an increase of the cost of a commodity which at least a section of the community desires to purchase. It is quite obvious that those are real difficulties. It is clear, however, that there is one way in which our dairying industry can be protected. It is the way in which- the dairying industry it this and other, countries has been protected up to date. I refer to a tonnage limitation on the production of table margarine. It is within the competence of the State governments to arrange and enforce such a limitation. It is a practice which State governments have followed for many years. Unhappily, at the present time some State governments, and one in particular, are showing signs of breaking away from the arrangement that has proved to be so effective in protecting this very important dairying industry. At the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council which is expected to take place in six or seven weeks time, I intend, to raise this matter for the very serious consideration of the State Ministers for Agriculture. I hope that out of a sense of responsibility to the dairying industry there might be an agreed limitation of the production of table margarine in Australia.
– I ask the Treasurer whether any consideration has been given to further increasing the amount paid by the Government into the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund as subsidy? When the Government paid £1 for each £1 paid by employees, the cost, of living was very much less than it is at present. When the cost of living greatly increased, the Government increased its subsidy to 30s. for each £1, and I should now like to know- whether the Government considers it possible to pay 35s. as against each £1 paid by employees.
– Despite the fact: that this is a policy matter, .1 take tl.e opportunity of advising the honorable member that the whole matter of superannuation and Commonwealth workers’ compensation is at present being considered by the Government.
– My question i* directed to the Minister for Air. I understand that £3,000 was won by the Royal Australian Air Force as second prize in the London to Christchurch air race held last week. Will the Minister say how it is intended to destribute that, money?
– The Royal Australian Air Force did win second prize in the London to Christchurch air nieo held last week, and the prize was £3,000. It has been decided by the Royal Australian Air Force, with the approval of my colleague the Minister for Defence, that the £3,000 shall be paid into a special Royal Australian Air Force welfare fund to be used for the benefit of ex-Royal Australian Air Force men and serving Royal Australian Air Force men who are in necessitous circumstances. Consideration was given to making a special award to the pilots and ground crew who took pari in the race, and it was decided that :i sum shall be set aside to provide mementos for them to commemorate their splendid achievements during those few days. However, it was also considered as a matter of principle that as these men were on duty they should not be given a specific award because it is undesirable to give rewards to people who are carryin p out their duties. It has been decided that the money shall be used by the Royal Australian Air Force and not by particular individuals, no matter how spectacular their performance might have been .
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he nas perused extracts from, the transcript of evidence, given in recent, court proceedings in Sydney, in respect of litigation between two newspaper organizations in which the director of Associated Newspapers Limited stated on. oath that he had had a good idea of the contents of the Commonwealth budget before any official announcement had been made about its contents, and that he had had certain discussions in Canberra which made him realize that the reduction of company taxation under the budget would be close to 2s. in the £1? Will the right honorable gentleman state whether he regards the leakage of the budget information before its presentation to the Parliament as a serious matter, and whether any inquiry has been made about this matter including an interrogation of the gentleman concerned to ascertain the source of his inside information? If such an investigation has been made what has been the result of it?
– The question is quite misleading. I have perused the transcript. Honorable members will not be surprised to know that it does not support the allegations made by the honorable member.
– Oh, yes it does.
– It was abundantly clear on a perusal of the relevant passages that the witness said that he had conducted a series of inferences and calculations and had not based his view on any information that had been given to him.
– I address a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. What is the present position regarding the industrial trouble which arose at the State coal mine at Collinsville, North Queensland? As a contract was obtained by a private Australian organization, through the Japanese Procurement Agency of the United States Army, for the supply of 100,000 tons of con] from Collinsville to Korea, will the recent trouble, which appeared to be of Communist origin, prevent the fulfillment of this contract? As the Commonwealth has already assisted in averting cancellation of the contract by obtaining some shi oments of coal from the Joint Coal” Hoard, would the Minister indicate to thu Queensland Government the urgent need to complete the mechanization of the Collinsville mine and so protect future coal exports which are so important from a national point of view?
– I recall the honorable member raising this matter some time ago when he sought information about an industrial dispute which was then in existence at the State coal mine at Collinsville. A settlement of that dispute was achieved, I understand, by the State authorities adjusting the rates of pay in accordance with those prescribed in the federal coal industry award. Work was again interrupted last week when a ban was placed on overtime work, but at a conference held on Tuesday last, between the unions and the Queensland State Minister concerned, an agreement was reached for the normal operations to be resumed yesterday. In regard to the second part of the question, it is apparent that the Queensland Minister for Mineshares the view that these were not genuine industrial issues and he has made public comments -
– I rise to order. I ask you Mr. Speaker, whether there is any actio.ii that you can take to prevent the practice, when questions without notice are called, of Ministers reading prepared replies to questions of which they have obviously received prior notice.
– I am afraid that under present conditions I cannot tak, any action. I am urgently and anxiously awaiting a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee at which, I hope, the whole system of asking questions in this House will be radically changed.
– I rise to order. It is clear from the .Standing Orders that the practice of Ministers in making long prepared statements in answer to questions without notice is not in accordance with the rules of the House because the business before the House is the asking and answering of questions without notice. The point raised by my colleague, the honorable member for East Sydney, is that when questions without notice are called, Ministers read prepared statements almost every day. Such a thing never happened in this House before this Government came into office.
– I desire to speak to the point of order. Provision has been made in our procedure, as is well known, for the asking of questions both without notice and upon notice. On the point of practice, in the period during which I have been in this place, which now stretches over eighteen years, it has been the practice for honorable members from both sides of the House to intimate to Ministers that they propose to raise a question on a particular subject matter.
– No, that is not right.
– I am speaking now of the more courteous members of the Parliament and not of those who seek to employ question time as a means of embarrassing the Government. I include the honorable member for East Sydney in the latter category.
– Order ! What is the point of order?
– It is that what is being done is in accordance with the practice of the House. When the honorable member for Darling Downs raised the subject matter of his question some time ago I sought information that could be made available to him should he raise the question again. It is a pleasure to be able to give him some information on the subject.
– Order ! What is the point of order?
– The Leader of the Opposition took the point that what was being done by this Government was contrary to the practice of this Parliament. There has been no practice developed by members of this Government which has not been in accord with the regular practice followed by other governments from both sides of the House in the past, and I say that we are entitled to continue such practices.
Mr. Bryson interjecting,
– Order ! The honorable member for Wills must remain silent.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. The Standing Orders provide that questions may be asked without notice. If a Minister admits that he has already been advised of a question, and therefore comes into the House with a prepared statement, obviously, he is acting against the Standing Orders when he makes that prepared statement. I ask von, Mr. Speaker, to rule on the matte: and to rule that no Minister is entitled to read a statement that amounts to a speech, particularly as there is provision in the Standing Orders for ministerial statements to be made by leave.
– On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, it would be interesting to know whether you could make any ruling of that kind retrospective in effect, and for how many years it could be retrospective.
Mr. Calwell interjecting,
-Order! The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) has already spoken.
– I venture, Mr. Speaker, to remind you, as you have been in this House for many years, that it was during the administration of the previous Government that - and perhaps I shall now break another standing order, because I shall refer to a person outside this place - the name of Miss Dorothy Dix first became known with reference to questions and answers in this House.
– Order ! This position has cropped up time and time again during my occupancy of the chair. I have reminded the House repeatedly that Standing Order 150 provides that -
Questions may be asked without notice on important matters which call for immediate attention.
Ninety per cent, of the questions asked in this House during question time are either not important or do not require immediate attention. For the rest of the morning I shall apply the relevant standing order. I can only say that, during the years that I have occupied various seats in this place, including a seat in Opposition, I have listened to answers to questions which, I think, took a good twenty minutes to make. If they were not prepared statements, then my understanding of things in this place must he sadly astray. I call the honorable member for Cook. His question must be one that requires immediate attention.
Mr. Sheehan having ashed a question.
– Order ! That is a question for. the notice-paper.
Mr. JJ ulme having ashed a question.
– Order ! I think that that is a question for the notice-paper.
– I rise to order. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that if you have allowed a question to be asked by the. honorable member for Forrest, and answered, on the particular matter with which my question, which you have disallowed, was concerned, you must have allowed the first question to be asked on the ground that it was something of an important and urgent nature. A supplementary question on the same matter, therefore, should also be allowed.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman has asked his question subsequent to the request made to me for a ruling on the point of order, and subsequent to the ruling having been given.
– I have here a letter from a constituent who complains about the administration-
– A letter?
Honorable members interjecting,
– Order! Unless honorable members come to order I shall have to apply another standing order.
– I have here a letter from a constituent who complains about the administration of the Department of Immigration. It covers three pages. Am I entitled to read the letter?
– The questions that I wish to ask the Minister for the Army concern a matter of grave public importance. Has the court martial of an officer charged with the theft of Army funds at Tokyo been finalized? If so, what were the findings of the court martial ? Has any of the stolen money been recovered? If so, what amount was recovered? When does the Minister intend to make a statement on this Army scandal ?
– Order ! The matter is sub judice.
– My question to the Minister for Air concerns a matter of urgent public importance. In view of the recent disclosure, in a statement by the Minister, that certain war-time strategic airfields in the north of Australia are to be abandoned on the advice of service chiefs, although I understand there is now some uncertainty-
– Order ! To what, statement is the honorable member referring ?
– The statement that certain war-time strategic airfields are to be abandoned.
-I want to knowthe source of the statement.
– This is an admission by the Minister himself.
– Is it reported in the press?
– I could not say.
– The question is out of order.
– I raise a point of order on your decision, Mr. Speaker.
– There is no point of order. I have ruled the question out of order.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– But I want to move that your ruling he disagreed with.
– Order! I have given no ruling.
-With deference, Mr. Speaker-
– Order !
– I wish to move that your ruling be disagreed with, and I should like you to show me how I can do so, in view of the fact that you have ruled the question which the honorable member for Reid was asking, out of order. You interrupted his question and said it was out of order. That was a ruling, and I wish to move that the ruling be disagreed with, and to advance reasons why it should be disagreed with.
– Order ! I do not think that the honorable member may move a motion on a matter of this kind.
– I take a further point of order. You, Mr. Speaker, have ruled in the past that a ruling which you give during question time may not be questioned.
– Order ! Objection, if any, should have been taken to that ruling at the time I gave it.
-Immediately you gave your ruling on the question by the honorable member for Reid, I took the point of order.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat.
– I rise to order. I desire to make a personal explanation.
– Order! The honorable member for Reid may not make a personal explanation at this stage.
-i ask that all further questions be placed on the notice-paper.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
International Labour Organization - Thirtyfourth Session, Geneva, June, 1951 - Statement of action taken or proposed to be taken by the Government to implement the Conventions and Recommendations adopted.
This statement is in relation to the action taken or proposed to be taken by the Government to implement the conventions and recommendations adopted by the International Labour Conference at its thirty-fourth session held at Geneva in June, 1951. I take this action in pursuance of the undertaking that I gave to honorable members some time ago whenI tabled the report of the Australian Government delegates to the session.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Francis) read a first time.
.- I move-
) That, in the opinion of this House -
That this Resolution be forthwith conveyedto the Presidentof the United Nations.
This motion is directed to the avoidance of war and world disaster by the international control of atomic energy before it is too late, andsets out a number of facts with which honorable members on both sides of the House will be in agreement. The motion states the need for dealing with those matters, but does not specify means of dealing with them other than the reference of them to the United Nations. I shall discuss the various paragraphs of the motion in the course of my speech.
The motion deals with the most important topic that has ever come before this House. In a sense, this is not the most important motion that has ever been considered by the House, because this House is not the master of what the world does to control atomic energy in the same way as it is the master of certain affairs in Australia. Nevertheless, this topic is of paramount importance, not merely to us, but to all people. It may not be possible to complete the debate on this motion to-day, and I for one would not wish any question on this subject to be decided before there had been an adequate opportunity to debate it. I shall endeav our to make my remarks of a non-party nature in every sense of the term.
My first object in moving this motion is to draw attention to the significance of atomic developments as they affect the lives of the Australian people and of all other people. I think, perhaps, that we have been a little remiss in past years in pointing out to people the significance of developments that were taking place and which would inevitably lead to the situation that is now fast emerging. My second object in moving the motion is to ensure that the matter should be referred to the proper body - the General Assembly of the United Nations, at its present session in New York-for discussion and decision. It may be that, if this House agrees to a motion in these terms I suggest, the effect of its action will go far beyond Australia, because it may be responsible for the initiation of parallel resolutions in other parliaments of the world. We ourselves have not the power to decide those questions, but we may have a power that will lead to those parliaments passing such resolutions.
It would not be profitable for me to rehearse to honorable members the changes that have taken place in the world because of the development of atomic power. They are unique, monstrous, and irreversible changes. They transcend in importance all other changes and all other events that are taking place. They transcend other changes so greatly that there can be no comparison whatever. It, is of no use for us to turn our attention to the things that happen on the world stage when the things that are happening in the atomic sphere are likely to dissolve the whole of that stage and to make unnecessary all the plays that are being performed upon it. These changes have taken place because of certain physical facts which I need not outline in detail to-day, because they are admitted facts. Perhaps the explosion that has just taken place at Woomera high lights them, but more than anything else one thinks of the words of the Secretary of State in the United States of America quite recently when he said that mankind would soon have in its possession the power to obliterate all life on this planet, andhe added, “ These words can be taken literally “. And they can be taken literally by anybody who is aware of the physical facts on which that phrase was formulated. Because of his ability to control atomic energy, man, unfortunately, has an explosive some millions of times more powerful, weight for weight, than any explosive previously developed. As honorable members know, there are two kinds of atomic bombs. There is the fission bomb and the fusion bomb. The fission bomb is exploded by the splitting up of heavy atoms into lighter atoms. The fusion bomb is exploded by the amalgamation of light atoms into heavier ones. It is possible to make a fission bomb with the power of 160,000 tons of T.N.T. That is sufficient to bring about complete destruction over an area the diameter of which is more than two miles and to bring about substantial destruction over an area the diameter of which is very many times greater. One such bomb would rip the heart out of any city in the world and cause devastation in most of its suburbs. If exploded under water or in combination with cobalt or some other material, it could spread dangerous and lingering radio-active poisons over quite large areas. Soon these bombs will be possessed by many nations in quite large numbers. At the present time, they are possessed in large numbers by, I think, only one nation, the United States of America, but they are possessed in substantial and, to some degree, unknown numbers by another nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But the fission bombs, bad though they are, are not the worst. They can be used now as detonator caps, as it were, for the vastly more important hydrogen, or fusion bomb. The hydrogen bomb can be built of quite unlimited size. It will, unfortunately, be relatively cheap to make, and there is no reason why it cannot be made so as to devastate completely, almost without survivors, any known city in the world. The radius of the local poisoning that the hydrogen bomb can cause is much larger, for various technical reasons, than that of the fission bomb. Indeed, it is possible, by the hydrogen bomb, to contaminate the atmosphere to such a degree as to obliterate life, certainly over large areas, and very soon, at the pace at which the present race is proceeding, over the whole of the surface of this earth.
These are acknowledged and admitted facts. It is important that we should remember the time scale in which they are set. The first atomic bomb was exploded in July, 1945, a little more than eight years ago. The hydrogen bomb is perhaps a little over a year old. How long have we got to go? The plutonium stocks on which the fission bomb depends are rising, not only with rapidity but also with increasing rapidity. Unfortunately, it has been discovered that the extension of those stocks, by the provision of the types of hydrogen used in a fusion bomb, is far easier than scientists had hitherto considered to be possible. If the drift continues, it will not be long before there are large, perhaps very large, numbers of hydrogen bombs. There is no chance of stopping the delivery of these weapons, or, at any rate, no chance of stopping their delivery from taking place in circumstances where there is no declaration of* war and an enemy resorts to a kind of super-Pearl Harbour attack. Let no honorable member delude himself about the premium that this new weapon puts upon treachery or about its power of utter destruction. Hitherto, the history of warfare has been a see-saw between offensive and defensive weapons. Sometimes one has been ahead, and sometimes the other. With this development, the offensive weapon has taken an unquestionable lead and, consequently, the old concepts of defence have become sheer nonsense. It was known seven or eight years ago that these things would happen, although we did not know then how short a time would elapse before they would happen.
It is interesting to note that away back in 1946 this problem was attacked with great clarity of outlook. It is distressing to think that the actions that were proposed in 1946 were fundamentally far more sensible than the dithering that took place in later years. To prove my point, I shall refer to a speech made by the present Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), when he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. / On the 25th June, 1946, he said -
In an atomic pact there must lie an effective1 system of inspection and of sanctions to safeguard against any breach of undertakings
The present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who was then the Leader of the Opposition, said in this House on the 8th November, 1946, that “the right of inspection was vital “. Numerous people - I include among them the Leader of the Opposition - made the very sensible point that, in atomic controls, there must he no power of veto. I refer to a broad- cast made by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), on the 15th July, 1946. He said-
Atomic controls which arc free from veto would confer upon each permanent member of the Security Council an absolute and unconditional privilege to claim exemption and immunity from the enforcement of the controls.
He went on to say -
Our objective should be to make the control system so water-tight that plans for violation find evasion, whether of a major or minor character, may be detected at the earliest possible stages, and prompt measures taken for effective prevention.
They were wise words. Unfortunately, they did not lead to action. Let me quote - in view of subsequent events, there will be some irony in the quotation - some remarks made by the right honorable member for Barton in June, 1946, seven years ago. He said -
The people of the world are following the proceedings of this Atomic Energy Commission with groat anxiety and concern. They are looking to us for prompt action. They will not be satisfied with expressions of mere hopes and aspirations. They are demanding a plan which will remove a great fear from their hearts.
If that plan had been translated into action, we should not stand in our present situation. Why was it that we failed? The history of the Atomic Energy Commission and the history of the action taken by the United Nations is a discouraging history of people who would not face up to responsibility. I name no individuals, because everybody was concerned in the matter. I believe that what happened was the result of a deliberate Russian plan to stall control until Russia itself possessed saturation stocks of these weapons with which to threaten the world. I believe that to be so, but it is not necessary for my argument that it should be believed, because the validity of my argument remains, irrespective of that point. The situation that has emerged is that soon, if the present drift continues, there will be in the hands of at least two countries - I do not think that is the position to-day - saturation stocks of atomic weapons. Each of those two countries will possess the power entirely to destroy the installations, cities and organizations of the other. But if the drift should continue and there is no disaster, that would not be the end of things because these weapons become easier to make as techniques advance, and soon they would be in many hands. When that will happen I do not know. Whether the first stage of the matter where two powers possess saturation stocks of atomic weapons, is one, two or three years ahead is anybody’s guess, but it can be said with certainty that it will happen at least some time between now and 1960. I speak not of the distant future, but of the very near future and perhaps of the immediate future. When that happens it will be no protection to one side merely because that side is’ stronger than the other. Once a nation has power completely to destroy, any addition to that power is not significant. Nor can we rely upon the non-use of atomic weapons. The devastating power of the first knock-out blow is a premium on treachery which would naturally make for a trigger happy world. What will happen when a clique in any country obtains power and then finds itself in clanger of losing that power? What would happen about the potential vanquished if there shouldbe a war ? Would not they, to save themselves, invoke this final atomic power? Again, what of the power of blackmail which would lie in the hands of many countries, and perhaps in the hands of many cliques? If the present drift continues, we shall soon be living in an impossible world and the fact that gas was not used during the last war is no analogy at all for the non-use of atomic weapons in the next war. Those who try to persuade people that it is an analogy do a fundamental disservice to humanity.
Beyond all that, there is the possibility of Soviet malevolence. That brings me naturally to the first term of my motion that the present development of atomic armamentsis likely to lead to world disaster unless effective international safeguards are speedily imposed. The second term follows obviously from the first term, and it is that any one safeguard cannot be effective without full powers to safeguard against possible violence and to enforce the decisions of the international authority. The words of the Leader of the Opposition spoken in 1946, which I have already quoted, endorse that statement which, indeed, is the only sensible view. From the second point follows the next one, again in logical sequence, that ineffective safeguards would be worse than useless in that they would tend to operate for the advantage of a potential aggressor which may build up atomic armaments in violation of any international agreement, and thus act against peace-loving nations who would honour their obligations to disarm.
I arn not alone in holding the opinions that I have read to the House. I point out that the entire treacherous atomic campaign of the Soviet Union has been based upon the endeavour to slur over this need for effective control, and to get the world to rely on an ineffective control agreement which would be worse than useless because the Soviet Union would not be effectively bound by it. The whole of the so-called ban-the-atom-bomb cam.paign was directed not to banning the atom bomb at all, but to making certain that the Soviets would be able to manufacture it without impediment. It is based on the ignoring of the simple proposition that I set out in the third part of the motion that I have presented to the House. The fourth proposition in the motion sets out that the time available for the peaceful solution of the world’s atomic problems is short, and action is therefore urgent. Time runs while we wait paralysed. There is not much time to waste. History is balanced on a narrow knife edge. To-day our situation is radically different from that of six months ago, and from that, of six months hence. The time is very short, and time is of the essence of this whole matter. My final proposition i3 that it would be appropriate for the United. Nations, having regard to the purpose and principles set out in the first chapter of its Charter, to devise and implement forthwith world-wide and watertight systems for the control of atomic armaments. It would thus be appropriate for the General
Assembly of the United Nations, at its present session in New York, to direct itsurgent attention to this matter.
Honorable members will all be familiar with the second chapter of the Charter of the United Nations to which I have referred, and they will remember subclauses 5 and 6 which envisage enforcement measures for peace, and require all members of the United Nations of goodwill to lend their weight to enforcement. Further, these measures for guarding the peace are extended by the authority of the United Nations over nations that are not members of the organization, because clause 6 of the chapter reads -
The organization shall ensure that Status which are not members of the United Nations act in accordance with these principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance nf international peace and security.
Therefore, the United Nations Charter applies not only to members of the United Nations, but its signatories have agreed that where necessary the Charter should have world-wide application.
It may be that nothing will be achieved, by referring this matter once again to the United Nations, but at least let us try to do something because willingness, to co-operate in effective international control of atomic energy is the 3ole sure touchstone of goodwill on the part of any nation in regard to its present international relations. If any nation, whether it be Russia or any other, should procrastinate, or delay the conclusion of such a world-wide and watertight pact, that nation would at least be revealed to the rest of the world for what it is. This motion does not indicate the action that should be taken, because I have deliberately avoided making any suggestions, although I have made my personal views quite clear to honorable members about this matter. I do noi seek, by this motion, to extend my own personal views except insofar as they are expressed in the terms of the motion, because I believe that it is better to obtain some area of agreement between honorable members on both sides of the House.
Do not let us announce in advance what we are going to do, and do not let us tie our hands by saying what we are not going to do. To tie our hands would bo to weaken, ourselves in any coming negotiations, and to fall in with the fundamental Russian Communist campaign for ineffectual banning of . the atomic bomb, which is solely designed to ensure Soviet world superiority. Procrastination brings war nearer. The only way to maintain peace is to take effective action in time. I am not trying to say what thai action should be, and I do not want any implication in that regard to be drawn from anything that I have said in this House. I have clearly stated elsewhere my own views in regard to this matter. All the motion does is to set out certain logical steps with which every honorable member must agree. It is. then for the United Nations to decide what conies next. I know that there is a temptation to achieve political popularity by trying to advocate an easier course, even though an easier course might have a quite opposite outcome. We stand to-day on the edge of an abyss because during the last seven years political parties throughout the world have been trying to get the advantage on just these terms. They prefer to court popularity rather than tell the truth ; and to cover up their past mistakes rather than to correct them.
On the proper handling of this matter depends our only chance of peace, and life. Let ‘me try to think of :.w appropriate metaphor for the enormity and the uniqueness of the present world situation which is quite different from anything that we have experienced before. If I say that we stand in infinitely worse peril than we did in the worst days of the war. I still say far too little. If I say that to lose now would mean a disaster far worse than losing the war against Nazi Germany, I still say too little. In order to get the matter into proper perspective, let me put it in another way. In the history of mankind there are only two events of major significance. One of them was the spiritual event of nineteen and a half centuries ago, the other is the material event of to-day. The responsibility is upon us as a Parliament. We are not an inconsiderable Parliament although our power docs not go beyond Australia. We should neither pretend to a power that we do not possess, nor should we thrust aside the responsibilities that go with the powers that we do possess. We must act before it is too late. We must realize what is involved. We must forget party. We must neither yield to panic nor deride those who want action. Let us remember that on the shoulders of every one of us some segment of the sky rests to-day.
– I second the motion which is of immense potential importance. The unrestricted development of the present weapons race will, if unchecked, have a catastrophic effect on the whole world. There is no need for me to attempt to paint a word picture of the shocking events that would follow an atomic war. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) lias given us some salient facts about the force and effect of atomic explosions. 1 shall not repeat them except to emphasize the vast increase of the power of atomicexplosions over the conventional molecular explosion The atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in the closing stages of the last war have been estimated to have an explosive force’ equivalent to that of approximately 20,000 tons of T.N.T. Developments in the fission bomb up to the present have increased the power of fission explosions to the equivalent of that of approximately 160,000 tons of T.N.T. When, we learn that the power of the fusion bomb - the hydrogen bomb - is a thousand times greater than that qf the fission bomb, we realize that the explosive effect of a hydrogen bomb is equivalent to that of 160,000,000 tons of T.N.T. These are impressive figures. But the awe-inspiring mass destruction which would result from the explosion of a hydrogen bomb is not all that must he considered. There would follow the destructive effect of atomic radiation. Tt has sometimes been argued that the pattern of war has not been changed ns the result of the invention of atomic weapons. While that, no doubt, is theoretically true, there is no possible doubt that in practice the invention of atomic weapons has brought about tremendous material and quantitative changes. For the first time it has become possible for an enemy to destroy simultaneously a major portion of a nation’s military bases, n large and significant portion of its industrial organizations, a material portion of its centres of communication, and a significant portion of its population, not only by actual destruction but also by wounds and destitution.
Never before bas it been possible to drop on a single area a bomb with an explosive force equivalent to that of 160,000,000 tons of T.N.T. A moment’s consideration will emphasize the dreadful prospects that lie before us. One fusion bomb has a lethal effect over a radius of approximately 10 miles. That means that the lethal effect of a hydrogen bomb will extend over a circle with a diameter of approximately 20 miles. Its partial effect would cover a very much greater urea. Within a circle of a diameter of 20 miles everything would be obliterated and all life would be destroyed. Imagine the holocaust that would be caused by the dropping of such a bomb on London or New York. Even if the bomb were indifferently aimed it would completely wipe out either of those cities. These facts arc known. We have been told of them by authoritative people and they are approximately accurate. But we do not appear to have the courage to face up to them. We allow ourselves to be diverted by all sorts of relatively insignificant matters of immediate interest, none of which is of the slightest importance in comparison with the dreadful prospective tragedy that is facing the world. This growing and real threat of atomic conflict is something to which we arc not giving the overriding consideration that it merits.
This motion is an attempt, to rectify the distorted sense of values from which we are at present suffering. It is also an attempt to re-awaken the members of the United Nations to the consciousness of the absolute, vital, and overriding importance of finding an alternative to the present uncontrolled atomic armaments race. Now is the time to do so. As the honorable member for Mackellar has pointed out, time is running out. The Western world at present probably has a practical atomic weapon of the hydrogen class capable of being carried by air to any part of the world. The Soviet Union probably does not possess such a bomb, but it. is certain that it very soon will possess one. If we are unable to convince the Russians while they are inferior to us in atomic armaments, we have little hope of carrying conviction to them after they have reached parity with us. Indeed, it is not even necessary for the Soviet Union to reach parity with the Western world in atomic armaments, because, when the time arrives, in, I believe, the not distant future, when the Soviet Union has sufficient of these mass destruction bombs to threaten the destruction of the Western democracies, it will be in a position virtually as strong as that of the free world. As has already been pointed out, the Soviet needs to have only enough bombs to make saturation bombing of the Western world possible, and a sufficient number of bombs to reach saturation point may well be considerably less than parity.
The motion has a second important objective. It is an attempt to educate people to the dangers of accepting any proposals for the control of atomic weapons that do not provide for adequate and practical safeguards. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has already submitted a number of such proposals. The Russians have, in fact, proposed the control of atomic weapons, but without provision for adequate inspection systems, or with provision for only partial inspection systems. They have suggested, in effect, the destruction of all atomic weapons by all nations, but have implied that they would not themselves consider such a policy seriously unless the Western world were to commence such destruction first, as a gesture of good faith. Such proposals are, of course, completely unacceptable to the West, because, if they were- accepted, they would place the Soviet Union in an unprecedentedly superior position in the atomic armament race, for reasons that are obvious and which I need not attempt to explain in detail. The acceptance of such a proposal would give any nation that was prepared to cheat the advantage of being able to make a surprise attack, which could well be devastating. Yet we find that people are prepared, without proper thought and, I believe, in desperation, to criticize the democracies on the ground that they have rejected the proposals made by the Soviet Union, and to believe that the Soviet
Union is willing to consider co-operation with the West but is receiving no encouragement to do so. Such a state of mind could be disastrous and is dangerous in the extreme. Unless a controlled plan can be evolved which provides for adequate inspection and complete policing of the plan, the acceptance of the Soviet proposals would, confer an enormous advantage on a nation that was prepared to cheat.
In my view, the motion sets out to do two things. It sets out to spur the United Nations to greater efforts to evolve, in the very near future, a plan to control world production of atomic weapons with effective and practical methods of inspection and policing. In addition, it sets out to help to educate public opinion to recognize the spuriousness and insincerity of the proposals submitted by Russia, the acceptance of which would only confer on the Soviet bloc immense advantages in the atomic weapons race. 1 commend the motion to the House.
– The mover and seconder of the motion have put before the House facts that are of great importance. The motion is of equal importance. I think that it should be regarded in the spirit of being an attempt to analyse the true position to-day, and to see the alternatives that face the democracies in their desire to prevent atomic warfare. Also of equal importance is an aspect of the problem which has not yet been discussed in this debate. I refer to the desire of the democracies to see that atomic energy is used positively for the good of mankind. I believe that concentration on, and development of, that aspect of atomic energy offers the greatest hope of avoiding atomic warfare. Indeed, that is the principle that was laid down by the United Nations in 1946, at its first meeting after the organization’s Charter was agreed to at San Francisco. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has referred to it. There is no difference in principle between the words which, as he said, I used as first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the statements to-day of the honorable member for Mackellar and the honorable member for Indi (Mr.
Bostock). That is to say, atomic bombs being available, the conscience of mankind revolts from atomic warfare. But how is such warfare to be prevented? The United Nations declared, in a resolution which, I think, was completely sound in principle, that it was not enough simply to prohibit the use of atomic bombs, because no nation would allow a rival nation to have atomic bombs in its possession without having safeguards against their misuse. Therefore, an effective system of inspection, and safeguards against a breach of the international treaty that would have to be negotiated, must be integral features of any method of controlling atomic energy in order to prevent atomic bombs from being used. This is acknowledged in the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Mackellar.
The real point at issue is this: What will happen if Russia does not agree to such a system? Neither the honorable member for Mackellar nor the honorable member for Indi dealt with that question. It is useless, therefore, for them to twit the Atomic Energy Commission of 194.6 and point to what it should have done. The truth is that the Christian democracies are in a dilemma. What is the next step if the other side will not. agree to a reasonable scheme of inspection and control? Should we continue to conciliate and try to narrow the area of disagreement with the object of obtaining agreement ultimately, or should we try to use force against the intransigent, obstinate nation that will not agree, perhaps for malevolent purposes or perhaps for sheer fear of the consequences of agreement? Whatever reason may motivate that nation, the problem remains unchanged and we must face it. The honorable member for Mackellar pui; the case very well from an analytical point of view, but he said that he proposed only to take the case to a certain point and then to leave it to the General Assembly of the United Nations to take action. Therefore, something further must be said on the matter. The honorable member indicated in a recent publication that he had a preference for the use of force to compel agreement on a country that would not agree voluntarily to a system of control. T think he still holds that view. The adoption of such a course of action as a means of resolving the dilemma of the democracies would be fatal to democracy. To say to the country concerned, which is Russia, that unless it agrees to come under a system of control and satisfactory inspection we intend to wage atomic war upon it would be the logical result of maintaining the honorable member’s point of view. But that would be contrary to all the principles for which democracy stands and, in fact, it would end democracy by converting it into a form of totalitarianism. Therefore, the slow process of conciliation is the only course that is left open to us, together with the process, which is continuing, of producing atomic weapons and keeping them in reserve against the eventuality of an attack upon the democracies.
I have stated the situation directly and I propose to suggest, on behalf of the Opposition, an amendment of the proposal by the honorable member for Mackellar, not because I believe that the amendment I have in mind is above criticism, but because I believe it provides for a positive contribution to the solution of our problem. To send the proposed resolution to the United Nations can do good, but we should first consider the history of this matter. The honorable member’s proposal deals with atomic armaments only. Of course, they are the most dramatic development of research into atomic energy. Let us recall the facts. In 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared itself in favour of the formation of an international authority armed with full powers of inspection and empowered also to prevent the use of atomic energy for the purposes of destruction. The Assembly contemplated an atomic treaty that would require the parties to it not to use atomic bombs and to agree to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. The recommendations of the Assembly were brought before the Atomic Energy Commission, which laid the foundation of a plan to ban atomic weapons and to ensure the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes only. From the very first, the safeguards embodied in the contemplated plan were to include inspections by an international controlling authority to be established under a treaty. A complete system of inspection was essential to ensure that atomic weapons would not be manufactured and that atomic energy would be used only for peaceful purposes.
The commission worked towards this end and put forward a plan, which was. adopted by an overwhelming majority. Russia dissented and was supported in the first instance by Poland, a country which is under complete Russian control in relation to foreign affairs. Russia simply said that all that was necessary was to declare that atomic bombs would not be used. As the United States of America had the monopoly of atomic bombs at the time, no democracy could assent to that proposal. Therefore, agreement was not reached. Then, as the honorable member for Mackellar has said, the question of the veto arose. Russia did not object to the use of sanctions if the Security Council had the power to enforce sanctions, but in the Security Council the unrestricted right of veto of each permanent member meant that Russia itself could prevent enforcement of the proposed treaty against a country that violated its obligations. Therefore, this arrangement would have been completely unsatisfactory from the point of view of the democracies, and the Australian delegates put forward that view. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission on Conventional Armaments, which dealt with armaments not in the atomic energy class, went on with their work, and in each, case it was impossible to obtain full agreement although, as the honorable member for Indi has pointed out, there was a move by Russia in relation to both control a.nd inspection somewhat on the lines of the original proposals made by the democracies. Russia was prepared to submit to some system of control provided that all atomic bombs were destroyed. This would have involved the destruction by the United States of America of its stocks of atomic bombs when the proposed system of control was instituted. Russia also wanted to qualify the inspection system.
Therefore, it was not possible to achieve agreement. The most recent step has been the merging of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Commission on Conventional Armaments into a general disarmament commission, which is vested with authority to deal with the whole subject of disarmament. I need not elaborate in detail on the principles that have been adopted by $he General Assembly. Some of them have been mentioned. They all are implicit in what I have said so far. In other words, the General Assembly favours effective inspection, adequate safeguards to detect violation of a. disarmament programme, and the conclusion of a treaty, open to all nations, in which the functions of the control organ are set out. The disarmament commission has been meeting for over eighteen months under the auspices of the General Assembly. Last year, it was convulsed by long drawn-out charges made by Russia in relation to the alleged use by United States forces of bacterial weapons in Korea and China. I should have thought that such a subject was quite irrelevant to the discussions of the disarmament commission. The charges were never substantiated in any degree. The whole matter of the control of atomic energy and conventional armaments is still on the business paper of the present General Assembly. I have no knowledge of the view that has been expressed by the representative of the Australian Government on this subject. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) attended the meeting of the General Assembly, and I am sure that the House would like to be informed of the views that he has put forward on behalf of Australia on this vital problem.
The motion submitted by the honorable member for Mackellar relates solely to atomic weapons. It does not deal with the general subject of disarmament. I agree that the control of atomic weapons is of the utmost urgency, and, on behalf of the Australian Labour party, I reaffirm our support for the principle of the control of atomic armaments, the reduction of armaments, and the setting up of an international control authority not merely to police restrictions and prohibitions laid down by it in any and every country in the world, but actively to assist in the positive task of developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
That matter is most important. We tend to concentrate on the prevention of the use of atomic energy for the purposes of destruction, and we are not sufficiently alert to the urgency of the problem of using the same source of power for the glory and benefit of mankind. This is the opportunity. It is a challenge to democracy. In the long run, the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes should be of tremendous benefit to under-developed countries like Russia. Therefore, the general approach of the motion is satisfactory, but some of the wording in it is ambiguous, particularly in relation to the proposal to implement, a watertight system for the control of atomic armaments. What is the precise meaning of “implement”? I do not propose to do more than refer to one quotation from the pamphlet written by the honorable member for Mackellar on this subject. He has stated -
All sanctions - including the sanction of war and atomic war - should be applied forthwith to any nation which refuses to submit to full atomic control.
– How arv sanctions enforced ?
– I am merely reading a passage from a pamphlet written by the honorable member for Mackellar. Sanctions are enforced by the application of of them. If the sanction is the atomic power, it is enforced by dropping an atomic bomb. I am not defending the honorable member’s declaration. We are confronted with a dilemma. Is democracy to take a step of that kind, or must it continue along the slow, tedious, frustrating path of conciliation - a path which is vital to democracy in the sense that if we depart from it, we shall cease to be a democracy. I say that the declaration in its contextmeans that the international authority would say to Russia, “ You must accept atomic control. . Your objections are unreal. Here is a reasonable system of control and inspection. Unless you agree, you will be subject to atomic attack, or the sanction of war “. Of course, all that may not be intended, but it is important that we should see clearly where we arp going. In the present circumstances of the world, we cannot say to a country which will not become a party to the agreement, “ In order to stop you from waging atomic war in the future, we are prepared to .use the atomic weapon in the first instance “. Logically, such an attitude can be defended, but from a realistic and democratic viewpoint, such a view is untenable. It amounts to a doctrine of preventive war of gigantic dimensions by the very nature of the weapon proposed to be used.
– What about economic sanctions ?
– I am not discussing economic sanctions. Economic sanctions, or whatever other sanctions the international authority laid down, could be applied under the terms of the agreement, to those countries that accepted it in the event of a breach of the treaty. The United Nation’s charter contains such sanctions. If aggression takes place, the sanction is collective action by force against the aggressor. That action is possible because a treaty is in existence, and makes provision to that effect. But I am now dealing with the preliminary question of whether a country can be compelled to become a party to an agreement, against its will, by sanctions. That is a very different matter. So far as I know, no responsible leader of the democracies would accept such a proposal, and it is in contrast indeed to the recent renewal by the Prime Minister of Great Britain of proposals for further top-level consultations between the four great powers. I imagine that the purpose of that proposal is to reduce the area of international disagreement, and I think that the United Nations would be assisted by talks of that kind. Such talks should also be addressed to the control of atomic energy. I reaffirm the endorsement by the Australian Labour party of all decisions of the United Nations on atomic energy and disarmament. Effective control of atomic energy certainly requires a comprehensive international system of control and inspection; otherwise, nations which accepted the proposed atomic treaty in good faith could be destroyed by nations which acted in bad faith.
From the. outset, the proposal of the United States of America, through the former President, Mr. Truman, was not only beyond reproach or criticism, but was one of the most generous gesu res in the history of mankind. The United States of America had the monopoly of the atomic bomb, and was prepared to give it up, provided sure and certain safeguards were introduced against any nation breaking the treaty and manufacturing and using atomic bombs when America was disarmed. That was an extraordinarily constructive and generous attitude for the United States of America to adopt. It has maintained that attitude ever since. The attitude of Russia, which rejected the proposal of the United States of America, was completely intransigent, and was due to folly, obstinacy or worse. I do not think there is any dispute about that. [Extension of time granted.’] I am obliged to the House for its courtesy. Despite the advantage gained by the United States of America by the exclusive possession of such a weapon, Mr. Truman repudiated any idea that the democracies would use the atomic bomb in a preventive war or in order to force Russia or any other country to become a party to the agreement. He stated that such a course would be completely unjustified, and added -
We do not believe in aggressive or preventive war. Such is the weapon of dictators, not of free democratic countries like the United States. We are arming only for defence against aggression.
General Carl Spaatz, the distinguished war-time leader of the United States Air Force, has expressed a similar opinion, as follows : -
Preventive war has never been, nor could it ever be. the policy of responsible civilian or military leaders of our democratic nation. To unleash this destructive power, i.e., the atomic bomb in the guise of a preventive war would, at the same time, unleash military and moral forces that could lead to our own destruction.
Mr. John Foster Dulles has enunciated similar principles. He pointed out that, although in 1941 Japan made a sneak attack upon the democracies, that was a great tragedy from their point of view. The result was a rallying of world forces behind the United States of America and Britain to a degree never before witnessed in history. Other prominent leaders,, such as Mr. Doan Acheson, who was Secretary for State in the United States of America, before Mr.
Dulles, General Eisenhower, and Mr. Adlai Stevenson have adopted the view that is expressed in my proposed amendment.
The problem is indeed acute, and at first the logic of the position would seem to suggest a resort to the use of these weapons of preventive warfare, but the material consequences of the use of such weapons could never be foreseen. One cannot foresee what the military position would be, but, in my opinion, the democracies as democracies would be destroyed if they were to resort to such totalitarian weapons simply for the purpose of compelling international agreement. I repeat that the application of sanctions with the consent of all nations is a satisfactory and necessary principle of atomic energy control, and that principle is embodied in the United Nations Charter itself.
I move the following amendment: -
That paragraph (1) be left out with a viewto insert in lieu thereof the following paragraphs : - “ 1. That this House fully endorses and reaffirms the recommendations of the United Nations’ agencies which have dealt with the problem of atomic and other armaments and have adopted, inter alia, the following principles: -
That the armed forces and armaments of the world should be progressively reduced in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter;
That the United Nations should develop plans under international control for the elimination of all major weapons adaptable to mass destruction ;
That there should be effective international control of atomic energy to unsure the prohibition of atomic weapons and the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes only;
That there should be a draft international treaty for the regulation and reduction of all armed forces and all armaments, and the system under such treaty should include adequate safeguards to provide, by inspection and administration, for the prompt detection of violations and for appropriate sanctions. “1 a. This House expresses the opinion that it is not in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United’ Nations to give support to any proposal involving the waging of preventive war by atomic or other weapons.”.
Sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of the proposed amendment simply reaffirm the decisions of the General Assembly of the
United Nations organization, which decisions were supported by Australian Governments under both the late Mr. Chifley and the present Prime Minister. The amendment I have proposed seeks to reaffirm those decisions, because, I think, they should be emphasized. The decision embodied in sub-paragraph (c) is not new. The motion reaffirms those decisions in a different way, one which, in my opinion, is not so satisfactory as the amendment I have proposed. Sub-paragraph (d) of the proposed amendment provides that a country that is a party to the agreement, and breaks it, must suffer the sanctions presented by the agreement. If there were a court to administer the sanctions so much the better, but it should not be the Security Council of the United Nations where the veto of the offending country could prevent sanctions being applied to that country whilst they were applied to another. That has already been emphasized.
No doubt we shall hear from the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government. 1 do hope that the Government will adopt the substance of the amendment I have proposed. I think it would be in accordance with the attitude of members on this side of the House were all honorable members as a united Parliament to reaffirm the principles set forth in the amendment. I cannot believe that there is any substantial dissent from the proposed amendment. It may be that the purpose of the honorable member for Mackellar is to prevent delay. If so, that would make the matter all the more urgent, and I think it would be encouraging to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization to receive resolutions ofthis nature from this Parliament, which represents the people of Australia.
I think that the problem of atomic armaments is portion of a still wider problem, that is, the problem of war itself. It should not be our desire merely to make rules for the waging of war - some kind of Marquis of Queensbury rules - which must not be broken. It must always be remembered that, so far as the United Nations Charter is concerned. the enemy is aggression and war waged with modern weapons. All modern weapons are destructive: it is only a. question of degree. In supporting their approach to the problem of atomic armaments, honorable members on this side of the House reaffirm their attitude to armaments generally and support the principle adopted by the United Nations Organization that, first of all, there must be collective action to deal with aggression by force but that at all times we should conciliate to prevent the use of force. That is in accordance with action taken recently by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, and I hope that that action will lead to substantial progress in every field of international dispute or tension.
– I second the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). I. think the serious discussion that has taken place in this House on the motion of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) does credit to our National Parliament. It is uttering the merest truth to say that all the members nf this Parliament, in common with all our fellow citizens, view the possibility of a third world war, which would be an atomic war, with great perturbation of mind. We are all creatures of the same God. We and all mankind were made in His image and likeness, and we all have an equal interest in averting the disaster of a third world war.
The Leader of the Opposition is well equipped to discuss a subject of this nature, because of his service to the cause of humanity generally and the thoughts he has expressed in the high offices he has held whenever the control of atom bombs has been under discussion. The honorable member for Mackellar paid the Leader of the Opposition a tribute, not directly, but by inference, when he quoted what the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) said when he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946. I should like to remind honorable members that the Leader of the Opposition was the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. That commission was established by the United Nations to do the very thing that the proposed amendment seeks to do. Two countries represented at that meeting of the Atomic
Energy Commission refused to be bound by the decision of the commission, a decision which was afterwards known as the Baruch plan. Those two nations were Russia and Poland. It was not the fault of any of the other nations that the plan failed. In 1949, the Leader of the Opposition was the first Australian to become president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. That was a very great honour, and one which may not be given to this country again for many years. In his capacity as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and as president of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Leader of the Opposition did seek at all times to advance the cause of world peace and help to avert the possibility of a third world war. What the right honorable gentleman has suggested in his amendment is what he said on behalf of Australia in 1946, and what he has said consistently since then. We on this side of the House, and, I think, the country generally, take the view that wc cannot have a preventive war to stop an atomic war, because once a war started it would automatically become an atomic war. If an atomic war started, we should then see the annihilation of mankind, not merely as a possibility, but as a probability. It is a good thing to reaffirm right principles and to try by that method to persuade the United Nations, if we can do anything in the way of persuasion, to take further action, if further action can be taken by it, to bring about the desired result. The United Nations is meeting now to discuss this very question. It is just as anxious as we are to prevent a third world war. It so happens that this motion has come forward for discussion in the Parliament on the day the first atomic bomb has been exploded on Australian territory. It has come forward for discussion in United Nations Week, a week devoted to the encouragement of support for the ideals and the work of the United Nations. Therefore, the setting seems to be appropriate for a discussion of this kind.
It is interesting to note that it was in the laboratory of the Manchester University, under the leadership of an Australian, that uranium 235 was first separated from uranium 238. The distinguished Australian professor of nuclear physics who had charge of that work at the Manchester University was Professor Marcus Oliphant. That gentleman has since returned to his own country and now occupies a position of similar importance in the Australian National University. I remember that he came to Australia to attend a Cabinet meeting in 1946, when we were talking of establishing the Australian National University and wondering what we could do in the way of experiments in nuclear physics for the advancement of human progress. After the meeting, I asked Professor Oliphant whether it would be possible to blow a hole in the centre of Australia, 200 miles long, 80 miles wide, and 200 feet deep, for the purpose of creating an inland sea and causing evaporation and precipitation that might turn the dead heart of Australia into a place where people could live in great numbers. Professor Oliphant said it was possible to do that, but he said also that, at the moment we did it, we should blow Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide off the map. So the destructive powers of the atomic bomb, even in those days, before the hydrogen bomb had been perfected, were enormously great.
Everybody in this Parliament would like to see atomic power used, but they want it to be used for human betterment and human advancement, not for human destruction. Nobody wants to see atomic power destroyed, but we do not want it to be used militarily. We want a scheme devised to ensure that it will not be used militarily. It remains to be seen whether that is possible. We have reached the stage when the conventional bomb of one period becomes, by comparison with something else that is devised later, only a cracker. Before World War II., and almost to the end of it, the T.N.T. bomb was the conventional bomb. Then the atomic bomb became the unconventional bomb. To-day, scientists are talking of the atomic bomb as the conventional bomb, and of the hydrogen bomb, the cosmic ray bomb and other awful means of destruction as the unconventional ones. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. Bostock) has reminded us that the hydrogen bomb is 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb. So mankind has no reason to view the future with any equanimity.
The Leader of the Opposition has paid a well deserved tribute to the people of the United States of America. They are a great people, and they belong to a very great nation. The offer made by the United States of America in 1946 was most generous, because the Americans had a stockpile of atomic bombs and no other people had any. They had “ know-how “ that other people did not have. Whatever charges may be made in relation to the race for armaments, .no charge of selfishness can properly be levelled against the United States of America. It is a pity that Russia, Poland and some other countries did nol. see the position as the Atomic Energy Commission saw it in 1946. The fears and worries of those countries that perhaps they might be worse off if they agreed to control of the atom bomb have been proved by time to be groundless. Even now it is not too late for countries behind the iron curtain and the bamboo curtain, which have these powerful means of destruction, to agree to a system of control and inspection, as well as to the outlawing of atomic weapons. Some people say that we should outlaw those weapons but should not have a system of inspection or control of manufacture. If we can convince the peoples who belong to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics bloc that the western democracies want peace just as earnestly as anybody else, we may arrive at the position we are seeking.
I want to repeat something I read in the Press the other day, which gives us cause to think very furiously. Rocket bombs that can fly at 2,000 miles an hour are no longer a dream of the future. They are not even suggestions for blueprints. They are actualities. Within a few years, rocket bombs may be flying at 4,000 miles an hour, aimed with deadly accuracy at any target. So we have reached the stage when a push-button war is possible, and when people can be destroyed without seeing their adversaries. I feel that now, when we have almost reached the 2,000th year of Christianity, and in this era of our boasted civilization, we ought to direct all of our energies to the prevention of a third world war of any sort. Man ought to evolve himself right out of the idea of war. We should be able to live in amity as separate peoples, settling our differences reasonably. I say in conclusion that if man’s genius is to be perverted and used for mass destruction, if man’s creative ability is to be misapplied so that human misery is fostered and human progress retarded or halted, the day may not be far distant when forces will be unleashed on this earth which, by chain reaction, will obliterate all life on the planet.
– The House is indebted to the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) for advancing this topic in the form of a motion. The problem that it raises is as difficult as any of the problems with which man has been confronted. The debate on the motion, which has revealed a great deal of common ground, has served to emphasize the extraordinary difficulties of the problem. I do not believe it is a good thing to propose motions, amendments, and resolutions in one House of a Parliament on a matter of this kind. It is a matter that is due to become before one of the two political committees of the United Nations assembly quite soon. I believe that is the place where effective representations should be made on lines which, I believe, are agreed to by all members of this House and all the citizens of Australia.
One point made by the honorable member for Mackellar in the speech that he delivered to us to-day and in the pamphlet that he wrote on this problem recently deserves clear understanding. A part of his thesis is that, in relation to this matter, time is not running in our favour. On the contrary, it may very well be running against us. That is a grim but inevitable conclusion when one considers the events of recent times. This is not a problem in respect of which humanity can afford to let itself drift. As the honorable member for Mackellar pointed out, as time goes on the potential enemy is getting a greater and greater supply of atomic weapons. When the point has been reached at which each side is able to destroy the other, anything added to the power of either side will become completely irrelevant. Therefore, we have not unlimited time. This Government will do everything in its power to push forward an effective system of control and inspection of atomic weapons by the United Nations. In common with wretched mankind, we are faced with a dreadful dilemma. Suppose we have a system of inspection, and that it is frustrated by the potential enemy. Let us be perfectly frank about this matter. Suppose it is frustrated by the Soviet Union. What shall we do then? No nation, however civilized in its social values, will cast away its atomic weapons unless it is certain that the possible enemy has cast his away also. No nation willing to cast away its atomic weapons can be satisfied that the potential enemy will cast his away also unless there is a system of control and inspection of unqualified efficacy. The dilemma that presents itself to us, as one school of thought sees the problem, is that the only way to get a system of effective control is to promise that, unless we get it, we shall use force - in other words, that we shall use a sanction in advance. I think the honorable member for Mackellar would be the first to admit that that is something so horrible in its nature that man will struggle against it to the very limit of his capacity. After all, there is something in this world that is much greater than atomic energy. It is the spirit and nature of man.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 108.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That the time for the debate be extended.
– I was endeavouring to put into a form of comparison the impalpable power of the human spirit and the palpable power of further developments of these almost monstrous weapons. This matter is a challenge to mankind, and I would not despair, in order to have united vigour and complete conviction in the argument in a case of this kind before the General Assembly, of securing even from people beyond the iron curtain some recognition of the essential futility of using atomic weapons. The most terrifying thought is not the power in one nation to destroy another, it is the power in all nations to destroy themselves. As far as we are concerned as a Government, and I believe that there is no division of party opinion in this House about the matter, we recognize the vital importance of having effective control and inspection of atomic weapons so that we may at the end come to put away this fearful weapon and banish it from any possible use in the world. It is, of course, a tremendous tragedy that scientific discoveries should, as such discoveries so frequently do, find themselves immediately canalized into military use. That is one of the great tragedies of our material progress and it is due, not to the ignorance of a few, but to the nature of man. We fall into national differences, find ourselves under threat, and therefore at once proceed to a i-m for our defence. Consequently, all the latest discoveries of science are almost at once directed towards defence. Yet, there are enormous possibilities for the benefit of mankind in the release of atomic energy.
We have talked of, uranium in the last few years as the prime source of atomic bombs. However, uranium may with equal readiness become the prime source of power for peaceful purposes. We have talked of the products of uranium, whether it he plutonium or subsequent products, as if they must have an inevitable relation to destruction. Yet, already in what is almost the primitive state of the development of radioactive materials, we have discovered that isotopes can be used with singular success in medical research and treatment. There is a whole world of peaceful development and good things for mankind contained within the applications of atomic energy, although, unfortunately, their primary interest lies in their capacity to destroy.
Now let us consider the difficulty of applying atomic energy to peaceful purposes. There has been during the last six or seven years, a constant attempt by the democracies to secure some control of atomic power. That does infinite credit to the democracies and, in the first instance to the United States of America, because that country, having a complete superiority in this field, was prepared to give it away in order that the world should be quit of it forever. Indeed. resolutions were put forward at conferences of the United Nations for this specific purpose. Now let us consider what the attitude of the Soviet Union was towards those proposals. That attitude can be set out in one paragraph of the alternative plan which Russia itself advanced when this matter was first, analysed. That country said that there should be an international control commission to be set up under the Security Council to carry out periodical inspections, violations to be dealt with by the Security Council. Our people are not without the capacity to fight, but we arc naturally a peace-loving people and it is almost inconceivable to us that there should be hundreds of millions of other people who can put forward, through those whom they permit to govern them, proposals which must of their very nature be designed to render any attempt to control atomic energy abortive. It is almost impossible for us to understand that attitude. Russia proposed that a control authority should be set up under the Security Council, on which the Soviet Union has a power of veto, and which the Soviet Union can convert at its own will into a mere debating society. Then the proposed control authority was required to carry out periodical inspections, and violations were to be dealt with, subject to the Soviet veto, by the Security Council. In other words, no violation by the Soviet Union could be touchable under that proposal. That is so utterly wicked as a conception, that it is hard to believe that it could command support from any more than a few persons even within the boundaries of the Soviet Union itself.
One thing that I fear about this matter is that the members of the United Nations should have become so tired of this frustration, and the unreality of the Soviet approach, that they may come to regard the matter as a more or less routine item that will come up before the Security Council and go off, although they might retain some idea that in the long run something will happen and we shall escape from our dilemma. The honorable member for Mackellar has rendered a great service by submitting this motion, which has evoked the extraordinarily interesting speech of the
Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The urgent nature of the matter has been put clearly before honorable members, and it is not to be regarded as a routine matter, or something that comes and goes and in respect of which something may happen some day. I am satisfied that all the nations represented in the discussions of the United Nations should take the earliest opportunity, not to make threats, which is not the right approach, but to ensure that this matter of such desperate seriousness should be discussed as between human beings in order to strike a blow for civilization before it is too late. I cannot accommodate my mind to the idea that we must forever talk to the people on the other side of the iron curtain with the voice of guns or bombs. That is why I hope that the great leaders of the world will soon meet together to try to ascertain how far they can go towards a mutual understanding. Mutual understanding is never an impossibility and it can be just as readily fostered as can mutual enmity.
To be fatalistic about this matter, and to assume throughout the rest of our lives that we shall be at arm’s length with those who undoubtedly are our potential enemies would, at this stage, be of the nature of utter despair. Honorable members should remember that out of despair desperate crises can come. Who knows what a despairing democratic world might find itself forced to do in order to overcome its despair? Therefore, above all, we must avoid despair and see this matter as a problem of the human spirit. We must not despair of understanding between men, wherever they may be in the world. All the free nations, and all the nations joined together in the United Nations, must face up to the urgency of this matter and resolve that without delay there should be a proper system of control and inspection, and, under proper conditions, an appropriate system of enforcement, so that mankind, with this priceless asset in its hands, will use it not to destroy itself, hut for the betterment of the whole future of the world.
This discussion has been of great value. I have indicated my own view about the undesirability of having a formal resolution, and, not having seen the amendment until a few minutes ago, I would like an opportunity to study it. Consequently, I suggest that the debate be adjourned and ask for leave to continue my remarks on its resumption.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. ERIC j. Harbison through Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill foi an net to provide for the validation of the collections of duties of customs under Customs Tariff Proposals.
Motion (by Mr. Eric j. Harrison, through Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to provide for the validation of collections of duties of excise under Excise Tariff Proposals.
Debate resumed from 14th October (vide page 1406), on motion by Mr. Kent Hughes -
That the bill be now react a second time.
– It was very wise of you, Mr. Speaker, to exercise your power to widen the scope of this debate to include the arrangements of the Commonwealth with the principal and agent States and other matters of national importance and. great interest, including the general problems of closer settlement. This subject should be treated and, indeed, I hope that it will be treated, on a national basis with complete disregard for party political advantage. In view of the’ figures that have been published in relation to war service land settlement it would be idle for any honorable member to contend that some delay has not occurred in the implementation of the scheme, particularly during the last financial year. In considering this matter it is as well for us to examine the provisions of the war service land settlement agreements which are set out in schedules to the principal act and which are supposed to determine the direction of settlement and the kind of person suitable for settlement under the scheme. Paragraph 3 of the agreement with the principal States, which is set out in the first schedule to the War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act 1945, provides that land settlement under the scheme shall be carried out in accordance with the following principles: - (it) Settlement shall be undertaken only where economic prospects for the production concerned are reasonably sound, and the number of eligible persons to bc settled shall be determined primarily by opportunities fur settlement and not by the number of applicants.
Applicants shall not bc selected as settlers unless a competent authority is satisfied as to their eligibility, suitability and qualifications for settlement under the scheme and their experience of farm work.
Last night the arguments advanced against the scheme by Opposition members were notable more for the vehemence with which they were stated than for the informed knowledge which they contained. I refer particularly to certain remarks made by the honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters), a man of great agricultural and pastoral knowledge, who led the debate on behalf of the Opposition. If I remember aright, the honorable member during his closing remarks used at least five times the rather offensive word “rapacious “ in an attempt to imply that the scheme had to a great degree been interfered with as the result of the rapacity of certain individuals. As I have been personally concerned in this matter, and because I know many other people who also have been personally concerned in it, I should like to make it clear that the honorable member is apparently unaware that every property that has been acquired for the purposes of the scheme in Victoria has been acquired by voluntary agreement with the owners. The allegations made by the honorable member for Burke were completely opposed to the facts. I also propose to deal with certain statements made by the honorable member in regard to the number of ex-servicemen who have been settled on the land in Victoria. As he was also completely off the target in that respect, it is reasonable to assume that his other remarks in regard to the numbers of men settled were equally ill-informed. The honorable member said, and rightly so, because the figures have been published, that 10,792 applicants have qualified as eligible for settlement in Victoria. That figure is contained in the report of the Victorian Soldier Settlement Commission for the year ended the 30th June, 1953. When, however, the honorable member stated that only 1,847 men had been settled in that State he deliberately omitted to mention the fact, which is also contained in the commission’s report, that in addition to that number, 2,259 men had been settled on single unit farms.
– I mentioned that figure as well.
– The honorable member was trying to emphasize the lesser part of Victoria’s achievement and to cover up the major part of it.
The honorable member also referred to the number of applicants for settlement blocks. You, Mr. Speaker, having been a member of Her Majesty’s armed forces, upon your discharge from the forces, began to give thought to the sort of occupation that you would like to follow in civil life. You undoubtedly saw an opportunity to apply for the grant of a concession which would cost you nothing and you grasped it in the hope that in due course, if you could satisfy the qualifications, the concession would be extended to you. That is also equally true of a number of men who, quite rightly, applied for classification as suitable applicants for war service land settlement after the war ended. The Victorian Minister for Soldier Settlement, who is a member of the political party to which the honorable member for Burke belongs, and whose statements I assume the honorable member accepts without question, estimates that not more than 2,000 men are still awaiting settlement in Victoria. On the basis of that estimate Victoria has implemented two-thirds of its scheme. It has, I believe, achieved the best results of any State in regard to soldier settlement. Its record of settlement compares more than favorably with that of the other two principal States. I believe that the Victorian Soldier Settlement Commission has done a satisfactory job from the point of view of the settlers themselves.
There appears to be another misconception in the mind of the honorable member for Burke concerning the scheme in Victoria. I understood the honorable member to have asserted that the Commonwealth removed land sales control. He should be sufficiently conversant with Victorian politics to know that land sales control in Victoria was removed, not by the Australian Government, hut by the Government of Victoria, and that .that action greatly affected the purchase and sale of land in that State. Constitutionally, the Commonwealth has power to purchase or acquire land or other property only upon just terms, which involves the payment of fair compensation.
Two of the principal reasons for the delay in the implementation of the soldier settlement scheme since’ the war have a financial origin. The first really important factor that slowed down soldier settlement and made us reconsider our ideas about the scheme was the enormous rise of the price of export primary products in Australia in 1950-51. How the price of wool rocketed up and the prices of wheat, meat and all other primary products reached hitherto unknown levels in that year is now a matter of history. The powers that be were naturally faced with a situation which required very considerable thought. They required not a little courage to deal with it. Secondly, the financial crisis in our economy forced the States, particularly the principal States, to reduce allocations of money for soldier settlement so that they would be able to continue other projects with which they were concerned, at the time. The Victorian Government had to decide how best it could utilize its loan fund allocations. It had vast commitments in respect of the State Electricity Commission. During the four years ended the 30th June last, loan funds allotted to the commission amounted to more than £110,000,000. In the same period the loan funds allotted to soldier settlement amounted to £21,000,000. There was a complete lack of balance in the assessment of the comparative value of the two issues that confronted the State at that time. These two financial problems contributed to the high prices for land. It was only natural to assume that the enormous increase of prices for primary products would be reflected to a great degree in increased prices of the land sold for either war service land settlement or other purposes. These two problems were of great gravity and difficulty and I think that anybody with any reasonable approach to this subject will realize that they were the cause of the retardation of the war service land settlement programme.
A third factor that had a retarding influence on the progress of the scheme was the shortage of materials necessary for the improvements that had to be made to blocks before they were made available to settlers. I think that everybody is happy to know that, as the result of wise government, that difficulty has now been overcome. People do not now have to go on their knees in order to get building contractors to erect houses and other buildings on farms. I am reliably informed that the position in my own area in that respect has been completely changed as the result of the Government’s policy. No difficulty is now met in obtaining the services of building contractors. A fourth factor which has concerned the administration of the scheme in the States has been the simple mechanical problem of having surveys made. It can be realized readily that if properties are to be cut up in a short time and in a suitable manner as far as settlement considerations are concerned, a considerable amount of survey work is necessary. In the past there were not enough surveyors to carry out the necessary work, but I believe that that problem is being rapidly overcome.
The fifth factor with which I wish to deal concerns roads. I know of areas in which reasonably good land has been subdivided but they have not been provided with any hard or all-weather roads. That situation probably exists generally throughout the Commonwealth. The various municipalities, the commissions themselves, and the State road authorities, have faced an exacting task in the provision of roads that are convenient and suitable for all-weather traffic in areas used for war service land settlement. Although this task is being tackled as vigorously as possible, the lack of roads still presents a serious problem in Victoria at least. I think that the solution of the problem is beyond the scope of the municipalities at present. In order to be in a position to solve the problem, the municipalities will require considerable assistance from tax reimbursements to the States. Not only must roads be provided to keep pace with present settlement plans, but they must also be provided against future settlement.
Analysis shows that the main cause of delay in the progress of war service land settlement is finance. I was happy to hear the Minister for the Interior (Mr.
Kent Hughes), whose remarks were echoed by the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), indicate that the Government hoped that the scheme would be completed within about five years. That will be great news to many men who are still awaiting blocks. One serious aspect of war service land settlement is the tendency shown in the past to pick the eyes out of country already settled while there is land in well-settled areas which has not been used to the best advantage. I agree with the principle that properties in country already well settled are ideal for war service land settlement, particularly if they have an undeveloped potential which can be utilized for the production of more food, wool and other primary products in a very short time. In most cases, however, there has been a complete disregard of what are now called unproductive areas. More investigation might have been made into this matter as it affects the scheme. I do not wish to weary the House with a recitation of past happenings, but I happen to know personally of a type of settlement that the socialists were inclined to disregard because it was carried out under private enterprise. I refer to the various settlements established in the northern rivers areas of New South Wales, with which certain members of my family were connected. It is beyond dispute that the great dairying industry districts of Kyogle, Casino and Lismore owe their success to-day largely to the enterprise and insight of Victorians who went up there, took up properties, subdivided them, and handed them over as going concerns to carefully selected settlers.
There is a tendency to forget the achievements of the past and to accentuate or exaggerate the importance of a government-controlled subdivision scheme. This is an appropriate occasion on which to refer to your own electorate, Mr. Speaker,, in which, I believe, the Keith area is being developed for the future benefit of Australia by a well-known insurance company, which is bringing into production land that was virtually useless. That aspect of development does not concern this scheme closely, because, as I have said, it is expected that the scheme will be completed within five years, but it must concern us in relation to the future development of closer settlement generally. I know that within my own electorate, which is in a high rainfall area, there is certain inaccessable country which awaits development, and I hope during the summer recess to mount a horse and make my way through that country so that I can inform myself about it.
A misconception which occasionally creeps into consideration of closer settlement and war service land settlement is in respect of the type of farming that should be carried on by new settlers. There seems to be a general tendency to think only in terms of food production. Whilst it would be ridiculous to argue that food is not one of the most important of our primary products, we must not completely ignore the fact that almost the whole of the prosperity of this country’s primary and secondary industries, has been founded on our great flocks of merino sheep. Due regard must be paid in closer settlement and war service land settlement schemes to the preservation of the industry that has made this country wealthy. It would be a great calamity and a great disservice to the future of Australia if any action were taken under any of these schemes that would have the effect of reducing the quality of our great merino flocks.
The honorable member for Burke (Mr. Peters) made some remarks regarding valuation of land. Having had a nodding acquaintance with land valuing, I can say that it is one of the most complex and inexact sciences in existence. It is almost as bad as economics. The point raised by the honorable member, which was a valid point in relation to the period of which he was speaking, was that the basis of valuation should be calculated on an a average return over a period of years prior to the date of acquisition. On the surface that seems to be a perfectly reasonable proposition. Immediately after the early valuations were made, however,
Ave were faced with the situation that in one year the products of farms, particularly wool, might have brought a return that exceeded the aggregate returns of the previous six years. It is easy to realize, therefore, the great difficulty with which we are faced in rela- tion to valuations. It is essential, however, that Ave should settle this matter of land valuations as soon as possible. As honorable members know, Victoria is conducting its scheme under freehold. No settler in Victoria has yet received a determination, and recognition of it by the Commonwealth, of the value of his freehold. It has been my object ever since I have been a member of this Parliament to attempt to force the situation so that the commitments of settlers can me determined and they will be relieved of worry and anxiety. Progress in this direction is being made, and delay in relation to it is largely due to the system of dual control. The Minister is .sympathetic regarding the problem. I have discussed it with him on many occasions, and I believe that he will be able within a short time to solve the problem with which these men are at present faced. The matter has a financial aspect because there are at present many
Avar service land settlers in Victoria, and other States, where the freehold system is followed, who are now in a position to return to the Treasury a large proportion of the capital that was lent to them to enable them. to establish their farms. As soon as the position is clarified they will be able to return that money, and so make it available for other purposes. It is reasonable to suggest that this question of values should be examined as soon as possible so that settlers will know where they stand financially.
I mentioned earlier that references had been made to war service land settlement after World War I., when, owing to the tragic weaknesses of the scheme in operation at that time, values were determined that were not in keeping with the subsequent record of production of the farms. As a result, these farms carried a huge debt for ten or fifteen years, until finally the debts had to be written off.
Debate (on motion by Mr. J. R. FRASER) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 12.44 to 2.15 p.m.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. McMahon) read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 13th October (vide page 1307), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This bill seeks to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act 194S-53. I am sure that the wheat-growers, and indeed all sensible individuals in the community who have the welfare of the wheat industry and the overall interests of Australia at heart, will be delighted to know that at least it will ensure that we shall have for the next three years, if for no longer, a single authority charged with the responsibility of marketing our wheat, both internally and overseas. Nevertheless, the growers and others will be gravely disappointed when they realize that the bill will remove from the principal act the provisions which ensured that, for five years from 1948 to 1952 inclusive every wheat-grower would enjoy security under a guarantee that he would receive for his product the found cost of production. The guarantee covered up to 100,000,000 bushels annually. This great measure of security was provided for the wheat-growers by the Chifley Government. One may well ask why in 194S, not long after the intense trials and tribulations of the immediate post-war era had passed, a Labour government was able to arrange with the State governments, with the concurrence of the wheat-growers themselves, a method of providing security for the growers for that period of time. The five-year period expired on the 30th September, just over a fortnight ago. Even to-day, many Australians, including wheat-growers who leave the management of their economic and political affairs to the executive members of their organizations, probably do not realize that this security has, in effect, disappeared overnight.
One may reasonably ask why that should have been allowed to happen. I oan ascribe this state of affairs only to the fact that the members of the Menzies Government have misrepresented their attitude to the wheat industry since before they gained power nearly four years ago. I do not express that opinion without having some reasonable evidence
R.- fin] to support it. I refer honorable members, for example, to the policy-speech that was made by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) during the 1949 general election campaign. He said -
In particular, we support u long-term stabilization of the dairying industry for ten years (by subsidy where the price is not raised) and believe that the Wheat Stabilization Scheme should operate tor a similar period.
Home consumption prices should lie periodically reviewed, and losses on concussion sales recouped.
Any intelligent elector who listened to the right honorable gentleman on that occasion and subsequently studied the printed version of the speech must have been led to believe that the right honorable gentleman intended, if he became Prime Minister, that the wheat-growers should have a continuing stabilization scheme at least for an additional period of five years, which, added to the Labour Government’s scheme, would make a period of ten years overall, or alternatively, a new stabilization scheme for ten years. Furthermore, he must have believed, in the light of the reference to home consumption prices, that wheat that is known as concessional wheat, which is sold for the feeding of poultry, cattle, pigs and other live-stock, would be paid for at the export parity price. Those promises have not been honoured by this Government. The present Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) was even more positive than his colleague in his declarations. He wrote to the Wheat Growers Union of New South Wales in the following terms : -
The difference between the export value of the product consumed in Australia, other than for human consumption, and the price determined by the Government for sale to other primary industries for production purposes shall be paid out of Consolidated Revenue to the board controlling the marketing of the industry. This provision is to keep down costs to the consumer and to prevent increased costs to other industries without loss to the industry concerned.
Well, that has not been done.
The wheat-growers became somewhat disgusted between 1949 and 1951 because no attempt was made by the Government to honour its promises. Therefore, they started to apply pressure to it, and in particular to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), who as usual was evasive and made the excuse that the Government could not deal with the stock-feed position because the State governments were the price-fixing authorities. That, of course, was not the issue. The issue related to the belief of growers that, when the present Government gained office, they would receive the export parity price for all wheat sold for stock-feed, which amounted to a total of 26,000,000 bushels. They did not expect to receive anything other than the home-consumption price for their stockfeed wheat when the Labour Government put its plan into effect. I admit that. The Labour Government was completely honest with the growers, and its plan, which the growers accepted, was that all wheat sold within Australia, either for stock-feed or for human consumption, should be bought at a price equal to the found cost of production. The Labour Government misled nobody. It repeated its undertaking during the 1951 general election campaign, but the present Government parties threw out baits in order to gain office. Then, after they had gained power, they dodged the issue for two years.
Eventually, embarrassed by pressure from the growers, the Minister for Commerce and’ Agriculture began to think of the approaching general election, and so, in 1951, after a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, he introduced a bill into this House. He informed the Parliament that he had been able to persuade the State Ministers for Agriculture, and subsequently their governments, to agree to increase the price of stock-feed wheat by 2s. a bushel. He added that this Government had decided to pay, in addition, a bounty sufficient to raise the return to the wheat-growers to the level of the maximum price payable under the terms of the International “Wheat Agreement. At that time, the bounty payable on that basis was 4s. Id. a bushel. The plain fact is that the Minister coerced, cajoled, and probably threatened the various State Ministers for Agriculture into accepting a situation that, unless they agreed to increase the cost to the purchasers of stock-feed wheat, the Commonwealth would not come up with the bounty. The State Ministers were placed in a nasty jam. Either they had to increase the price chargeable to purchasers by 2s. a bushel, or they had to face a charge that they were responsible for depriving the producers of the bounty. This was the cunning attack, the adroit move, the jamming manoeuvre, the bluff that was used by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The wheat-growers have reaped a considerable advantage from those tactics, of course. Nevertheless they realize that, for two years after 1949, they did not receive any additional payment, either by the raising of the price to the consumer or by the payment of a Commonwealth bounty as the Government parties had promised them, at least by implication.
That move was the first break in the wheat stabilization plan of the Chifley Government. It broke the solidarity of the six States, because the Parliament of Western Australia refused to increase the price of stock-feed wheat by 2s. a bushel. Thus, in 1951-52 the Western Australian growers lost the advantage of the Commonwealth bounty on a total of 2,000,000 bushels of wheat, and wheat-growers all over Australia had to bear a loss at the rate of 2s. a bushel on that quantity. Since then, the difficulties of the growers have been accentuated. The Labour Government had given an undertaking that, after the first three years of its wheat stabilization plan had passed, it would review the plan, confer with the State governments and the growers’ organizations, and set in motion proposals for a continuation of the scheme after 1953, free of any anomalies that might have been revealed in the meantime. This Government has been in office for four years, and at this late stage, when the new season’s crop is reaching maturity, the Minister has failed completely to obtain an agreement on stabilization. I know that the honorable gentleman will attempt to fasten the blame on to the State governments, with particular emphasis on certain State Labour governments. I also expect that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), in no uncertain manner, as has been his practice in the past, will condemn as inadequate and unsatisfactory the stabilization scheme that has now expired. He will probably refer to it - as the Chifley Labour Government’s socialistic plan, and he may even call it the Pollard plan, as did one of his colleagues in a previous debate. I warn him that if he blames the previous Labour Administration and condemns that plan, he will be completely out of step with the Postmaster-General (Mr. Anthony). Some honorable members will recall that the Postmaster-General claimed that the wheat stabilization plan, when I announced it in 1948, was his plan, or the plan formulated by the present Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page). In fact, he accused me of having stolen their scheme. The honorable member for Riverina, if he criticizes the weaknesses of the previous plan, will, in fact, be criticizing some of his colleagues. The Postmaster-General said in this House in 1948 when he was sitting in opposition -
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture interjects; he is the greatest Minister for Commerce and Agriculture that Victoria hae ever produced!
The present Postmaster-General paid that tribute to me. I blushed, and did not accept the soft impeachment. He proceeded to refer to me as follows: -
He is a gentleman who, having been defeated at every turn by the wheat-growers of Australia when trying to fasten upon them a stabilization scheme of his own concoction, and having been challenged in this House by members on this side, both as to the merits and the validity of the scheme, delves into the files which were left by myself and Sir Earle Page respectively, when we were Ministers for Commerce, and extracts an old plan which we placed before Cabinet in 1940. The Minister then claims that this is his new stabilization plan - the “Pollard wheat plan “. Every bit of that plan has been taken direct from the secret documents left in Cabinet when we went out of office. All that the Minister did was to change the name, alter the price from the figure of, I think, 5s. 2d. in .1940, to Gs. 3d., and he then called it the great Australian wheat plan. I hand it to him with pleasure. If he had asked for it he could have had it. The fact that he claims credit for it does not matter, because the wheat-growers will recognize it as the old plan which was evolved by Sir Earle Page. It looked familiar to the Victorians, who thought that they had seen it around, but could not place it for a while. As soon as it was exposed to the full light of day I recognized it. I am very glad that we have been able to help the Minister do so much for the wheat industry.
I read that passage from Hansard in order to forestall some of the comments of the honorable member for Riverina. I shall now refer to some of the circumstances that have led to the difficult negotiations which the Minister has been conducting with the States and the wheatgrowers. Of course, the wheat-growers have lost faith in him. They have no faith in. his promises. One newspaper published by a wheat-growers’ organization has accused him of dictating and bluffing, and another journal has referred to the horror tax imposed by the Menzies Government. I could read many similar, unflattering references to him which have appeared in newspapers controlled by the wheat-growers’ organizations. A fundamental cause of all the troubles which confront the present Government was foreseen by the Chifley Labour Government. I refer to the policy adopted by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in the last ten years towards referendum proposals for the granting of marketing powers to the Commonwealth. The former Labour Prime Minister, the late Mr. John Curtin, saw trouble ahead in 1942, and summoned a constitutional convention, which included representatives of this Parliament and the Premier and the Leader of- the Opposition of each State parliament, to discuss the matter. Mr. Curtin outlined a plan under which the States could refer, for a limited time, marketing and certain other powers to this Parliament. The Premier and the Leader of the Opposition of every State, and the late Mr. W. M. Hughes and other representatives of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party in this Parliament, agreed to the plan. The Premiers pledged themselves to introduce the necessary legislation to enable powers in respect of orderly and organized marketing to be referred to the Commonwealth. The legislation was certainly introduced in each State parliament, but various difficulties were encountered. The then Premier of Victoria, the late Sir Albert Dunstan, who was the Leader of the Country party, inserted in the bill a proviso that it should not become law unless similar legislation was passed by each State parliament. The South Australian Parliament rejected the bill. Consequently, the legislation in Victoria did not become operative, and the powers could not be referred effectively to the Commonwealth .
Mr. Curtin was not deterred by that setback. He firmly believed that it was essential that such powers should be vested in the Commonwealth. Accordingly, he submitted a proposal to the people, by way of a referendum in 1944, for the granting of such powers to the Commonwealth, and the chief opponents of the proposal at that time were members of the present Government. Therefore, responsibility for the present difficulty in obtaining an agreement with the States for the organized marketing of wheat falls on their heads. The blame for the inability to graft on. to the stabilization scheme a provision to ensure a guaranteed price for wheat for export, in conjunction with a home consumption price, also falls on their heads. The Labour Government was not deterred by the defeat of the referendum in 1944, and submitted, to the people in 1946, by way of a referendum, proposals to grant to the ‘Commonwealth powers in respect of social services, organized marketing and prices. Members of the present Government supported the granting of tie social services power, but vigorously opposed the granting of powers in respect of organized marketing and prices. They sowed the wind in that, year, and now they are reaping the whirlwind. I frankly admit that a Labour government, if it is in office next year, will have some difficulty in reaching an agreement with the States and wheatgrowers’ organizations on a plan for orderly marketing, but I think that we shall be trusted to a greater degree than is the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The States and the wheatgrowers trusted us in 194S, and we evolved, for the first time in a peace-time era, a thoroughly satisfactory plan, for the orderly marketing of wheat in Australia and in external markets.
The history of wheat and wheat marketing in the last half-century provides an interesting study. I recollect perfectly well attempts made by State governments from time to time to deal with wheat, marketing in the period between World War I. and World War II. A political crisis arose in Victoria on one occasion because the Country party asked for a compulsory wheat pool, and the Liberal party of the day was not in favour of the proposal. An election was fought on the issue. However, had the result supported the establishment of a compulsory pool, it is doubtful whether such an arrangement could have been operated satisfactorily in Victoria, because grave constitutional difficulties would have been encountered in respect of interstate trade and commerce. Difficulties of that kind have arisen for many years. Western Australia has had State pools and cooperative pools, which have operated with some degree of success from time to time.
– They have operated with great success.
– Those pools did not operate with such success as to give complete satisfaction to the wheat-growers of Western Australia. For that reason, the growers of that State, by a majority vote, expressed themselves in favour of the Commonwealth stabilization plan introduced by the Chifley Labour Government.
I often refer to the failure of this Government to honour its pre-election promises. Nothing shatters the faith of the people in a government so effectively as failure to honour obligations, made or implied. ‘ The Government has only itself to blame for the present difficulties in the wheat industry. This Parliament will go into recess at the end of next week. Obviously, the Government will find it impossible, even if State governments and wheat-growers can be brought into complete agreement now, to graft on to the scheme in this session a stabilization proposal that will ensure a guaranteed price for wheat for export, and establish a fund to back that guaranteed price. Wheat-growers’ organizations are also demanding, and I think rightly, that receipts from the wheat tax now held in trust as a backing for the five-year stabilization plan, which has now been wound up, be returned to the farmers. I believe that the balance in the fund is approximately £20,000,000. The suggestion has- been made that at least £9,000,000 should he taken from the proceeds of the tax on wheat in the 1952-53 season and retained as a backing for a stabilization plan in the future. Growers are alarmed at such a suggestion. !’ understand that the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales and the Australian Wheat Growers Federation are opposed to it.
When I make that statement, I do not suggest that every objection voiced by the wheat-growers should immediately be accepted by this Parliament. I am merely pointing out that the growers have a legal and legitimate claim to that money. The wheat stabilization plan introduced by the Chifley Governmentwas supported by a fund which was established with the collections from .a wheat tax. Moneys in .a fund of that kind should be returned to the growers unless they voluntarily say. to a man - and I make that reservation - “ Retain a sum Lai order to back a new scheme “. I am perfectly well aware that the Chifley Government, under its stabilization plan, held about £15,000,000 from an acquisition pool as a backing for the scheme. 1 believe that the Chifley Government was justified in so doing at that time, because we had not the security of an international wheat plan to back a large portion of our export crop with a floor price. However, this Government is about to ratify the International Wheat Agreement, which will place a secure floor under probably 48,000,000 bushels of Australian wheat. Consequently, the same necessity to back a. stabilization plan with such a large sum of money as was held for the backing of the Chifley Government’s five-year plan, in 1948 does not now exist. I make those points because they are important to wheat-growers. 1 believe that the Government, in its negotiations with the States, got out of line with its general policy in order to take some mean, political advantage on the question of price. I have no hesitation in making that statement.
As in the dairying industry, so in the wheat industry, a. cost of production authority works out annually the cost of production. Only recently, although the ascertained cost of production of butter was a. certain figure, the Government said to the dairying industry “We do not intend to authorize the cost as found by the cost of production authority. We shall pay you for commercial butter 1.72d. “ - which is the equivalent of more than 2d. for butter fat - “ lower than the cost found by the cost of production authority “. It did that with the price of a product, powers in respect of which have been referred to it by all the State governments. But when it came to wheat, and the price-fixing authority was a State government, this Government had the effrontery to suggest that it would support a -State government proposal to charge the people of Australia at least ls. 4d. and perhaps ls. 6d. more a bushel than the ascertained cost ‘of production. How can the two procedures be reconciled ? I shall tell honorable members how the Government reconciles them. In this country there has been a deeper political influence in the wheat districts than in the dairying districts. When the Government had a responsibility towards the dairying industry, it intimated to the authority that inquired into the question that it should not put the price up as that might reduce consumption and the found was applied. In the case of wheat where the Government had no responsibility in the fixing of prices it fell in behind some State governments and said, “Yes, we will support a 15s. a bushel charge on the consuming public of Australia for wheat”. The amount was ls. 4d., or perhaps ls. 6d., or ls. 8d., greater than the cost of production as found by the Bureau of Agricultural Economies. Surely that is a remarkable state of affairs! I know the honorable member for Riverina will seize upon the statement I have just made and say, “Pollard stands there and backs a plan to pay to the wheat-grower the found cost of production, probably 12s. 6d. or 12s. Sd.” Let me’ point out to the honorable member that, if that is so, I do not stand alone. In the past great men have worked for our wheat-growing industry, and I suppose one of the most outstanding, and one who is recognized as outstanding by honorable members of all political parties, was the late Mr. P. G. Stewart, who represented the electorate of Wimmera before the present representative of that constituency was first elected. Let me refer honorable members to a statement by Mr. Stewart in 1930 about the price factor. He lived at a time when the wheat-growers of this country were left to the tender mercies of chance, so far as prices were concerned ; and at a time when the representatives of an anti-Labour party in another place refused to assist the government of the day to get a fair price for wheat-growers, and when the Commonwealth Bank, dominated by a board appointed by a reactionary government, refused to give financial assistance to the Government to help wheat-growers. The late Mr. P. G. Stewart said -
The price of wheat at all times should be fixed in Australia, while you maintain your present policy, upon a reasonable cost of production.
The Ch.iH.ey Government followed that policy. Mr. Stewart also said -
It is wrong for the wheat-grower to be compelled to feed a protectionist community at slump rates because the overseas market has broken. If the overseas market went to 10s. a bushel I hold it would be morally wrong to charge our own kith and kin 10s. a bushel for wheat that cost 5s. a bushel to grow.
At that time he advocated the adoption of the found cost of production for wheat. It has been pointed out that in that particular period the wheat industry was almost bankrupt. When the stabilization plan that has been in operation for the past five years was under discussion, and, in fact, when a previous plan that was never accepted by the State governments - I refer to the 1946 plan - was under discussion, the growers’ representatives made some very interesting computations. I have before me a copy of the South Australian Wheatgrower of the 22nd February, 1946. Mr. Chapman, who was a prominent figure in that organization, published a table which showed that had the J 946 Labour Government’s wheat stabilization plan been in operation between 1919 and 1939 the wheat-growers would have been better off to the amount of £103,000,000. In 1948 the Labour Government introduced a satisfactory stabilization plan.
Let me return to the measure now before the House. I have not had much time to study it thoroughly, but a casual examination of it reveals that it contains substantial portions of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act 1948-1953. Other portions of that act have been omitted. T ifr. Pollard.. think I am correct in saying that ministerial authority is retained. Clause 13 preserves the right of the Minister to direct the Australian Wheat Board to do certain things that are set out. When I read that provision I was somewhat astonished, because the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has always been strongly opposed to using ministerial powers even in cases of sheer necessity. In fact, when the Minister was asked in this House recently whether he had read the minutes of a certain meeting of the Australian Wheat Board, he said, “ No “. In fact, he was not interested. But he is shrewd enough to retain the measure of power that was placed in the act that was applied by an earlier Labour government. I agree that it is wise to have that power. When marketing authorities in this country have erred in the past, it has been largely because the ministerial head of a department has not been clothed with sufficient power, and the marketing authority concerned has been conscious of the fact that nobody was watching the overall welfare, not only of the people who produced the particular commodity, but also of the people of Australia generally. I am glad to know that the Minister, despite all his previous statements regarding ministerial control, has retained that particular section.
It is regrettable that this measure covers a period of only three years. That, again, is a distinct repudiation of a government promise to implement a wheat marketing scheme for ten years. It is regrettable that there is no guaranteed price for up to 100,000,000 bushels of wheat.
– Blame Mr. Cain for that.
– It is of no use to blame Mr. Cain.
– No, the honorable member would not do that.
– When I was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Chifley Government, I did not go around the country blaming other people. I met the State governments and frankly placed before them a plan that the Labour Government was prepared to implement with their concurrence and support. It was placed before the wheat-growers of
Australia by the respective State governments without any misleading statements or anything to which exception could be taken. I met representatives of the wheatgrowers’ organizations from time to time and we were successful in evolving a satisfactory plan, not without thought, a lot of hard work and a lot of difficulty, but without the advantage enjoyed by the honorable member of having seen the working of a previous plan. The Minister has had the advantage of observing the workings of the last five-year plan. The growers have been disappointed and are now at a stage at which, for the second time in history, an attempt is being made to do something. I admit that this bill is important. It provides for an essential marketing authority to give effect to Australia’s obligations under the International “Wheat Agreement. During the period the Minister was trying to get the States to fall into line, he used the International Wheat Agreement problem as a stalking horse in an effort to coerce the State governments into accepting his ideas for a solution of the problem. The plain fact is that, if the States had never agreed to any particular method of orderly marketing through a single Commonwealth authority, the Commonwealth Constitution still vested the Commonwealth with power to honour international obligations. That is made easier by this proponed legislation, and to thai extent it is very desirable’.
A further provision in this bill to which I wish to refer is the proposal to add l-Jd. a bushel to the price of all wheat sold in Australia - approximately 60,000,000 bushels. The adding of that 1-i-d. means the taking from the people of Australia of £250,000 for the purpose of getting wheat to Tasmania.
– That is not in the bill. That is in the statement.
– You cannot bluff mo like that. You are only quibbling.
M.’r. SPEAKER.- Order ! The honor.a.ble gentleman must address the Chair.
– The Minister does not deny that he was the Minister who was responsible for the imposition of this extra charge of 1-Jd. a bushel. As usual, he coerced and cajoled and threatened, and eventually the States agreed to impose 1½d. a bushel to pay freight on wheat to Tasmania. I admit quite frankly that, during the war and for quite a long period, freight to Tasmania was paid and all the wheat-growers carried the charge. I admit also that at one stage the Australian Government itself paid the freight to Tasmania in order to give Tasmania wheat at the same price as -that charged to other consumers of Australia. If the Tasmanian people had to bear the cost of freight, it would mean that the price of bread in Tasmania could easily rise by 25 per cent. The way to meet the problem is not to impose the extra charge of 1½d. a bushel on the wheat consumers and in particular upon the bread eaters - the section of. the community which has the heaviest family responsibilities. I suggest that the Min- ister recommend to the States that, they abandon this proposal and that his Government offer to meet that cost out of Consolidated Revenue. I make that suggestion in all sincerity. No doubt the Minister will say the State Labour governments have done this. But imagine the position of the respective State governments ! The Minister says, in effect, “ If you do not pay this 1-Jd. to meet the Tasmanian freight position, the whole plan will break down and I shall have no machinery to honour the International Wheat Agreement. The blame will be on your shoulders “. Under those circumstances the States fell into line -and agreed to the extra charge of l£d. a bushel.
In conclusion, let me say that I am pleased that the Minister has brought forward this small measure which provides for the protection for the wheatgrowers of this country against international wheat gamblers and speculators and against merchants and othei-3 who, in the past, have exploited our wheatgrowers. As the Minister has pointed out, this measure provides the basis on which can be grafted a stabilization scheme. I hope such a scheme will be grafted oh to it. Let me say to the Minister that I hope he will not pursue his tactics of encouraging wheat-growers to be greedy and of ultimately reaching the stage of causing a breakdown of any stabilization plan he submits. I hope he will abandon the idea of a stabilization fund in which there is retained illegally and unfairly money paid into a previous stabilization fund under a previous stabilization plan. As. the protection accorded by the International Wheat Agreement will underwrite at least 48,000,000 bushels of our surplus export wheat, it would be unnecessary to ^hypothecate for the purposes of a new stabilization scheme £9,000,000 of the money paid ill to the previous stabilization fund. I hope the Minister will examine that matter seriously and do the right thing. I admit that in any future stabilization scheme there will have to be a contribution on a bushel basis by the wheat-growers when the price of export wheat is higher than the assessed home consumption price. I believe the wheatgrowers would agree that they should make some contribution to a stabilization fund in return for a Government guarantee. We support the bill because it makes provision for an orderly marketing plan in line with Labour’s policy. Labour put into operation the first plan for the wise and orderly marketing of Australian wheat in peace-time.
– A fairly correct synthesis of the speech delivered by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) is that he approves of and endorses the action taken by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to continue the orderly marketing of Australian wheat, but he criticizes the fact that, due to the actions of the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and other Labour-governed States it has not been found to be practicable to introduce a stabilization scheme. The honorable member said that, if the Labour party were in power, a stabilization scheme would be in operation now. I. intend to show that the stabilization scheme introduced by the last Labour government was punitive to the wheatgrowers and nearly disastrous to the economy of this country. I had the great advantage of discussing with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture the proba.ble line of attack that would be adopted by the honorable member for Lalor: The Minister forecast that line of attack accurately, and I was able to make a preliminary examination of the points that have been raised by the honorable member for Lalor.
The Government parties believe chat the economy of this country is based upon our- primary industries. We believe tha t if those ‘industries are prosperous, their prosperity will be reflected in the national economy, and if they are depressed, the depression will be reflected in our secondary and tertiary industries. The Labour party has never been able to appreciate the significance of the fable of the goose that laid the golden egg. Its policy has always been that, in the interests of a few urban dwellers and Labour voters, the prices of primary products should be depressed and primary industries punished. It has failed to realize that, by control and restriction, it would slowly strangle the goose that laid the golden egg. It has failed to appreciate that a policy of control and restriction would mean, not increased production, improved standards of living and an increase of the workers’ “ equity in increased production “, but a decline of production, an intensification of inflation and a reduction of our standard of living. We believe that the cardinal rule for increasing production is to give greater incentives and increased rewards to primary producers. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), in his budget speech, said - .
In framing this budget, the Government has sought as its primary aim to give the utmost possible encouragement to individual effort and business enterprise.
Later he said -
From its study of the general problem,- the Government is convinced that the right course at this juncture is a bold policy of reducing taxes, particularly those taxes which are levied directly upon individuals and upon business.
This is a policy of “ more geese, more golden eggs “. The policy of this Government is to give primary producers and businessmen the necessary incentives and inducements to increase production, which is the only means by which we can raise our standard of living. The record of this Government since it came into office in 1949 shows that it has consistently adopted the policy of giving inducements to primary producers, particularly wheat-growers and woolgrowers. In 1952-53 substantial concessions were granted to primary producers. Land tax was abolished at a cost to the revenue of about £6,000,000, an optional scheme for self-assessment of provisional income tax was introduced, and a depreciation allowance of 20 per cent, per annum was allowed in respect of farming machinery and plant. Extensive support has been given to the home superphosphate industry. State extension services have been financed by up to £200,000 a year and, under certain circumstances, that sum can be increased to £500,000. I could cite many other instances, but I think I have said enough, to show that the Government is giving increased incentives to primary producers. As a result of the activities of this Government, confidence in market prospects has been restored and the farmers are doing a good job. Many of us believe that, for the first tune, the balance has begun to swing in favour of primary producers, who have been given reasonable incentives to increase production. On the 15th June, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said -
The prosperity- of the rural industries can lie measured by the fact that the gross value nf rural production in 1952-53 was estimated in April to he over £1,000,000,000, or 17 per cent, above the 1.95] -52 level.
The final figure may exceed £1,100,000,000. In terms of quantity, rural production in 1952-53 was about 15 per cent, greater than in 1951-52, and 19 per cent, above the average of the last pre-war years. Is not that a record of which the Government, particularly the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, can be proud? Is not that a record of achievement which compares, not only favorably but spectacularly favorably with the disastrous results of the activities of the Chifley Government, in which the honorable member for Lalor was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture? Our record of achievement is one of which any government may well be proud. It is time that the Opposition accepted that there has been a substantial improvement of rural production, which can be attributed to the activities of this Government, and particularly of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
I have referred in general terms to happenings in our rural industries, f turn for the moment to deal specifically with the wheat industry.. That industry has always been Australia’s second biggest primary industry. Unfortunately, its output during the last few years, at any rate until last year, has fallen substantially. In the immediate pre-war years, 1936 to 1939, wheat contributed 19 per cent, of the total export earnings of Australian rural industry. In 1952, the figure was only IS per cent., despite the fact that we had had exceptionally good seasons and that the yield per acre had improved. The aftermath of mismanagement by Labour is that the wheat acreage has fallen from about 14,000,000 to 10,000,000 acres. If we had had bad seasons or if export prices had fallen, that reduction could have caused disastrous results.
– Under our administration, there were record wheat acreages. The acreages have declined under the administration of this Government.
– -If the honorable member for Lalor is patient, I shall explain why the wheat acreage has fallen. The explanation is that the Labour party failed to recognize that our primary industries had to be sustained and given proper incentives. This Government believes in incentives. “We claim that it is probable that, in the next wheat year, the return to growers will be about 15s. 6d. a bushel, free on rail at ports. Under the legislation introduced by the Labour party in 1948 the return would be -less than 14s. 4d. a bushel. The Government argues, and. I think, most sensible people agree with us, that the 194S legislation was punitive to the wheatgrowers and that as a direct result of that punishment a decline of the wheat acreage occurred. We were deprived of 40,000,000 bushels of wheat a year that we needed to increase our export income. Let me deal with the effect of Labour legislation in terms of money lost by the wheat-growers. It has been estimated that, in the four years from July, 1949, the wheat-growers subsidized consumers in this country to the extent of between £100,000,000 and £110,000,000. That sum represents the difference between the price actually paid for wheat sold in this country and the export parity price that would have been received if it had been exported on a free market. I repeat that the legislation for which the Labour party was responsible wa3 punitive to the wheat-growers and had the effect of forcing wheat acreages to shrink, so that we did not produce all the wheat that we were capable of producing. This Government takes the view that it is better to have plenty, with real prospects of better living standards and, if I may quote from the official organ of the Labour party of New South Wales, “equitable rewards for workers responsible for increasing production “, than it is to have shortages, dissatisfaction, under-the-counter transactions, black markets and intensified inflation. The policy of the Labour party was one of restriction and punishment of the primary producers. The policy of this Government is one of increasing incentives in order to increase production.
The honorable member for Lalor quoted an extract from the policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister in 1949. I am sorry to say that the honorable member took the extract out of its context. Referring to wheat stabilization, the Prime Minister said -
We stand for stabilization wherever practicable. Schemes to this end will not be set up unless growers by vote decide.
So before a stabilization scheme can be introduced two conditions have to be satisfied; first, that the wheat-growers have voted in favour of it, and, secondly, that the scheme is practicable. This Government holds tenaciously to the view that before a stabilization scheme can be put into operation, it is necessary to obtain the consent of the wheat-growers to it. The wheat is their product, and they are entitled to a proper reward for their labour. We believe that they should have the right to say at a ballot whether they want a stabilization scheme and, if they do, on what terms. I am extremely doubtful whether at the present time the wheat-growers would agree to a stabilization scheme, because they know how they were punished by the legislation introduced in 1948 by the honorable member for Lalor. In practice there are many difficulties in establishing stabilization schemes, and the Minister for Commerce and. Agriculture has pointed out some of them. For example, it is difficult to forecast the movements of international prices, difficult to ascertain the attitude of the United States of America to its home support price programme, and difficult to estimate the amount of wheat that will become surplus on the international markets. Internally, there are two other imponderable factors which are outside the control of the Government, and which tend to make the introduction of a stabilization scheme very difficult. The first is the impossibility of deciding the action that the States will take, because the States are responsible for domestic prices, and the second is the. difficulty of estimating the Australian marketable crop. Leaving those matters out of consideration for the moment, let us consider the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and decide whether it was practicable for the Government to introduce a wheat stabilization scheme. As the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture pointed out, in order that any stabilization scheme should be successful, the States must co-operate with the Commonwealth. It is not constitutionally possible for the Commonwealth to proceed alone to draw up a stabilization plan, because it is only by the goodwill and co-operation of the States that a satisfactory scheme can be introduced. In dealing with a matter of this sort, therefore, we must consider the respective powers of the Commonwealth and the States.
The Australian Government has power only over exports of primary products. It can grant subsidies out of taxes levied on the general taxpayers, or it can levy a tax on the wheat-growers and use the proceeds to support the scheme. We must realize, however, that the major powers with regard to stabilization lie not with the Commonwealth but with the State governments. The States control the home-consumption price of wheat, they have the power to vest wheat in the marketing boards and, finally, they alone have the power to carry out a ballot of wheat-growers. The State governments have consistently insisted that if there is to be a ballot of wheat-growers, the con duct of such a ballot must be left in their hand’s. Tn an v consideration of that part of the Prime Minister’s policy speech which dealt with the introduction of a stabilization scheme, we must consider whether the States made the introduction of such a scheme practicable by fulfilling the first essential, that is taking a ballot of the wheat-growers. A ballot must be taken because this Government does not believe in coercion and arbitrariness, but the States alone have the power to carry out that ballot and so make the scheme practicable. However, the States have muddled through, and have not taken a ballot to enable stabilization legislation to be introduced. Certainly the ballot has not been taken in time to precede the ratification of the International Wheat Agreement. The honorable member for Lalor made certain accusations against the Government, but it is quite apparent to any one who studies the matter that the wheat stabilization scheme could not be introduced earlier because the Labour governments of the various States refused to play their part and make the introduction practicable.
Now let us consider orderly marketing. I do not need to say much about that matter because the honorable member for Lalor conceded that the Labour party is in favour of orderly marketing, and that the Opposition approves of that part of the legislation. However, the honorable member for Lalor has impugned the bona fides of this Government insofar as its negotiations were concerned, and he has also accused the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture of being evasive about wheat stabilization. In view of those criticisms by the honorable member for Lalor, it is pertinent to consider the steps that lei to the final negotiation of the agreement. The Prime Minister stated in his policy speech that he agreed with the principle of stabilization, and that under certain circumstances a system of wheat stabilization would be introduced. The proposals of the Government were repeated by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture on the 3rd July, when he set out the Cabinet’s decision on marketing and stabilization. The Minister then, said-
Consideration has also been given to the wheat stabilization proposals. . . . The Commonwealth is prepared, as part of an acceptable wheat stabilization plan, to guarantee growers the found cost of production up to 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat in each year of the plan.
The policy of the Prime Minister, and the announced decisions of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, give a clear declaration of intent that if this Government could do anything reasonable, such as giving a guarantee of 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat, it would do so, and it would press it9 activities to the limits of sweet reason in order to introduce a wheat stabilization scheme. The reason why the Australian Government could not proceed expeditiously with its plans, was the failure of the Labour governments of the States to take the necessary ballot of wheatgrowers. As the honorable member for Lalor has impugned the goodwill of the Government, perhaps we should analyse his accusations. He said that if there had been a Labour government in office, perhaps there would have been some prospect of success. If he believed that it was part of the Labour party principles that a wheat stabilization scheme should be introduced, why did he not exercise his influence with the State Labour governments in order to get them to carry out a ballot and so lay the foundations of a stabilization scheme? He did not do so, because he is not sincere in this matter. He is merely bluffing. He is long on words but short on actions. The honorable member for Lalor knows that even if a Labour government had been in office and had attempted to implement what he states would have been its principles, it would have been told by the States to go about its business.
On the 27th July, the Australian Agricultural Council, which included the Commonwealth and State Ministers for Agriculture, adopted a proposal for a fiveyear wheat stabilization plan. It is worthy of repeating that the most important point of the plan was that it should be based on- a price of 15s. a bushel for wheat consumed in Australia. This plan was proposed by the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, and, after protracted discussions, the Victorian and the Tasmanian Ministers for Agriculture stated that they would advise their governments to accept the home consumption price of 15s. Despite the fact that the wheat and wool-growers’ organizations in Victoria urged their government to agree to a price of 15s. a bushel, on the 14th November, the Labour Government of Victoria rejected the recommendations of the Australian Agri-cultural Council, and the advice of its own Minister for Agriculture, and decided on a plan of its own based on a home consumption price of 12s. 6d. to 12s. 8d. a bushel. The Labour Premier of Victoria said -
We think that the price (‘12s. Gd. to 12s. 8d. a bushel) is sufficient. We are not going to budge higher than the formula price.
The Queensland Labour Government made a similar decision. If there was any muddling, and I agree that there was, the responsibility for it must, be laid fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Labour Governments of Victoria and Queensland. They wanted to impose a price of 12s. 6d. a bushel on the wheatgrowers, and if they . had done so the same results would have followed as followed the Chifley Government’s enactments of 1948. That is, the wheat acreage would have fallen and production of wheat would not have increased in accordance- with the needs of this country. Therefore^ the questions why there was a failure- of the wheat stabilization plan, and whether the Government lived up to its1 policy promises, Gan be answered quite plainly. There was a failure, but that failure is attributable only to the Labour party and- to no one else. The Government has consistently tried to carry out to the letter the promises made in the Prime Minister’s policy speech, but because of the failure of State Labour governments to co-operate, we have not been successful.
The Government, the A Australian Wheat, Growers Federation and the Australian Agricultural Council are all convinced that it is. most desirable that there should be a - wheat marketing scheme. Unless we have that scheme there will be chaos. It is quite true that it has been said that- private traders are prepared to market the wheat crop. There may be doubt about that,, but at the present time it would be impracticable . for private traders to obtain the finance necessary to market the crop and to arrange a workable scheme quickly enough to take over the. responsibility for the activities hitherto- carried out by the Government and the Australian Wheat Board. It is ‘ essential at the present time that- we should have an international wheat agreement, because the world commodity market is in a state of flux. The prices of wheat and other commodities on the international market have fallen. The Government takes the view that, the introduction of some scheme, that will give reasonable stability to the market is necessary. Consequently, the Government believes, that it is prudent that, the International Wheat Agreement should be ratified. But before that can be done this measure must be approved by the Parliament.
I have had the great good fortune to be closely associated’ with tie Minister for Commerce and Agriculture during most of the negotiations in connexion with the wheat agreement. His attitude towards the matter has always been quite clear. He believed that the choice was between chaos and orderly marketing, and that there should be reasonable stability in the wheat markets. His has been- the one coherent voice throughout these negotiations, and without his diplomacy and’ skill, this measure would never have been introduced into this House and would never pass into the statute-book. During the time that I have been associated’ with him in these negotiations, the sole idea that has actuated him has been the interests- of the wheat-growers, and through their interests the interests of the Australian, people. 1 believe that if it had. not been for his prudence and common sense,, this bill would never have been brought before honorable members. It is a wise and sensible measure and at times like the present, when stability is badly, needed, it is a most essential measure. I have the greatest pleasure in endorsing, the bill and recommending it for the approval of the House.
,- It is a sad reflection om the state of the Australian Country party that- the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has had to fall back on the Minister for the Navy (Mr. McMahon), who represents an electorate almost a<s urban as my own, in order to find a champion for the wheat-growers. However, despite the lack of confidence of the Minister in the members of his own party, we should hear something from those honorable members before this debate ends. I do not pretend to be debating this matter on behalf of the wheat-growers. I am speaking for the consumers and taxpayers who have a very great interest in this particular bill. Their interest in it is almost as great as that of the wheat-growers themselves. Before I go further let me say that I found it amazing that the honorable members opposite, the great champions of private enterprise and the opponents of planning and socialization, find no trouble in eating their words about planning and socialization and grasp with both hands measures of this kind, which are similar to measures that were introduced by the Labour party. They have no objection to socializing the losses of the primary producers. The unfortunate fact is that they want to individualize profits. I hope that in future - I am afraid it is a vain hope - that when the Labour party says that certain segments of our economy should be controlled by the Government in order to enable them to function successfully, the members of the Australian Country party, instead of talking about their opposition to planning and socialism, will stand up and be counted among those who stand for planned control. They may 3ay what they like about this legislation being socialistic, in the sense in which they use that word, but they cannot deny the fact that this legislation provides for government planning and control and for coercive action against those who do not fall in with the planning and control. They argue that this legislation is necessary, but unfortunately, for political purposes, they pretend on occasions to be opposed to planning and to any attempt by the Government to control segments of the economy in the national interest on the ground that such control is socialism.. I hope that we shall hear no more of that kind of criticism during the consideration of this bill. If the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the Minister for the Navy, who pose at the champions of private enterprise, were honest they would leave the primary producers to work out their own destiny. [ trust that we shall hear no more of these objections on their part to necessary planning and control. This is a government planning measure which is designed to ensure stability in a most important industry. The Labour party supported measures similar to this on previous occasions for that very reason.
The Minister for the Navy, during the course of an extraordinary speech, apparently as a spokesman for the wheatgrowers, found no difficulty in saying that he supported the measure but that he condemned what he called the punitive legislation which had been introduced by the Labour Administration. This legislation is exactly the same as the legislation that was introduced by the Labour Government. Orderly marketing and guarantee of the cost of production were basic features of the previous legislation which the Minister for the Navy felt constrained to describe as punitive legislation of the kind to which he was completely opposed. I shall be interested to note upon which side of the House he sits when the vote is taken on this bill.
Let us examine this proposal from the point of view of the consumers and the taxpayers who will be called upon to provide the money if, unfortunately, the guarantee has to be met. No doubt when other honorable members opposite speak on this bill they will try to make it appear that the wheat-growers are conferring a special benefit on the community by coming into a scheme of this kind.
– They certainly are so doing.
– I ask the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) whether he remembers the days when the consumers of flour were called upon to pay millions of pounds in flour tax in order to enable the wheat-growers to receive a reason able .price for their product. We cannot have a stabilization scheme which embodies a guaranteed price unless the people are prepared to meet the guarantee. Those who will have to meet the guarantee, should the necessity to do so unfortunately arise, will be the general taxpayers and the consumers of bread and flour who met it in the past. This stabilization scheme should be looked upon as a joint co-operative effort on behalf of consumers and producers to assure the stability of this important industry and not, as members of the Australian Country party would have us believe, to enable the wheat-growers to confer a benefit upon the consumers. In past years when the price of wheat was unpayable to the growers the consumers had to pay millions of pounds of money in flour tax and other forms qf tax to help the wheat industry. Next year, the taxpayers may again be called upon to assist the industry. I hope that if they are asked to meet the cost they will do so as willingly as they have done in the past.
The members of the Australian Country party, who misrepresent the wheat-growing constituencies, must abandon the idea that this assistance can be in the nature of one-way traffic. It is true that since the war, because of the existence of the wheat stabilization scheme, the growers have not received the returns that they would have received had they sold their wheat on the open market. But it is also true that when the price of wheat was below the cost of production we were compelled to subsidize them to enable them to receive a much higher price for their product than they could have obtained for it on the open market. The Labour party approaches its consideration of this bill, not in the partisan spirit displayed by members of the parties opposite, but in a spirit of cooperation.
One feature associated with this legislation which was most noticeable was the manner in which the Minister sneaked it into the House at the last minute after he had black-mailed the States in order to obtain from them agreement on the price they were prepared to pay. The Minister deliberately delayed the introduction of- the measure until the last minute so that* he could wave a hig stick over the Governments of Victoria and Queensland. He said to those governments, in effect, “Unless you join the party immediately, stabilization and orderly marketing will go by the Board, and there will be chaos in the wheat industry “. He refused to make a calm, impartial and judicial examination of the price proposed. By hack-door negotiations he delayed the matter so that he would be able to wave a big stick over the States and say, “ If you do not agree to the proposed price the wheat industry will be thrown into chaos The Minister was more concerned about coercing the States than about the need for ensuring the stabilization of the industry.
What is the present position of the industry? Overseas stocks of wheat now total approximately 1,000,000,000 bushels. In 1952-53 the importing countries bought only 963,000,000 bushels. Sufficient wheat is now in store to meet the requirements of the importing countries for the next twelve months without the purchase of a single additional bushel. Yet in spite of these circumstances the Minister delayed the measure until it was too late to formulate a stabilization scheme and “introduce into the Parliament a measure to give effect to it. Judging by the views expressed by the Minister for the Navy a few minutes ago, members of the Australian Country party are apparently not keen on stabilization schemes. Some of the delay in this matter was apparently caused by the conflict between the members of the Liberal party, who are ardent advocates of private enterprise, and the members of the Australian Country party who are willing to swallow their objections to socialism in order to place a measure of this kind on the statute-book. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his supporters, including those who represent wheat-growing constituencies, must accept responsibility for the fact that, notwithstanding the tremendous Stocks of wheat held overseas, we are not now able to formulate a stabilization scheme. If those stocks were released, the price of wheat would be sent tumbling downwards. The Australian wheat-growers face that situation without the benefit of the stabilization scheme. Their future is menaced as the result of the inaction of the Government. I hope that members of the Australian Country party will express their view on the failure of the Government to give to the wheat-growers the protection of a stabilization scheme which would be so necessary should the tremendous stocks of wheat held in overseas countries be released.
The Minister for the Navy referred to the cost of production of wheat and told us about the so-called punitive scheme that had been inflicted on the growers by the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard). He spoke of the difficulties that had been faced by the growers under that so-called punitive scheme, which, he said, had operated definitely against their interests. He failed to point out that in the base year, 1947- 48, the found cost of production was 6s. 3d. a bushel and that it increased in 1948- 49 to only 6s. 8d., but that immediately this Government came into office it rocketed to 10s. Id. In 1952-53, it was lis. Hd. and for 1953-54 it is likely to be 12s. 8d. Thus the found cost of production increased by 5s. 3d. a bushel in the four years in which this Government has been in office. Obviously, the difficulties which confronted the wheat-growers during the operation of the previous scheme resulted” from the tremendous increase of costs brought about by the failure of the Government to control inflation. So, we have again in view the threat of inflation that has resulted from this Government’s policies and activities. If we relate these figures to the real value of money, we can see what has happened to the Australian economy. The cost of production has been tremendously increased as the result of the Government’s failure to control inflation. The price which the Australian people are paying for wheat as the result of the automatic adjustment of the found cost of production also springs from the Government’s failure to control inflation.
When the price of wheat is being discussed, the bread consumers in the community are entitled to much greater consideration than has been extended to them in the past. The Minister has told us that the cash costs involved in wheat production have been assessed by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics on the basis of a comprehensive Australian-wide survey carried out on soundly established survey techniques. He has also said that the bureau’s assessment of those costs has been scrutinized and endorsed by a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. Thus, the seller has had access to the figures upon which the cost calculations of the bureau have been based, but the consumer, who has an equally great interest in the price of wheat, has been denied a similar opportunity.
– That is not correct. The consumer is represented by the State Ministers of Agriculture at meetings of the Australian Agricultural Council, at which these matters are discussed.
– It is true that the State Ministers of Agriculture are entitled to examine the figures, but they do not necessarily represent the consumers. What objection can there be to a representative of the consumers being appointed to examine ‘these figures ?
Government supporters interjecting,
– Honorable members opposite object to that proposition. They think that it is frightful to suggest that the consumers should be allowed to examine the figures of production costs. They regard it as the suggestion of a Bolshevik. They forget that when the worker goes to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in an endeavour to have a price fixed for the labour which he sells, he is compelled to produce evidence-
– The workers’ wage is fixed at the maximum amount which industry can afford to prevail.
– That is not so. The worker is compelled to submit evidence to the court. Witnesses who give evidence are subject to the closest crossexamination. The hearings are often exceedingly protracted. On the last occasion the hearing took longer than twelve months. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics no doubt has excellent and, in some regards, expert officers who gather their facts from a few sources - not very many when the total number of wheat farms in the Commonwealth is taken into account - but when the time comes for them to make their ‘decision that decision and the figures on which they have based it are not subject to examination by any expert with the same right of criticism as are figures produced in the Com in on wealth Arbitration Court in respect of increases of wages requested by wage-earners. For that reason I suggest that if this Government wishes to give the consumers the consideration to which they are entitled when the price of wheat is being fixed, it should appoint a consumers’ representative to safeguard the interest of the consumers when the cost of production is being decided. There is norepresentative of the consumers on the Australian Wheat Board, but there is a representative of the employees in the wheat industry.I hope that the housewives of Australia, who will be faced with an increase of the price of bread of perhaps1d. a loaf as a result of this legislation, will demand that in the future, before legislation of this nature is passed, they shall he given expert representation on the tribunal that finds the cost of production or fixes prices, if not on the Australian Wheat Board itself. The consumers and taxpayers are called upon to pay the guaranteed price, and, therefore, are not only entitled to representation on the tribunal that fixes that price, but are also as much entitled to the fullest access to the figures produced by the bureau as are the representatives of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation.
I turn now to an amazing statement that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made in his speech about current wheat sowings. The Minister for the Navy attempted to provide the Government with an alibi in relation to the terrific fall of the acreage sown to wheat during the Government’s term of office. Let us consider the Minister’s statement on that particular matter. He attempted to tell the House that as a result of the policies pursued by the Government. I shall quote his own words -
Thereis striking evidence of a recovery in the wheat acreage to an estimated 10,800,000 to11 ,000,000 acres for the coming season, due, no doubt, in part at least, to expectations of more equitable treatment in respect of homeconsumption sales.
Yet the actual figures disclosed in literature circulated in this House by the Minister’s own department, which were prepared by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, tell a different story. On the one hand we have the Minister telling us that there is striking evidence of recovery of wheat acreage, whilst on the other hand we have the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Minister’s own department, saying this -
When all these factors are taken into consideration, it is unlikely that the officialCom- monwealth acreage figure, when it is disclosed later in the year, will show any striking increase on last year’s extremely low total.
In other words, in an official publication the Minister’s own department contradicts the statement that he made in his speech. The bureau’s statement continues - .
Perhaps the maximum acreage which can be expected is about 10.5 million acres, but it will probably be nearer 10 million acres.
The Minister, in an attempt to gloss over the dismal failure of the Government to achieve success in its campaign for increased sowings, tells us, as I have said, in direct contradiction of that statement, about the “ striking evidence “ of a recovery in wheat acreage. It is no wonder that the Minister attempts to delude the House in this way, because of all the catastrophic things that have happened to Australian primary industries during the course of his occupancy of his office, the decline of wheat acreage is the most striking. I shall again cite the official publication produced by the Minister’s own department, which shows that, whereas the average yearly acreage under wheat in the five years up to 1938-39 was 13,000,000, in1949-50, this Government’s first year of office, it had fallen to 12,200,000 acres. In 1950-51 it fell to 11,700,000 acres, in 1951-52 to 10,400,000 acres, in 1952-53 to 10,100,000 acres and, according to the bureau, this year it will fall to a record lowof 10,000,000 acres which, I should say, is lower than it has been in the last 37 years. Obviously the stabilization scheme, the found cost of production and everything else, depend, in the final analysis, on production itself. Of what use is it to have legislation to establish prices, methods of marketing and so on, unless we have the wheat to be marketed? Since the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture took office Australia has been faced with a continual catastrophic decline of the acreage sown to wheat.
We all remember that a year or two ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) broadcast an appeal to the wheatgrowers to sow more wheat. The Minis ter at that time produced a five-year plan. I do not know whether he thought he was Stalin or Malenkov or some one like that. His plan was for increased production of agricultural commodities. Wheat, of course, was one of the most important features in his five-year plan. All I wish to point out to the House is that that five-year plan, as it relates to the production of wheat, has been a dismal failure, and. to-day Australia is sowing less land to wheat than has been sown in this country for the last ‘37 years. Obviously, whatever this legislation may seek to do will be vitally effected by that fact. It is of no use for the Minister to tell us, as he has done, that the wheat industry is our second most important source of export income, the wool industry being the most important, and that if the prices wc receive overseas for wool should fall to a great degree wheat is our main insurance against a catastrophic decrease of our export earnings, if he is incapable of ensuring an increase of wheat production. The facts and figures that I have cited prove that up to date (.lie Minister is incapable of securing that increase. If he attempts to provide an alibi for himself on the matter of prices, we have his own statement that there has been an increase of sowings because of the possibility of more equitable treatment in respect of home consumption sales. The figures of the Bureau of .Agricultural Economics show that that is not the case. In addition, the decline of wheat production has occurred during a period when the price of wheat was never higher. It may be that the free market price was higher than could be obtained under the International Wheat Agreement or the wheat stabilization scheme, but, despite that fact, this decline in wheat acreage took place in a period when prices were never higher.
– And at a time when the .price of wool was never higher.
– I should have thought that when the price of wool declined, as it has over the last two years, from its record high, there would have been some switch-over to wheat production.
– The price of wool is still high.
– I know it is, but it is nowhere near the level it reached two years ago. One would have expected some slight upward trend in the acreage sown to wheat if the Government’s policy of increasing wheat production had been put into effect during that period. Wheat is a matter which primarily concerns honorable members who represent rural constituencies, and I trust that the members of the Australian Country party who speak during this debate will .submit the Minister, and his spokesman, the Minister for the Navy, who represents an urban constituency in Sydney, to a searching cross-examination in relation to their failure to secure an increase of wheat acreage. The Minister said -
A 20 per cent, fall to-day in wool values would represent a reduction of our total overseas income of some £80,000,000. That is an amount which would certainly cause soma repercussions throughout our economy. It is obviously in the national interest that without reducing the value of our wool production we should plan to lessen our dependence upon it by stimulating production of alternate income earners.
In other words, wheat is our main insurance against a pronounced decrease of wool prices. Whilst declaring that fact, the Minister, from the figures produced by his own department, stands convicted as a man who -has permitted the worst decline of wheat acreage in 37 years.
I rose in the first instance to address myself to this measure as a representative of the consumers. In that capacity T wish to point out to members of the Australian Country party and those people, including the Minister, who attempted to bulldoze the State governments into an increase to 15s. a bushel when even the growers themselves thought that too much and were prepared to accept 14s., that the vast majority of primary producers realize that when prices go too high the increases bring their own retribution. When the price of butter was increased on one occasion not long ago there was a tremendous drop in consumption. Honorable members opposite must bear in mind that people do not always have to use wheat, flour and bread. The figures in relation to the consumption of bread show that consumption has dropped as the price has increased. It may well be that as a result of the increase that will follow the passage of this measure the wheatgrowers, who to-day, because they have available to them overseas markets and high prices, are so very cheeky, will before long be pleading with the people of Australia to eat more bread in order to maintain the level of Australian consumption of flour. The average annual consumption a head of bread in Australia before the war was 190 lb. On the latest figures available from the Commonwealth Statistician, which are those for 1951-52, that average has dropped by 10 lb., to ISO lb. a head. I can assure honorable members that if primary producers are allowed to think that the sky is the limit they will be severely brought back to earth, because prices can be pushed too high, and there is such a thing as buyer resistance.
Speaking on behalf of the consumer I also remind the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), who has interjected frequently, of the tremendous contribution that the consumers and taxpayers have made in the way of flour tax in order to maintain the stabilization of the wheat industry. In the period from 1939 to 1948, according to the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation, the taxpayers contributed £17,584,000 in flour tax. One has to remember that that amount was contributed in years when money was worth much more than the value it would have at present. Related to present purchasing power its value would be about double. That is the contribution that the people were called upon to make.
– The wheat-growers have lost £200,000,000 during the last five years because they have been unable to sell their wheat on the free market.
– If the other concessions enjoyed by the wheat-growers, such as freight concessions on transport of wheat and superphosphate, and various other forms of bounty from Commonwealth revenue, are added to the flour tax, the honorable member would undoubtedly find that the sacrifice of the wheatgrowers has been offset.
Mr. Turnbull interjecting,
– The honorable member should make it clear whether he supports a stabilization scheme or not. He cannot have it both ways. If he wants the stabilization scheme, then the growers have to take the rough with the smooth. If the wheat-growers want the taxpayer to be called upon to guarantee a price below which wheat will not fall, they have to be prepared to put something into the pool in order to help themselves.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- One thing that emerges from the speech of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) is that he is no friend of the wheatgrower. He has made that fact clear during the last five minutes of his speech, if we ever had any doubts about it before. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) and the honorable member foi Yarra have shown in this debate that, they are a particularly ill-assorted pair. The honorable member for Lalor skated around the bill so carefully that the obvious conclusion is that he did not really want to discuss it at all. He criticized the Government and the Minister until he had talked his time out without having had to compromise himself by saying how much he really approved of- this good measure. His team mate and offside leader was a little whipshy I think, because he, too, had some difficulty in coming to the subject of the bill. I shall be interested to see how the pin horses come along because, unless they hold the team to a straight and narrow course, this debate will collapse before the members of the Australian Country party who wish to speak have the opportunity to say what they have in mind. It may be left to the shatter, to keep the old wagon on the road. Perhaps if they are good enough in the breeching, it will not go over the side of the hill.
All members of the Australian Country party in this House are eager to take part in the debate because they know the subject and appreciate the importance of the bill to the wheat-growers. It is an unfortunate fact that limitation of time will not permit all of us to speak, but, thanks to the cooperation of our friends in the Liberal party, more Country party members than would normally be entitled to speak will be able to express their views.
– That is very decent of the Liberal party.
– Unlike the Opposition, the Liberal party is well aware that the wheat-growers deserve to have the benefit of measures of this kind. The wheatgrowers will never forget that the socialist Labour Government’s wheat legislation provided mainly for orderly marketing so that the Government could gain complete control of their product. We all know what that Government did when it had gained control of the wheat. For example, it sold wheat to New Zealand at all sorts of fabulous prices - fabulous from the point of view of the New Zealand buyer but not from the point of view of the Australian grower. It imposed ministerial control upon the Australian Wheat Board so that the board had to do what the Government wanted it to do instead of what it knew it should do in the interests of the growers. This Government, on the contrary, has so organized the affairs of the wheat industry that the growers have some authority in relation to the disposal of their product. Under the terms of this bill, they will have an opportunity to market their wheat in an orderly manner, as is their just due. The bill is specifically entitled the Wheat Marketing Bill 1953. Some members of the Opposition have spread themselves at large on the subject of stabilization, but that is not properly a subject for discussion during this debate.
The aim of the bill is to produce a method by which wheat can be marketed in an orderly manner to the best advantage of those people who are most definitely interested, the producers. I pay a high tribute to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) for the skill and industry that he has displayed in negotiating this orderly marketing arrangement. I make no apology for doing so, and I know that I have the support of all of my colleagues who grow wheat. The honorable gentleman has shown great patience and persistence over the last few years in trying to resolve satisfactorily the difficulties associated with the sale of wheat in order to produce an acceptable marketing scheme. Unfortunately, a complete orderly marketing scheme has not been possible. This is not due to any lack of desire or ability on the part of the Minister. It results from the lack of co-operation of the people with whom he has had to deal. However, I acknow ledge that they have co-operated up to a point in order to make this bill possible. The Minister thus has achieved, in some measure if not in full, the ideal of federation, which is that the Australian Government shall be a co-ordinating body to carry on the functions essential to the proper management of the nation’s affairs with the co.-operation of the State governments.
Reference to the history of the wheat industry is not out of place in this debate. Those who have been intimately connected with the industry know of the trials that it has experienced over th-! years. I refer to an occasion in 1921, after World War I. when it seemed that the wheat industry was facing a crisis. Assistance of a kind was promised by the Australian Government of that day, which offered a guarantee of 5s. a bushel. However, a very astute State politician saw an opportunity to gain political advantage and immediately told the growers that he would guarantee a price of 7s. 6d. a bushel. The truth is that neither the Australian Government, nor the State government which made the counter offer, was called upon to back its guarantee, because wheat that year was particularly saleable. I remind the Opposition now of something of which it should be thoroughly ashamed. Wheatgrowers will recollect that, in 1930, the most urgent pleas that have been uttered by a government in Australia in my time were made by the Labour government to the wheat-growers. Day after day it urged them to grow more wheat. It made its appeals by every available means and took advantage of every artifice of advertising. The radio was relatively new at that time, and not many people were privileged to own sets. However, everybody who owned a radio set heard these appeals repeatedly broadcast over the air. Coupled with the plea to grow more wheat was a promise of a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel at the end of the year.
We all know of the tragedy that occurred. Every acre that could be planted with wheat was used. We planted all our fallow land with wheat and produced every bushel that we could produce. And what was the result? The Labour government introduced into this House a bill that provided for some sort of financial support for the guarantee. The measure was sent to the Senate, which in those days operated to some degree in favour of the States, as it was intended to function, and the bill was thrown out. Either deliberately or because of ignorance, the bill had been drafted in such a form that it was inevitable that the Senate would reject it. No further attempt was made to honour the guarantee of a price of 4s. a bushel. Wheat was sold that year for as little as ls. od. a bushel to the absolute consternation of the growers and their financial embarrassment, which amounted in some instances to disaster. That was one of my first experiences of any form of so-called Commonwealth assistance to the wheat industry. As I have said, it amounted to anything but assistance.
The last socialist Government introduced a scheme, which, it said, would solve the problems of the wheat-growers. It prepared the scheme first and then said to the growers, “ Take it or leave it. This is our proposition “. Honorable members opposite now say that the plan had the approval of the growers, expressed at a ballot. But everybody who comes from a country district knows that dozens and dozens of growers voted in favour of the plan at the ballot because they had Buckley’s choice. They endorsed it with their tongues in their cheeks in the hope that they would be able to improve upon it or alter its conditions later. That scheme provided for the growers to receive no more than the bare cost of production of wheat sold for home consumption. Not their’s to claim the reward of any overseas price that might exceed that level! Not their’s to reap the benefit of the good years and the good prices that had come to them after years of bad prices! On the contrary, they were required, for no obvious reason, to subsidize the consuming public. Incidentally, honorable members opposite should not forget that the consumers are not a. special class of the community. Every man in Australia, including even the wheat-grower, is a consumer. The honorable member for Yarra talked without any knowledge of the subject when he said that the consumers had not been given an opportunity to review the basis of the Government’s cost of production plan. The Minister has pointed out that representatives of the State governments and of the wheat-growers’ federation examined the plan and approved of it. The honorable member overlooked the fact that the consumers are represented by the growers, who themselves are consumers, and by the State governments. It is reasonable that this cost of production arrangement should have been agreed upon first by the people most intimately concerned, the growers, who know their costs, and, secondly, by the representatives of the State governments, who must be neglectful of their responsibilities indeed if they cannot be said truthfully to represent consumers.
The Minister said in his second-reading speech that he had not dealt at length with the justification for giving the growers what can be termed only a fair go because the circumstances were well known. However, I fear that the problems of the wheat-growers are not well known. In fact, people who live in the cities and towns assume that wheatgrowing is more or less a matter of having a block of land, scratching it with any sort of implement, scattering some seed on it, hoping for rain, and then sitting back to wait for the wheat to grow. That is not true. The wheat-grower is faced with many difficulties and complex problems that do not confront other people. In the first place, if he is to be successful, he must have suitable land of a. suitable type and character in a suitable district with a suitable rainfall. He must have plant and equipment. The first item of plant that he requires is a tractor, which to-day he cannot buy for less than £1,000 at the most modest estimate. He needs also some form of tillage implement. He may buy a plough for £100 or £150, or he may combine the plough with a combine seeder, which costs about £500. He works, not for 40 hours a week, but from daylight to dark and. when the season is suitable, he works also at night with the aid of electric lamps on his tractor. While the conditions are good. and there is moisture in the soil, he tills the ground until it reaches a state of tilth that he considers to be suitable for the sowing of his wheat seed. Then he sows the seed, possibly with superphosphate.
The popular idea is that, at this stage, he sits back and waits for the wheat to grow. But that is far from the truth because, if the conditions at the time of sowing were not right, or if, perhaps, he had a dry seed bed and a little rain fell after planting, the seed may rot or shoot and then die. In such circumstances, he must undertake all the labour again and bear the cost of purchasing new seed.
– Does not the farmer take advantage of mechanization in order to work shorter hours?
– What the shorter working week has to do with the germination of wheat seed I fail to understand.. Of course, I might have expected such an interjection from the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), who represents a city electorate. After the farmer has resown the ground, the wheat may really begin to grow. Perhaps then there are frosts, or a warm period when the wheat is beginning to flower, with the result that little dark rusty marks appear on the stems and then spread up the plant, so that, in the late afternoons, a dusty shadow hangs over the crop. Rust has taken possession ! If the trouble is not rust, it may be frostbite. I do not want to labour the story, but these are only some of the pests that the farmer is fighting constantly.
Eventually, towards the end of the year, if everything has been favorable and he has escaped frostbite, rust, take-all, and grasshoppers, he will strip his wheat. Grasshoppers, I mention in passing, may come along just as the wheat is ripening. They may come this year. Farmers are waiting to-day to see whether they -will be able to reap the reward of their year’s labour or whether the grasshopper hordes will devour their crops. The swarms may be approaching their fields at this moment. In order to strip his crop,, the farmer must buy fuel. In the first instance, of course, he must buy some sort of implement, such as a header, which costs £1,400. Having stripped the wheat, he must out it into bass. I have forgotten, of course, to point out that his prop has been exposed to the danger of destruction by rain or hail.
– Those are onlysome of the hazards.
– The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) informs me that I have mentioned only a few of the hazards that beset a farmer in the production of his crops. However, when he has escaped them and markets his wheat, the Labour party claims that he should sell it for the bare cost of production. Opposition members do not make any allowance for the risks that he takes, and the gambles that he has had, in growing the crop. The sole purpose of Opposition members is to attempt to make party political advantage out of the price of wheat, because the great majority of their electors live in the cities. Members of the Australian Country party have had to counter that attitude for many years.
Farmers must be encouraged to produce wheat. Additional people must be encouraged to settle on the land. Honorable members on both sides of the House have advocated earlier this week that the tempo of war service land settlement be increased. If conditions in the rural districts are to be improved, we must ensure that the farmer, when he has produced a crop, often in the face of considerable hazards, shall be able to sell, the wheat,, through an orderly marketing scheme, at a reasonably fair price. An orderly marketing scheme is entirely in favour of the grower. Some growers are inclined to favour a return to open markets. Heaven forbid that the day should come when growers will have to accept what they can get for their wheat at the time they have it for sale from some one who wants to buy it and has already sold it on some “ future “ market ! Heaven forbid that wheat-growers should be at the dictation of State Prices Ministers, who would fix the price, according to their own ideas, of that portion of the crop to be sold for home consumption. ! Growers escape those predicaments as the result of the efforts and work, of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
The growers feel that they are entitled to the full reward for their labour, but they have agreed to a compromise. They say that a reasonable home consumption price would be- a figure between the maximum price of 18s. 3½d. and the minimum price of 13s. lOd. a bushel, but they consider that the price should not fall below the cost of production. That reasonable proposition represents a compromise on the part of the growers, and has received the attention of State governments. Accordingly, the price is determined in proposed section 25a of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act, as follows : - (2.) . . . the price in respect of wholesale sales of bulk wheat of fair average quality free on rails at ports shall be the International Wheat Agreement price, or Fourteen shillings per bushel, whichever is the lower. (3.) If that price … is less than the cost of production, the price . . . shall . . be an amount per bushel equal to the cost of production.
That formula was determined after many months of negotiation, yet the honorable member for Lalor has stated that the Government and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture have not been eager to produce an orderly marketing plan. The honorable gentleman knows perfectly well that such a plan is entirely dependent on the co-operation of State governments. The Commonwealth is concerned primarily’ with that portion of the crop for export, and the States are concerned with that portion of the crop which is sold for home consumption. Two views had to be reconciled on this matter. Certain States did not see eye to eye with other States regarding the home consumption price of wheat. The Labour Government in Victoria proved a serious stumbling block to an agreement, because it refused to give the farmers a fair deal. Until all States had reached a common basis of agreement, no plan for the orderly marketing of next season’s wheat was possible.
The honorable member for Lalor knows perfectly well, when he speaks of the failure of the Government to formulate a stabilization plan, that stabilization is not possible until co-operation is obtained between the Commonwealth and all the States on the matter. The growers are also vitally concerned, because they are expected to contribute to the stabilization fund by some form of wheat tax, and, therefore, their consent to a stabilization scheme is both necessary and desirable. The honorable member for Lalor has carefully avoided a discussion on orderly marketing, because he heartily approves of the bill. He knows that the stabilization proposals, to which this Government would give effect if it had the cooperation of all the States, would be approved by the growers. However, it is impossible, in the limited time available, to hold a ballot of the growers on the matter. A poll would have to be taken by each State government of the wheatgrowers within that State, and, at this late stage, it is impossible to conduct a vote on a stabilization plan. In a matter of weeks, farmers will begin to harvest the crop, and it is essential that a proper plan for orderly marketing shall be in operation before the wheat is received.
Government supporters are well aware of the situation, but I wonder whether Opposition members realize the chaos that could ensue in the wheat industry if this plan for orderly marketing did not . come into operation. Do members of the Labour party realize what would happen if wheat-growers were forced to sell their wheat in disorganized markets of the world, where no selling arrangements had been made, finance was not available, and no “futures” were sold? Do Opposition members really care about the wheat industry ? The honorable member for Yarra certainly does not care. He knows that if the orderly marketing scheme was not introduced, growers would be forced to sell wheat at low prices, and the consumers in his electorate, whom he makes no apology for representing in this House, would get cheap wheat, to the disadvantage of the growers. He should apologize for representing the consumers here. He is not concerned about the welfare of the wheat-growers. He is concerned only for the consumers.
With this legislation, the Minister has achieved a highly desirable position. Wheat-growers know that, after they have surmounted all the hazards of production to which I have referred, they will be able to sell their crop in a manner which will return to them the most reasonable price that they can expect to get for it. They will also have the satisfaction of knowing that they will provide their friends and neighbours - the consumers - with wheat at a reasonable price. I know that the wheat-growers do not wish to be unreasonable. As a wheat-grower, I take strong exception to a statement by the honorable member for Lalor that the Minister is encouraging wheat-growers to be greedy.
– I do not care whether the honorable member likes that statement or not.
– The honorable mem:ber for Lalor has said that the Minister is encouraging wheat-growers to be greedy.
– Of course. “Mr. FAILES- That statement indicates that the honorable gentleman considers that the wheat-growers are greedy, and that the Minister is encouraging them to greater greed.
– Of course, he is.
– On behalf of the wheatgrowers, I take strong exception to that statement.
– I do not care.
– The honorable member for Lalor is a former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and he says that the wheat-growers are greedy. I assure him that the growers have never shown any signs of greed. It is all very well for the honorable gentleman to claim that he is blaming, not the growers, but the Minister. “We know he believes that the growers are greedy.
– That is a wicked thing to say.
– Our only purpose is to ensure that the wheat-growers shall get -a reasonable price for their product. I notice that the honorable member for Yarra has not come to the assistance of his colleague the honorable member for Lalor, because he considers that the wheat-growers are greedy.
I have great pleasure in supporting this bill. The introduction of a really satisfactory orderly marketing scheme that gives a fair deal to farmer and to consumer alike is long overdue. A good deal of ill-informed criticism has been voiced about the effect of the increase in the price of wheat. I have it on the excellent authority of flour-millers and others that every 2s. 4d. of the price of a bushel of wheat represents Id. in the cost of a 2-lb. loaf of bread. In other words, if wheat is 14s. a bushel, the value of the wheat in a 2-lb. loaf is 6d. The present price of a 2-lb. loaf of bread is approximately ls. Id. The increase of the price of wheat from 12s. 8d. to 14s. a bushel, for which provision is made in this bill, does not represent an additional three farthings in the cost of 2-lb. loaf. The honorable member for Lalor is nodding his head.
– I am not.
– I am happy, then, that the honorable gentleman is in agreement with my statement about the increase of the price of a 2-lb. loaf to the consumer.
-kon. - It will mean an additional 3s. or 4s. a week to the consumer.
– Would a consumer begrudge the grower an additional three farthings for a 2-lb. loaf? The additional cost would be only £1 or so a year to the consumer. I have given the relevant figures because it is high time that they were known to the House and the public.
– What additional price will be payable by the user of stock-feed wheat ?
– I have not the figure for the additional cost per fowl, but I shall try to obtain it for the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), because I know that he is interested in that matter. I realize that the Opposition heartily supports this bill. Indeed. Opposition members have no alternative, because this is a good bill; but I deplore the fact that they are attempting to gain party political advantage out of it. The farmer does not want people to get political advantage out of his woes. I ask honorable members not to be critical of the Government on this matter. If they support the hill they should assist us to pass it as quickly as possible for the benefit of every one concerned.
Mr. JOSHUA (Ballarat ) [4.271 .-The speech of the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) is typical of the speeches that are made by members of the Australian Country party. Such speeches are usually full of inconsistencies
– I rise to order. I object to the statement of the honorable member for Ballarat that speeches of members of the Australian Country party are usually full of inconsistencies. I ask that the statement be withdrawn.
– Order! There is no point of order. The honorable member for Ballarat has merely expressed an opinion.
– Members of the Australian Country party have stated repeatedly that prices control can be administered more efficiently by the States “than by the Commonwealth, but they now declare that the farmers will encounter a worse fate than hitherto if they are subject to the control of State prices Ministers.
The honorable member for Lawson states that the increase of the price of wheat will merely add three farthings to the cost of a 2-lb. loaf of bread. He speaks as if that increase is a mere nothing. Every one knows that the baker will not be able to add three farthings to the price, but will, charge an additional Id. for a 2-lb. loaf. Perhaps a generous baker will charge an additional ltd. for a 4-lb. loaf. Obviously the honorable member for Lawson does not care how much the price of bread rises. The Labour party has always recognized the difficulties of the wheat-growing industry. Growers encounter many serious hazards, and that fact has not been overlooked. The risks of production, distribution and marketing which the industry runs, are inextricably mixed. At times, one risk is dependent on another risk. It is gratifying to see that; with the passage of years, and with the assistance of Labour governments, many of the risks have been removed, and much has been done which is a justification of the principle of socialization. Let me refer to production costs, one of the heaviest of which is the purchase of superphosphate. Tn Australia, the superphosphate industry has been almost completely socialized. The phosphatic rock is bought by the Government, and then sold to the companies that treat it and sell it to the farmers. As a result, the farmers get it very much cheaper than would be pos sible if the production of superphosphate was in the hands of private enterprise. That, also, is a justification of the principle of socialization.
Another difficulty is that of. distribution. If handled by ordinary dealers and jobbers, the distribution of wheat would be a very complex and expensive process, but because it is handled by various wheat boards the costs are very much lower, and the distribution is more orderly. That is another example of successful socialization. Why the honorable member for Riverina, time after time, should deliver a tirade against socialization when he represents one of the biggest wheat-growing areas of Australia, and one which has experienced the benefits of socialization, is beyond my understanding. The industry in Australia has been largely socialized, and no other industry has received so much benefit from socialization. . It is because this bill provides for the socialized marketing of wheat that honorable members opposite support it, and members on this side of the House will always support measures which bring the benefits of socialization to industry.
Members of the Opposition have always recognized the difficulties of the wheat-farmers, and we believe that sound principles should be adopted in the marketing of this important commodity. General economic considerations, of course, require that we dispose of the whole crop, and that we dispose of it at the best price. The overseas price is whatever price you can get. We are completely subject to world conditions, and over world prices we have very little control. We must accept the .overseas price whether it is profitable or unprofitable.
There is also a local price, and that is something for which the community in general, and the government in particular, have some responsibility. A price to be fair must be based on the cost of production. There have been so many misstatements about the cost of production that I think I should speak on the subject. The figures that have been cited are compiled by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, or are based on its calculations and investigations, and to say that there is anything wrong with the coat of production figures- for wheat is to cast a slur upon officials who are doing their best. It is not true, as the honorable member for Lawson (“Mr. Failes) has suggested, that due allowance has not been made for such, risks as rust and bad- seasons. I cannot enumerate all the risks involved, but: the honorable member for Lawson gave a very good resume of them. I am sure that the figure arrived at does allow for every one of those risks. In addition, that figure allows for a. fair margin of profit to the grower. It is quite wrong- to suggest that the cost of production figure is not comprehensive.
When approaching this problem, which I admit is very difficult, the Minister must take into account what the representatives of farmers say at their various meetings. Most honorable, members have a fair idea of what goes on at meetings of wheat-growers, or of growers in general, or at any other kind of meeting. The wheat-growers get together and decide that the best price for them is the highest price they can possibly get. Any one who suggests that it might be a little lower than that amount is very much on the outer. I do not think any honorable member will disagree with me when I say that that is what transpires at meetings of growers. The honorable member for Riverina, in every speech he makes, bears out that statement. He never tires of telling us how much the growers have lost because the highest possible price has not been accepted. I think the Minister has a very clear idea of what has been in the minds of the farmers’ representatives, but I doubt whether the decisions of meetings of farmers’ representatives bear an exact relation to what is in the minds of the farmers themselves, because there is quite a lot of evidence to show that when they are asked to consider a problem independently they reach conclusions that are very different from those of the people who purport to represent them.
I have devoted some time to discussing the risks that have been overcome, very largely by Labour governments. The last Labour Government attempted to remove much of the element of risk in relation to the price by guaranteeing the price- for 100,000,000 bushels each year. In addition, it arranged for payments, by the farmers out of their wheat proceeds into a stabilization fund. All sorts of community considerations must be borne in mind when we talk about the cost of wheat. As far as I can remember, in the whole history of Australia, the people have never objected to paying a price that would enable a man to continue in his business, whatever it was. No exception has been made in the case of the wheat industry. The community has always willingly accepted the principle that the cost of production should determine the price of any article, and has been prepared to pay for its bread a price based on the cost of producing wheat. I think the consumers’ point of view has to be kept in mind. They have been very generous in their outlook, and it is not fair to abuse them. Merely because they are not an organized body, it is not to be thought that they have no means of expression. They have, and I have no doubt that they will express their opinion quite clearly at the forthcoming election.
The Minister has a clear responsibility . to take into account the views of all, and to consider them carefully. He cannot just accept what the representatives of wheat-growers say or what the wheat board, says. He has to take into consideration the views of everybody. The Minister must dispose of the whole crop and dispose of it to the Australian community at a reasonable price. When considering the disposal of the whole of the crop, we should pause to consider certain things that are going on in the world. For example. the United Kingdom has not become a party to the International Wheat Agreement, and that reduces our chances of disposing of the whole of the crop. The United Kingdom was a big purchaser of wheat. If it were in any scheme, Australia could be sure, if the scheme were big enough, of disposing of the whole of its crop. That fact brings out the point, which must not be overlooked, that there is an over-production of wheat in the world at present. If honorable members were to read a recently issued pamphlet on the wheat position in September, they would find that in America there was over-production and a very big carry-over, and that, as a result, the farmers voluntarily agreed to reduce their sowings of wheat. When the Government brings down a bill and says that one of the purposes of it is to encourage further production, it is treading on very soft ground indeed, and it may not be very long before it is wishing that it had not introduced the legislation. I think the growing of wheat is something that should be left to the farmer, because the selection of his ground and the use of ti is ground i3 very much his business. To suggest that he should do something with his land that he would not ordinarily do is not sound. I think over-production has caused panic in the wheat-growing industry, and emphasized more than ever the idea that growers should get in while there is opportunity and get as much as they possibly can, because they do not know when the price will drop. The idea is that so long as they prosper it does not matter very much about anything else. 1 do not think that is a view to which all the farmers would subscribe. It is an individualistic approach, one which might easily be made at meetings of wheatgrowers, but which would not be accepted by fair-minded growers of wheat.
The Minister appears to have taken a lot of notice of what the representatives of farmers have said, and has’ made up his mind along certain lines. Consequently, we have this agreement under which the community will pay 14s. l-£d. a bushel for wheat. No consideration has been extended to the consumers, the idea being, apparently, that no matter how high the price of bread goes the workers cannot get an increase of wages. As I said, the consumers of wheat in Australia appear not to have received any consideration from the Minister. He has adopted the suggestions of farmers’ representatives who, I contend, do not represent the wheat-growers at all. If the wheat.growers were approached by means of a ballot, their views could be obtained much more accurately than by dealing with their representatives. Everyone has been bludgeoned into accepting the plan proposed by the Minister, and has been subjected to every sort of threat in order to make him join the scheme. I suggest that the system has not had proper ministerial consideration. The Minister is almost in the position of an arbitrator in the matter. Before considering the plan to which he is going to give effect he should know what is in the minds of all those who areengaged in, and interested in, the industry. Having obtained that information, hemust prepare a plan that will be of thegreatest possible benefit to the people. But the Minister, in formulating this plan, has listened only to the wheatgrowers. He has completely excluded from consideration the interests of wheat consumers. He has sabotaged their interests, and for that he is deserving of censure. The measure is inadequate because it doesnot make provision for a stabilization scheme such as was in operation when Labour was in office. Whilst the bill is the best that we can hope for from this Government, it is certainly not as good as it could be. It is inadequate in many respects. Its only real virtue is thesocialistic principle inherent’ in it. Because it has that virtue, the Labour party will not oppose it.
.- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Joshua) has said that he will support the bill because he believes it has certain socialistic virtues. That is a very poor way in which to approach the measure. Surely it should be considered from the viewpoint of its value to the wheat industry, wheat consumers and the nation as a whole. It should not be considered on a party political basis. The view of honorable members opposite is that if a measure is socialistic, they will accept it, but if it has no socialistic qualities, they will oppose it, whatever its virtues. If the Labour party has always taken action to protect the wheat industry, as the honorable member for Ballarat maintains, it is strange that under Labour administration the wheat acreage fell from approximately 14,000,000 to 10,000,000 acres. Labour gave a very peculiar form of protection to wheatgrowers, because during the period it was in office there was an alarming fall of the wheat acreage. Honorable members opposite cannot boast of their record in that connexion.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) spoke on behalf of wheat consumers. It was very natural that he should do so, because he derives most of his support from urban voters. 1 believe he spoke on behalf of most of the members of the Labour party when he dealt with the bill entirely from the point of view of the consumers. I have not heard one speech from the other side of the House that has stressed the national importance of the measure. The honorable member for Yarra spoke about consumers subsidizing wheat-growers to the extent of about £17,000,000. The cry of the Labour party seems to be, “ Curse the wheat-growers ! “ The crime of the wheat-growers appears to be that they are asking a reasonable price for their wheat. Apparently the Labour party .believes they should be cursed for that, because it may affect the interests of consumers and does not conform to the socialist policy. Labour has clearly discriminated against the primary producers. That is shown by the fact that the wheat seats of Riverina, Farrar, Lawson, New England and Gwydir are held by members of the Government parties. Labour controlled the price of wheat for home consumption, and kept that price artificially low. Let me remind the honorable member for Yarra that, during the last four years, wheatfarmers have given a direct subsidy to consumers of between £100,000,000 and £110,000,000. Yet the honorable member implied that the wheat consumers were conferring a great benefit upon the wheat-growers by eating bread ! He said, in effect, that that was extremely good of them. I ask him to compare the £17,000,000 annual revenue from the flour tax with the sacrifice of £100,000,000 to £110,000,000 made by the wheatgrowers for the benefit of wheat consumers during the last four years, which represent an annual subsidy of from £20,000.000 to £27,000,000 a year. It is not astonishing that, under those circumstances, wheat-growers have turned to other products, such as wool, and that the wheat acreage has fallen.
The wheat industry is our second greatest primary industry. Therefore, we should not discuss the bill on the basis of its socialistic value or its effect on wheat consumers. We must consider it from a national point of view. If we hit the wheat-growers too hard, Australia as a whole will suffer badly.
Whatever views we have about wool or wheat, whether we have no interest in them personally, do not let us forget that they are vital to Australia because they earn a great proportion of our national income. A failure to continue an orderly marketing scheme for Australian wheat would have disastrous effects upon our economy.
The bill represents an attempt to legislate in accordance with the needs and wishes of the wheat-growers. It was not drafted by a few experts who believed they knew what the wheat-growers should have. It was prepared in the closest possible consultation with the wheatgrowing industry. The Government has been blamed by the honorable member for Lalor for not producing a stabilization scheme. He said that the bill should have provided for it. He knows very well that we have been prevented from introducing a stabilization scheme, although the Government has been working on it for years. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has devoted a tremendous amount of energy, work and thought to the task of producing a workable scheme to replace the one that has lapsed. He did not awaken suddenly one day and say, “ Brother, the scheme has suddenly lapsed “. Negotiations between the wheat-growers and the Government for a new scheme began about three years ago. The matter was discussed by the Australian Agricultural Council in the middle of 1951 and again in December, 1951. Early in 1952, the Minister met representatives of the wheatgrowers, and again discussed the matter with them. In April, 1952, he had another conference with the growers, when the Australian Wheat Growers Federation presented to him a broad plan for a stabilization scheme. In the same month, another meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council was held. In May, 1952, the Minister again met representatives of the growers. In July, 1952, the Australian Agricultural Council discussed the problem in Perth. In August, 1952, the growers considered a revision of the seventeen-point plan. In October, 1952, and in March, 1953, the Minister met the State Ministers for Agriculture. In April, 1953, he had another meeting with the wheat-growers. There has been conference after conference and discussion after discussion on a stabilization plan. The Minister has been trying for years to devise a workable plan acceptable to all parties. He has not done so alone. He has consulted with the State Ministers for Agriculture and has conferred frequently with the growers.
The essence of the bill is that it meet3 me needs and real desires of the wheatgrowing industry. The wheat-growers require the retention of the Australian Wheat Board because, as has been stated by several honorable members, private merchants would be unable to cope with the present wheat crop. They have neither the finance nor the organization to do so. I believe that the wheat-growers, above all else, want to ensure proper and full grower control of their product. That is in line with the policy of this Government. On the Australian Wheat Board, there are seven representatives of the growers and five Government nominees. The bill proposes that the number of growers’ representatives shall be increased by two, one from Western Australia and one from South Australia, so that the representation of those States will be aqua! to the representation of New South W ales and Victoria. At the recent International Wheat Conference, representatives of the growers were invited to participate in the discussions. That was the first time that such a thing had been done in our history. They played a very active part in those discussions. The growers have exercised a high degree of control of their industry by playing a prominent .part in conferences affecting it. They want to make certain that no government will be able to sell their wheat to other countries without their approval They want to avoid a repetition of what happened when a Labour government sold wheat to New Zealand. I do not like to mention that subject, because it is very painful to honorable members opposite, hut I feel I should remind the House that a Labour government sold wheat to New Zealand in order to bolster a tottering Labour government in that country. As a result of that deal, the Australian taxpayers lost about £2,000,000. The wheat-growers, quite naturally, want to ensure that no government in this country will be able to sell Australian wheat cheaply to other countries at their expense. Therefore, they demand full representation on boards and at conferences that affect them. The Minister has acceded to their wishes. He has consulted them at every stage of the negotiations for a stabilization plan or an orderly marketing plan, and has kept them fully in the picture.
The growers want an all-Australian wheat pool. They do not want, as apparently some State Labour governments do, a small wheat pool in each State. They do not want each State government to market wheat as it thinks fit, and to fix its own selling price. If we cannot have an all-Australian wheat pool, we cannot become a party to the International Wheat Agreement. If there were State pools, there would be wide variations of wheat prices, with disastrous results to the country. Cheap wheat from one State would be moved to more attractive markets in other States. Consequently, the flour-millers in one State would be at a disadvantage compared’ with those in another State. Therefore, there must be an all-Australian wheat’ pool. That is what the growers want, and what they will get under this measure. ‘
The growers also want a fair and just price for their wheat. Of course, the Australian Government has no control over the home-consumption price of wheat, but it can take a great deal of credit for its perseverence, patience and determination in inducing the States to arrive at a common and fairly reasonable home-consumption price. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) tried to prove that the home-consumption price was not determined in a fair and equitable manner, but he failed to convince any who heard him. The wheat-growers are naturally concerned about the cost of production index. They want to see it kept up to date so that they will get a reasonable return for their labour, their money and the risks that they run. The growers believe that the cost of production figure should correctly register to-day’s costs. This Government is watching that matter very carefully, and the cost of production figure is not just pulled out of the blue; it is calculated independently by the
Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The figure arrived at by the bureau is independently checked by a representative of the Australian Government, by a representative of the New South Wales Government, who is also helping the Victorian Government, and by a growers’ representative who at present is the general secretary of the Wheat Growers Federation. The independent assessing body endeavours to anticipate the cost of production as far ahead as possible, and as a safeguard to the accuracy of its prediction independent persons examine and check the figure before it is finally accepted. That is a really good safeguard for the growers, and ensures that the figure for the cost of production will be as accurate as possible.
The wheat-growers also want the right to have a stabilization scheme, and this Government has indicated that it is prepared to assist them substantially provided that the growers show their desire by ballot to have a stabilization scheme. We have no intention of forcing any stabilization scheme on the growers, and we do not intend to say to them, “ That is good enough for you, that is what you will get and that is what you will take “. This Government has maintained repeatedly that any stabilization scheme must have the full and unqualified support of the growers through a ballot. However, the procrastination and the party political attitude of the Victorian Government have defeated, for the moment, any prospect of their having a stabilization scheme. However, as far as this Government is concerned, any stabilization scheme must have the approval of the growers, and must be originated in full consultation with them. The wheat-growers want a reasonable freight rate to be applied to wheat, but that again is entirely a matter for the States. The New South Wales Government railways have the doubtful distinction of imposing the highest freight rate on wheat of any railway organization in the Commonwealth. The freight rates in New South Wales are so high that wheat-growers must pay an. average of ls. 6d. a bushel on the wheat that they send to market. Western Australia, under a wise md foreseeing Liberal-Australian Coun try party government, has given concessional freight rates for wheat transported in that State. While the Labour Government of New South Wales bleeds the wheat-farmer in an attempt to reduce its ever-increasing deficits, Western Australia treats him in a fair and equitable manner.
The wheat-grower wants his overseas markets to be protected, and wants additional overseas markets. He does not want to see his markets in Indonesia, Malaya,- and other parts of the East, and in the United Kingdom jeopardized. This Government will put before the Parliament a supplementary measure which will ensure that the wheat-grower shall, for at least three years, receive a reasonable price on overseas markets.
I now desire to say a word or two about the No. 14 and the No. 15 wheat pools. About £9,000,000 and about £11,000,000, respectively, still remain in those pools, and I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) to give serious consideration to refunding some of this money. It is unlikely that these large amounts will all be needed for any future stabilization scheme, and at least some of the money should be returned to its original owners, who are the growers. That should be done, of course, after consultation with them. I have tried to outline the needs of the wheat-growers, and what they believe are their just rights, and I consider that the majority of their needs will be filled by this bill. Wheat-growers will be protected, and their further right to stabilization at a later date by means of ballot will be preserved.
This Government, by discovering the needs of the wheat-growers, and by fulfilling those needs without thrusting anything on them that they did not want, and by correlating their needs with the needs of Australia as a whole, has been able to satisfy the growers and the community to a great extent. Under this legislation the Government will give the wheat-grower an incentive price as well as the security that he is seeking. Because of that security he will be able to plan ahead and decide as between sheep, wheat or a combination of them for his future needs. All the needs of the wheat-growers will be met by this bill, and most of the wheatgrowers that I have talked with about it have expressed satisfaction with the Government’s proposals.
.- The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), who is one of the most tolerant and kindly gentlemen in this House, has been affected by the prevailing intolerance of his colleagues of the views of honorable members who do not represent rural constituencies. While the iron has not yet entered his soul, there are fair indications that the rust lias set into his arguments. Surely a limit must be set to the yah-yah technique that has been adopted by honorable members in regard to any discussion about wheat. It is not reasonable that any -honorable member who represents a city electorate should be treated as antagonistic to the wheat-growers. 1 make no apologies for my extremely wide lack of knowledge of wheat, but I have tried to mend the holes in my intellectual armour by research and study to which occupation I have almost entirely devoted myself during the last few years.
Honorable members on the Government side have frequently said that the farmer works 24 hours a day. If that is so, surely I may ask what has happened to the highly mechanized farms that we have heard about. Is the farmer still deputizing for the horse, and. not taking advantage of this technological age? When we look at some honorable members on the Government side, of course, we realize that that may be so. However, honorable members of the Country party insist on attempting to create an impression in the minds of the electors that the farmers are a lot of hill-billys. That is bad publicity for the wheat-growers, and should be stopped at once. Moreover, the government of the day is regarded by its supporters as a set of angels, and everything done by past Labour governments, and the arguments of the present Opposition, are treated as actions and arguments against our second greatest industry. I am sure that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) does not agree with many of the statements made by honorable members on the Government side, because he is a stalwart of the Country party. How ever, he is not always able to speak his mind about these matters. The honorable member for Calare, who lives in a prosperous and beautiful country town, would not see the wheat crops any sooner than I would, and yet he speaks with great authority about the problems of the wheat-growers. I represent, as do other honorable members of the Labour party,, both the wheat-growers and the wheatconsumers. The whole matter of Australian wheat is therefore encompassed by the allegiance of honorable members on this side of the House, and ?o let us finish with the idea that an honorable member must be a member of the noble order of Bencubbin in order to speak about wheat.
The honorable member for Calare referred to a wheat marketing scheme, and said that it had been thwarted by the Labour party. As a matter of fact, the scheme outlined in the measure was originated by the New South Wales Labour Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Graham. In addition to all the organizations that deal with wheat in this country, we should have a bureau of fundamental fact, and all those who want to talk about wheat in this House should be examined by that bureau before they are allowed to do so. If such a thing should happen, the honorable member for Calare and myself would probably be the only two survivors. Honorable members on the Government side have attempted to distort the matter under discussion, but the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) have straightened it out and have made extremely able contributions to the debate. The Opposition has always been interested in wheat, and it is quite erroneous for honorable members on the Government side to consider that we are unmindful of the problems of the wheat-growers merely because most of us represent metropolitan electorates. I have spoken of the plan that Mr. Graham submitted. As a counter to that we had the attitude of two Labour States which, because there are two flanges to this problem, tried to get the best possible deal for those complete “bounders” in the cities who want to get their bread at the cheapest price. The idea has been sold to me through the propaganda of the retail trades that the customer is always right. In these days, the local consumer who has always been a stalwart customer of the wheat-grower, is condemned merely because he is a customer. The plan of the New South Wales Minister was stymied on the question of price. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, to whose second-reading speech I listened with rapt attention, indicated that he was satisfied with the price. He said that no farmer would be hurt by it because the generous cost of production figure allowed him, as the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse) has said, an incentive to grow wheat. If the Minister concedes that he must also concede that the plan of the Labour party elsewhere has been good and that the attempt made by it to hammer out a formula round the conference table has also been good as it concerns a reasonable price for bread. The gravamen of the complaint against this bill is not against New South Wales, or its Labour Government, or against the Labour governments of the other States which have expressed great concern for the consumers. It appears to come from the wheat-growers themselves, and it goes straight to the cause of the problem. I shall read what the wheatgrowers themselves have to say on the matter. The article from which I quote is beaded -
Mcewen: Dictates and Bluffs.
– From what publication is the honorable member quoting?
– I am quoting from the official organ of the Wheat Growers Union of New South Wales, which was issued on Friday, the 21st August. Honorable members opposite do not suggest that that is a socialist organ which delves into the roots of the wheat crop and brings down about our ears the fabric of all that we hold dear. I am rather attracted to it because the article says that the Minister dictated and bluffed. Some honorable members would say that that is a fairly true picture of the Minister’s performances in this House, except on the rare occasions when he decides to be pleasant for purposes of his own. The article reads -
The Federal Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. J. McEwen, is trying to dir.ta.te to the wheat-growers-
Not the people who buy bread, not the workers who wish to make sure that the cost of living is not whipped up by an increase of the price of bread, but the Minister himself. The workers themselves might well have said, “Remember that the basic wage is frozen. Give us a chance “. We have not heard a peep out of their representatives except in a general way, nor have we heard a peep from the unions because they know the everlasting advantage of solidarity in big issues. The wheat-growers have taken the Minister to task. It is true that the article may state a sectional view, but it is eminently quotable from my point of view. It continues -
The Federal Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. J. McEwen, is trying to dictate to the wheat-growers of Australia a stabilization plan which is most unjust.
No member of the Labour party, and no organization associated witu the Labour movement, has said that it is unjust because this plan had its genesis in the days of the war when there was a greater chance than there is to-day to do those things that had to be done in the interests of the wheat industry. No matter which way we look at it wheat is a highly political subject and the wheatgrowers must be protected from the vagaries of supply and demand. The politico-economic law of supply and demand, which is a concept of the nineteenth century, has since been so subverted that no one knows where it begins and where it ends. The law of supply and demand has been distorted by those who want to make something out of the wheat-growers - those who have nothing to do with the growing of or the consuming of wheat. There is much realism in the article which continues -
The plan is most unjust because it is based on the transfer of some £9,000,000 of the growers’ own money which the Government holds from the Number 15 pool and which, in point of fact, will afford no “ guarantee “ to the industry other than that which h the growers provide themselves by their contributions.
What an amazing position! We have been told that the proposal contained in this bill is a most generous gesture, that the lamps have been burning nightly in Canberra and that sweat and blood have been poured out in arriving at this scheme to save the wheat industry. In recent weeks the Minister has not made one statement that did not contain a warning that the wheat industry would face chaos if appropriate steps were not taken to save it from disaster. Now, the official organ of the wheat-growers’ union of New South Wales says that an organization has been established with the object of getting rid of the difficulties that face the people as the result of the effluxion of time and the creation of a new marketing organization for wheat, and that this scheme will be financed not so much by the Australian Government as by the wheat-growers themselves with the money that the Government holds on their behalf. The article continues -
The Minister is continuing to insist that this plan, in the form in which it was proposed by him and handed to the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, must go to the growers for their acceptance or rejection by ballot, in face of the fact that wheat-growers from both ends of the country have expressed themselves most strongly at their annual conferences as being totally opposed to the transfer of this money from the old to the new fund.
That statement brings us back to the rather conciliatory remarks of the honorable member for Calare who said, “ We must leave the farmers alone”. He talked about the socialist tiger in the wheat-fields of the nation. But under a socialist wheat plan there are also Jaguars in the farmers’ garages. It is evident fromthe article from which I have quoted that there is unrest among the wheat-growers who are being led, willy-nilly, into this scheme. The honorable member for Calare said that there must be a free and open pool and that nobody must be permitted to touch the wheat-farmer. I am not sufficiently versed in the politics of the wheat-growers to know whether or not the article from which I have read represents the views of the majority. It is couched in good. English and it contains a certain amount of good journalism and on both counts I am prepared to notice it.
The point that I wish to refer to primarily is whether the proposed plan is an effective plan. Many members of the Australian Country party seem to be absorbed with the idea that if they can say that there is no socialism in this proposal for the establishment of a wheat price, it is all right. That is the basis of the nineteenth-century thinking on this matter. In a highly competitive industry such as the wheat industry, in which there is a danger of a glut on the market, as the Minister has warned us, plans of this kind must be made. Let us be factual about this matter. The governments of the Commonwealth and the States have evolved a scheme which, in essence, is a socialist scheme because it protects the producer against the malpractices of the exploiter. Whether we like it or not, whether or not the plan is too Marxian for certain supporters of the Government to accept, it is something that has been lifted from the brain of free enterprise. It contains a compromise that must be rare in the experience of the true-blooded tories who still remain in the parties that sit behind the Government.
There are two salient points that I wish to discuss before I deal with the industrialists’ approach to the wheat problem. The first is that we all should, between us, see whether we can discuss the wheat position as adults and not as people obsessed with their own party political line. I am always driven to some literary effusion when things become too difficult. My summation of the wheat position may be expressed in the following lines of doggerel: -
Oh when I was a little boy and taken for a. treat.
I used to jump and clap my hands tosee a field of wheat.
But now I’m getting old and grey, and walk with trembling sticks,
I hate the bloomin’ sight of wheat - its full of politics.
– We have heard that before. The honorable member is guilty of tedious repetition.
– Order ! The Chair will decide that.
– The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) always becomes agitated during a debate on wheat. It is not likely that wheat will be grown in the township in which he resides. He should listen first and give us the benefit of his specialized knowledge of the industry later. It is not fair to suggest that the Labour governments have not done a tremendous amount of work for the wheat industry. Their record of achievement in that field is too long to quote. Although you, Mr. Speaker, are most generous to me, I am sure that you would not allow the record to be incorporated in Hansard because it covers 42 pages. Members should read it and inform their minds of the strides that were made by the Curtin and Chifley governments when the Labour party marched forward to tackle these matters iii strength. Their record will be noted by the ‘ historians of the future. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), has an unassailable right to claim that he was one of the finest administrators of our second greatest primary industry during his term of office.
The second point that I wish to discuss relates to the acreage under wheat. The Government makes dire forecasts about the effect of a fall in wheat acreage but it cannot resist the appeal of realism. No matter how patriotic a farmer may be, the hazards of drought and flood and. the vagaries of the weather are always with us. Proposals for the orderly marketing of primary products have always been resisted by the parties opposite. I am reminded by my conversations with the honorable member for Lalor that the yield of wheat to the acre is still comparatively high. That may be due to the beneficent seasons that we have experienced. “While the price of wool remains high the wheat-grower is naturally attracted to the wool industry. If the Government uses the knout on him and says that he must sow a certain number of acres it will turn the wheat-growers into a. lot of Kulaks. The farmer who lias sent his son to agricultural colleges has learned that the original holders of the land despoiled it. To-day, the intelligent holder of a property rests his land. It has been proved that wheat is a savage eater of the contents of the soil. Land used for. wheat-growing must be buttressed with artificial manures and rested from time to time. There may be something to be said for what the practical farmer is doing to-day. If he rests his land or diverts it to other forms of production he should not be criticized. He is practising, in fact, good farming.
I now come back to my muttons - if I may be permitted to use that term in a debate that relates to the subject of wheat - and revert to the subject of wheat quotas. In considering any broad scheme that involves the future of our wheat overseas the Minister must take notice, of the way in which our wheat industry has deteriorated. There are statistics on the matter which I shall quote later, but the broad story appears to be thai we are not all that we fondly imagine. We are a young country, and are a little delighted with our own production. We are also inclined to think that our soldiers are the bravest in the world. 1 agree that they are amongst the bravest in the world. We also think our products are the finest in the world. Wc always, by inference, discount the exploits of the other fellow. It is juvenile to think like that. The statisticians can show us otherwise. Our wheat sold overseas is wheat which should be covered for ever by some agreement with producers in other countries, because, although it is a good wheat for biscuitmaking, and is first grade in some other respects, it cannot measure up to world standards. There are, therefore, special reasons why it should be protected by agreements. Our wool is superlatively the best in the world. Our butter and other products, and our wine, particularly, need no bush, but in relation to wheat we are in a position that could become dangerous. The Minister might well take up with his scientific and administrative advisors the question of why there appears to have been such « great deterioration in the protein quality of our wheat. Has it been because our wheat has been grown for the sake of quantity rather than quality that attention has been given to getting a terrific yield of inferior wheat rather than to getting a smaller yield of good wheat; I understand that the position was, though I do not know whether it still is, that wheat was allowed to be grown in such a way that the fertility and the protein content were drained out of it. t understand that varieties of wheat are being evolved to correct this deficiency. One honorable member lives in the home where the great Farrer began his experiments on wheat in this area. I wonder whether Farrer would be satisfied with the obvious decay of the quality of Australian wheat. “While wheat-growing experiments are going on all the time the battle must be joined in earnest, because the fight to retain our wheat markets overseas is our second front. The wheat-growers have to resist the ravages of rust, which is their main enemy. The more rust-resistant wheat is, the better it is for the agronomists and the farmers. It is a serious thing when, in a fertile district like the Riverina, which is one of the gems of New South Wales, wheat-growers are called into conference to discuss the production of a standard loaf from Australian wheat and are told, ‘ For goodness’ sake lay off “, because the protein content of the wheat is too low. Where are we getting to, and what are the reasons? Is it because wheat is being grown on land that is not sufficiently strong to give it the desirable constituents or has the land become run down and in need of revitalization ?
To protect the wheat-growers the worker in the city who has to pay a high price for bread, which is the staple diet of the community, and always will be, has to meet an impost that increases with the size of his family. He does not complain. There is no observable evidence that he is annoyed about this plan because he also, in his humble way, is a patriot. He understands the problems of the wheat industry. If honorable members were able to take out statistics on the matter they would find that most of the inhabitants of our cities come from the country in the first place. Many young people who live in the cities were born there, but their parents were country people who came to the city for economic reasons. These people are not indifferent” to the needs of the primary producers. In fact, they are thoroughly educated in regard to them.
One great problem is to achieve a standard loaf that is palatable as well as edible for a long time after it has been baked. I doubt whether in any State in Australia there is produced a decent loaf that can be eaten with enjoyment more than 24 hours after it has been purchased. What is the reason for that? Why cannot our wheat be milled in such a way that our bread will be palatable and durable? The wheat and pone breads of America are delicious, as are varieties of bread baked in other countries. Why should the puggy deteriorated mass that we get in this country be called bread? If honorable members eat some Australian bread when they dine tonight they will have a visual and practical example of what I mean. Surely when the wheat industry is protected by subsidies and by international agreements that are vital to the progress of this country, it should take more care about the wheat it grows. The Government should advise the’ wheat-growers how to grow good wheat, and should give them all the facilities in order to enable them to grow it. It should turn its attention to the production of first-class wheat. It can be done. My own family lived in the Canberra district. In those days two kinds of wheat were used for bread-baking. One, from the north, was hard milling wheat, and the other was from the Tass neighbourhood. The blending was done on the farm, and the bread baked there produced some doughty members of my family. Unfortunately, 1 do not happen to be the most notable example of them. The serious point is that, as we regard wheat as our second most important export industry, we must keep it in a condition in which it can meet strong competition in world markets. It cannot be sheltered all the time under agreements that are designed only to protect it from outside banditry.
The strength of our wheat industry in the world markets must be based on quality. I do not want to make a stir about it. I am trying to be helpful. But the present quality leaves a lot to be desired. Something must be done about it. When the New South Wales Minister for Labour and Industry attempted to have a standard loaf adopted he was assailed, not by criticism, but by pleas for the change to be made slowly, because the protein content of wheat had deteriorated so much. Of course, flour to be used for bread-making can be enriched so much that there is almost everything in it but flour. The real necessity is not artificially enriched flour, but naturally rich flour milled from naturally rich wheat.
I have mentioned these matters in discussion with the Minister, and he has replied to me kindly, that I think that a task to which we must apply ourselves, in this interregnum between wheat agreement, is bringing before the wheat-growers the stark realities of the situation. Wheatgrowing is a vulnerable profession, and unless our wheat industry is bound up in’ some scheme it will be at the mercy of other countries, many of which have a greater acreage under wheat than we have. I turn now to the homeconsumption price of wheat. It seems to me that there is room for argument about whether or not the fair thing has been done for the consumer in relation to the found cost of production. The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) dealt with that matter in his speech. I agree with him that there should be, over and above the vexed problem of fixing anything as erratic as the cost of production, the fixing of a fair average quality. That would be a good step towards achieving stability in the wheat industry.
The Opposition will support this bill as the honorable member for Lalor has said, but it considers that there is something utterly wrong with the relationship of the wheat industry with the consumers. The propaganda and publicity that it is for ever distributing through the medium of the Australian Country party, with its hate against the industry’s best long-term customer, the local market is not good for either the grower or the consumer.
– Order ! The honorable gentleman’s time has expired.
.- The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) dealt with the bill in the last two minutes of his speech, but for most of his speech he merely gave us an indication of the fact that he had had something to do with wheat, even if it was only as a consumer of good, bad or indifferent bread. He also indicated that he had some superficial knowledge of certain terms, such as rust and drought, that are associated with the wheat industry. He indicated more strongly, however, that in spite of his superficial technical knowledge he had no real sympathy with, or understanding of, the problems of the wheat-grower. He spoke about the relationship between the consumers and the producers. I have no doubt that he, like other members of the Labour party, such as the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) and the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), as representa- tives of the consumers, are interested also in the producing end of the business, but their main interest in the producer is like that of the consumers themselves. It can be expressed in the words, “ How much can I get for how little ? “ The proof of that fact can be gained from the unfortunate remarks made, I think, either by the honorable member for Yarra or the honorable member for Lalor, referring to the greed of the wheat-growers. All the wheat-grower seeks to obtain i3 a measure of reasonable justice in a country that is bounded by protection in other directions. The honorable member for Parkes referred to organized wheat marketing as a socialist scheme, and was delighted that we should be adopting such a scheme. Let me inform the honorable member that this is not a socialist scheme and cannot be related to any socialistic idea. Of course, the socialist wants organized wheat marketing, but he wants it based on a confiscatory plan controlled, by the Government. We want organized marketing to provide the producer with an opportunity to obtain the best that is available. That is the difference. This scheme bears no resemblance to a socialistic scheme. I hope that honorable members will bear that fact in mind, because it is highly important.
The purpose of this bill is to establish an orderly marketing scheme in order to protect existing markets for Australian wheat-growers under the International Wheat Agreement. We must have organized marketing in order to protect our existing markets. If we do not, then we shall be in a very bad position. I remind the House there is nothing in . this bill which refers to stabilization or a stabilization scheme. The honorable member for Yarra wanted to know just where we stood in relation to stabilization. If the honorable member wants to know where the Australian Country party stands in regard to that matter, he simply has to ask the wheat-growers where they stand, because we stand where the wheatgrowers stand. That is the vital difference between us and the Labour party, and between the policy of non-socialist governments and socialist governments. We recognize the right of the wheatgrower to own the product of his land and labour, and to a say in its control. The socialists, on the other hand, do not recognize that right and contend that the ownership lies in the hands of the government. What a vital difference, should the time arrive when the wheat-growers are placed again in the unfortunate position they were in when faced with the former socialist government’s stabilized marketing plan, which was the . work of the honorable member for Lalor and about which he is so proud. Instead of this Government reaping the advantage of that plan, as he has claimed in this speech, it is having to deal with the disadvantages of it. There is no doubt that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture would have had much less difficulty in arranging the orderly marketing scheme for which the bill provides if the growers had not entertained bitter memories of the way in which the socialist government’s scheme operated. Suspicion of government control made them wary of the proposal. The growers certainly voted in favour of the Pollard scheme in 1948, but they soon learned that it was a snare and a delusion. It forced them to make sacrifices that they had not expected to be called upon to make. Furthermore, improvements promised by the Labour Government were not made while that Government remained in office. The honorable member for Lalor may be interested to know that the secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, Mr. T. Stott, of South Australia, told meetings of growers in the wheat belt of Western Australia in 1948 that the expected change of government in the following year would lead to the correction of the anomalies in the Pollard scheme to which they objected. The expected change of government took place, of course, and the scheme has been improved as we expected. One of the proudest men in this chamber to-day is the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), who fought bitterly against the former honorable member for Forrest, Nelson Lemmon, to obtain fair representation for Western Australian growers on the Australian Wheat Board. The growers in one of the biggest wheat exporting States in Australia are entitled to have two representatives on the board, and the honorable member for Canning is entitled to be proud to-day of the fact that this bill provides for the accomplishment of his objective. The Pollard stabilization scheme would not have provided such justice.
The growers accepted the Labour Government’s scheme because they knew that, if they did not do so, the Government would exercise its power to acquire their wheat compulsorily. They had to choose between a plan in which they would have some influence and a system of marketing in which they would have no authority and which would be entirely unsatisfactory to them. The honorable member for Lalor pretends that the growers were enamored of his scheme. The fact is that growers still remember the great sacrifices they had to make under that scheme. It was designed to place wheat entirely under government control merely to serve the purposes of the Labour Government, and the producers objected. That is why they still distrust government plans. I direct the attention of the honorable member for .Lalor to the resolution that was passed by the Western Australian executive of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation when the scheme for which this bill provides was submitted to it. It is as follows : -
With greatest reluctance and only because of the threat of the losses of wheat and flour markets vital to the industry in this State, this executive accepts the three-State 14s. homeconsumption price proposal outlined by the Federal Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. In making the decision this executive places on record its belief that any homeconsumption price loss than 15s. per bushel requires the wheat industry to make a concession to the community which cannot be justified.
The growers obviously object to any organized marketing scheme similar to that which imposed such great hardships upon them under the Labour Administration, and under which they were obliged to grant to Australian consumers a concession of £220,000,000 in return for the £17,000,000 subsidy of which the honorable member for Yarra spoke. That was a. big return for the assistance that was rendered to them at that time. No wonder they were not eager to accept the proposal made to them by the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.
The honorable member for Lalor had the temerity to say that any success enjoyed by the voluntary wheat pool in Western Australia had been so slight as to be scarcely noticeable. The fact is that the success of that voluntary pool led to the birth of the idea in the minds of growers throughout Australia that organized marketing might be to their advantage. The honorable member should remember also that it was only a partially organized marketing scheme. There can be no doubt of its success, because it pointed the way to the wheat-growers of the rest of Australia. The honorable gentleman should study the facts before he again refers disparagingly to that plan. Undoubtedly the growers of Western Australia would prefer their own pooling scheme to the present orderly marketing proposal of this Government but for the fact that their markets overseas would be seriously endangered if Australia did not become a party to the International Wheat Agreement. The honorable gentleman criticized the levying of a surcharge of 1-Jd. a bushel to cover freight charges between the mainland and Tasmania. What is wrong with that arrangement? As the Minister has pointed out, similar arrangements apply to other primary products, such as sugar, which is shipped from Queensland to Tasmania. I remind tie House also that the same principle applies to the marketing of hundreds of proprietary lines of goods, which are sold at a uniform price throughout Australia. Obviously, all purchasers of such articles, wherever they live, contribute equallly to the cost of freight to all parts of thu Commonwealth. Tobacco and cigarettes, for example, sell at the same prices in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. The principle is sound and it should apply to wheat. The Western Australian growers, exercising their power through their representatives in the State Parlia ment, rejected the previous proposal that wheat-growers should bear the cost of transporting wheat to Tasmania. That would be wrong in principle, as also would be any plan under which the Treasury provided the cost of freight by way of subsidy. The correct procedure is to follow the normal business practice of loading the price of the commodity with the necessary costs of distribution. i hope there will be no attempt to alter this arrangement.
Sitting suspended from 5.55 to 8 p.m.
– The whole situation is most complicated. The purpose of this bill is to establish a system of orderly marketing, which is vitally necessary to Australian wheatgrowers. Existing markets for Australian wheat will be endangered if we do not ratify the International Wheat Agreement; but we: cannot ratify the agreement unless we introduce an orderly marketing scheme such as is contemplated in this bill. Wheat-growers in Western Australia have agreed to the plan reluctantly. The plan will require wheat-growers throughout Australia to make a heavy sacrifice, but an additional sacrifice will be made by Western Australian growers. I ask the House not to think that I am being parochial when I discuss this aspect. Far from it! I know that many honorable members will urge Western Australians to adopt a national outlook on this matter.
– Hear, hear!
– The interjection of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) confirms my statement. However, I have often found that the section which wishes to protect its own interests urges somebody else to adopt the national outlook. All too frequently, Western Australians have been urged to adopt a national outlook on a certain problem. We never seem to have the thick end of the stick in these matters. Western Australia, which is a great primary-producing State, is at the mercy of the uncertainties and vagaries of overseas markets. At the same time, the State is the victim of a highly protectionist fiscal policy, which compels Western Australians to purchase the manufactures of the protected industries. Such a policy is costly to Western Australians. The wheat-growers of that
State are aware that they will make sacrifices under this hill, hut they are prepared to do so in the national interest. Thank goodness the Minister and wheatgrowers in the eastern States have generously recognized the part that “Western Australian growers will he compelled to play under this legislation!
Western Australia is the principal wheat-exporting State. The proceeds from the sale of the export of wheat from all the States are paid into a common pool, and the money is divided among wheat-growers throughout the Commonwealth. In the last five seasons, Western Australia has provided £21,000,000, or 2s. 4d. a bushel, on 181,000,000 bushels of wheat, and that money has been distributed among wheat-growers throughout Australia. The explanation of that arrangement is that the accounting is not on a State but on a national basis. Western Australia would prefer, and has even pressed for, the Australian wheat marketing scheme to be on a State accounting basis. Under such an arrangement, Western Australia would receive full credit for its advantageous position in respect of freight, and the fact that it exports the bulk of its wheat. Consumers in that State use from 5 per cent, to 7 per cent, of the crop. The balance is exported, and brings high prices. Western Australian growers would receive the benefit of all that money, and could afford, if desired, to provide consumers in that State with wheat at a much lower price than is charged at the present time. However, Western Australia has been compelled to become a party to the national scheme, and agree to divide the benefits which accrue to it, through its position as the major exporter of wheat, with the growers of other States.
Under the plan formulated by the Minister, Western Australia is to receive some recognition of its sacrifice. A payment of 3d. a bushel is to be made to Western Australia on its exports of wheat. At this point, I wish to direct the attention of the Minister to an important matter, so that Western Australia will receive the full 3d. a bushel on its wheat exports. The State should not have to make a contribution out of its own share to that sum of 3d., a bushel. The proper accounting procedure is for the pool to be divided, and each State allocated its share, on the basis of its exports. Then 3d. a bushel should be deducted -from the shares of the eastern States and added to the amount credited to Western Australia’s share.
– The honorable member wants the lot for Western Australia.
– No, I want a fair share for Western Australia. If my recommendation is adopted, Western Australia will receive 3d. a bushel. Otherwise the State will not derive the full advantage of its favorable position in respect of freights, which is considerably in excess of 3d. a bushel. In view of all those circumstances, a percentage of the 3d. a bushel should not be taken from Western Australian growers. However, I understand that the basis of distribution will be determined by the State governments. At this juncture, I appeal to the governments and the wheat-growers of the eastern States to acknowledge the contribution made by Western Australia to the favorable prices in the last five years. Because of that contribution, the returns received by wheat-growers in the eastern States were substantially higher than would otherwise have been the case.
I shall now refer briefly to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Fund. It ill becomes the honorable member for Lalor to chide the Government because it did not distribute the money remaining in the fund immediately the five-year stabilization scheme expired. I admit that the amount of £20,000,000 in the fund belongs to the wheat-growers, but the reproaches of the honorable member for Lalor do not impress me when I recall that the Chifley Labour Government, in which he was the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, stole £15,000,000 of the wheat-growers’ money. The less he says about the action of the present Government in retaining the money in the stabilization fund until the law permits its distribution, the better. Let him consider the wrongdoings of the Chifley Labour Government before he chides the present Government on such a matter. The Chifley Government certainly did not set a good example to successive governments.
In my opinion, the decision of the Government to withhold £9,000,000 is not a happy one. I ignore the fact, at the moment, that the money has no relation to any stabilization scheme in the future. Australia is expected to ratify the International Wheat Agreement, which will guarantee us a minimum price for a certain proportion of our exports, and we .shall guarantee a home consumption price in excess of the cost of production for wheat consumed locally. Therefore, there is little likelihood of a liability in connexion with a stabilization scheme which, may ultimately be adopted falling on the Commonwealth, because the wheat-growers are reasonably assured of a return in excess of the cost of production during the currency of the International Wheat Agreement and this orderly marketing scheme. Therefore, T urge the Minister to examine the proposal to withhold £9,000,000. I realize that the wheat-growers have agreed that the money should he retained to form the nucleus of a stabilization scheme, if they ultimately agree to one. The matter is in their hands.
– ‘They are not likely to agree to a scheme.
– I believe that the majority of wheat-growers in Western Australia are not likely to agree to a stabilization scheme. They consider that there is no necessity for such a scheme in the present circumstances, thanks to the good efforts of this Government. I pay a tribute to the excellent work that has been performed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the formulation of this marketing proposal. He has had to overcome not only party political machinations of State Labour Governments but also the reluctance of wheatgrowers to enter into a scheme of any kind that might give the Government even the remotest measure of control over their products, because of their experience of the effects of the socialist scheme introduced by the Chifley Labour Government. The Minister has had a tremendous barrier to surmount, but by persistent effort and negotiation, give-and-take and understanding, he has persuaded the wheat-growers to agree, in their own interests, to an orderly marketing scheme. His purpose, tinlike that of the socialists, has not been to obtain control of the products of the growers. He knew the danger that threatened wheat-growers if Australia did not ratify the International Wheat Agreement. Accordingly, he applied his mind to devise a scheme to protect the wheat-growing interests, and this marketing legislation is the result. The Minister deserves the greatest credit for everything he has done in the face of tremendous difficulties created by supporters of the Labour party.
Opposition members interjecting,
– The socialists would deny the producer the right of ownership in his own products. The Minister has created confidence among the growers that this Government will always recognize that the grower has the right of ownership in his own products, and’ a voice in its disposal. That confidence has been restored to the wheat-grower, and heaven forbid that circumstances in this chamber should ever change, as the result of decisions of electors in the cities, so as to create a doubt in the mind of wheatgrowers about the sanctity of that ownership. I sincerely hope that the people will not be so foolish as-to give the Labour party another opportunity to gain the treasury bench. I support the bill, believing that it is vitally necessary, although I must express some degree of reluctance in doing so, because I prefer a State accounting system, so that full credit may be given to Western Australia for the contribution that it makes to the national economy.
– I must confess that, so far as I know, there are no wheat-growers in my electorate. I think that I am quite familiar with every aspect of the electorate, and I do not know a single wheatgrower there. The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) appears to consider that people like himself have a monopoly of interest in the wheat-grower, but I point out to him that there are other interests, besides those of the wheatgrower, in this important matter. Members of the Labour party have always done a great deal for the wheat-grower and, in addition to helping him in the past, have placed his industry on a stable basis, so that he has been guaranteed a proper return for his crop over the years. The national aspect, and the position of the consumer of wheat products, have to be considered in this debate. Wheat is an important factor in our economy. Unfortunately for Australia, perhaps, we are too dependent upon wool and wheat for the credits in our balance-of-payments ledger. Wheat plays an important part in that matter. Wheat, in addition, provides the staff of life. It is the basis of bread, and of many of our basic foodstuffs, including the poultry industry, with its eggs, and the pig-meats industry. Even the dairying industry is dependent to some extent upon wheat. The millions of consumers in Australia are vitally interested in the progress of the wheat industry.
Looked at from the point of view, not only of the wheat-grower, but also of the consumers and of the people generally, several aspects of this subject require comment. The first of such matters is the squabbling amongst the States. One State has wanted one home consumption price and other States have suggested other prices. In addition, the Australian Government has expressed its opinion. This indecision and the fact that the whole question of a stabilization scheme has been allowed to drift for such a long time indicate very clearly the necessity, in the interests of the wheat-grower, the consumers, and the national economy, for Commonwealth control of orderly marketing not only of wheat but of all other primary products. It is interesting to recall that, although the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) chides members on this side of the House for their lack of appreciation of the needs of the wheat-grower, they have been battling for years to obtain Commonwealth control of orderly marketing. If that power had been vested in the Australian Parliament, this unhappy and unfortunate situation in which the wheat-growers and consumers find themselves would not have arisen. It is interesting to recall that in 1942, when the convention of State Premiers agreed to surrender certain powers to the Australian Parliament, including the control of orderly marketing, it was the people, who are supporters of the Government, who prevented that scheme being given effect. The scheme collapsed because of opposition from the Legislative Council of Tasmania and also the Parliament of Victoria.
It is worth recalling also, in assessing who is responsible for the inability of the Australian Parliament to implement orderly marketing schemes, that at a referendum in 1944 and again in 1946 supporters of the Government advised and persuaded the people of this country to refuse that power to the only body that could effectively control orderly marketing. This, present unhappy position would not have arisen if honorable members opposite had adopted a truly national outlook and supported the granting of orderly n- marketing powers to the Australian Parliament.
The proposed plan to guarantee an increased home consumption price to the wheat-grower does not contain any scheme for the stabilization of the wheat price. It seems to me that, from the point of view of the wheat-grower, the plan is unsatisfactory and is in strong contrast to the earlier stabilization scheme. It is to the credit of the Government that occupied the treasury-bench prior to 1949 and to the Minister who was in charge of this matter at that time that he did initiate a .scheme which operated until 1958 and which, as the first peace-time scheme, gave security to the wheat-growers. It guaranteed a reasonable and proper price for wheat for home consumption, and fmexport wheat up to 100.000,000 bushels a year. The proposed scheme is really only half a scheme because it lacks all the essential elements of a stabilization scheme. When wheat-growers in this country look at happenings in other parts of the world, they must feel very concerned about future markets . It is stated that the United States of America holds a record surplus of 1,7,60,000,000 bushels of wheat, or ten times as much as the normal Australian wheat harvest. In Canada and in other wheat-producing countries the position is the same. Great Britain is not a buyer at the moment. Because of this big surplus in the United States of America the growers took a poll and agreed to reduce the acreage of their sowing this year. All those things indicate a distinct possibility that the price of wheat on the overseas market will fall and will fall substantially. That would be a very unhappy event for the wheat-growers of this country and would have a detrimental effect on our economy, because the proposed scheme gives the wheat-grower no protection at all. If the overseas price of wheat should fall, it could well fall below the cost of production, and under the proposed scheme the wheat-grower would have to take that price.
– That is not so.
– I suggest to the honorable member who has just interjected that that very definitely is the case, and that that is the flaw in this plan now proposed. It seems very strange to me that supporters of the Government should be so keen about the plan, because it lacks all the essential elements of stability for the wheat-growers. When we read between the lines of what honorable members have said, we find that really they are not so happy about the scheme. The honorable member .for Moore (Mr. Leslie) gave some lip service to the plan before the House, but he did admit that there were some aspects of it about which he was not very happy. Doubtless, also, the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) will not be in agreement with the Minister’s proposal that some form of stabilization should be introduced. The Minister has intimated that he hopes to include some such stabilization scheme in the plan but it is very doubtful whether he will be successful. A lot of preliminary work would be entailed in preparing the details of such a scheme, and apparently the growers are divided amongst themselves. Should some form of stabilization scheme be evolved, in view of the fact that only a few weeks remain in the present session of this Parliament, it seems extremely unlikely that this Parliament will be able to give effect to such a scheme.
Even if all these difficulties are removed, the Minister, in the event of establishing such a stabilization scheme, proposes to hold £9,000,000 which the growers of this country have paid into the present highly satisfactory stabilization scheme introduced by the honorable member for Lalor. The honorable member for Moore expressed great dissatisfaction with that proposal, and it was easy to see the reason for his dissatisfaction. It seems to be very unjust, and it ‘could be said that it is a fraud upon the wheat-growers for the Government to retain £9,000,000 that the wheat-growers have earned in the past and which they have contributed to the stabilization scheme. I can well understand the dissatisfaction of the honorable member for Moore, and I am sure that the wheat-growers of this country share his dissatisfaction. The wheat-growers say the money belongs to them and that they should get it back.
It will be interesting to hear the remarks of the honorable member for Riverina on this proposal and to hear him declare where he stands on this matter. Does he consider that the £9,000,000 should be given back to the wheat-growers or does he think that the Government should retain it - and do so without any lawful excuse or justification ?
There are other aspects of this question of wheat stabilization to which I should like to refer, but I have been asked to conclude as this debate will close shortly. In conclusion, I point, out that the Government has’ failed the wheat-growers of this country and has failed the people of this country. It must face the fact that over the years it has been responsible for persuading the. people of this country to refuse to grant to the Australian Parliament power to exercise control over orderly marketing, that such conduct is responsible for the unfortunate position in which the wheatgrower finds himself, that the proposed scheme is a half-baked scheme, and that the wheat-growers of Australia have every reason to be very dissatisfied with the manner in which this Government is treating them.
.- I am indebted to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke) for concluding his speech before his time expired. Although that is generous of him. it is indicative of the poverty of speakers at the disposal of the Opposition on a measure of this description. There are many members of the Opposition who ought to have an intimate knowledge of the wheat industry, but the honorable members who have been selected to speak on this bill for the Opposition are, in the main, men who represent urban constituencies.
Every member of the Australian Country party wanted to speak in support of the bill, but, because of the time factor, it was necessary to limit the number of speakers. It is my pleasure to terminate the debate so far as the Australian Country party is concerned.
Let me say that the bill is, so far as I am in a position to judge, the decree nisi that brings to an end the wretched gunpoint marriage between young, innocent and ingenuous orderly marketing and the crafty socialist subterfuge that masqueraded for years as stabilization.
Opposition members interjecting,
– The members of the Opposition will have to take their medicine without it being shaken. They deserve everything that is coming to them. If that miserable alliance had been allowed to continue indefinitely, the shabby socialist subterfuge that is called wheat stabilization would have wrought the ruin of orderly marketing. That would have been a disaster for the wheatgrowing industry. Honorable members opposite talk glibly of the wheat stabilization scheme as a generous scheme. I hope to show how ungenerous it has been, not only to the people engaged in and dependent on the industry, but also to the national economy. Members of the Opposition have referred to the wheatgrowers, the valiant men and women who for more than 50 years have built, and maintained our second most important industry, as greedy and grasping men and women. I hope to show how untrue that is. I shall cite some figures to the House. I have cited them before, but, in the interests of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), if not in the interests of any one else, I must cite them again. Under this socialist subterfuge called wheat stabilization, in 1945-46, the period of the No. 9 wheat pool, when the average export parity price of wheat was 10s. 6.5d. a bushel, the growers were required by this socialist subterfuge to sell 59,400,000 bushel’s at 4s. 7.3d. a bushel, a loss of Ss.. 11.2’d. a bushel, or an aggregate loss of £17,572,000. The Opposition say that this is a good scheme and that the growers are greedy, despite the fact that, in a single pool, these innocent men and women suffered the devastating loss of over £17,000,000.
In 1946-47, the No. 10 pool, when the average export parity price was 15s. 8. Id. a bushel, the growers were required to sell, indeed, were compelled to sell, 58,200,000 bushels at 5s. 0.5d. a bushel, a loss of 10s. 7.6d. a bushel, or £30,899,000. That is called stabilization, and the people who suffered that loss are described to-day as greedy people. In 1947-48, the No. 11 pool, when the average export parity price was 17s. 11. 6d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell 58,500,000 bushels at 6s. 7.2d. a bushel, a loss of lis. 9.4d. a bushel, or £34,966,000. They call this stabilization. They call this a generous scheme. They describe the people who brought the arable land of this country into production as greedy men and women. In 194S-49, the No. 12 pool, when the average export parity price was 13s. 0.4d. a bushel, the growers were compelled to sell 61,300,000 bushels at 6s. 7.7d. a bushel, a loss of 6s. 4.7d. a bushel, or £19,590,000.
These men and women, who for years had been subjected to every social and economic indignity because of the desperate circumstances of the wheat industry, had millions of pounds filched from them, to the prejudice of our national economy, because of this socialist subterfuge. In 1949-50, the No. 13 pool, when the average export parity price was 18s. 9.4d. a bushel, the growers were required to sell 62,000,000 bushels at 7s. Id. a bushel, a loss of lis. 8.4d. a bushel, or an aggregate loss of £34,203,000 on a single pool. In 1950-51, the No. 14 pool, when the average export parity price was 18s. 6d. a bushel, the growers were forced to sell 69,300,000 bushels at 7s. lOd. a bushel, a loss of 10s. 8d. a bushel, or £36,960,000. In 1951-52, the No. 15 pool when the average export parity price was 21s. 6.3d. a. bushel, the growers were compelled to sell 63,400,000 bushels at home for 12s. 6d. a bushel, a loss of 9s. a bushel, or £28,530,000. The Opposition calls that stabilization. The average export parity price for the 1952-53 crop has been estimated at 19s. a bushel, and the growers, despite everything that this Government has done outside this socialist subterfuge - it had to be done outside of it - are required to sell 61,000,000 bushels at 14s. a bushel, an estimated loss of 5s. a bushel, or £15,100,000. The aggregate loss on the eight pools will be in the vicinity of £250,000,000. That money has been taken deliberately from the wheat industry, from the national economy and from the trade processes that give us from time to time favorable trade balances. It has been taken because of a socialist subterfuge that was designed to get control, not only of the wheat industry but also of those engaged in it.
There are very good reasons for complimenting the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) on this bill. I have nothing but profound admiration for the man who has administered perhaps the most difficult of all federal departments, the man who has applied himself to the task of resolving this problem justly and equitably for the wheat industry and the community as a whole. I pay tribute to him for his supreme achievement in the introduction of this bill and the dissolution of this wretched marriage. It must be remembered that we - when I use the pronoun “ we “ I refer to the growers, the six State governments and the .Federal Government - had five years notice of the end of this alleged wheat stabilization scheme, but, because of the attitude of the States, and only because of the attitude of the States, the scheme was allowed to terminate without any provision having been made to meet the situation that obviously would develop when it ultimately caine to an end. During those five years, we could have made preparations to take one of three courses to meet the situation that would arise when the scheme came to an end.
The first alternative was the continuation of the socialist subterfuge called stabilization that has involved the wheat industry in a fabulous, almost unbelievable, loss. The second alternative was a return to the open or free market. The third alternative was to concentrate on an orderly marketing scheme, untrammelled by socialism and unfettered by stabilization. A continuation of the socialist subterfuge called stabilization would have required a favorable vote of the wheat-growers of this country. The ballot that would have been necessary would have been the exclusive responsibility of the States. But the States, despite the pleadings and urgings of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, have consistently refused to take a ballot, not without reason, because they know the evil consequences of the shabby sham that is described by the Opposition as stabilization. So the alternative of an improvement and continuation of the stabilization scheme has passed by default, and the responsibility for that lies on the State governments.
It is not generally appreciated that the open or free market is no longer available to the wheat industry under present circumstances. I say that with a certain amount of regret. We have, whether we like it or not, an Australian price structure. Because of that price structure, some 60,000,000 bushels of wheat, required to meet our domestic requirements, are removed each year from what can he described as the free marketable crop. In addition, another 48,000,000 bushels will be taken each year to meet our obligations, under the International . Wheat Agreement, if it be ratified. Operations on the free or open market will be confined to the balance of the crop in each year. If we require 60,000,000 bushels of wheat a year for home consumption and 48,000,000 or 50,000,000 bushels to meet our obligations under the International Wheat Agreement - I remind honorable members that for some years our obligations under the agreement have amounted to 85,000,000 or 87,000,000 bushels a year - it will be seen that, in an average year, there will be very little wheat to sell on the open market and, because of that, there can be no free or open market in the accepted sense of the term. So we lose that alternative to the obnoxious wheat stabilization scheme. There remains but one alternative, that is the’ establishment of an orderly marketing system free from the excess and abuse of the past. In my humble opinion that purpose has been achieved through the bill that is now before the House.
I wish now to refer to the long and protracted negotiations that took place in an effort to bring about a homeconsumption price for wheat. They can only be described as vascillating and vexatious, although a valiant attempt was made to solve the problem by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) and the Ministers for Agriculture of the six States. I refer to the matter because of the extraordinary generosity of some of the State Ministers when reaching an agreement on the matter of a price for home-consumption wheat. “When a price of 15s. a bushel for wheat to be used for home consumption was first suggested by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, which is the only organization in Australia that can speak on behalf of all the wheat-growers, the suggestion was not favoured by any State Minister for Agriculture. Then the socialists, by means of subterfuge, tried to play another shabby trick on the wheat industry. When the suggestion was made, for the second time, that a price of 15s. a bushel should be fixed for home-consumption wheat, some of the State Ministers for Agriculture agreed to that price with mock alacrity. They said, “ Of course we shall agree to a price of 15s. a bushel “, but they did not say they knew quite well that Victoria would never agree to 15s. a bushel, and that neither would Queensland. However, in order to achieve their political ends, they noised it abroad that they were in favour of a price of 15s. a bushel for wheat. By precisely the same process of reasoning they could have agreed to £1, £2, or even £5 or £10 a bushel for homeconsumption wheat. They could have agreed to any price, because they knew quite well that there were two State socialist governments who would see to it that 15s. a bushel was not paid for homeconsumption wheat under any circum- stances. I make that explanation to honorable members to expose the shabby trick that was played on the wheat industry by the socialists.
This measure will provide for the extension of the effective life of the Australian Wheat Board. That is an orga- nization that badly needed to be cleansed by this Government, when it came to office, and which, after being so cleansed, has functioned faithfully and well in the interests of the nation and the wheat industry. This bill will provide for the extension of the life of the Australian Wheat Board for another three years. I suggest that that is a matter for congratulations to the Minister, the board and the industry. The Australian Wheat Board is again to be charged with the duty to sell wheat to the best advantage, subject, of course, to our commitments for home consumption, and under the International Wheat Agreement. After having discharged our commitments in those two directions, the balance of the wheat crop of each year will be sold to the best advantage. That is a state of affairs that ha.s been sought by the wheat industry for many years. Moreover, the bill will continue the three-price structure. That, of course, is inevitable, because we have worked ourselves into that structure, and there is no known wa.y in which we can extract ourselves at the moment. Under the three-price structure there is a price for wheat for home consumption, a price under the International Wheat Agreement - goodness knows why - and also an export parity price.
Chat system is to continue, and the price for home-consumption wheat is to be 14s. lid. a bushel. The wheat-growers are not materially interested in the additional l$d. a bushel, because that sum was superimposed on the agreed price to meet a situation that exposed another trick played on -the wheat-growers by the socialists when they were last in ‘ office. The Chifley Government was sending vast quantities of wheat to Tasmania and charging the cost of the freight on that wheat to the unfortunate wheat-growers on the mainland. When we accused the socialist government of doing that, just as we charged it with entering into a secret wheat sale with New Zealand, the socialist government denied it and it took many months to drag out the truth of the matter. It was not until the strongest and most protracted representations were made to the late Mr. J. B. Chifley that the practice nf charging the mainland growers with the freight on wheat sent to Tasmania was brought to light. This bill will provide for an increase of the homeconsumption price by l£d. a bushel to meet that contingency. That it is a serious matter becomes plain when one considers that the freight on wheat sent to Tasmania has been as much as 3s’. 6d. a bushel and could be, if the socialist madness were ever to be visited on us again, immeasurably more than that. So the price of wheat for home consumption is 143. lid., or the International “Wheat Agreement price, whichever may be the less. I am glad that the honorable member for Fawkner is here to-night because he confused and confounded himself when speaking about this measure, and it is necessary that he should understand its terms thoroughly. Indeed, they are very simple, and I will endeavour to explain them to him and to other honorable members of the Opposition. The price for home consumption wheat is to be 14s. plus lid., or the International Wheat Agreement price, whichever is the less. I hope that that is clear to the honorable member for Fawkner. But, if the International Wheat Agreement should not be ratified, or if it should break down, the price for home-consumption wheat will remain at 14s. ltd. a bushel or the determined cost of production, whichever is the higher. I hope that that simple explanation can penetrate into the consciousness of the honorable member for Fawkner. Surely he can now perceive the folly of his statement that the price of wheat for local consumption could be less than the cost of production.
Opposition members interjecting .
– Order ! I must ask the House to maintain order.
– It must be very hard for the Opposition to have to sit quiet and listen to what I am. saying about the true position of the wheat industry, hut there comes a time when for the good of their souls they must take it. This measure also provides that the marketing scheme will last for three years. That period has been largely forced on the Government because of the International Wheat Agreement, which will itself be effective for three years. It is to be profoundly hoped that the States will stand no to their full democratic responsibilities, harken to the advice tendered to them by their wheat-growing organizations and work out a permanent solution of the problem of wheat marketing which has been before the public for more than twenty years. It is the responsibility of the States and the wheat industry to work out an effective scheme for the orderly marketing of wheat, and an organization like the Australian Wheat Board, set up specifically to market the crop to the best advantage, well qualified to operate such a scheme. However, as long as people are led by the socialists, who believe that wheat stabilization can be of no value to any one except those who want to dominate the political scene, then it will always be difficult to solve the wheatgrower’s problem.
It is gratifying to notice that this measure “will increase the number of members of the Australian Wheat Board by one member who is to come from Western Australia. In the days of my respectability, before I entered this Parliament, I had the honour of being the president of the oldest and most reputable farmers’ organization in the Commonwealth - the Farmers and Settlers Association. I was also the general president of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, and I remember making representations to the gentleman who preceded the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) as Minister for Agriculture in the last Labour Government. I asked him to appoint an additional representative from Western Australia, which produces large quantities of wheat, to the Australian Wheat Board. ‘ The honorable member for Lalor’s predecessor, who was a most amiable gentleman, was unable to understand my request. After he was succeeded by the honorable member for Lalor, the latter gentleman, in spite of the difficulties he labours under through his political affiliations, quite perceived the justice of our request for the appointment of a Western Australian member to the Australian Wheat Board, but was unable to move his political colleagues to accede to our request. However, now that Western Australia has an additional member on the Australian Wheat Board, it will be an advantage, not only to the State, but also to the wheat industry. £9,000,000 has been retained in the pool at the request of the wheat industry. That money belongs to the growers, and it will be restored to them as soon as a permanent marketing scheme for wheat has been organized. Until that has been done, it would be unwise for this Government or for any government, to disperse money that might be needed to help establish a permanent marketing scheme. I support the measure and congratulate the Minister upon introducing it.
– Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. Archie Cameron.)
Majority . . 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Title).
– I believe that this is an appropriate stage at which to explain the reason why the title of the principal act is to be amended. The clause reads as follows : -
The title of the principal act is amended by omitting the words “ stabilization of the wheat industry” and inserting in their stead the words “marketing of wheat”.
That proposal needs to be explained. We all are aware that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) was eager to continue the stabilization of the industry. There was ample time to formulate a stabilization scheme and to draft the necessary Commonwealth and State legislation if agreement were reached by the States or if the scheme were approved by the growers to enable it to be given effect during the present season. The Minister submitted to the Australian Agricultural Council a proposal in which the Commonwealth undertook to guarantee-
– Order ! The honorable member is dealing with stabilization. The clause refers only to the title of the principal act.
– I am trying to explain why the Government proposes to alter the title of the principal act. The Minister informed the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council that the Commonwealth was prepared to guarantee the cost of production in respect of 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat and of all wheat used for home consumption. When the proposal was put to a vote-
– Order! The honorable member is not in order in dealing with a stabilization scheme at this stage. It should be dealt with when clause 18 is under consideration.
– I ask for a ruling on that point, Mr. Chairman. Shall I be permitted to discuss the stabilization scheme when clause 18 is under consideration ?
– I rise to order. I submit that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) is in order. He is explaining the reason for the proposed change of the title of the principal act. He can vindicate the clause or criticize it according to what is contained in the rest of the bill. I submit that this is a convenient time for him to discuss the stabilization scheme. If necessary, we are willing to agree that clause 3 and its substantive clause 18 be considered together. I submit that the honorable member is entitled to state what he believes are the reasons for the proposed change of title, whether they be right or wrong. I think that they are wrong.
– I rise to order. It would be convenient for the Government if the Chair allowed honorable members to express their views on the stabilization scheme while clause 3 is under consideration.
– Clause 18 deals with the subject-matter covered by clause 3. Will the Opposition agree to consider finises 3 to 18 together?
– I have no objection to the consideration of clauses 3 and 18 together. Such an arrangement would permit a general discussion. Clause 3 provides that the title of the principal act shall be amended by describing it as a Marketing of Wheat Act as distinct from a Wheat Stabilization Act. The honorable member for Mallee has rightly asked for an explanation of the reasons for the proposed change. He is entitled to make his point. Honorable members on this side of the chamber may also want to be heard on the subject.
– The honorable member for Mallee may proceed.
– I appreciate your decision, Mr. Chairman, but I hope that you realize that a large part of the limited time allowed to me has already passed by. At the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council at which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture offered to guarantee the cost of production in respect of 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat and all wheat used for home consumption a resolution adopting the proposal was carried on the casting vote of the right honorable gentleman. The representatives of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia voted in favour of the resolution and the representatives of Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania voted against it. The casting vote of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture carried the resolution. If all States had agreed to the resolution and if it had been approved by the growers there would have been no need for this proposal to change the title of the principal act and there would have been’ stabilization of the wheat industry at least to the extent of 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat and all wheat sold for home consumption for five years. Shortly after the meeting of the council had concluded, Tasmania, which is a consumer State, reversed its decision and indicated that it was prepared to come into the scheme. That left only two States standing out - Victoria and Queensland. We are not so much concerned about Queensland as we are about Victoria. The Premier of Victoria held up the stabilization of the wheat industry by proposing to reduce the home-consumption price of wheat from 15s. to the cost of production and the wheat industry has suffered as a consequence. The whole blame for the failure of the Commonwealth and the States to achieve unanimity on this matter rests upon the Victorian Government which finally made up its mind to support the plan for a homeconsumption price of 14s. only a few days ago when it was too late to incorporate a stabilization plan in the bill now before us. At the meetings of the Australian Agricultural Council at which this matter was discussed the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture reminded the State Ministers that the wheat-growers would have to vote on the stabilization proposal before it could be given legislative sanction. He suggested that the Commonwealth would conduct the poll, but the States decided that they would conduct it. They have made no attempt to act accordingly.
The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has done everything humanly possible to bring about the stabilization of the wheat industry. He summoned meeting after meeting of Commonwealth and State representatives for that purpose. His dogged determination to bring about the stabilization of the industry is known to the wheat-growers of my electorate and throughout Australia. They know that the Victorian Government’s delay in making a decision on this matter has prevented a stabilization scheme from being given effect. During the period while the matter remained in doubt Labour members of this Parliament, who now say that they favour the stabilization of the industry, were as quiet as the grave. They made no attempt to induce the Victorian Government to adhere to the majority decision of the Australian Agricultural Council on this matter. When I spoke about this matter some time ago, during a debate the honorable mem’ber for Lalor, who is a former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, said, “I shall have something to say about it “. But he did not say one word about it. It is obvious that the Labour party has again been playing politics. It has been playing politics in the States, and it has been playing politics in this Federal Parliament, in which members of the Labour party are not in any way supporting the majority decision plan that was approved, first of all, by the Australian Agricultural Council on the casting vote by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. Surely there is no doubt about the Minister’s intentions. Had he so desired, he could as easily have cast his vote in the opposite direction. But he made clear for all time where he stands on stabilization when he cast his vote, at that important meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, at which the States were evenly divided, in favour of a continuance of stabilization of Australia’s second most important export industry.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– T desire to explain that the Government regrets the necessity for the inclusion in this bill of a provision that will remove the term “ stabilization “ from the title of the legislation. The Government has made it perfectly clear, ever since it took office, that it stands for stabilization of the wheat industry on terms approved by the wheat-growers. I have said so, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said so. We have made it perfectly clear that we stand for stabilization, always with the stipulation that it will be operated on terms approved by the wheat-growers, the desire of the wheatgrowers to be ascertained by a ballot. J never expected that I would have to introduce legislation-
– Does the Minister mean, “ approved by a majority of the wheatgrowers in each State “ ?
– The State governments made it clear during the negotiations on stabilization that as far as they were concerned there must be a majority vote in each State in favour of stabilization. They also stipulated that they desired to conduct the ballot. We have no quarrel with that. We accept that situation. I merely take this opportunity to repeat, and make clear, the policy of the Government, which is that, holding as it does at present the tax collections from two wheat pools, amounting in one case to about £11,000,000 and in the other to about £9,000,000, first, it will repay the £11,000,000 in the very near future. The precise date on which it will be repaid, which is a matter that will require legislation, will be announced shortly, perhaps within a matter of days. The wheatgrowers can take it that that money will be paid hack just as quickly as the Commonwealth Bank, the Australian WheatBoard and the other organizations concerned can make the necessary arrangements. The Government has offered tolegislate to stabilize the wheat industry. I made that offer after negotiations last June with the wheat-grower? and with the State governments, during which 1 explained it to the representatives of the wheat -growers, in the presence of theState Ministers for Agriculture. TheGovernment’s policy is that that offer still stands. The terms of the offer areconditional on approval by the wheatgrowers expressed in a ballot. Thebroad term of the offer is that the Commonwealth will engage to legislate toguarantee to wheat-growers a return not lower than the found cost of production on 100,000,000 bushel’; of wheat expected in respect of the crops of each of five years. “For this it wiJl.be necessary - and a condition of the offer is that there shall be in existence, State legislation which ensures the continuance of the Australian Wheat Board for five years; that State legislation, which can alone do it, will exist to ensure direction Of all wheat to the Australian Wheat Board during that period of five years; that State legislation, which again can alone do it, shall establish a uniform price in the States during each of the five years, and also establish, as part of the negotiated stabilization plan, that during each of these years the home selling price will be not less than the found cost of production. If stabilization continues the Government will, as we have said, and I believe the wheat-growers will approve, retain the £9,000,000 that I have mentioned, as the nucleus of the new stabilization fund, and will impose a tax, not of 2s. 2d. a bushel, as was provided for in the old plan when the cost of production was 6s. 3d. a bushel, but, now that the cost of production is about 12s. fid., a tax of about ls. 6d. a bushel on wheat exported, to augment the stabilization fund.
The offer also provides that the stabilization fund will never be held at a maximum, of more than £20,000,000 and that, when new collections raise the original fund of £9,000,000 to £20,000,000, “they will continue to be made, but repayment* to earlier contributors, in this case t-‘ those who contributed to the total of £9,000,000, will be made. The offer is conditional upon the taking of a. ballot. We are satisfied that the States will cOn.duct the ballot, in a form approved by the Commonwealth. In accordance with their own decision during the negotiations a majority of wheatgrowers must approve the plan in each of the wheat-growing S ti tes. 1 exclude Tasmania, because that State ha* no interest in the ballot, but it has an interest in the legislation to direct wheat to the Australian Wheat Board during the period of the agreement. The Government has said it will not retain the wheat-growers’ money without their approval, but the whole plan has been subjected to unexpected delay because of the failure of the State governments to agree to it earlier, with the result that £9,000,000 will have to be held for some further time. The Government has decided, therefore, to place a deadline on the time by which the States must have the decision of wheat-growers by ballot. That is not a case of standing over, or dictating to, anybody. The Government’s decision not to keep the offer open indefinitely is designed to protect the interests of the wheat-growers. The deadline for reaching a decision by ballot is the 31st March next, which gives adequate time, as anybody will concede.
In order to make the Commonwealth’s offer effective the States must pass legislation which conforms to the Commonwealth legislation. We engage now if the scheme is approved, and the other conditions are met, to legislate for stabilization, but the States must make their legislation conform to the kind of legislation that this Parliament would have to pass. That is, the State legislation must be for five years. The present State and Commonwealth legislation is for three years. The States may amend their legislation in the next few weeks, if they wish to do so, because the State parliaments are all in session, and all have the subject of wheat before them. I repeat, however, that the States must pass legislation which conforms to our stabilization obligations, and must have that legislation in existence before the Commonwealth legislation will be made effective. In short, the pattern has to be complete before the Commonwealth, on behalf of the taxpayers, assumes the very heavy contingent liability. To that end I would say that the States can very conveniently legislate to meet this requirement in the next few weeks, because they have already engaged in other cases to legislate in relation to wheat along these lines. The Commonwealth will provide them with its view of the kind of legislation that they will have to pass. There is no question of the Commonwealth standing over the States, but they must have their legislation through by the end of May. It would be more convenient to have it through before Christmas.
– A few moments ago the Minister said it would have to be through by the end of March.
– No, I said that the ballot would have to be completed by the end of March. The right honorable gentleman knows that this Parliament will end in the first half of next year, and that is a factor I have in mind. In addition to that, of course, this plan will require the taxation of export wheat, and whilst the tax can be perhaps imposed upon a pool, rather than on cargoes, we are certainly not going to accept a situation in which the offer will be open indeterminately, until perhaps next, spring. I am sure that any logical person would find the conditions that I explained reasonable. I repeat that the ballot must be completed by the end of March, and the necessary State legislation must be in existence not later than the end of May, and that the Commonwealth legislation proposed is not to be made operative until the complementary State legislation has been passed.
– Will it be after the next general election before the Parliament will be able to pass that legislation?
– No. This will not mean that the Parliament will not be able to deal with it until after the next general election, because if that were so, this offer would be a fraud. It is not a fraud. It is a genuine offer. This Parliament will have to meet to pass supply legislation. I am sure that any honorable member opposite knows that perfectly well. The honorable member for Lalor is either speaking loosely or he wishes to mislead. As the Parliament will have to meet to pass supply, it will have an opportunity to translate into legislation the offer that T have outlined, and that will make crystal clear the bona fides of the Government in claiming that it is willing to provide for stabilization for five years if the wheat-growers themselves want it.
.- The Minister (Mr. McEwen) has made a speech on a clause which does not deal with the promises that he has mentioned, but deals merely with the title of the bill. It provides that the title of the old act of Parliament has gone, and that the new title will be the Wheat Marketing Act. No clause with which we have yet dealt has mentioned stabilization. The Minister has made more promises for the future. What did the Minister promise at the last general election through the medium of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and the Trea surer (Sir Arthur Fadden), who is the Leader of the Australian Country party, of which the Minister is a member ? Here is the promise that he made -
In particular we support a long-term stabilization of the dairying industry for ten years by subsidy where the price is not raised, and believe that the wheat stabilization scheme should operate for a similar period.
A ten years promise! Now there is only a hope of something far less. The point I wish to make is rather broader than that. I wish to know what the policy of the Australian Country party is in relation to this matter, ls it in favour of stabilization, or is it against stabilization ? It is apparently in favour of stabilization, but I remind the committee that we have heard a long and elaborate address containing insults to all the .State Ministers for Agriculture, which was made to-night by a member- of the Australian Country party who called the stabilization scheme a. subterfuge and practically a fraud. In other words, this Australian Country party representative from New South Wales, speaking, I presume, for that party in that State, will not have anything to do with stabilization. He wishes to see a restoration of the good old rule, the simple plan of freedom, that existed in the great clays when the merchants used to exploit the wheat-farmer. He wants no controls. He looks askance at some of the controls provided for in this bill. What an extraordinary situation ! He talked about socialism. The Australian Country party is the exponent of socialism in respect of the distribution of primary products. Not in respect of production or exchange, but in respect of distribution. Its members are the arch socialists, so far as the interests of the wheat-growers are concerned. But they do not like to be called by that name, although it accurately describes them. Why should not an instrumentality of the nation be used in order to prevent exploitation? That is the view of the Labour party, which has been the author of all the schemes of wheat stabilization and organized wheat marketing in Australia. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) referred to the actions of the Premier of Victoria in relation to the price of wheat under the agreement anc! said that the Premier of
Victoria was wrong. Perhaps he will allow me to infer from that statement that he thinks that the Premier of New South Wales, and the Minister for Agriculture in that State, Mr. Graham, were right in advocating a price of 15s. a bushel.
– Well, the New South Wales Ministers were right, and I hope that the honorable member for Mallee will tell that to his colleagues from the wheat-growing areas of New South Wales. As Mr. Graham travels from one part of the New South Wales wheatgrowing area to another, let the honorable member follow him and repeat his criticism of the Premier of Victoria. If that criticism is justified, it is a vindication of the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture. This plan, in essence, might well be called the Graham plan, and, in fact, it is so described in New South Wales.
What nonsense has been talked by members of the Australian Country party in this chamber! The Australian Country party believes in socialistic control of the distribution of wheat for the benefit of the farmers. Of course, it does ! lt is forced to do so. It has held that belief for years, following in the wake of the Labour party, but it must not say, at the same time, that wheat stabilization is a socialistic subterfuge, as some of its members have done to-night. We have heard such a statement from the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), who does not believe in any controls whatever and wants to leave the wheat merchant free to exploit the grower so that the grower will go back on the dole that he was drawing in the early ‘thirties, and in 1941 when the Curtin Labour Government came to office. That Labour Government saved the wheat-farmers, and also the wool producers and dairymen, who were practically in the same position as the wheatgrowers. It did so by means of organized orderly marketing. It is a shocking arrangement under which the wheatgrowers, after they have voted for a scheme of orderly marketing, must run the gauntlet of six State parliaments one after the other, and then undertake the greater risk of having the whole scheme set aside because of legal or constitutional difficulties. Members of the Australian Country party attack the use of the veto in the United Nations, but they allow every State parliament to exercise a veto over the whole of the wheat industry.
What did they do when the acid test was applied to them, these honorable members who are supposed to represent the wheat-growers? They went around the country, led by the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, urging the growers not to give to this Parliament the power to control the marketing of their product. The Minister was an advocate of wheat stabilization, and he could have helped the Parliament to obtain the power without engaging in this roundabout and perfectly hypocritical
– Order !
– The term was not intended to apply to the Minister himself, Mr. Chairman. I say that he could have helped the Parliament to obtain the necessary power without adopting that artificial and arbitrary procedure. The wheat-growers wanted the plan and the consumers did not object to the proposal. This is a serious matter. Surely the “Parliament will not continue to tolerate a situation like this indefinitely. I was very glad to hear the Minister’.-: statement of policy. It had nothing to do with the clause under consideration and should have been made on another occasion, but we now know where he stands. We shall tell the wheat-growers and other primary producers of Australia when the time comes, whether it be in February, March, April or May next: year, what the Labour party proposes to do to restore their rights and to carry out the promises that this Government has repudiated.
– I wish to make :i persona] explanation, Mr. Chairman, j’ have been actively engaged in the wheat industry for 32 years. In season and out of season I have consistently supported orderly marketing. I object to the aspersions that have been cast upon me by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt).
– Order ! Has the honorable member been misrepresented? If so, he must explain how he was misrepresented.
– I have just done so, Mr. Chairman. The Leader of the Opposition said that I was opposed to orderly marketing, and I have explained that I have been actively engaged in the wheat industry for 32 years and that, in season and out of season, I have supported and actively advocated orderly marketing. However, I am opposed to the perpetration on the growers of a subterfuge that deprives them of equity in their own product.
.- Mr. Chairman-
– ‘Where does the honorable member grow wheat?
– For the benefit of the honorable member for Petrie (Mr. Hulme), I point out that I was born on a wheat farm and that my father grew wheat for 30 years. I helped my father on the farm for many years during the really tough period of the wheat industry, and I think I know more about the industry than does any honorable member on the Government side of the chamber. Furthermore, I represent a rural electorate where wheat is grown in Tasmania. For those reasons, I have a perfect right to speak on this matter. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton), who has just made an innocuous personal explanation, poses in this chamber as an advocate of orderly marketing, but is a vicious and bitter opponent of stabilization. When the Labour party was in power, the same honorable gentleman stalked around this country pouring out vitriolic criticisms of that Government’s wheat stabilization plan. Now, of course, he declares that he is an advocate of orderly marketing. But he is not prepared to give the growers the benefit of a price guarantee over a period of years. What an advocate he is for the farmer! I recall the days when wheat grown on my father’s farm was sold for ls. Gd. a bushel and the growers were crying out for a stabilization plan. They were the absolute slaves of the bank managers, the price manipulators and the smooth tongued wheat speculators. They were completely at the mercy of certain parasites on the community.
The Opposition to-day supports the plan that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) has presented to us. We are aware of all his backing and filling, and of the way in which he has passed the buck to the States, but he deserves credit for the fact that the scheme has been agreed upon and will be presented to the growers for their approval at a ballot. When the wheat industry was probably at its lowest ebb in 1935, a royal commission was appointed to inquire into both the wheat industry and the wool industry, and it found that the indebtedness of the wheatfarmers of Australia to insurance companies, banks and merchants amounted to £200,000,000. They had not recovered from that terrible situation when Labour gained office in 194.1 and for the first time introduced . a wheat stabilization plan to save the industry from going clown the drain. To listen to the honorable member for Riverina makes my blood boil. He appears in this Parliament in the role of an advocate of the interests of the wheat-farmers over a period of 32 years. What has he done for the industry from the point of view ii long-term stabilization? Absolutely nothing! I am convinced that, as an Australian Country party member, he will fight against the scheme that has been outlined by the Minister to-night. He will be a hypocrite if he does not do so.
– Order !
– I withdraw the word, Mr. Chairman, but you know what I mean. As a wheat-farmer’s son, still fighting for the wheat-growers, with my brother on the old family farm in the Wimmera, I shall study the tactics of the honorable member for Riverina when this issue is raised next year in this Parliament. Qf course, after the next election he will not ‘be here, I hope, to represent the interests of the farmers in his dubious fashion. I like honorable members to be absolutely truthful in their utterances on this subject. An honorable member who represents himself as a friend of the wheat-growers, as one who wants them to have a stable and secure future, but who opposes stabilization, is, in fact, an enemy of the wheat-growers.
.- When I was addressing the committee previously, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) asked me a certain question and I asked him to answer the same question. Of course, he refused to do so. He has since left the chamber, knowing that I want to put the question to him again. He is in a strange position, because lie is not prepared to answer- that question. If honorable members opposite think that he will answer it, the party Whip should bring bini back to the chamber now. Two wheat-marketing schemes were proposed before this bill was drafted. The first one provided for a home consumption price of 15s. a bushel and a guarantee for 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat at not less than the cost of production.
– Order! The honorable member must not engage in a general discussion of prices. He should confine his remarks to the issue of stabilization.
– I told the. Leader of the Opposition, in answer to the question that, he asked, that I agreed with that proposal. I know that I have the support of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) on this point, because he gave his casting vote in favour of that proposal. The Leader of the Opposition had asked me whether I agreed with that plan or with the Victorian Premier’s plan to cut the wheat-growers down to the bare cost of production. 1 replied that I favoured the first plan, and asked the right honorable gentleman which plan he favoured. In his absence from, the chamber now, perhaps on important business, I ask the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), as the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, which scheme he favours.
– We favour Labour’s scheme.
– Labour in different States supports both plans. Which of these schemes does he favour?
– The one that we shall enunciate to the electors when we face them.
– Of course, the honorable gentleman will not answer the question directly.
– I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. Is the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) in order, first, in discussing clause 16, and, secondly, in converting this discussion into a quiz of members of the Labour party?
– Honorable members on both sides of the chamber have requested that permission be given to discuss stabilization on the clause now before the committee. That has been agreed upon.
– It is obvious that I have no chance of obtaining an answer to. the question that I have directed to the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Lalor because Labour, in its traditional fashion, is sitting on a rail. It refuses to take sides on this issue in the hope that, whatever the outcome may be, it will be able to obtain some paltry political kudos.
The Leader of the Opposition said thai stabilization of the wheat industry was socialism, and that the Australian Country party was opposed to socialism. I shall explain the Country party’s policy on this issue for the benefit of the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues. Stabilization of the wheat industry with the approval of the growers, expressed at a ballot, is the only possible way of assuring security for it. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has said so on many occasions, but the fact does not seem to sink into the minds of honorable members opposite. There is a vast difference between stabilization approved by a vote - of wheat-growers and the kind of stabilization to which every member of the Opposition is pledged, regardless of the wishes of the people. The Country party advocates stabilization by consent. As everybody knows, the Labour party advocates compulsory socialism. Every member of the Labour party is committed to that policy by his pledge to carry out the socialization of the means of industrial production, distribution and exchange. The executive of the Australian Labour party makes sure that if a Labour member wavers from that course, he will not be endorsed at the next election
Those are the facts. If members of the Labour party do not like to hear them, I cannot help it; but it is only right that the people should be told these things.
The Labour party is not prepared to make a decision on this issue, but snipes at the Minister when he formulates a plan which is so genuine that it has the support of the wheat-growers throughout the country. Wherever I have moved - at agricultural shows or elsewhere - I have found that the Minister ranks high in the opinions of wheat-growers. Despite various factors that have made the stabilization of the industry so difficult, the Minister has repeated his offer on stabilization. He has informed the State governments that it will be necessary for them to conduct a ballot of growers by the 3 1st March next. The States have ample time to hold the ballots. If a majority of the growers in each State cast an affirmative vote, the scheme will be implemented. What can be fairer than that?
– Why was not this action taken during the last four years?
– The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Minogue) does not know that the previous stabilization plan expired on the 30th September last. Two stabilization schemes for the marketing of wheat cannot be operated simultaneously. The ignorance of some members of the Labour party about the wheat industry is staggering. When the honorable member for Lalor resumes his seat, his colleagues display a complete lack of knowledge on the industry. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) was raised on a wheat farm, but he has engaged in other occupations, and has not kept himself informed of happenings in the industry in this more enlightened age.
Opposition speakers have suggested that the Curtin Labour Government saved the wheat industry. Such a claim is ridiculous. Every one knows that the wheat industry was saved by higher prices and mod seasons. Wheat-growers in mv electorate have had remarkable seasons for about eight years, and we hope that they will continue. The claim that the Labour Government saved the wheat industry is so much tommy-rot. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr,
McLeod) usually gives me a rough passage when I am speaking, for reasons which I shall not make public now. He said that the whole primary-producing economy was in the doldrums before the Labour party took office, but that conditions began to improve immediately the change of government occurred. He could have mentioned that the greatest war the world has ever known was in progress, that the demand for food became pressing, and that prices rose suddenly.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to relate his remarks to clause 3.
– The wheat-grower has not derived any benefit from the stabilization scheme over the last five years; but I have had my motor car insured for that time, and have not received any payments from the insurance company because my vehicle has not been damaged. The wheat-grower has not received any money from the stabilization fund because prices have been high and consequently, we are pleased. A stabilization scheme is more necessary now than in the past, because the United States of America may not continue to provide aid to Europe. Every honorable member knows that Marshall Aid supplied by the United States of America has enabled the recipients to buy products which, formerly, they could not afford to purchase.
It is unfortunate that Opposition members have not admitted that the Victorian Labour Government should have agreed to the proposal for the payment of 15s. a bushel. Had the Victorian Government accepted that plan and the growers had agreed by ballot, the necessary legislation could have been introduced earlier in this sessional period for the stabilization of the industry. Some Opposition members, particularly the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon) and the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), consider that the price of 15s. a bushel is too much. We .do not support that view.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This clause which amends the title of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act by omitting thewords “ stabilization of the wheat industry “ and inserting in their stead “marketing of wheat”, gives me some degree of latitude, which I do not propose to abuse, to deal with several matters discussed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), and the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton). I inform the honorable member for Mallee that any Opposition member will submit with complete confidence to his interrogation about the attitude of the Australian Labour party to the great Australian wheat industry and the 60,000 wheat-growers. Our. record stands for all to see. I admit that world prices and good seasons have played a part in the prosperity of the industry, but the record of administration and legislation of Labour governments can be more than favorably compared with anything done by any antiLabour government at any time in the history of the ‘Commonwealth.
The stabilization plan which expired on the 30th September last had been in operation for five years. The genesis of that plan was that two parties should take a risk. The growers took the risk that if the world price of wheat rose, they would sell wheat in Australia at a price lower than the figure that they might have obtained from the State price fixing authorities on a cost-of -production basis. The other party, the Australian Government; had to guarantee the found cost-of -production price for 100,000,000 bushels of wheat for export, and the taxpayers of Australia including the small income-earner, and the man with the large family, were confronted with the startling fact that they might be required to provide between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 to make up the difference between the foundcostofproduction guaranteed price, and a low world price for exported wheat. However, the world price rose, and neither the taxpayer nor the wheat-grower had to provide any for any loss on the stabilization fund. Those circumstances prevailed for five years. I shall examine the conditions that existed between 1019 and 1939, when the anti-Labour parties dominated the national political sphere.
– There was no stabilization plan during that period.
– Anti-Labour governments had not the capacity to introduce a stabilization plan, or the courage to offer wheat-growers the equivalent of what was later done for them by a Labour government. In 1940, a year before the Curtin Labour Government took office, Sir Albert Dunstan, who was the Leader of the Country party and the Premier of Victoria, admitted that there were 2,000 deserted wheat farms in that State. According to an estimate made at the time, 80 per cent. of the wheat-growers of Victoria were insolvent. The Menzies Government which was then in office, made no plan to assist the wheat-growers, and did not offer a guaranteed price. Under State legislation a guarantee of 5s. 2d. a bushel for wheat consumed locally was given, but wheat was sold outside Australia for any price that could be obtained for it. Wheat prices on the open market over a. number of years were
The Minister, when he was a private member, accompanied a deputation of wheat-growers who waited on the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons. The growers asked the Minister to support their request for assistance, and he replied, “No, I shall not embarrass my Prime Minister “. Members of the Labour party do not have the answer to any interrogation by the honorable member for Mallee about the assistance that we have given to the wheat-growing industry. Our record speaks for itself.
The honorable member forRiverina has spoken of the losses suffered by wheat-growers over the last five years, because, fortuitously, world prices have greatly exceeded the found homeconsumption price. I told the honorable gentleman earlier that a member of the wheat-growers’ organization in South Australia published in the Wheatgrower an estimate of the amount of money that growers would have gained between 1919 and 1939 had even the Labour party’s wheat stabilization plan of 1946 been in operation in that period. The wheat-growers, in point of fact, would have gained the net sura of £103,000,000. Of course, anti-Labour governments had not introduced a wheat stabilization plan during that long period. Anti-Labour governments left the wheat-growers to the tender mercies of the international wheat market and international wheat dealers.
I invite honorable members to contrast those conditions with the situation that has existed in the last five years. L could speak for hours on these matters, and prove up to the hilt all the statements I am making. I could read the statements of many people about the difficulties of wheat-growers. The Minister for Lands in Western Australia said in 1936 that there were 2,790 abandoned properties in that State. A touch of socialism would have been of great assistance to wheat-growers at that time. The. anti-Labour government which was in office in that year, did nothing to assist the whea t-growers.
During World War II, the Labour Government was responsible for. the purchase, with the taxpayers’ money, because private enterprise would not touch the business, of all the jute required by our wheat-growers. The Government used the Australian Wheat Board as an instrumentality to sell cornsacks to the wheat-growers at a loss, or perhaps I should say, a subsidized price. That system has been in operation for some years. The Minister has seen fit to continue it. I do not know whether the system is in operation at the moment, but it was about a month ago. The Government has imported, in a socialist manner, the wheatsacks required by the industry, and the growers, quite avariciously, though their feelings in the matter are perfectly natural, are only too glad to participate in those purchases. They get the cornsacks at cost price, and the gambler in jute, who had robbed them for 20 years under non-Labour governments, has been eliminated. I hope that purchases of jute under this system will be fontinued. It is a good method, and cuts out many uncertainties, although some difficulties have arisen recently.
I was delighted to hear the specific proposal of the Minister on the wheat stabilization plan. I was shocked to learn that, up to the present time, he had made’ so little progress towards bringing the States into agreement with his view. Of course, he is not trusted politically as a Minister. When I make that statement, I do not reflect on him personally. He personally, the acme of honesty ; but he is not trusted politically. The wheatgrowers distrust his proposals, and have every justification for doing so, because he has dishonoured the promises thathe has made to them.
– Order ! The honorable member may not impute dishonesty to another honorable member.
– I am speaking of his honesty in a political sense, but I am prepared to leave that aspect.
– Order ! I askthe honorable member to withdraw the remark.
– I did not make a personal reflection upon the Minister. However, I shall withdraw the remark in order to save time.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. C. E. Adermann.)
Majority . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 (Definitions).
.- Clause 4 provides for the deletion of the guaranteed price from the principal act. I rise primarily to reply to the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie).
– Order !
– If the honorable member should say that, because he was born on a wheat-farm, that qualifies him-
– Order ! I do not think the honorable member’s remarks have anything to do with this clause.
– With very great respect, I am speaking to clause 4. If the honorable member for Wilmot thinks that because he was born on a wheat farm he is qualified to discuss the wheat industry, let me inform him that I was brought up on the shorter catechism, and that I ought, therefore, to be accepted as an authority on the Old Testament.
– Order !
– If I am not allowed to address a few words to the honorable member for Wilmot on theology-
– Order !
– I shall deal exclusively with the question of the guaranteed price - still for his information. In 1946, after I had spent a decade advocating wheat stabilization, the same kind of stabilization that I believe in now, the late J. B. Chifley wrote to me before the 1946 election. He told me that the Australian Labour party was going to adopt my stabilization scheme in toto. He also told me that it was proposed to add a harsh and arbitrary restriction of production. I wrote back to Mr. Chifley, and told him that if a harsh and arbitrary restriction were placed on production, it would destroy the fundamental principles of stabilization. He wrote to me again, and told me that his Government proposed to introduce my wheat stabilization scheme.
– Let me remind the honorable member that we have dealt with the question of stabilization. The matter now under discussion is the definition of “guaranteed price”, and that only.
– All I desire to say is directed to clause 4.
– Clause 5 deals with the guaranteed price. Clause 4 deals with definitions only, and the discussion must be confined to definitions.
– With very great respect, I was dealing exclusively with theology and the guaranteed price.
.- The deletion of the definition of “ guaranteed price “ only high-lights Section 4 of the Principal Act. I want to deal with the fact that this particular clause provides for the omission of the definition of the guaranteed price. I hope the wheatgrower knows that no guaranteed price is provided for under this bill for one bushel or one pennyweight of wheat for export. I think the attention of people should be directed to that.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) said that there was no guaranteed price for export wheat. In view of what has taken place, and of what the Minister has said, it should be explained that because the Victorian Government did not make a decision-
– The clause deals with definitions only. Honorable members will confine their remarks to that subject.
– We could not have a guaranteed price. The Minister has made the position very clear. The honorable member for Lalor could not have heard the explanation.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (Guaranteed price).
.- Despite all that the Minister and all that members of the Australian Country party have said to-night, no stabilization scheme has been submitted for consideration as it ought to have been if the wheatgrowers are to receive the protection they undoubtedly need in view of the vast surplus of wheat overseas.
– Order ! A later clause in the bill deals with the question of price. The clause under discussion deals only with the repeal of section 5 of the principal act. Honorable members must confine their remarks to that subject.
– May I point out that section 5 is to be repealed because there is now no provision for a guaranteed price for export wheat. Although the question of price is dealt with later in the bill, the reference is to the price for home-consumption wheat. It is only because of the proposed deletion of section 5 from the principal act that we can discuss price in relation to export wheat. For that reason I am addressing my remarks to that subject. I suggest that, in doing so, I am in order, in view of the fact that the later clauses deal with the price of wheat as provided for under an orderly marketing scheme proposed in this bill.
– The whole question of price is dealt with in clause 13.
– Would it be in order for honorable members to discuss the guaranteed price for export wheat under the clause you have mentioned?
– Order ! Honorable members, when dealing with clause 13, may discuss the price to be paid for wheat. That clause does not say whether the price relates to export or homeconsumption wheat.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 (Membership of Board).
Clause 7 (Removal from office and Resignation).
Clause 8 (Meetings of Board).
By leave - considered together.
– Clause 6 provides for an increase of the representation of wheat-growers on the Australian Wheat Board. I have no objection to the proposed increase, but; Government members probably will point out that when I was ‘Minister for Commerce and Agriculture I refused to increase the growers’ representation.
– Quite so.
– I do not regret that. I have no strong opinions on this matter. I point out to the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) that the Chifley Government and the Cur tin Government held the view that the administrative costs of boards handling primary products should not be unduly high. A fairly rigid rule was laid down that membership of bodies of this kind should not exceed twelve persons. We gave Victoria and New South Wales, which are large wheat-growing States, two grower members each, and we gave one each to Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Seven of the twelve members of the board were wheatgrowers. Surely, the honorable member for Moore does not suggest seriously that seven wheat-growers, coming from all States of the Commonwealth other than Tasmania and having common interests, could not adequately protect the interests of the wheat-growers. Because we believed that the growers were already adequately represented, we refused to increase the representation of South Australia and Western Australia. I remind the committee that the remuneration and travelling expenses of members of the board are paid by the wheat-growers. Our action was taken to conserve the funds of the wheat-growers.
– The decision to increase the representation of Western Australia and South Australia is the outcome of a request by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and of the approval of the request by the State Ministers for Agriculture, who regard it as reasonable. This legislation does not stand on its own. It is dependent upon complementary legislation passed by the States. Therefore, the Government has to try to meet the wishes of the States in this matter. We approve of an increase of the representation of Western Australia and South Australia, as do all the States. There is a particularly good reason to increase the representation of the more distant States. While Sir John Teasdale was the only grower representative of Western Australia on the board, he did not miss a board meeting. He flew 2,000,000 miles during that period. He would have been relieved of a considerable amount of travelling if Western Australia had had another representative on the board.
– What is the membership of the board now?
– There are five appointed members, and the grower members with whom we are dealing now. There is an omission from this clause, that I attribute to the haste with which the clause was drafted, due to circumstances over which we had no control. One of the decisions of the Agricultural Council was that provision should be made for Queensland to have a second grower member if and when the Queensland wheat crop grew to 25,000,000 bushels. That is not likely to occur in the near future. We are willing to amend the legislation at any time it is necessary to do so. I want it to be understood in Queensland that the omission of that provision was due to the haste with which the clause was drafted, for which I accept responsibility.
.- Clause 6 makes provision for the appointment of the chairman of the hoard for a period of three years, and for an extension of that period if necessary. The present position is that the chairman is appointed by and holds office at the pleasure of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. When the present Minister took office, he availed himself of that provision because he promptly sacked the chairman of the board who had been appointed by the previous Government. It is strange that he should seek to deprive future Ministers of a facility of which he availed himself. I think that is rather mean. Personally,
I believe that the chairman of the board is entitled to be appointed for a term of three years, or even five years, and to he subject to removal from office only on account of bad behaviour, inefficiency or something of that kind. No allegations of that sort were made against the former chairman of the board. He was sacked because the Minister did not like him, and apparently, did not have faith in him. The Minister had nothing against his character or, I understand, against him personally. He was a member of the Minister’s own party. The Minister did not send for him and tell him that he was to be dismissed. That information was conveyed to him in a note from the Minister. When the Victorian Government dismissed some members of the Victorian Hospital and Charities Board, it sent for them, discussed the matter with them, and ‘ told them it did not like them or what they had done.
The Minister proposes to deprive a future Minister, even one belonging to his own party, of an opportunity to dispense with the services of the chairman of the board if he does not like the man in office when he takes over his portfolio. That is a strange state of affairs. ‘ I bring it to the notice of the committee, although I know that nothing will be done about it.
.- The honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) agrees that the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board should be appointed for a. specified period. I do not believe that any man should be asked to accept the position of chairman of the board, which involves a great deal of responsibility, if he holds the position only at the whim of some individual. If the appointment cannot be made for a specified period, the job is not worth having. The honorable member for Lalor has conceded that the appointment should be for a specified period. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), by way of interjection, said just now, “ We shall be on the other side next year “. In view of that remark, it is just as well that we are taking action to appoint the chairman of the board for a period of three years. If the Commonwealth expects a man to accept a responsible position such as that of chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, it should give him security of tenure by appointing him for a specified period. I support the proposal up to the hilt.
.- If any criticism can be made of the provision relating to the appointment of the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, it is that a three-year period is rather short. The fact that the Government feels compelled to provide for the appointment of the chairman of the board for a term of years is an obvious indication that it is endeavouring to safeguard, as far as possible, any action that it takes prior to the election of a Labour government next year. It is obvious also that the chairman of the board, appointed by this Government, is nervous about his position and has asked the Minister to try to make it more secure. He, like the Minister, knows only too well that, if the chairman held office only at the. pleasure of the Minister, the appointment next year would be made by a Labour Government. This admission by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) is most refreshing, and I am certain that its significance will not escape the notice of the Australian, people.
I turn to clause 7. The board consists of a chairman, a person engaged in commerce with experience of the wheat trade - I presume he represents the merchants and similar interests - a finance member, a representative of the flour mill owners, a representative of the employees of the flour mills and other members. The representative of the flour mill employees will be interested in securing high prices for wheat and flour, because the flour mill employees stand to gain from high profits made by flour mills, in the same way as the flour millers. The other members of the board are two wheatgrowers from New .South Wales, two from Victoria, one from Queensland, one from, South Australia and one from Western Australia. It is proposed that South Australia and Western Australia shall each have two grower members. I am sure the housewives of Australia-
Mr. Gullett interjecting.
– I am sure the housewives of Australia, including those in the elec torate of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), the price of whose bread will be increased as a result of this legislation, and all the family men in the Henty electorate whose weekly expenditure on food with be increased by from 3s. to 5s.-
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the clauses under considera-. tion.
– The point I am making is that those people expect to have one humble representative of the consumers on the board.
– The Chifley Government did not put one on the board.
– The Minister believes he has dealt with my point satisfactorily by saying that the Chifley Government did not put a representative of the consumers on the board. When that Government introduced its wheat stabilization legislation, the price of bread was considerably lower than at present. Therefore, the need for consumer representation on the board was not as urgent as it is at the present time. To-day, as a result of the failure of this Government to control inflation, the price of bread is from 400 to 600 per cent, higher than it was when the Government took office. Therefore, the question of having a say in the deliberations of the Australian Wheat Board’ is a matter of vital concern to the housewives and heads of families in this country, who will be required to pay 3s. or 4s. more each week for their bread because of the actions of this Government. The Minister has said that the Chifley Government did not make provision for the representation of consumers on the board, but doubtless he will admit that during the last two general election campaigns he promised that, if the present Government parties were returned to office, they would correct the mistakes of Labour administrations. Therefore, I ask the Minister and the members of the Liberal party who sit glum and dumb behind him this evening to say whether they are prepared to support the demand that has been made by housewives7 associations and heads of families for a representative on the board to put forward their point of view when the board is deliberating on the problems of the wheat industry. When we were in office, the price of wheat-
– The Australian “Wheat Board does not fix the price of wheat.
– It has a great deal to do with the marketing and sale of wheat. It has a great deal to do also with advising the Government ou the factors affecting the cost of production of wheat that are not dealt with by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. I refer to the value of land, interest rates and other matters of that kind. When the Labour party was in office, inflation was kept under control and prices were rising, if at all, only by very small percentages. Therefore, it was not as necessary as it is to-day for consumers to be represented On the board. When one considers the present price of bread, and the price as it will be after the passage of this legislation, one realizes that the Government has paid no attention to the problems of the consumers. Honorable members of the Liberal party might be quite happy because they are going to increase the price of the 2lb. loaf of bread by one penny but the Opposition is not happy about it. Such an increase of the price of bread would add 3s. a week to the cost of living of the average family. The Government has not suggested that the consumers should have a representative on the Australian Wheat Board to ensure that the price of wheat, flour and bread shall not be increased unnecessarily, perhaps because of pressure brought by the Country party, which believes that the sky is the limit as far as the primary producer is concerned. I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) whether he will move that progress be reported on this bill at once, and then reconsider the terms of the bill and amend it to provide that a representative of the consumers shall be appointed to the Australian Wheat Board. After all, a consumer’s representative would be only one member out of fifteen if he were appointed, but he would be able to advise the Government and the other members of the board on the consumers’ point of view about the wheat industry. He might also be able to prevent the producers of wheat from cutting their own throats on some occasions. Earlier, I pointed out that the consumption of bread in Australia had dropped from 190 lb. a head per annum in 1939 to approximately 180 lb. a head per annum this year.
– Order! The honorable member’s remarks about the quantity of bread consumed has nothing to do with the question before the committee. The honorable member will not be allowed to discuss the matter of price any further during the debate on the present clause, because the matter of price may only be debated when clause 13 is before the committee.
– I am advocating that a consumers’ representative should be appointed to the Australian Wheat Board. I suggest that that is quite a legitimate suggestion, and that I am entitled to put reasons before the committee why such a representative should be appointed.
– Order! The honorable member cannot discuss the price of wheat during the debate on the clause at present before the committee.
– The continual increase of the price of bread has caused a decline in its consumption, and that is one matter that a consumers’ representative would be able to bring before the members of the Australian Wheat Board, so that when it was planning the marketing of wheat it would, be able to take full cognizance of the effect of increased prices on the consumption of wheat. I ask the honorable members who support the Government to say quite plainly whether or not they are prepared to give some consideration to the interests of the consumer in this legislation. If they are, they will support an amendment along the lines that I have suggested. If they are not, then the honorable members of the Liberal party in this chamber are quite obviously dominated by the honorable members of the Australian Country party, and in those circumstances no consideration whatsoever will be given to the most important section of the community which is composed of the housewives and the family men.
– The Government will not entertain the suggestion of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), because it is too silly for words. The position is that the selling price of wheat in Australia for the three years covered by this bill has been decided by five Labour governments and by one non-Labour government. The price will remain constant for three years and a representative of the consumer or the housewives on the Australian Wheat Board would have nothing to do about the selling price of wheat during the whole of that period. All that such a representative could do would be to vote about the sale of somebody else’s property overseas. He , could bring no experience to bear on the selling of other people’s property, which will be sold overseas for more than £100,000,000 a year. The arguments and the suggestions of the honorable member for Yarra illustrate the complete futility of expecting any constructive proposals from the Labour side of the House in regard to this great wheat industry.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Clauses agreed to.
Clauses 9 to 12 agreed to.
Clause 13 (Price to be paid for wheat).
.- The contributions from this side of the chamber to the matter now before the committee have mostly been made by honorable members who represent wheatgrowing electorates. Honorable members of the Australian Country party have been extremely garrulous about the matter and their verbosity has been exceeded only by honorable members of the Opposition, who have called themselves the champions of the consumers of bread. The Government hopes that this measure will be the salvation of the wheat-grower, and the Opposition fears that the consumers will have to pay more for their bread. One appreciates the violence of the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Howse), and the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes), to say nothing about the wordy contributions of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) and the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton). Their prolixity has been exceeded only by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Keon), and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. W. M. Bourke), throughout whose electorates, no doubt, there are waving fields of wheat. However, I desire to put forward a submission on behalf of a section of the people that has not been mentioned so far. No doubt this bill will be an excellent measure for the wheat-grower, but it will not benefit to the same extent one of his best customers, who is the stock-feed consumer. The large numbers in the farming community who buy wheat for stock-feed have been completely ignored during the discussion of this measure.
It is typical of the Australian way of thinking that every one is very anxious to study overseas markets and conditions, but entirely ignores the markets and conditions at home. The International Wheat Agreement is a matter of deep concern to all honorable members, but they seem to have no concern at all for the stock-feed consumers. The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) said that Mr. Graham, the Minister for Agriculture of New South Wales, was the architect of this scheme, and he referred to it as the. Graham Plan. Mr. Graham finally put forward his idea that the price of wheat for home consumption should be 14s. He completely ignored local stockfeed industries such as the dairying industry, the pig-raising industry and poultry-farming generally, which are all dependent on wheat. Indeed, the traditional English breakfast of bacon and eggs is likely to disappear from our breakfast tables if the needs of the stockfeed buyers are not more fully considered than they have been by honorable members during the discussion of this measure.
Another matter that must be considered is the effect that a fall in overseas wheat prices will have on our own market. If the price of American wheat falls to 10s. a bushel and Australian wheat remains at 14s. a bushel, then the architect of this plan will ultimately prove to have done a grave injustice to all stock-feed consumers of wheat in Australia. We shall be left with a surplus of home-produced pig meats, poultry and dairy products, and what does the architect of the Graham Plan intend to do in those circumstances? Does he intend to dump the surplus products when the price of wheat overseas falls to 10s. a bushel and our stock feed buyers have to pay 14s. a bushel for it in Australia? . Will he ask the Australian Government to subsidize the indigent industries, or will he reduce the selling price of those products below the cost of their production? There seems to be an over-zealous intention on the part of the Government to protect the wheat-growers, but nobody has expressed any anxiety to protect the stock-feed consumer or other industries that are dependent on wheat.
Hitherto a subsidy of 2s. 2d. a bushel has been paid on wheat for stock feed, but that is to be discontinued at the end of next November. The old price was 16s. Id. a bushel less 2s. 2d., so that each bushel of wheat cost the stock-feed consumer 13s. lid. a bushel. The new price is about 14s. a bushel, so that there will not be much difference between those two prices. Consequently, there will not be much danger for the stock-feed industry provided the overseas market holds firm for those particular primary products. But recently, prices fell on the overseas market, and the local prices fell in sympathy with them. It may be argued that that is of benefit to the consumer - and indeed it is, provided that the prices of our primary products do not fall below the cost of their production. At an estimated price of 14s. a bushel the cost of production of eggs is 4s. 3d. a dozen. If the selling price of eggs should fall below 4s. 3d. a dozen, then the poultry-farmer.* would be forced out of the industry. Consequently, it is the duty of the architect of this plan, Mr. Graham, the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture, to ensure that the industries that rely on stock feed are fairly dealt with.
It has been said that the price of bread may increase after this measure becomes law, but nobody has mentioned what may happen if the price of stock-feed increases. For a long time there has been some dissatisfaction among stockfeeders about the way that the price of wheat and mill offal affects them, but it should be within the province of the State governments to ensure that there will be no trafficking in the price of bran and pollard and other products of that description. Those prices should not be allowed to increase.
Apparently the wheat-growers want it both ways. They want a fixed international price for wheat sold on the international market and somewhat less than that as a price for home-consumption wheat, but they will not agree that wheat should be sold at any lower price for stock-feed.
– Quite right.
– I am glad that the honorable member for Mallee interjected, because his interjection may help me to prove another point about the price of wheat that I intend to make later. Nothing would suit stock-feed consumers better than to use grain other than wheat to feed their stock, but such a feed is not available at the present time. Consequently, the industry is solely dependent on wheat. I realize the difficulty of the Minister, because this is a complex situation and the Government must always remember the overall necessity to maintain the wheat industry. However, the threat to the wheat industry seems to come from the favorable conditions that the wool-grower has enjoyed. No doubt land-holders are reluctant to expend money in the purchase of expensive agricultural machinery, when they can grow wool with less work and get a better price for their effort. We are erecting an artificial structure of price protection, and such structures are likely to fall of their own weight.
I hope that Mr. Graham, the architect of this plan, will carefully watch the stock-feed position. If he does not, the pig, cattle and poultry population of the country will have to be reduced, and such a course would be disastrous. I support the bill because it is a most satisfactory measure for the wheat industry, but I hope that in the process of stabilizing the wheat industry the stock-feed consumers will not suffer. The United Kingdom has indicated that it is unwilling to sign the International Wheat Agreement, and I suggest that that refusal is an indication of the difficulties ahead of us in the wheat markets of the world. I hope Australia shall escape any such difficulties.
.- It is refreshing to hear the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) at last express concern about the poultry and other stock-feed industries.
– I have been a consistent advocate of their rights.
– The honorable member has consistently advocated the supply of cheap wheat to the stock-feed industries. Not long ago, when he had an opportunity to express an opinion on the ever-increasing price of wheat to the poultry-farmers, he remained markedly silent. Now, however, when we are approaching a general election, he has launched an attack on the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture in connexion with the price of stock-feed wheat. No one has had the interests of the stockfeed industries more at heart than have those honorable members on this side of the committee who were responsible for the formulation of the five-years’ wheat stabilization plan that has just ceased to exist. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen), whom the honorable member for Mitchell supports, was responsible for the first move that finally resulted in poultry- farmers having to pay 2s. a bushel more for their wheat requirements than was paid for wheat used for human consumption. It is true that some State governments agreed to increase the price of stock-feed in their States because the Minister for Commerce had said to the State Minister for Agriculture assembled at a meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, “ If you increase the price of wheat for stock-feed by 2s. we shall see that in the 1951-52 season your wheat-growers will receive a bounty of 4s. Id. a bushel “. If the honorable member wishes to sheet home responsibility for the difficulties that confront the stock-feed industries, he must place it fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture who cajoled the State Ministers into agreeing to increase the price of stock-feed wheat. I make no apologies for the fact that, in 194S, when the wheat stabilization plan was under consideration, I emphatically told the wheat-growers that I would not be a party to the fixation of a price for wheat used for stock-feed at other than the cost of production as determined by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. I made that statement for a very good reason. The poultry, dairying, pig-raising and other stock-feed industries are vitally important to the Australian economy. Indeed, they are equally as valuable to Australia as is the wheat industry itself. If the day should come when the price of wheat on the overseas markets falls disastrously the extent to which the wheat industry in Australia will be assisted will be materially affected by the state of the stock-feed industries.
.- There has never been any justification for asking wheat-growers to sell their wheat for stock-feed at the bare cost of production. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member” for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was involved in a classic instance of a request of that kind. When a drought occurred in Queensland and sheep were said to he starving there, the honorable member sent train-loads of wheat to feed the sheep. When we questioned him about that action he said, “ The wheatgrowers received the cost of production for their wheat and the Commonwealth paid the freight to Queensland “. The sheep were subsequently sold off shears and the wool was sold at the world market price. Those sales were made possible by the wheat-growers who had supplied wheat at the cost of production in order to keep the sheep alive. The honorable member for Lalor contends that his action was quite justified. I do not agree with him.
Like the honorable member for Mitchell, I have great sympathy for those engaged in the poultry industry, but I do not believe that poultry-farmers should expect to be able to buy wheat at the cost of production. If special consideration is to be given to the poultry-raisers and other stock-feeders it should not be given at the expense of wheat-growers. The only connexion between wheatgrowing and poultry-raising is that poultry eat wheat. There is no economic connexion between the two industries. If we are to subsidize the poultry industry the cost should be borne by the hotelkeepers in Melbourne, the manufacturers in Sydney, the business people in Canberra and every taxpayer in the community. It should not be borne solely by the wheat-growers. The ideas advanced by the honorable member for Mitchell are, to say the least, fantastic. The wheatgrower should receive the cost of production plus a reasonable margin of profit. Can any honorable member point to an industry that can continue to operate if it sells its products at the bare cost of production ? We are fighting for the best deal that we can obtain for the wheat-grower and we shall continue to do so.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
.- Clause 16 provides for the establishment of a special account for the payment of freight on wheat sent to Tasmania. Tasmania has been given special consideration in this bill, as it has in other legislation, for two main reasons. The first is because, by reason of its geographical position, it has to pay freight on all requirements that cannot be met from local sources. The second is that, although wheat is grown in Tasmania, it is not of sufficiently good quality for use in the manufacture of bread. All wheat produced in Tasmania is used for the manufacture of biscuits. Tasmania has to import approximately 2,000,000 bushels of wheat annually for use in the manufacture of bread. The Government proposes to give to Tasmanian consumers an opportunity to buy bread at approximately the same price as it is sold for in the capital cities on the mainland. But for the assistance provided in the bill, Tasmania would have to pay an additional 3s. 6d. a bushel, for wheat used for the manufacture of bread, which would place the people of that State in a very disadvantageous position by comparison with the residents of the mainland States. Three authorities have helped Tasmania in connexion with freight charges on wheat. Such charges were originally borne by the Australian Wheat Board, the cost to the wheatgrowers being a farthing a bushel. Later, the payment of freight was taken over for a short time by the Tasmanian Government until it found that the annual cost of more than £250,000 was more than it could bear. At a later stage the Commonwealth paid the freight charges. Under this proposal the people of Australia as a whole will enable Tasmania to buy wheat at l½d. a bushel above the guaranteed price.
I am concerned that Tasmania is not able to produce wheat of sufficiently good quality for use in the manufacture of bread. It is rather astonishing that that should be so because when I was in Canada last year I found that although the climate of that country is colder than is the climate of Tasmania, large quantities of good-quality wheat are grown there. The Department of Commerce and Agriculture should inquire into this matter in conjunction with the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture with a view to ascertaining whether it is possible to grow wheat of sufficient hardness to be suitable for use in the manufacture of bread. If it were possible to do so, the people of Australia would be saved the freight charge on wheat shipped to Tasmania and wheat-growing in the State would be stimulated. In order to demonstrate how the wheat-growing industry has deteriorated in Tasmania, I inform honorable members that in 1915-16, 48,642 acres were sown to wheat for a yield of 993,796 bushels, whereas in 1952-53 the area under wheat had dropped to 3,608 acres and the yield had declined to 94,028 bushels. No incentive is given to Tasmanian farmers to grow wheat because there is little demand for it other than by the biscuit factories which are concentrated in Hobart. I earnestly appeal to the Minister to inquire into the possibility of growing wheat in Tasmania suitable for bread-making.
– I am astonished that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) should support the provisions of clause 16. Although the honorable member has told us that the farmers have been robbed of amounts varying from 4s. to 10s. a bushel, he is agreeable to the fixing of a price for wheat at 14s. a bushel or the International Wheat Agreement price, whichever is the lower. I understand that the International Wheat Agreement price is 19s. or 20s. a bushel.
– I say to the honorable member for Riverina, who has been calling the Labour party all the names that he could lay his tongue to for having introduced legislation .under which the wheat farmers lost 5s. a bushel, that he is supporting now a measure under which the farmers will lose 5s. a bushel this year. If wheat used for home consumption totals 60,000,000! bushels this year, then the farmers will lose £15,000,000. Yet he had the temerity to attack the Labour Government on the ground that its legislation meant that the farmer received less for wheat than he would have received had he been allowed to sell it on the open market overseas. I am most concerned about sub-section (3.) of proposed new section 25a which provides, in effect, that if the international price falls below the cost of production the taxpayers will have to finance the difference. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull), in a reference to a statement by the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler), asked why the wheat-growers should pay for a benefit to the poultry farmers and said it should come from the taxpayers. I ask the honorable member why. a man with a big family should have to pay an extra amount to the wheat-growers if the international price falls below the cost of production. I have always stood for payment to the grower of the cost of production as a minimum in relation to home consumption wheat, but if the farmers are prepared to accept cost of production when the price of wheat is low, they should be equally prepared to accept it when the price of wheat is high. I remember that in the 1930’s, when the flour tax was imposed, my complaint against it was that the people who had to bear most of the burden represented by that tax, which was imposed to assist the wheatgrowers, were those least able to bear it. I refer, of course, to working men ou low rates of wages and with large families whose mainstay is bread. We all know that wealthy people do not eat as much bread as do poor people, so the flour tax was paid mostly by poor people. As a member of a State parliament in those days I contended that we should give the farmers cost of production, but not at the expense of the people least able to bear the burden. The provision to which I have referred is designed to place the burden of assistance to the farmer on the shoulders of the ordinary taxpayer. Would honorable members opposite, who prate, as the honorable member for Riverina did, about the losses of the farmers under Labour, advocate that the farmer should pay for his galvanized iron the price that the manufacturer of it could obtain on the free world market, which might be two or three times the local price? Would the honorable member be prepared to say that the farmer should pay the world price for the Australian steel from which his ploughs aud other equipment are manufactured? The arguments of the honorable member for Riverina and his colleagues do not stand up under analysis.. We should be mainly concerned about giving a fail1 deal to the farmer, whilst at the same time ensuring a reasonable price to the consumer for homeconsumption wheat. Wheat not required for the home market could be sold overseas at the higher prices. When the Labour party was in office it told the farmers that it would give them the cost of production. When honorable members opposite refer to it as the “ bare “ cost of production, I remind them that farmers who are getting the alleged cost of production today are receiving more than the actual cost of production. When the cost of production is calculated is the original price of the land taken into consideration, or is its. present value the figure that is taken? When a dairy-farmer’s cost of production is being worked out is it worked out on the . basis of the amount, that it cost him to buy, or breed, and raise to the productive stage, the cattle on his property, or is it worked out at the replacement cost on the market at present? Cost of production is a difficult thing to decide exactly, and many farmers are receiving a putative cost of production price for butter and other primary products that is far above the actual cost of production. If many of these, at present, valuable farms were put on the market at once there would’ soon be a big drop in the prices received for land. I warn the farmers that the present high prices are not just brought about by cost of production. The highprice of wheat, and the decline of wheat acreage, have been caused, as the Minister has mentioned, by the high price of wool, which led people to forsake wheatgrowing for wool-growing. I do not blame any man for engaging in the form of production that will give him the best return, but I say that the higher the price of wheat goes the higher will go the price of land. When land values fall the people who will suffer most will not be the long-established farmers who bought their land cheaply, but the new farmers, including war service land settlers, who bought land at the high prices that have ruled in recent years. I warn primary producers that while I do not blame them for getting the best price that they can, a day of reckoning will come. . Such a day of reckoning came for farmers who bought laud at high prices after World War I. When the price of wheat fell, many of them walked off their farms and lost their equity in them. Farmers should be warned by that occurrence. I have always been anxious to give the farmer a fair deal, but I do not want it to be at the expense of people least able to bear the burden of giving him that fair deal. When the cost of production is fixed under this measure on present high values–
– Order! The honorable gentlemans time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Remainder of bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr. McEwen) - by leave - proposed -
That the bill be now read a third time.
.- Because the gag was applied so repeatedly during the committee stage I was prevented from obtaining from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) information that I intended to obtain from him regarding the operation of clause 13. I think that the Minister will appreciate that there is some obscurity about its actual meaning. Will the Minister clarify the provision now?
– Order ! If the honorable member wishes to deal with a clause of the bill the proper procedure would have been to have the bill recommitted. The House cannot deal with the clauses.
– I am merely seeking information from the Minister.
– Order ! The House cannot take action to do something that should have been done in committee, but was not done.
– Surely I am entitled, Mr. Speaker, after the Minister has moved, by leave, that the bill be read a third time, to ask for information that I wanted to gain earlier about this special provision for New South Wales in regard to prices.
– If the Minister speaks now he will close the debate.
– in reply - The Commonwealth legislation sets the price of wheat in the Australian Capital Territory, and, for the sake of convenience, it has been drafted to ensure that the price in the Australian Capital Territory shall be the price prevailing in New South Wales, as provided by the New South Wales legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from the 13th October (vide page 1309), on motion by Mr. McEwen -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- It is unfortunate that a measure of this character is to be debated for only a limited time in this chamber to-night.
– Why is that?
– I have an idea that the gag will be moved very shortly. I point out that the Wheat Marketing Bill that we have just passed was introduced only on Tuesday night. The Opposition has been good enough to facilitate the passage of that bill by agreeing that the general debate on this bill would take place one day later, but now we find that the Government intends to give us only a limited time in which to debate a measure that has many implications, as is obvious from a perusal of’ the agreement. Under thesecircumstances, I consider that a longer period should be given for the debate than is intended.
– The honorable member knows that it is not the Government’s fault. This bill could have been introduced a month ago except for delay for which the Government was not responsible.
– Is it not the Government’s fault? I think that this Parliament was in recess for too long, and the result is that during this session measures have been rushed through, and the gag has been applied more brutally than I have ever known it to be applied in my long experience in this House. I do not wish to delay the business of the House, but I consider that honorable members should have an opportunity to discuss this measure more fully than they are to be allowed to discuss it. The long title of the measure describes it as -
A bill for an act to approve acceptance by Australia of the Agreement Revising and Renewing the International Wheat Agreement.
I listened with great interest to the Minister’s second-reading speech on Tuesday night. I was astonished by the change in his demeanour compared with his attitude on two occasions, in 1948 and 1949, when I introduced measures which, except for dates and slight variations of price, were identical in every respect with this measure. On each occasion he made a long second-reading speech in which he condemned, in no uncertain manner, the proposal of the Labour Government to ratify the International “Wheat Agreement. In fact, I have here a press clipping which indicates the honorable gentleman’s attitude at that time. It bears the headings -
Sharp Attack on the Wheat Pact. “The Road to Socialism.”
And lo and behold, he has now introduced a measure in identical terms and is proceeding along the road to socialism by seeking the ratification of the new International Wheat Agreement.
– Who made such comment?
– The present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen) when I introduced measures of this character in 1948 and 1949. However, it is encouraging to see converts to a good cause. Honorable members who have taken any interest in the International Wheat Agreement will realize that it is a most desirable form of contract. The passage of time has demonstrated that all the prophecies of doom, which were made in 1948 and 1949, were completely false. When I introduced the 1949 legislation in this House, I affirmed my personal opinion, as well as that of the Labour party, that it would work. It did work. In fact, it worked most satisfactorily. It afforded to the wheat exporting countries of the United States of America, Canada, Australia and France a degree of security that they had not previously enjoyed. Furthermore, it enabled the peoples of the importing countries to know, within the limits of the maximum and minimum prices fixed by the agreement, the price at which they could obtain wheat for bread. I recall very clearly that the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was deeply concerned in 1949 about the provisions for the enforcement of a measure of this kind. He does not seem to be concerned now. He has witnessed a demonstration of the fact that faith between nations of repute, and even between some nations that he might not consider to be of high repute, will hold good. The agreement worked smoothly and was of distinct advantage to both the exporting and the importing countries. Had the Government not acknowledged this fact, this bill would not now be under consideration.
The Minister has informed the House that the agreement will provide for a maximum price payable to Australian wheat-growers of 18s. 3½d. a bushel f.o.b. Australia, and a minimum price of approximately 13s.10d. Those are reasonably good prices. However, the fact that appals me is that the United Kingdom is not a party to the new agreement. Australia traditionally has an extensive market for wheat in the United
Kingdom, and this is a most serious omission. The United Kingdom probably decided to remain outside the agreement for excellent reasons, hut, as far as I have been able to ascertain, its decision arose from a difference of opinion on prices between some of the exporting countries. Some favoured a maximum price of 2 dollars a bushel, and others favoured 2 dollars 5 cents. It is regrettable that, for the sake of 5 cents a bushel, a great consuming country like the United Kingdom, which was committed under the previous agreement to purchase no less than 177,000,000 bushels, should be excluded from the new arrangement. I have excellent reason to believe that one of the reasons for the United Kingdom Government’s decision was that this Australian Government, unlike the previous Labour government, largely divested itself of negotiating responsibility at Washington and London and placed much of its authority in the laps of a representative of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board. These gentlemen, if they did not actually take part in the negotiations, at any rate acted as consultants to the Australian delegate.
My intuition suggests to me that, if Mr. Stott, M.P., the secretary of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, and Sir John Teasdale, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, had not been present at the negotiations, and that, if Australia, had been represented by a Minister or a skilled officer of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, the United Kingdom to-day would be a party to the new agreement. I have no concrete evidence to support my belief, of course. The advice given to the Australian delegate, no doubt after consultation with various people by cablegram, probably led to a situation in which the representatives of Canada and the United States of America decided that they would have to hold out for the maximum price sought by Australia. This was probably responsible for the United Kingdom Government’s decision not to become a party to the agreement.
– This is an extraordinary attack on the Australian wheatgrowers.
– Yes, but I have always held the view that negotiations for the conclusion of international agreements should be conducted solely by governments, not by sectional interests. Representatives of such interests should be excluded. Governments should consult them before negotiations commence and remain in contact with them by telephone, letter, cablegram or telegram during the course of the negotiations, but should act according to their views of the best interests, not of sectional groups, but of the whole people.
Let us consider the implications of the United Kingdom Government’s refusal to take part in the International Wheat Agreement. The new agreement covers a total quantity of 420,000,000 bushels of wheat, when it ought to cover a total of about 595,000,000 bushels. Australia has been marked down to supply 48,000,000 bushels when it should have the right to supply 80,000,000 bushels. It may happen that, owing to the absence of the United Kingdom Government from the agreement for the sake of a mere 5 cents a bushel, the wheat-growers of Australia will lose 50 cents, 75 cents, or even 1 dollar a bushel in the ultimate result. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister some justification of the Government’s partial delegation of its negotiating powers to representatives of other bodies. The Labour Government accepted its responsibilities, although it was severely criticized for doing so by the present Minister. It held conferences with representatives of the growers at Canberra and, before it finally decided that the International Wheat Agreement of 1948 should be ratified. I, as the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, met the executive of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. I told its members, “ This is the best that can be done for you “. I knew full well that, had Australia tried to obtain a higher price on that occasion, the United .Kingdom Parliament would have refrained from ratifying the agreement and, in all probability, there would not have been an agreement. In view of this situation, the facts had to be put plainly to the wheat-growers. I asked them whether they wanted Australia to ratify the agreement or not. They said they did, and they benefited from the success of the agreement.
It is true that wheat was sold outside the ambit of the agreement for as much as 3s. a bushel more than the agreement price, but the fact remains that, but for the stabilizing influence of the agreement, under which certain countries enjoyed privileges and rights, there would not have been the clamour for the wheat sold outside the agreement which led to such high prices. Had there not been an international agreement, I believe that the average export price obtained for Australian wheat would have been considerably less than the average price obtained for wheat sold under the terms of the agreement as well as on the open market. Therefore, I am a strong supporter of the principle of an international agreement. I regret exceedingly that the United Kingdom has decided not to join in the new agreement, and I believe that this is largely due to the mistake made by the Australian Government in partially relinquishing its rights by sending representatives of sectional interests to the conference in Washington and London. Probably these advisers were present at some of the” conferences with representatives of other governments. This is a nefarious practice, which is not calculated to assist the primary producers of Australia. Proof of this can be obtained by comparing the new international agreement with the previous agreement.
The new agreement will operate for only three years. This suggests that other countries “besides the United Kingdom were not very keen on it. The United Kingdom is not a party to it. The quantity that Australia will be required to supply will be only 48,000,000 bushels. The agreement contains 33 articles, all of which are printed in small type. I have compared them with the articles of the agreement that was confirmed by this Parliament in 1949, and I can detect little practical difference. However, the time allowed for speakers in this debate is short, and it would be futile to attempt to deal with the articles seriatim. I appreciate the better prices for which the new agreement provides, but I regret that it will be in force for only three years instead of four. I am shocked by the absence of the United Kingdom, probably on account of a quibble over a mere 5 cents a bushel. The Minister may be able to tell me the amount that that would be worth in Australian currency. Probably it is worth between 3d. and 5a. I am not sure of the amount.
– I do not know.
– What was the difference between Australia’s demands at Washington and the United Kingdom’s offer ?
– It was a negotiation. There was not one firm demand.
– Cannot this Parliament obtain the information?
– The amount was 5d.
– I said that the fi mount was probably between 3d. and 3d.
– I thought it was more.
– Was it less than 5d.?
– The negotiation began with the American request for 2.25 dollars which we supported. Later, the figure of 2.15 dollars was mentioned, and the negotiations continued to the final settlement.
– The United Kingdom is left out of the agreement, and Australia is supporting a price of 2.05 dollars. The United Kingdom could have been prevailed upon to become a party to the agreement at a price of 2 dollars.
– Nonsense ! The United States Senate would not have ratified the agreement at a lower figure.
– How did the Minister obtain that information? The American Senate had not met at that stage.
– The position was made quite clear.
– The Minister must have psychic powers. He will attribute the possession of similar powers to me in reference to my statements about the Australian delegates to Washington.
– No, the honorable member’s statements were quite imaginative.
– Order ! This is supposed to be a debate.
– I think it is an excellent debate, and I am enjoying it. The Australian people are in the dark about the events that culminated in the International Wheat Agreement. We have not been given any information about the difference between the attitude of the Australian delegation, and that of the representatives of the United Kingdom. This Parliament is entitled to the information about the differences which were revealed at Washington. If we are given that information, we may be able to place more justly the responsibility for the fact that the United Kingdom is not a signatory to the agreement. I know that the Minister contends that Australia has reserved to itself the right to sell such a quota under the agreement as will enable this country to supply wheat to its traditional customers. I do not know whether any assurance has been obtained that our traditional customer, the United Kingdom, will wish to purchase wheat from Australia. The wheat situation does not appear to be very bright at the present time and conditions may develop to such a degree that the United Kingdom will be able to purchase its requirements from the dollar area, even for sterling. According to a rumour, the United States of America is prepared to accept payment in sterling, in certain circumstances, for its wheat. I cannot see that the United Kingdom will remain Out of an agreement on a matter of . 05 dollars, and buy Australian wheat, when, in the absence of an agreement, it may be able to buy wheat on favorable terms from other countries. I regret the situation.
The Opposition believes firmly in the principle of international agreements and other commodity agreements, provided they are soundly based and justly drafted. For that reason, the Opposition has no hesitation in supporting the bill. We hope that the agreement will prove a success, and will operate as effectively as did the four-year agreement negotiated by the Chifley Labour Government. I express the hope that even at this late stage, the Minister and the Government will shoulder their responsibilities and endeavour to ascertain whether, perhaps at a slight sacrifice of price, the United Kingdom, which is Australia’s traditional best customer, can be brought into the agreement for 177,000,000 bushels of wheat. Of that quantity, at least 80,000,000 would be supplied by Australia at 2 dollars a bushel, which would be substantially in excess of the found cost-of-production figure in this country.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Roberton) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Holt) proposed-
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I have patiently waited for some action on the part of the Government to investigate the leakage of budget information. This morning, I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) whether he had yet examined the transcript of the evidence given in a certain case which was heard recently in the Supreme Court in Sydney. The Prime Minister denied that the transcript of the evidence contained anything that warranted an investigation by the Government. I have a copy of an extract from the transcript of the evidence, and I draw attention to certain questions directed to a witness, a Mr. Irish, a director of Associated Newspapers Limited, and a well-known city accountant. Mr. Irish was asked the following question: -
You did not know the budget, did you ?
The witness replied -
I had a good idea, I think.
The witness was then asked -
You did not know it was going to be a 2s. reduction?
The witness replied -
I happened to have certain discussions in Canberra about it which made me realize it would be close to that figure.
That evidence was given on oath, and I think that it is most important, from the viewpoint of the Government, if it really believes what it has been saying, which is that it regards the leakage of budget information before the document is presented to this Parliament as a serious matter. At least, Mr. Irish should have been interrogated about the source of his information. The dates when he visited Canberra were well known, and it would not have been difficult to discover whom Mr. Irish interviewed while he was in Canberra, so that we should be able to pin-point exactly where his information had come from. Mr. Irish made no mistake about the matter in his evidence. He said, in effect, that as a result of his visit to Canberra and the information which he had gleaned while he was here, he was able to return to Sydney and re-cast for his company an estimate of the amount that it would be obliged to pay in company tax after the budget proposal had been given effect to. That makes it quite clear that Mr. Irish was saying, quite plainly, on oath to the court, that as a result of discussions he had in Canberra with certain people, he had been able to acquire reliable information about the contents of the budget. If he did not regard the information as reliable, why did he return to Sydney and advise his company to re-cast its estimate of its tax commitments for this year?
There is another significant point about this matter. The Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) read to this House a statement by the Commonwealth Actuary, Mr. Balmford, on another matter concerning the opening of the office of the Capital Issues Board one Sunday afternoon to do business. Nobody knows the reason why Mr. Balmford ever made the statement in the way in which it was read to the House. He said he had not discussed the budget proposals with Mr. Irish during the interview he had with him. “Whoever suggested that Mr. Balmford was the man who had any discussion with Mr. Irish on the budget? Certainly no Opposition member made such a suggestion. It must have been in the minds of some people that certain information had leaked out, and no doubt Mr. Balmford, in order to clear himself of any suggestion that he might have been the source of the information, included the matter in the statement read in this House.
Surely the Government does not believe for one moment that it can brush lightly aside evidence that is given on oath in a court. I have read an extract from the transcript of the evidence. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr.
Holt) who is in charge of the House, and any other Government supporter can secure a copy of the evidence to see whether I have quoted it correctly. So it must be beyond doubt that Mr. Irish had been able to obtain certain evidence about the budget. I think that honorable members on the Government side will at least admit that the number of people who would know the contents of the budget at that particular time would have been rather limited. If Mr. Irish had discussions in Canberra with other people who, he knew, had no access to the contents of the budget, he would not have worried about them, lt was not the sort of information that the driver of a motor car, a bus driver, or a bus conductor would tell him while he was in Canberra. Of course not. Mr. Irish went back to Sydney believing he had reliable information about the contents of the budget. He was able to predict to the exact penny by how much company tax was to be reduced. Even at this late hour the Government should set in motion some form of investigation. Mr. Irish should be asked whom he interviewed in Canberra.
What is our investigation service for? As a matter of fact, at that time the investigation service was interesting itself in the visit to this capital of certain individuals in relation to another transaction, and I believe the service could well be busying itself now in ascertaining how the leakage of budget information occurred. The Opposition is not satisfied with the explanation - if it may be called an explanation at all - given by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government. The right honorable gentleman said in this Parliament that it was not a fact, as alleged by the Opposition, that Mr. Irish said he had obtained pre-knowledge of the budget proposals. But I have read the evidence given on oath by Mr. Irish in the Supreme Court. The Government has not heard the end of this matter. Many thousands of people outside this Parliament do not regard the incident as having been satisfactorily explained. The general opinion of the Australian public is that somebody in a high place either in the Government or in the Public Service, who was in a position to give this information, either by accident or by design, allowed Mr. Irish to obtain it. Probably the Government has failed to have Mr. Irish interrogated because it is trying to protect one of its Ministers. I can understand the Government’s eagerness to protect one of its ministers if there has been a serious leak of information as the evidence given by Mr. Irish would lead us to, believe there has been. I repeat that the matter has not been satisfactorily concluded from the point of view of either the Opposition or the general public. If this had happened in any other responsible Parliament, an immediate investigation would have been ordered. If somebody in the United Kingdom had given evidence similar to that given by Mr. Irish in the Supreme Court of New South “Wales, the British Government, regardless of its political colour, would order an immediate investigation. There can be no possible doubt about that. The British Government would want to know the source from which the information was obtained. I say therefore that this Government will not escape its responsibility in the matter. The Opposition will not let it rest. Many thousands of Australian citizens regard the situation with considerable disquiet. This may not be the first time there had been a leakage of budget information in this country, but it is the first time that any government has hesitated to order a proper investigation of such a happening. The Government is completely disregarding the evidence given by Mr. Irish. Indeed, although I have read a copy of. the transcript to the House, the Government virtually denies that Mr. Irish gave such evidence. This matter will not be concluded satisfactorily until Mr. Irish has been interrogated about the people whom he interviewed while he was in Canberra on the relevant dates, and until such time as the Government has completely assured this Parliament, as the result of a proper investigation, that there was no leakage of budget information in the manner alleged.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned 11.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Land Settlement of Ex-Sebvicemen.
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he supply details of the amounts paid in salaries, allowances and expenses to members of the present Cabinet over tile past two years and the comparative amounts paid to Cabinet Ministers for the last two years of the Chifley Government?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
As the honorable member knows, it is not usual to disclose the salaries payable to individual’ Ministers from the fund appropriated under the Ministers of State Act. I would not be prepared to make such information available in the case of my own Cabinet nor do I know any details of the information applicable to the Chifley Cabinet, except to the extent that this information was disclosed in’ the report of the Nicholas Committee. So far as parliamentary allowances payable to Ministers are concerned, these do not differ from those payable to other members of the Senate or the House of Representatives in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Allowances Act. The honorable member will recall that variations in the’ appropriation under the Ministers of State Act and in the parliamentary allowances payable under the Parliamentary Allowances Act were approved without dissent by this House when the necessary’ legislation was introduced to give effect to the recommendations of the Nicholas Committee.
d asked the Minister for Health, upon notice-
– The answers to the honorable, member’s questions are as follows : -
Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool.
e. - On the 17th September the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) asked the following question : -
Has the Minister for Supply any further information to give to the House in respect of the intention of the Government to dispose of theCommonwealth handling equipment pool? Is it a fact, as reported in Brisbane, that members of the Liberal party and the Australia)?
Country party have assured employees of the pool that they are opposed to the decision of the Government and, as a consequence, they ore vigorously protesting to the Government. . against this proposal ? Can the Minister inform the House whether such protests have . been made to the Government? If they have, what action does the Government intend to take, as the result of the protests, against the disposal of the pool ?
The. Minister for Shipping and Transport has supplied the following reply : -
The disposal of the Commonwealth handling equipment pool is a matter of Government policy. Inquiries have been made by the Government as to whether State governments, port authorities or stevedoring companies in the various ports concerned are interested in the purchase of the pool equipment which is suitable for use on the waterfront. These inquiries are still proceeding.
No final decision has yet been made by the Government as to the disposal of the pool, but, if it is disposed of,’ the Government will stipulate- that satisfactory undertakings be given that that portion of the equipment which is suitable for work on thewaterfront will continue to be operated as a pool.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 October 1953, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1953/19531015_reps_20_hor1/>.