8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator KEATING, for
Senator Elliott agreed to
That a return be laid on the table of the Senate showing -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
.- I move-
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
In submitting this motion, I wish to make it quite clear that the right of honorable senators to speak on the Bill will in no way be limited.. I make a promise to that effect. Unless more work is sent alone; from another place, it would be advisable for the Senate to adjourn over next week, because it would be very inconvenient and unnecessary to call honorable . senators back from distant States for merely formal business. It is in the interests of the convenience of honorable senators generally that 1 ask them to carry this . motion, which I undertake will not, if carried, limit their right to speak at any length they please on the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Russell) pro-, posed -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
.- Mr. President-
– Order! This motion cannot be debated. It is only in the case of financial Bills, which the’ Senate may not amend, that discussion is allowed on the motion for the first reading. This is not a Bill of that character. The Senate may amend this measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– I move-
That this Bill be now. read a third time.
I promised ‘ Senator Keating that an opportunity would be afforded prior to the passing of the Bill to reconsider the provision made with regard to the length of time during which Parliament will be able to take action for the disallowance of any regulation or Ordinance. It was stated that in the Bill the time was limited to fifteen days, ‘but I find, on looking into the matter, that the reference is to fifteen “ sitting “ days, and in ordinary circumstances that would cover more than forty-two days, the period suggested by Senator Keating. The Senate seldom sits for more than three days in each week, and, therefore, fifteen “ sitting” days would cover five weeks, within which time action might be taken for the disallowance of any regulations or Ordinance. In the circumstances, as it is clear that the provision meets the wishes expressed by honorable senators, I do not propose to take any further action in the matter.
. - I raised this question yesterday, not on clause 14, which is the provision dealing with Ordinances, but on a prior clause, in which some reference is made to the power of this Parliament to legislate indirectly by vetoing Ordinances submitted in connexion with the administration of these Territories. I see that, as the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) has pointed out, clause 14 provides that either House of Parliament may , pass a resolution, of which notice has been given, for the disallowance of any regulation or Ordinance within ‘ ‘ fifteen sitting days ‘ ‘ after such regulation or Ordinance has been tabled. That would ordinarily mean, as the Minister has pointed out, a longer period than forty-two days, which I suggested should be the time allowed from the time that any Ordinance was tabled within which action might be taken. I think that all honorable senators are of opinion that fifteen consecutive days would not give members of this Parliament a proper opportunity to take action when considered necessary for the annulment of an Ordinance, but fifteen sitting days will cover a much longer period.
– It will probably cover five weeks.
– Yes. In the circumstances 1 think that it is clear that the provision in the Bill meets the view of this matter expressed in the Senate: It certainly meets any objection, and I shall not, therefore, oppose the third reading of the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 23rd September (vida page 4889), on motion by Senator Russell -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I wish, first of all, to congratulate Senator Pratten upon the very farreaching address which he delivered in the Senate yesterday on this Bill. At the same time, I am sure that honorable senators will agree with me that it would have been far better if that speech had been delivered two or three years ago, prior to the Mother State undertaking such an enormous proposition as that to which she is commited . in connexion with the wheat-handling scheme. It is astonishing that before one bushel of wheat has been.put into the silos erected in New South Wales, Senator Pratten should come forward to explain in detail that the bulk handling of wheat is doomed to” failure. Since the scheme was put into operation in New South Wales, we may assume, after reasonable inquiry, honorable senators have received no new light to guide them in this matter. At that time we had the benefit of reports of Royal Commissions in different States on the subject of the bulk handling of wheat, and we know that people who had travelled in various parts of the world cam e back to tell us that the producer must put his produce in a marketable form, and handle it economically, if he is to compete successfully with producers in other parts of the world.
We have been informed by Senator Pratten that this scheme is doomed to failure. The honorable senator went exhaustively into figures, which I am not going to attempt to dispute. The Bill now before the Senate embodies the principle of cooperation, which the farmers of Western Australia ardently prefer to State- control. I am glad to see “that they, have adopted this attitude, because past experience has shown that neither Federal nor State Governments are able to handle huge business propositions in’ a thoroughly satisfactory and economical manner. Extensive commercial undertakings of this character cannot be effectively controlled by the Federal Government or by State ‘‘Governments, because the personal interest and oversight which is so necessary is lacking. Many of the farmers in Western Australia, which is a wonderful State, are young men who are prepared to put their money into this undertaking, because they realize that it is in their interests. Senator Pratten, in dealing with this question in an exhaustive manner, relies very largely upon the statements made by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) in another place. We all realize that Senator Pratten is a financial genius, and we are under a debt of gratitude to him for the information he has given concerning certain contracts. It is amazing, however, to realize that the representatives of the firm mentioned have, been able to travel from one State to tha other, and sell their plans and specifications to the tune of £20,000. In a federated Australia, such a position ‘is absolutely absurd, and if we were federated’ in the truest sense, it would have been sufficient for one Government to have made the purchase.
– Yes, the Federal Government.
– They were purchased by the States before the Federal Government entered into this arrangement.
– Perhaps so; but it is ridiculous to think that different States are paying £20,000 for similar sets of plans. A few years ago the South Australian Government purchased plans from the same firm, and they have been pigeon-holed. W!hen the question is thoroughly investigated, I think it will be found that the plans which have been recently sold are similar to those which were submitted to the South Australian. Government.
– Experience teaches.
– Yes; and we are going to learn from New South Wales. If we enter into a loose contract, the onus will be on Western Australia, and not on the “Federal Government. Mr. Prowse has gone very carefully into the system, and, knowing the’ wishes and requirements of the farmers in Western Australia, he believes that the action they are taking is a. wise one. He is satisfied that the proposition is sound, because he is investing £1,150 in the scheme. I am sure that the honorable senator who criticised this proposal so severely is not prepared to invest a similar sum in the New South Wales scheme. The Western Australian farmers are desirous of working on a co-operative basis, and it is the desire of the Federal Government to assist them in every way. We have been informed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) from time to time that if our financial position is to improve we must produce to a greater extent.
Seme time ago a South Australian Royal Commission investigated the question of bulk handling, and reported as follows : -
Your Commissioners are impressed with the advantages that voluntary co-operation presents as a means for the successful marketing of produce, and are of the opinion that the adoption of this principle by the farmers, coupled with the command of the best skill obtainable, would secure to them the maximum return for their produce. Your Commissioners believe that the further extension of the principle of co-operation to ..the marketing of- wheat would materially assist- ‘to render the>. farmers more independent of the honorable understanding than they are at present.
– Did not the manager of a large co-operative concern in South Australia have something to say on the question?
– Yes; and Mr. Badcock approves of bulk handling in a modified form. He does not condemn the system. I, too, am prepared to support bulk handling i in “a* modified way, because it is impracticable to handle the whole of -the wheat produced in Australia under this system,” and any one who suggests that that should be done is speaking utter nonsense. In- .many of our newly settled districts railway sidings are placed 2, 3, or 4 miles apart to save the farmers’ time in carting, and it would be absolutely impossible to have silos and elevators at every railway siding. There- is, however, no reason why they should not be constructed at terminal points, so that the bags could be used over and over again.
– In the same way as ore bags are used.
– Yes. Consider the expense that would be saved in sewing bags and handling the wheat in and out of, the sacks. The Commission goes on to- say -
Among the advantages claimed for the system of bulk handling are -
. Saving in the use of bags.
Cheaper handling between the farm and the export wharf.
Senator Pratten’ does not agree with that. I am quoting from the report of a Commission, of which, I believe, Senator Newland was a member, which travelled over the whole Commonwealth. The report continues -
Every man who knows anything about the wheat trade in Australia must realize that we shall have to do something on these lines to enable us to secure a standard quality.
– But we are already getting a higher price than our competitors in foreign markets.
– I believe we do get a. higher price,.- but that is no reason why we should- not endeavour- to secure ‘a still more satisfactory return.
– We are not doing very well in South Africa.
– Perhaps not, but that is a phase of the question with which the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) will probably deal.
– There is also the difference between the cost of buying new iron and timber to protect the wheat. We purchased iron at ‘.£60, and had to sell it at £30 per ton.
-That is quite true. But that material was purchased in abnormal times. Honorable senators doubtless realize that the -initial cost in connexion with the erection of silos will be tremendous, but it will meet the position for many years to come.
– This system will prevent the development of abnormal times.
– Very largely. But the Vice-President of the Executive Council must see that it would have been impossible during the last four or five years to have handled the whole of our wheat in bulk, and we have to consider how^ bulk handling would assist the producers in normal . times.
As many of usbelieve ‘in cooperation, we should be . prepared to assist those who are prepared to put their money into a scheme of this character. Senator Pratten takes exceptiqn to the work being done on a cooperative basis, and suggests that it should be undertaken through the medium of the State Government. I understand that the Western Australian Government were prepared to put £800,000 into the work, on “the understanding that it would be conducted as a State enterprise. If Senator Pratten was working fifteen hours a day to get a crust, would he be prepared to throw the whole of the work of marketing the commodity he produced on to a State Government? I believe he would prefer to be associated with a co-operative concern in which he could take a practical interest.
– I believe in cooperation.
– The honorable senator is a representative of the State of New South Wales, and is protecting what he believes to be the interests of the taxpayers.
– And the farmers concerned.
– They are the principal taxpayers, as it will be found thaf when they are excluded there are not many left. ,
– I do not go as far as that.
– The official figures for the State the honorable senator represents show that the farmers produce 86 per cent, of the wealth of that State, and it is, therefore, fair to assume that they pay at least three-fourths of the taxation.
– They do if they get their fair share of the wealth they produce.
– But they do not always get it. Through the medium of co-operation the farmers will be able to avoid the charges imposed by the middlemen and the jute manufacturers, who have been getting a fairly large share of the returns from their produce. It is our desire that the farmers should be able to market their produce to the best advan-, tage, . and we should assist, them when they are willing to invest their own money. I believe . that after honorable senators have given this matter careful consideration, they will realize that they must not be led away by figures.
I now wish to . quote from the report of a Victorian Commission which, went very carefully into this question. Senator Pratten quoted figures showing that the bag system would mean a saving to the farmers.
Senatorde Largie. - But if we . give Senator Pratten a few figures he will prove anything..
– It would be interesting to give us some information from thatreport, because bags were then 4s. 6d.
– I am going to refer to the price of bags. To-day they are costing l6s. 3d. per dozen.
– How many would the honorable senator buy at that price ?
– If Senator Pratten will kindly give me his attention for a few moments, these commercial transactions may be completed outside. Let us see how the bag system works out on the basis of 100,000 bags of wheat being stacked at a good country siding. Of course, the prices which I am about to quote are those which ob tained under normal pre-war conditions. The cost, honorable senators will understand, would be very considerably more to-day. Now, 100,000 bags at 6d. each would represent £2,500; sewing, at1d. per bag, would mean £417 ; the cost of the twine is set down at l0d. per ball’; the handling charge at 2d. per bag would amount to £834; so that, if we deduct from these costs the value of the bags sold as wheat, namely £625, we get a total cost of £3,136. I do -not know whether bags are still being handled for 2d. each - out of the stack into the truck, and out of the truck into the ship. I think that I would be well within bounds if I said that that work to-day costs 4d. per bag.
– The whole of our handling work costs 5d. per bushel without bags.
– Under the elevatorsystem, covering the whole of the handling charges as enumerated above, the total cost of handling 100,000 bags of wheat would he £1,562, thus effecting a saving to the farmer of £1,574.
These figures have teen very carefully collected-
– Does that calculation include anything in the way of interest upon the capital cost of the silos ?
– Every detail has been included upon a per bag basis. Of course, I recognise that in Government undertakings the officials often forget that money is worth anything.
The figures which I have quoted convince me that co-operation is the correct principle for our producers to apply to the handling of their wheat In South Australia we have one of the finest cooperative societies to he found in the Southern Hemisphere, but it is not ready, nor is it in a financial position, to buy the wheat for the coming year.. However, the time must come when co-operative societies will handle the wheat crops of Australia, . and they must have Commonwealth backing to enable them to compete successfully with private enterprise, and to prevent the middleman coming in between the producer and the consumer to the extent that he does now. Here is Western Australia setting an example for the whole of the Commonwealth. I hope that that example will be followed by New South Wales. I am sure that Senator Pratten in his quiet moments will admit that if the wheathand’ling scheme in his own State had been in the hands of keen business men “who had a personal interest in the industry, it would have been to the advantage of the ‘producers there. The question of whether the money which it is proposed to provide under this Bill should go through the State of Western Australia to the co-operative society, or whether it should go direct to that society, with the help of the Western Australian Government,, which will have to -provide several hundred thousand pounds, is not of very great importance. After all, we are merely asked to do what is in thebest interests of the producers. It is incumbent that the Commonwealth should liveup to the ideal it proclaimed when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) urged that the paramount duty of our people was to “Produce, produce, produce,” in order to enable this country to carry the heavy burdens which have, been placed upon it during the past few years.
– I do not remember any question ‘which has come before the Senate upon which I have experienced so much difficulty in making up my mind as I have experienced in connexion with this Bill. Hitherto, I confess, I have not gone into the question of the bulk handling of wheat. It is a most intricate question, and honorable senators have scarcely been able to sufficiently delve into it at such short notice. I feel that we ought to help this co-operative society in Western Australia. It is a plucky venture, but before committing ourselves to it we ought to inform . our minds precisely as to what this business proposition means. I gather from the agreement which is embodied in the schedule to the Bill that a company is to be formed on. the basis of 300,000 shares. The capital to be called up is £150,000. Are we quite clear in our minds that the other £150,000 will be provided? I would like to view the matter as a business proposition. We owe that duty to the farmers of Western Australia as much as to the Commonwealth..
– Sufficient shares have already been issued, and the farmers are going- to pay a portion of the balance from the proceeds of the -harvest for 1920. There is no question that the money will be forthcoming.
– Are we quite safe in lending this money ? Having loaned the co-operative society to be formed in Western Australia the sum of £500,000, we may in the future have the- silos handed over to us, and the entire venture thrown uponour- hands. We ought to have some evidence that the farmers of the Western State are going to entirely change their method of harvesting their crops. Under the present system, I understand that they use the complete harvester for taking off those crops. These machines will have to be scrapped, and the farmers will have to revert to the old reaper and binder, and to the system of putting their wheat sheaves into a stack.
– I understand, too, that the silos proposed to be erected will not hold more than about one-third of the wheat crop,, whereas under the present system the entire crop is ready immediately. The farmer is not now required to store that crop upon his property.
– Fortunately all the crops do not come in at once.
– They are harvested over a period of not more than six or seven weeks. Under existing conditions, whilst he is engaged in harvesting his crop, the farmer cannot spare the time to cart his wheat to the silos at the railway stations.
– I cart it as quickly as I can put it into bags.
– But the honorable senator is a capitalist.
– The farmer need not adopt bulk handling from the farm to the railways.
– The point I wish to have elucidated is whether this is a good business transaction for the farmers of Western Australia as well as for the Government. I do not suppose that it would cost a great deal for the former to fit up waggons so as to enable them to cart their wheat in bulk to the railway stations. I should like to know whether there is any binding agreement with the Government of Western Australia under which the latter undertake to provide the requisite number of trucks for the carriage’ of the wheat ?
– I hope that itis not a mere verbal promise, but a properly drawn up legal agreement. These are points which we should thoroughly look into. I would like to ascertain what will be the entire cost of the scheme, because probably as soon as the silos have been built, and the farmers have the Commonwealth “ in the bag,” so to speak, we shall be faced with another demand for financial assistance. It may then be urged, “ The Commonwealth has put £500,000 into the venture, and now it has to get that money out of it.” Faced with such an alternative, we should either have to close down upon the whole thing, or to find an additional sum of money.
– The honorable senator might think that we are greenDoes he imagine that we are likely to make advances in excess of the value of the work that is done? We will advance only about 75 per cent, of the value of that work.
– If the Commonwealth had either to accept useless silos or to spend a considerable sum of- money to make the scheme effective, I think that it would choose the latter course. I have known of many instances in which private individuals have been obliged to act in that way. I well remember how anxious certain people were to get the survey of the so-called desert railway to “Western Australia carried out. But immediately that survey was completed they said, “ Oh, everything is all right now. The Commonwealth has spent a considerable sum of money upon the survey of the line, and will now have to proceed with its construction.” I am afraid that the same thing might occur here, and that, after we had spent a lot of money, we might have to go on with it. The figures brought up by Senator Wilson are now some years old, and I should like to see the matter gone right over again to show what the bulk handling scheme is going to save the farmers of Western Australia as against the cost of the present system.
– The only difference that is likely to be shown is that bags to-day are even dearer than when those figures were compiled.
– That is so. Bags are dearer.
– If those figures were anything like correct at the time they were taken out, the position would be even more in favour of bulk handling io-day.
– I should certainly like to see them gone into again. After all, is there any great hurry for this Bill ? The silos cannot be completed until next year. The Senate is not thoroughly au fait with the question. Could not the Government agree to adjourn the debate on the second reading for one month, and, in the meantime, appoint a Committee, consisting of -the Minister (Senator Russell), as Chairman, Senator Pratten as the representative of the Opposition, and Senator Plain, who has been through this matter from its inception, as the representative of the Ministerial party ? That Committee could bring over one or two representatives from the Westralian Farmers Cooperative Society, go into the whole business, and report to the Senate. If I can be assured that it is a proper business transaction, that we are not likely to be called on to provide a lot more money after advancing this £550,000, and that it is a good thing for .the ‘ Westralian farmers, my feeling will be to support the Bill strongly, because I entirely agree with Senator Wilson and Senator Pratten that co-operation is the coming method of dealing with all these business affairs.
– Yesterday you complained that we had made the margin of safety in the penalty clause too great. The usual penal rate in a mortgage, is an extra 1 per cent., whereas we provide for an increase from 6 to 10 per cent., and you said that we had been overdoing the good business in the interests of the protection of the Commonwealth. In any case, nearly all the matters that you are dealing with are always left to the SolicitorGeneral’s Department, and are not dealt with by Ministers’ at all.
– I quite understand that, but we are not in any great hurry to deal with this matter. The silos are not required until the next crop is harvested. They cannot deal with this crop. We have at least thirteen months before they will need to be completed. Cannot we take one month to satisfy the business instincts of the Senate before we launch out into this scheme ? I can quite understand the reasons of .the Western Australian Parliament for declining it. Their finances are not in as good a state as we should like, but, after all, is the Commonwealth in such a flourishing financial position? Where are we to get another £550,000 ?
-brockman. - The Federal Parliament has already agreed to advance £2,850,000 to erect silos in Australia under the Act of 1917.
– When that Act was passed, we did not owe anything like the money ‘ that we owe now. The war was on then, and .we passed these things in the most reckless fashion. We were spending millions then, but now we have to take a much more economical view of our position. Still, I feel that we ought to support the farmers of Western Australia. . I do not like to turn them down in any way. I think they are on the right lines, but before going right through with the Bill I hope the Minister will see his way to adopt ‘ my suggestion for a final look at the whole proposition. It is not a matter of the greatest urgency. I do not know how long it takes to complete a silo, but -they cannot be required for another thirteen months. If all these things were gone into thoroughly the’ Senate would be doing its absolute duty and might save money to the farmers of Western Australia in respect of many points which possibly they have overlooked. They cannot all have looked into the proposition. I do not know whom they are trusting to do the business for them. I urge the Minister to adopt my suggestion before we part with this money. If we were putting our own money in we would look closely into the business, and endeavour to thoroughly understand every one of these points. I confess that at present I do not understand many of them. I should be prepared to trust a Committee such as I have suggested, with their experience, to go fully into tie question. When they reported I should hope that we could see our way confidently to indorse the Government’s scheme and to help the farmers of Western Australia, who have behaved in such a plucky manner.
– I may, perhaps, be able to answer one or two of the rather pertinent questions put by Senator Fairbairn. His principal concern is to know what are the chances of these silos coming back on to the hands of the Federal Government. It would, perhaps, relieve his anxiety a little if I told him something about the growth of this cooperative movement in Western Australia. It was started a considerable time ago by the late Mr. Charles Harper, and carried on by his son, Mr. Walter Harper, who has since been associated with practically all the principal farmers in Western Australia. Mr. Basil Murray is now the managing director of the concern. I had a little to do ‘with it before the war. It was very small then, and had only a small number of employees. When I returned and began ‘ to . look into it about twelve months ago I was amazed to discover that it had grown into an immense concern. It had acquired a very big warehouse, one of the largest buildings in Perth, for the accommodation of its staffs. Large as that building is, it is evident that the company will soon need further accommodation. It is runon the following lines : - There is a separate cooperative concern called the Westralian Farmers Limited. That is the great wholesale body of the farmers of Western
Australia, and is carried on in the city. Attached or subordinate to it there are already eighty-six affiliated companies throughout the country districts of the State, and ten in the bigger centres of population. Thus we have the main wholesale company and no less than ninety-six subordinate retail concerns all run on a co-operative basis for- the benefit of the primary producers of the West. The business men who have created this gigantic concern out of nothing - and they are very keen business men, especially Mr. Basil Murray - are the same men that are contemplating the running of this particular business. If their past success is any guide, it is a pretty considerable guarantee of the success of this venture.
What is it that the farmers undertake to do ? The company has a capital of £1.500,000. Practically the whole of the farmers . of Western Australia are coming into it, just as practically all of them are already in those other cooperative concerns which have been so successful. The farmers are taking shares on the basis of their wheat production last year and this year. We hope to have a 20,000,000-bushel crop this year in Western Australia. It will be at least somewhere in that vicinity. If that expectation is fulfilled, 20,000,000 bushels of wheat will pass into the Pool, and if every farmer comes in, as I believe he will, an amount of 20,000,000 shillings, or ls. per bushel, will be contributed by them. From that source £1,000,000, or, at a conservative estimate, £800,000, will be available.
– The total cost of the scheme is estimated at only £800,000.
– Then the Federal Government are taking no risk. That is the prospect for this year and next year, and the farmers of Western Australia have to dispose of the wheat before they can get hold of the money.
asked what risks the Federal Government were running of losing the money if they advanced it. There is practically no chance of losing it. The farmers of Western Australia, who are practically the only wealth producers of the State, apart from the miners, are almost to a man behind the concern. Before the Federal Government . are to be asked to put up one penny the farmers will spend £100,000 of their own money as an earnest of their intentions. That is number one guarantee. After that the Federal Government are going to supply £550,000. In other words, they are supplying £2 for every £l put in by the farmers.
– That is £5 103. to £1 on those lines.
– No ; the farmers spend £100,000 before one penny is advanced by the Federal Government, and after that they put up £250,000 as against the Government’s £550,000. In addition, the Government Of “Western Australia are going to provide all the necessary facilities on the railways for the handling of the wheat. Senator Pratten has estimated that this will cost at least £300,000.
– I do not follow you ; I was quoting figures for South Australia.
– Very well. The South Australian requirements are similar to those of Western Australia, and while I am not in a position to verify very many of the investigations, I believe they are more or less correct. I hope that Senator Fairbairn is now satisfied that we are not running any particular risk concerning the money to be advanced, in view of the fact that the farmers are putting their own money into it, and are going to spend £100,000 before one penny of the Commonwealth money is touched.
Another question asked, and I think it was rather pertinent, was, “ Why did not the farmers of Western Australia . approach the State Government for assistance?” Well, the farmers of my State have had a good deal of. experience of State controlled industries. They have seen many experiments carried out over there, as well as in other parts of Australia. They know, as well as we do, that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business, and. this particular proposal is very much their business. This, I am informed, is the reason why the scheme was thrown out in the Upper House of Western Australia by the people who represented their views in that Chamber. The farmers preferred to handle this scheme themselves rather than have it controlled by the State or Federal Governments.
– It is rather amazing that people with’ such strong convictions would deign to use Government money at all.
– New South Wales ought to be the last to talk about using Government money.
– I would like to remind those honorable senators who think this proposal should not be accepted that in 1917 the Commonwealth Parliament passed an Act for the purpose of advancing to the wheatgrowing States of Australia £2,850,000 for the purpose of constructing silos throughout the Commonwealth. The only State that applied for some portion of this money was New South Wales, but if the other States had made application they would, of course, have participated in the arrangement.
– If Western Australia had applied, that State would have got the money also.
– Western Australia, as Senator Duncan has just indicated, could have got some of this money, but for the reasons already indicated the Government did not apply for it. Had they made application the Commonwealth would have been advancing, not £500,000, as in this scheme, but. the whole amount required for the construction of silos. Therefore, we, who are the custodians of the Commonwealth purse, are now in a much more advantageous position, because, under this scheme, we shall be advancing hundreds of thousands of pounds less than would have been required under the earlier proposal of the Commonwealth Government. And, further, we have an additional security in the fact that the farmers of Western Australia are putting their own money into the venture. This will be their particular concern, and, of course, they will see to it that they do not lose money over it. If the Western Australian farmers do not lose their money we shall not lose the Commonwealth’s money in the transaction. I think, therefore, that there is everything to recommend the scheme as against that approved by this Parliament three years ago.
Senator Pratten . gave us a wealth of figures in the course of his criticism, and made an extraordinarily useful contribu- tion- to the debate; but I think he indicated that while he did not quite f avour this proposal he did not altogether condemn it. Except for certain inferences contained in his remarks, one listening to him ‘might have assumed that he was making a speech in favour of the scheme, fox in the whole of his figures I can find nothing to condemn the project.. I cannot, however, agree ‘with some of his deductions.
I want now to remind honorable senators that last year the Western Australian farmers- paid £260,000 for bags for the handling of their crop. This year’s harvest is going to be very much greater, and, of course, the farmers will pay a proportionally larger amount for their bags. We all know, too, that jute goods have gone up in price, and that values are still rising. In this connexion I -wish to furnish honorable senators with same information that appeared in the Melbourne Age on the 21st inst., and I may add that I am surprised that Senator Pratten missed it, because,, generally, he manages to get hold of everything.. The paragraph was to this effect -
It is officially estimated that the Indian jute crop will total 6,500,000bales.This wouldbe the smallest crop since 1.003, and 40 per cent, below the highest recorded in 1914. It is- anticipated that no raw material’ will he available for export.
The Western Australian farmers, as I have said, last year paid £260,000 for their bags. I believe- they have already in hand enough bags for the coming season, but unless they have a bulk handling scheme in operation before next harvest, what are they likely to be called upon to pay for bags? Not only is the jute crop a partial failure this year, but the cost of producing jute, like the cost of every other commodity, has gone up considerably. Consequently, if for no other reason than that the Western Australian farmers, by instituting the bulk-handling system, will save this £260,000 a year, or a greater portion of it, for bags, this scheme is, I contend, fully justified.
– The honorable senator is basing the whole of his argument on newspaper information, possibly inspired, from Calcutta.
– No. If the honoarable senator had read the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) the other day, and that certainly was not inspired he would have found that, in effect, it contained the same information.
-Do not destroy the value of the interjection, because Senator Pratten makes 90 per cent, of his- points on newspaper quotations.
– I want also to remind the Senate, as Senator Wilson has already done, that the primary producers of Western Australia are responsible for 85½ per cent, of the total wealth produced in that State; and that these are the men’ we are backing in regard to this scheme. The Commonwealth Parliament will never see Western Australia go bankrupt. The Government would go to the assistance of any State that showed indications of bankruptcy.
– As a State.
– BROCKMAN. - Quite true. And if the farmers of Western Australia fail, this scheme fails; and, seeing that the primary producers are responsible for 85½ per cent, of the wealth, if. they fail, then “Western Australia goes bankrupt. This is the position in a nutshell. The success of the scheme is bound up with the success of the farmers.
– Is it not a’ question of the success or otherwise of the bulk handling of wheat, and not the success of the farmer?
-I shall deal with that aspect of the- matter. My honorable friend is afraid, apparently, that the farmers of Western Australia are not sufficiently astute to determine whether this is a good business deal or otherwise; but I have already indicated, that they are advised and controlled’ in all their co-operative concerns by first-class business men. This bulkhandling scheme was mooted about ten years ago, and since then the most exhaustive inquiries into the whole system as applied to Western Australia have been made, not merely in Australia, hut also in America and other countries where wheat is handled in bulk.
– The Governments of South Australia, and Victoria made similar inquiries.
– BROCKMAN. - And in neither case has the inquiry condemned the system.
– Not as a whole, hut in part. .
– I mean that the bulk-handling system of wheat has not been condemned. After the most exhaustive investigations, those who were appointed to make the inquiries “in Western Australia advised the farmers that the scheme. was so sound that they could not only invest their own money in it, but could safely take on obligations of repayment to the Commonwealth Government of any money that might be advanced.
– What is about the average haulage of wheat in Western Australia ?
– Offhand, I am afraid I cannot answer the honorable senator’s question.
– About how far out is the most distant wheat area from a terminal port?
– The haulage wouldbe anything from 40 to 250 miles.
– Senator Pratten also raised the question of shipping accommodation as applied to the bulk-handling system. The farmers of Western Australia have made very careful investigations into that particular matter. They addressed inquiries to thirty-five wheat shippers in Western Australia, and of the replies received twenty-three shippers declared themselves in favour of the bulk-handling system, four were non-committal, five were not interested, and three were opposed to it. It will be seen, therefore, that the great majority of the shippers interested in Western Australian wheat production favour the system of bulk handling.
Another thing in favour of this proposal by the farmers of Western Australia is that they will save under it no less than 12½ per cent, of shipping space, and consequently freight charges, if their wheat is handled in bulk rather than in bags.
– Will they get freight at anything less per ton ?
– No, they will not, but they will secure an advantage in the matter of handling and in the time occupied in loading, because while it takes nine days to load a ship with bags., it is estimated that it will take only three days to load it with grain in bulk.
– The farmers will save freight on the bags to and fro, and that will represent a substantial amount.
– Not only that, but, according to the exhaustive investigations of the farmers of Western Australia, they will save no less than £37,000 in freight in respect of the dirt shipped from Western Australia abroad, for which they are not paid, but on which they must pay “freight.
– They must ship very dirty wheat.
– They do, and so do wheat shippers in every other part of Australia.
– Is the dirt cleaned out bef ore the wheat is put into the silo ?
– Yes, the dirt is cleaned ‘ out at the silos. As. a part of the bulk-handling process, the dirt is eliminated. The farmers of Western Australia are very small in number as compared with those, for instance, of Victoria, but they say that they pay no less than £37,000 per annum as freight on good Western Australian soil which they ship from Western. Australia to the ports of Europe with their wheat. .
– They exported of their last crop approximately 4,000,000 bushels.
– May I tell the honorable senator that already this year, and I am speaking of this season’s shipping, they have shipped £2,000,000 worth of wheat and £2,000,000 worth of flour.
– My reference was to the export of grain last year.
– The amount of grain available for export in Western Australia next year should be somewhere in the vicinity of 16,000,000 bushels.
– Do they need to keep’ only 4,000,000 bushels for their own consumption in Western Australia?
– I am not in a position to say exactly what amount is required for local consumption in Western Australia. I- can make the calculations for my honorable friend if he is not capable of making them for himself, but I tell honorable senators what will be available for export from Western Australia next year according to figures supplied to me by the farming community- there. I have not verified or checked those figures, but have given them to the Senate as they were given to me. …
– The honorable senator raised an interesting point when he said there would be a saving in freight by bulk as against bags, as freight on the bags would have to be paid. The honorable senator will remember that the bags are weighed in as wheat,
– BROCKMAN. - Every member of the Senate has promised at times to assist the primary producers. The basis of the appeal made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) for the support of the electors of Australia was the promise to assist the primary producers. Western Australia, as honorable senators are aware, has given a practical undertaking to the Commonwealth to take all the immigrants that may be shipped to that State. We expect to put those people on the land, and hope that they will become Western Australian farmers in due course. It is the duty of the Federal Parliament to support Western Australia in this regard, in order that the Government of that State may be in a position to fulfil their undertaking to receive immigrants from the Old Country. If for no other reason, it is the duty of this Parliament to support a measure which has’ that end in view.
– Nothing would be more pleasing to me than to be able to support the measure at present before us. I realize as fully as I hope other honorable senators do, the tremendous importance to Australia of its wheat production. It is the duty, not so much of the Federal Parliament as of the State Parliaments, to give every possible assistance to wheat producers, not only that those who are at present engaged in the industry may be induced to increase the areas they put under cultivation, and so increase production, but also in order that the number of wheat producers in the CommonWealth may be increased.
The future of this- great Australia of ours depends very largely upon the volume of production we are able to attain. There is to-day a demand, and a growing demand, for wheat throughout the world. Peoples who. hitherto have not been wheat consumers are rapidly developing the habit, and, as the East becomes more civilized, shall we say, so will the demand for wheat continue to grow, and so also will the future success of the wheat-growers of Australia be assured.
– Cultivation will largely increase in the East, too.
– That may be:so, but in view of the population of Eastern countries, and in view’ of the growing needs of humanity, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Eastern peoples will’ hot be able’ to produce all that they require for themselves. There is Australia’s great opportunity. So I say that the future of this Commonwealth must depend very largely on the welfare of the primary producers, more particularly those engaged in the production of foodstuffs, the most important section of whom are our wheat-growers.
In view of the very conflicting statements that have been made by some honorable senators, the present position of the wheat-growers in Australia seems to to be lather a hazy one. I do not think that we can do too much for our primary producers. Any encouragement and protection we can give them will be fully warranted, but we need to be quite sure that we are giving them encouragement and protection, and are not increasing the difficulties with which they have to contend. This point was particularly elaborated by Senator Pratten in the very fine speech he delivered. Honorable senators who listened to that speech must have been filled with doubt as to the wisdom and advisability of the course now proposed by the Government. I feel that it is a deplorable thing that in Australia we should, in any degree at all, be dependent upon the nigger labour of the East for so large a factor in the welfare of our wheat producers as we are. I realize that the wheat industry of Australia is very largely dependent upon the jute position, and jute is produced by people who are not living under our conditions, and who receive the beggarly wages which we know are paid to those employed in its production. It is deplorable that we should be dependent upon them in any degree at all for our future prosperity. I should be prepared to do almost anything to get out of that difficulty in which we find ourselves, and make Australia absolutely independent of the coolies of India or anywhere else for the marketing of this great primary product of ours.
I want to be sure that we are taking the right steps. When I consider the degree of prosperity that to-day obtains amongst our primary producers and remember the very fine prices, take them by and large, which they have received for their products during the last few years, I think that they have very little to complain of. After listening to Senator de Largie drawing the harrowing pictures he did draw of the awful conditions under which wheat-growers are labouring in Western Australia. I began to wonder what degree of civilization the people have reached over there, and what kind of government they can possibly have had in the past.
– I spoke of what I know something about.
– When the honorable senator spoke of these harrowing conditions the tears almost ran down my cheeks. He held up to our view a picture that can only be compared to that drawn by Hood, when he wrote his famous “ Song of the Shirt” -
Stitch, stitch, stitch, in poverty, hunger, and dirt.
Senator de Largie might have adapted that line, and said that ‘ ‘ work, work, work, in poverty, hunger and dirt,” is the condition of those engaged in wheat production in Western Australia. By way of ‘ interjection he now says that, when he spoke in the way to which I have referred, he knew what he was talking about. He knows the awful conditions that obtain in the Western State, where these men are ground down by the “cursed middleman, who takes from them, all their profit. He knows that they are living under the awful conditions he pictured - in hovels, ill-fed, and illclothed.
– I said nothing about their feeding.
– That is the picture the honorable senator drew, and, if it is a correct picture, I begin to ask myself whether we shall be doing right in passing the measure now before us.
– The only difference is that Senator de Largie knows, and the honorable senator does not know, what he is talking about.
– My honorable friend, Senator Wilson, who never produced a bushel of wheat in his life-
SenatorWilson. - I beg the honorable senator’s pardon, he must withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it. The honorable senator has produced a bushel of wheat.
– A good many bushels.
– If the honorable senator cared to inquire, he would find that I ‘have been associated with wheatgrowing all my life, until the last few years. My parents and grand-parents were wheat producers,, and were connected with the wheat-producing and milling industries in this State and in New South Wales.
– The honorable senator got out of it.
– The honorable senator has a better job now.
– In those distant days of the past, when Senator de Largie’s ancestors were wondering where they would get enough’ meal to make a bannock, my ancestors were growing and milling wheat. That being so, I do not think there is any room for Senators de Largie and Wilson to make any reflections upon my knowledge of wheatgrowing, or my association- with the industry.
– The honorable senator’s predecessor had sense enough to get out.
– He had. He was translated, I hope, to a higher sphere. I also got out of it, and, I hope, have been translated to a higher sphere.
– The honorable senator has got away from the “ Work, work, work, in poverty, hunger, and dirt.”
– Yes; I desire to see the farmers of Western Australia get away from it, and have their conditions improved.
I want to place before honorable senators the position as it appears to me in order that they may realize the difficulties that are confronting me in making up my mind as to how to vote on such an important question. I am anxious to do the right thing for the Western Australian producers, because I realize that they are a section of the community deserving of help. But I am not going to be bludgeoned into doing what I do not think to be right by the threats of honorable senators who differ from me. There are some honorable senators who, because they hold other views, think that I do not understand what I am talking about, and that I have no real interest in the producers of Western Australia or any other part of the Commonwealth.
– Who has been endeavouring to bludgeon the honorable senator ?
– It has been said by previous speakers that we should adopt this proposal. Honorable senators have been casting all sorts of slurs upon the great State I assist in representing in this Chamber, and have been referring in a despicable manner to its administrators. Reference has also been made to its inability to manage its own affairs in a business-like way.
– The honorable senator has admitted that the scheme is likely to be a failure, but we have not said so.
– I am not saying that it is a failure. I shall endeavour to deal with the position, and I shall ask honorable senators to agree to a course of action similar to that which has been taken by the farmers and legislators in South Australia. It is to be regretted that the representatives of that State, who should be watching the interests of the producers, cannot be guided by the action South Australia has taken. Surely when such a State, which has six representatives in this Chamber, lays it down that it is better to wait and see before it is involved in a huge public expenditure, those representatives should protect Western Australia in the same way.
– You did not do that in New South Wales.
– No, because we had nothing to wait for. Other States now have opportunities which New South Wales did not then possess. We should wait and see the results of the experiments being made in New South Wales.
– Why did not New South Wales wait?
– Because at that time we had nothing to wait for, and as the work is still in the experimental stage, I advise honorable senators, with that degree of Scotch caution which some Scotsmen seem to be lacking, to wait and -see if .the scheme is likely to be a success.
Senator de Largie drew a harrowing picture of the poverty existing amongst the wheat farmers in Western Australia. It must be remembered that these men who are living under, such conditions of poverty and misery are those who are going to invest their money in this undertaking. The producers have to provide, under this agreement, one-third of the cost, estimated at £800,000, which represents a sum of approximately £270,000. This down-trodden and poverty-stricken section of the community in Western Australia, according to Senator de Largie, is going to invest, £270,000 in the. bulkhandling scheme. Surely this is a contra.diction which Senator de Largie and others who are supporting him should explain.
– We ought to congratulate, them on their enterprise.
– I want the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) to understand that I am not in any way opposing the interests of the Western Australian farmers, or the enterprise which they have shown. The only honorable senator in this chamber who has said anything against them is Senator de Largie.
– In what way 1
– The honorable senator is- the only one who cast any reflection upon them.
– I ask the honorable senator to prove that.
– The honorable senator spoke of their down-trodden condition. If the statement is incorrect the farmers of that State will not thank him for making it, and if it is correct it is difficult to understand how they can be in a- position to contribute £270,000 towards the work.
-brockman. - Out of their temporary prosperity they are preparing for future abnormal conditions.
– I rise to order ! Senator Duncan has just said that I cast a reflection upon the farmers of Western Australia, and I invite him to prove that I made such a statement or to withdraw it.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bakhap). - According to our Standing Orders, if an honorable senator makes a statement which another honorable senator regards as a reflection upon him, such a statement has to be withdrawn.
– If Senator de Largie objects to my statement that he drew a most harrowing picture of the conditions of the farmers of Western Australia, I withdraw it.
There are many objections to the scheme embodied in the Bill; but, after listening to the admirable speech of Senator Drake-Brockman, it would appear . that it has much to recommend it. This is a question which has two sides, either of which, if heard alone, would be sufficient to justify an honorable senator in supporting or opposing it. The case put forward by Senator Pratten and that submitted on the other hand by Senator Drake-Brockman would appear to the mere observer so complete in every detail that the average man might be forgiven for not being able to make up his mind as to how to vote. The great objection to this scheme is one that has already been voiced by Senator Payne and several other honorable senators. The point is this: This measure proposes that the Commonwealth Parliament shall indorse the intrusion of the Commonwealth Parliament between the Parliament of a State and the producers of that State, who are subject to State laws.
– We came, in by invitation.
– Not by the invitation of the governing body.
-We were invited by the Parliament and the farmers of that State.
– That is news to me, and I am glad to have the Minister’s assurance that such is the case. The fact, however, remains that we are coming in as a third party.
– I meant to say that we were invited by the Government, and not the Parliament.
– I understand the Western Australian Government have no objection to the Commonwealth authorities intervening.
– It is usual for Governments to ask for approval.
– So far as I know, the only action th.e Western Australian Parliament has taken has been to refuse to do anything in the matter. The Government have taken certain steps, and we are now asked to come in between the State and a section of the community in an unusual manner, and one which has never before been adopted since the inception of Federation.
– Yes. What of the bonuses to the steel producers ?
– That is an entirely different proposition.
– Then what of New South Wales on the question of wire-netting?
– Encouragement has been given in certain directions, with the object of establishing certain manufacturing industries for the benefit of the whole Commonwealth.
– And the benefits applying equally to the whole Commonwealth.
Arguments have been used in this debate to the effect that there is no difference between the course of action embodied in this measure and that adopted when bonuses were paid to the sugar producers in Queensland. That argument was used by Senator de Largie.
– Is it unfair to refer to New South Wales getting all the good things?
– New South Wales has not received her fair share of the benefits, considering what she contributes in the” way of taxation. New South Wales is represented in this Chamber by six senators, and another State, which has not one-twentieth of the population, has similar representation. We have agreed to these things owing to the magnanimity and generosity of the people.
– Why not discuss the Bill?
– I am not departing from its principle, but some honorable senators always seem to have before them the bugbear that New South Wales is getting, or is likely to get, more than its share. It seems quite fashionable in this Parliament to throw “ dirt “ at the Mother State.
– The honorable senator should not say that here.
– I am saying it because it seems the practice in this Parliament to endeavour to keep New
South Wales from receiving even those benefits to which she is entitled under the Constitution. No honorable senator can deny that.
My first objection to the proposal now before the Senate is that we are launching out in an entirely new way in the expenditure of Commonwealth public money, and in a manner which was never contemplated under the Constitution. When the Constitution was ratified by the States, it was understood that the Federal Parliament would deal only . with certain great national problems, such as that of defence.
– Let us get back to the Bill.
– Does the Minister contend that I am discussing matters foreign to the measure?
– Defence has certainly nothing to do with it.
– The Constitution was never supposed to cover conditions such as these, and it was never contemplated that this great Commonwealth Parliament, which was created to deal with national questions, should ‘take up much of its time in discussing the question of giving an advance to a small group of persons in a particular State.
– If the procedure is unconstitutional, why not take the necessary steps and bring the matter before the High Court?
– I am not saying that it is not constitutional, but that we are doing something that was not expected when the Constitution was framed.
My second objection is that the Commonwealth Government will be committed to the expenditure of over half-a-million pounds sterling without adequate cover. There has been some discussion as to whether the security provided in this measure is sufficient. I do not think it is. No Government in Australia would dar© to foreclose upon any considerable number of farmers in any State of tha Union. Of course, Senator Drake-Brockman has assured us that such a contingency ie not likely to arise - and I hope that he is right - but suppose that this limited liability company, which is to be subsidized by the Commonwealth, should fail. In what position will the Government be in regard to recovering the money which it has advanced ? Would it foreclose upon the security which it holds? Would it take over these grain elevators and silos in Western Australia? Suppose that the farmers of that State said, “ We will hand over the whole thing to you.” What could the Commonwealth do with it? . It could only manage it in the interests of the very men who had repudiated their contract. Is it any part of the functions of the Commonwealth Parliament to carry on operations of this character either in the interests of the farmers, or of the manufacturers, or any other section of the community ? These are dangers which we have to consider. The Government have attempted to obtain adequate cover in connexion with this scheme; but in the very nature of things their efforts cannot be successful.
My next objection to the Bill is a very serious one, and one which must appeal to every honorable senator when he recollects the obligations into which the Commonwealth has already entered. I know that the expression which I am about to use is a time-worn one; but,* nevertheless, it is applicable here, and I therefore make no apology for urging as an objection to this scheme that ‘ ‘ the time is not opportune.” I ask honorable senators to recall the very high cost of building materials at the present time. In every State of the Union building operations have been considerably hampered by reason of high prices of materials. In certain States it is almost impossible to get a sufficient supply of cement to enable the erection of soldiers’ homes to be proceeded with. At Canberra it is proposed that the Commonwealth shall manufacture its own cement.
– Western Australia will soon be in a better position to supply cement than Canberra will ever be.
– Is the cement there to-day ?
– That is news to me. If there be such an abundance of cement in Western Australia it is strange that keen commercial men have not seen fit to send supplies of it round to the eastern States. I do not believe that there is any considerable surplus of cement in Western Australia.
– Who said that there was?
– The honorable senator now denies that there is. That is just the position in which I wished to place him.
– But there is a sufficient supply of cement in Western Australia to enable these silos to be erected.
– There may be sufficient cement for ordinary purposes; but unless there is a surplus it will be impossible to proceed with the scheme which we are now discussing.
– Brockman. - Very shortly there will be a sufficient supply of cement in Western Australia for the needs of New South Wales, and New South Welshmen are very large shareholders in the cement enterprise which has been started in Western Australia. They came into it with a view to getting supplies of cement from Western Australia for New South Wales.
– That confirms what I have said as to the acumen of business men in the West.
– I do not think that the honorable senator can boast of the acumen of the business men of New South Wales in connexion with the wheatstorage scheme there.
– We have been assured that the scheme which is outlined in this Bill will cost £800,000.
– That is only an estimate.
– Exactly. Let me remind honorable senators that the main terminal silo in New South Wales, about which there have been no complaints, and which was constructed in record time, and under record conditions - a silo which is designed to hold 6,000,000 bushels of wheat - has itself cost £800,000.
– That 6il6 is under the same control and direction as will be the silos constructed under this Bill. The honorable senator is proud of one performance that we have put up; he ought to be equally confident in regard to our next performance.
– The silo of which I speak was constructed under the close personal supervision of an officer of the Government. Where other silos have been erected in New South Wales, under supervision which was not so strict, the results have not been nearly so satisfactory. It has already cost the Government of New South’ Wales £11,000 to repair silos which were constructed under the wheat-storage scheme, and those silos have never yet held a bushel of wheat.
– Of the £11,000 of which the honorable senator speaks, the contractors are responsible for £8,000.
– It will cost the New .South Wales Government a considerable sum of money to put these silos in. repair, even though they have been completed and handed over to the Commonwealth.
– Not a single silo has been completed and handed over yet.
– They are supposed to have been completed, so far as the concrete work is concerned.
– No. When they are completed they require a Commonwealth certificate before they can he handed over, and I have not issued any certificate. The honorable senator does not seem to realize the position in which his statements are placing me. By imputation, he is making it appear that I am corrupt.
– I do not say that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) has issued a certificate to anybody. I merely affirm that the contractors who constructed these silos in New South Wales were supposed to have completed their work so far as the concrete portion of it is concerned.
– Who supposed that?
– The contractors themselves. They completed the job and went away from it.
– The Commonwealth is finally responsible for the completion of that work, and we are protecting our own interests in it.
– I am quite satisfied that the Vice-President of the Executive Council may ‘be trusted to look after the interests of the Commonwealth.
– But the VicePresident of the Executive Council himself admits that, so far, the job has not been, satisfactory.
– That is practically what he does admit. The one silo in New South Wales to which I have alluded has cost £800,000. It contains 60,000 yards of concrete, and at one stage of its construction 500 men were em- ployed upon it. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has stated that the whole scheme has not yet ‘been completed. I . believe that even the main terminal silo of which I have spoken has not yet been completed. Yet the sum which this one silo has cost is now put forward as the estimated cost of the entire scheme to which it is proposed to give effect- in Western Australia.
– In the silo to which the honorable senator has referrpd there is not yet a single pound’s worth of machinery.
– That main terminal silo is not a single silo, hut practically three small silos.
– I have very grave doubts as to whether the scheme outlined in this Bill will pay. We have been assured by Senator DrakeBrockman that it will, hut I am exceedingly doubtful on that point, ‘because I submit that the wheat yield of Western Australia is not sufficiently large to afford a safe margin for the success of the scheme. I have here the figures of Mr. Knibbs issued in Bulletin No. 80, which cover a period up till June of the present year. In it he sets out the average wheat yields for the various States for the ten-year period from 1910-1911 to 1920. They are as follows:- Victoria 30,632,513 bushels, New South Wales 30,003,645 bushels, South Australia 23,311,459 bushels, and Western Australia 10,013,988 bushels. So that 10,000,000 bushels has been the average annual yield in Western Australia during the past ten years.
– Does the honorable senator think that the yield will stop there?
– I do not. I hope that it will not. But I would point out that there are immense fluctuations, in the wheat yields from year to year. In 1915-16, for example, the yield in New South Wales was 66,000,000 bushels, the largest yield ever obtained by any State in Australia. Yet in succeeding years the wheat yield of “that State fell away almost to nothing. Of course, I have been assured that Western Australia is a State in which droughts are unknown, and in which production is bound to continually increase. I am told that she is never likely to experience a set-back.
– The figures for the past five years do not support that statement.
– Who has said anything of the kind?
– I have been assured by a Western Australian senator that there are no droughts in that State.
– What is the senator’s name?
– The honorable senator knows who I mean. I believe that Western Australia will suffer thesame reverses as have been experienced in the other States. I submit that an average yield of 10,000,000 bushels is not sufficient to warrant us in assuming that this scheme for bulk handling of wheat in Western Australia will pay. When it has been proved that the bulk-handling system can be made a success in- New South Wales, it will be time enough for us to consider whether the Commonwealth should not bear a certain loss for a number of years in order that the system may be established in Western Australia, and that the farmers of that State may be given what they are now -asking. But if this system should prove to be a failure in New South Wales we should always have cause to reproach ourselves if we prematurely saddled Western Australia with a similar scheme. If the bulk-handling system cannot succeed in New South Wales, there is no chance of it succeeding in Western Australia. Honorable senators must recognise that.
– In instituting a comparison between New South Wales and Western Australia, the honorable senator is comparing a State enterprise with a co-operative one, and I prefer to back the co-operative enterprise upon every occasion.
– I have been a believer in co-operation all my life.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I was about to show that the project under consideration could not be expected to pay in Western Australia because the number of shareholders likely to come in under the provisions of the articles of the company would not he large enough to give us a reasonable expectation that it would pay. From the number of ‘holdings in Western Australia, as given by Knibbs in the quarterly summary issued in June, 1920, we can arrive at some conclusion as to the probable number of farmers in Western Australia who would be likely to come in under the terms of the agreement. I shall show that Western Australia has not anything like the same number of producers as the other States have, and if I can prove that Ohe number of farmers in Western Australia is insufficient, from a financial point of view, to make this a success, it will be a very strong argument against the passage of the measure.
The number of holdings in New South Wales from 501 acres to 1,000 acres is 17,297, and in all the States a man wants at least 500 acres to make wheat-farming pay, even in favoured districts, although it is carried on on smaller areas in Victoria, but not very successfully. That total includes not only wheat-farmers, but all others.
– What have the other kind of farmers to do with the silos?
– I am giving the honorable senator, everything in.
– . Your figures are misleading.
– I submit that they are not. I am giving the honorable senator something, and it is evident from his speech that he needs all the assistance he can possibly get. In New South Wales the number of holdings from 5,001 to 10,000 acres is 942; and there are not many wheat-farmers holding over 10,000 acres. There are also not too many wheat-farmers holding from 101 to 500 acres. The total number of those small holdings in New South Wales is 26,405. The holdings that really matter, so far as New South Wales is concerned, that is, those between 501 and 10,000 acres, number only somewhere in the region of 1S,000, or, giving some of the others in, say, 20,000 in all.
– The honorable senator’s figures would be more valuable if ho could show the number of wheat-farmers.
– I cannot do so, because they are not given separately; so I am giving the total number of farmers engaged not only in wheat-growing, but in other forms of production. That makes my case all the stronger.
– In Western Australia they may be all wheat-farmers.
SenatorDUNCAN. - I am taking the whole of the holdings in Western Australia as being wheat holdings. The position is not so good in South Australia as in New South Wales. The number, of holdings there from -501 to 5,000 acres is 4,057.; and from 5,001 acres to’ 10,000, 4,00’6; or a total of just over 8,000 possible holdings in that State, so far as wheat-farming is concerned. Even with 8.000 holdings, the probabilities of making this scheme a financial success would be small enough; but in Western Australia there are 7,000 holdings from 501 to 5,000 acres, and 200 holdings from 5.001 to 10,000 acres, or only a little over 7,000 possible wheat holdings in that State. To give the exact figures, there are 7,791 holdings in Western Australia held by farmers who could be wheatgrowers. I am including the whole lot of them, whether they are engaged in wheat-farming or not.
– Would that include grazing areas as well?
– Supposing 90 per cent, in Western Australia were wheatfarmers, and only 20 per cent, in New South Wales, of what value is your comparison then?
– I simply want to get at the total number of farmers in Western Australia who are likely to come under this scheme. I am including every one with a holding of from 501 to 10,000 acres, whether he is engaged in wheatfarming or not. I submit that at least 20 per cent, of these would not be likely to come under the scheme. We cannot expect every farmer to do so.
– Why not?
– Because a number of them cannot afford to do it. Iam assuming that 80per cent, are likely to come in.
– What do you mean by “cannot afford it”?
– The honorable senator ought to know that most farmers engaged in wheat-growing on small holdings, particularly in new country, put their money back into the land, or into plant or stock or “improvements, as fast as theymake it. They have no ready capital in the bank or anywhere else which they can apply for the purposes of this Bill. My calculation gives a total of about 6,000 farmers in ‘Western Australia who would be likely to come under this scheme. That is 80 per cent, of the total holders of between 501 and 10,000 acres. That ‘is all that may be expected under the very best of circumstances to come in as shareholders under this agreement… J submit that 6,000 shareholders in this concern-
– Six thousand is an enormous start. Have you ever read of the work done by one man with a printing press?
– Yes, but 6,000 10s. shares would not be very much to put up to-day to start a printing establishment or anything else.
– They have now received and sold all the shares they want for their liability. That is already done, and there is no risk about not getting what you have already got.
– What I want to arrive at is the number of farmers that the Commonwealth Government and Parliament can look to for the liquidation of the Commonwealth advance.
– You are trying to prove that they cannot raise what the Minister tells us that they have already raised.
– All the Minister has shown us is that they have put up a certain amount of capital. The honorable senator and others should know that the initial capital put up in a concern of this sort may not be one quarter of the total capital required to make it a financial success before it - is finished. They may want a great deal more,, and I fully expect that they will. I do not believe, from the figures and experience in New South Wales, that the £800,000 which it is expected will be sufficient to launch this scheme will be anything like enough. I am confident that as the scheme develops it will be shown that a great deal more money in the aggregate will be required.
– The farmers have arranged to allow it to be deducted from the two year’s Wheat Pools to put u,p the full capital that they apply for.
– Here again we have something new.
-Brookman . - I told you that this morning, if you bad only listened.
– We have just learned that the farmers are going to allow the amount to be deducted from the Wheat Pool, but is it the intention of the Government to take the money whether the farmers can afford it or not? I do not believe they could. The Government cannot treat the farmers or the community as a private business firm ‘would treat its debtors.
– The farmers have asked us to do it for them.
– They may have, but they are taking on a big gamble in the hope that everything will turn out all right, and the Commonwealth Government is apparently prepared to back their gamble. The proposition from a financial and business point of view is not good enough either for the farmers of Western Australia or for the Federal Government. We_have to look to the interests of the people who put us here. The great majority of the people of Australia are looking, at this time above all others, for serious consideration by this Parliament of expenditure in every direction. They want full value for their money in every possible way.
– Next week you will be advocating Canberra, I suppose.
– We shall be in a position to show that Canberra will pay from the jump. That is something which, the advocates of this agreement cannot do. Some honorable senators, perhaps, do not know the constitutional undertaking with regard to Canberra.
– Order! The honorable senator will have other opportunities to discuss that question.
– A constitutional obligation is altogether different from the kind of undertaking on which the Government are now embarking.
I hope for the sake of the farmers of Western Australia, who have most to lose, that further consideration on the lines indicated by Senator Fairbairn will be given to the Bill. There is nothing to lose by delaying it a little and making further inquiries. That is all I ask for. I am open to conviction. If it can be shown, as it has not yet been shown, that this proposition is good and sound, I shall be only too willing to support it.
– Fancy you and me combining to say to Australia, “ Go slow “ !
– It is not a bad policy to-day so far as expenditure is concerned. The Government were elected to look very carefully into expenditure of every kind. The Minister and others are advocating that we should launch out into all kinds of wild expenditures without considering whether we shall be able to meet the cost or not.
– Who said “ Canberra “ ?
– Senator de Largie has been advocating that sort of thing right through this measure. He occupies rather an extraordinary position for a Scotchman. I appeal to him and others to exercise a little of that canniness which is an inherent characteristic of the Scottish race. I urge them to bide a wee, pause a little, look before they leap, and to know just what they are going to do, and to what they are committing themselves. If we do that, the Western Australian farmers will not blame us, nor will the constituents who sent us here.
.- As one who has taken some part in the pioneering stages of Victoria in particular, I can claim in some degree to speak of the hardships endured by the early settlers. I thought the statements made by Senator de Largie were extremely tame compared with some of the experiences of my friends and myself in the- early days. No matter at what time the pioneering stages take place in any State, those hardships have to be faced, and, unfortunately, they have to be faced by men with big hearts and little money. I take it that the conditions in Western Australia are similar to those originally met with in Victoria, New South Wales, and other States where wheat is grown. To some extent, the producers of Western Australia are in the pioneering stages, and are encountering the difficulties to which I have referred. Senator Duncan mentioned that a crop of about 10,000,000 bushels was the average harvest in Western Australia. That certainly seems a very small quantity, but I remind honorable senators that in 189-2 Canada’s total wheat production was only about 10,000,000 bushels per annum, whereas to-day it is in the neighbourhood of 180,000,000 bushels; and I claim that
Australia is more suitable for wheat cultivation than Canada. I congratulate the wheat farmers- of Western Australia upon the fine spirit shown in meeting their peculiar difficulties in order that they may be in a position, in the matter of wheat production, to compete with other producers in the world’s markets in the near future. Prior to the war, Australian producers were under peculiar difficulties in this respect, and were never able to secure a fair remuneration for their labour. If those men who pioneered the wheat areas of the different States had received adequate compensation for their labour, they would, I am sure, have been more than satisfied ; but in the case of most of them, their days are- numbered, and they will probably die comparatively poor men. We must bear in mind that for the pioneer wheat farmers there is no eight hours a day. I have seen them, during one of the worst droughts ever experienced in this country, and when the temperature ranged from 112 to 114 degrees in the shade, working from 5 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock at night, not in the expectation of getting a handsome financial return, but in order to make ends meet. These men have left their mark upon the history of production in this country. Only a few years ago, I, with a number of other fellowCommissioners appointed by the Government of Victoria, had an opportunity of visiting the remoter wheat -areas of this State, where the pioneers were struggling and facing extraordinary hardships in the circumstances I have mentioned. They had approached the Government with a request for financial assistance to carry them on for another year; but the Government had gone to the length of their tether in that respect, and were doubtful about the wisdom of acceding to the requests that had come to them. Accordingly, I, with the other gentlemen to whom I have referred, w.as commissioned to make an inquiry. We travelled over the area from Ouyen to Murrayville, and from Murrayville via Pinnaroo, over the border in South Australia, and had an opportunity of getting first-hand information as to the conditions under which the men and women were struggling. I was in a position to guide my fellowCommissioners how best to act so as not to hurt the feelings of these settlers, and in many cases we did not visit the houses, which were houses only in name, consisting of wattle and daub structures, and after three years of severe drought they were, not infrequently, filled with sand. In many cases, the children had no clothes, and the womenfolk had not had a new dress since they went there. These were the conditions that existed in that country only a few years ago. To-day, happily, some of these farmers are over their difficulties; but,, nevertheless, many, even after six years of hard work, are now only in a position to meet their accounts.
The farmers in Western Australia, it appears, are now determined, if possible, to adopt some up-to-date method for the handling of their wheat. I was over in Kew South Wales the other day, and heard a lecture on wheat handling in bulk, delivered by Mr. McKay, one of the finest engineers in the States, now an inspector of silos for the Commonwealth Government. The lecturer described the terrible ravages from the mice pest throughout the Commonwealth a few years ago, and pictures, showing the awful condition of stacks in New South Wales and Victoria, proved most effective as a demonstration of the wisdom of handling wheat in bulk. One stack was shown to have tumbled completely down, the iron was twisted in all directions, and round about the stack were heaps of mice, estimated to be from 6 to 10 tons in weight. Now, these conditions existed only a year or two ago, and I think they might have been mentioned by Senator Pratten, who presented a mass of figures to the Senate yesterday. Figures, we are told, can be made to prove anything, and Senator Pratten, I think, is a pretty good manipulator.
– I must ask the honorable senator to withdraw the statement that I am a manipulator of figures.
– I shall withdraw the statement, Mr. President, and will say that the honorable senator is able to make figures speak in almost any language. I did not like Senator Pratten’s remarks yesterday, because they were hot altogether relevant; ‘to some extent, they clouded the issue before the Senate, and will affect the value of wheat scrip. I hope the Minister, in the course of his reply, will refute many of the statements made by ‘Senator Pratten.
– I hope he will.
– I Have just had handed to me a copy of the remarks made by Mr. McKay during his lecture, and will be glad to make it available to honorable senators.
– What speech does the honorable senator refer to?
– I am referring to a speech delivered by Mr. McKay, Commonwealth Inspector of Silos, now in New South Wales attending to some of those damaged silos to which the honorable senator referred yesterday.
– Some of your friends in the Victorian Parliament do not place a very high estimate on Mr. McKay’s qualifications as an authority on this subject.
– He was one of the first men appointed to inspect silos in New South Wales, and he constructed the Geelong sewer works on his own.
– But what does he know about the bulk handling of wheat?
– He is an engineer, and capable of supervising the building of silos.
– Oh! I see. And he has been lecturing on the question of the bulk handling of wheat?
– That is so.
– And, therefore, his qualifications as an authority on that subject are not necessarily very high?
– As a lecturer, he has based his remarks upon information which he obtained from the finest experts in the Commonwealth.
– That is to say, he gets his facts from the same source as we get ours.
– In order to give honorable senators some idea as- to the losses sustained during the last few years, I may point out that’ for the season 1915-16 the quantity of wheat received in Victoria was 59,177.000 bushels. The quantity sold was 52,379,121 bushels, and the quantity in hand was 591.526 bushels. This gives a total of 52,970,647 bushels, and shows a deficit of 6,200,000 bushels, representing in value £1,581,806. To make up the deficiency on this’ crop, 5,500,000 bushels were transferred from the 1916-17 crop and 750,000 bushels from the 1917-18 crop. The 1916-17 crop suffered abnormal ravages from the mouse .plague and weather conditions, and the actual expenditure on that crop for re-bagging and re-building stacks,apart altogether from expenditure in reconditioning and loss due to depreciation, was £3S0,000.
– Are those figures for Victoria?
– The damage, I take it, was chiefly caused by mice.
– Yes; but the weather conditions were very bad, also. As the result of the mice plague, stacks tumbled down, and tons of mice were piled all around them. The pictures to which I refer have never yet been shown to the people, but they may be in the course of a year or two, and the general public will then realize the conditions which faced us’ during a mice plague under the present system of bag handling of wheat. In order to give honorable senators some idea .of the cost, I may point out that prior to 1914 the highest price paid for cornsacks was 7s. 6d. per dozen, and quotations for the coming season are in the neighbourhood of 17s., representing an increase of 130 per cent. In other words, the farmer must provide bags for his new crop at 3d. per bushel more than pre-war rates. At least 25 per cent, of those crops required reconditioning, at a cost of 3d. per bag.
– You mean 25 per cent, of the total on the A, P>, and O crops?
– That amount went in expenditure?
– That is to say that 25 per cent, of the crops garnered in those years had to be reconditioned.
– Yes, 25 per cent., at a cost of, say, 3d. per bag, or Id. per bushel. These figures work out at about £d. per bushel over the whole crop. It will be admitted that that is a small amount to allow for reconditioning in the circumstances I have referred to.
– The figures include the increased cost of bags over normal prices.
– Yes, my figures include everything. I can give them in detail. I have quoted 10 per cant, loss of wheat at 4s. 9d. per bushel, which was the price of the 1915-16 crop.
– The honorable senator is referring to the A crop. ‘
– Yes, I am now referring to the A crop. There was a 10 per cent, loss on that crop, and the price was 4s. 9d. per bushel f.o.b. That works out at 5d. per bushel. The extra cost of bags works out at about 3d. per bushel and reconditioning, as I have said, at £d. per bushel. The depreciation in the value of the crop, due to damage by weather, vermin, and weevils, was 3d. per bushel, showing the total loss on the 1915-16 crop to be ls. per bushel.
– What was the” total yield of that crop ?
– The total yield of that crop was 59,177,P00 bushels.
– One crop for Victoria alone?
– Yes. It cannot possibly be said that I have not supplied most conservative estimates, and I defy Senator Pratten to challenge the figures I have given.
– I do not challenge those figures. They all tend to prove that my estimate of loss is correct.
– If the figures I have given are reasonable, the position placed before the Senate by Senator Pratten is indefensible.
– I do not follow the honorable senator.
– I say that the statement which Senator Pratten made yesterday denouncing the Western Australian policy is indefensible in the face of the figures I have given as applying to the 1915-16 crop.
– The honorable senator, in fairness to me, should remember that I did not object to wheat bins for the better preservation of a crop, and that my argument was against the system of complete bulk handling for the State of Western Australia.
– The Western Australian farmers have said that they will have no more of obsolete methods in the handling of their wheat. The farmers of this country cannot possibly continue to produce wheat in competition with other countries of the world if they do not im- prove upon the existing system of handling their crops.
– And prevent the losses the honorable senator has been referring to.
– Yes, and prevent the loss I have referred to.
– I agree with the honorable senator.
– The only way in which they can hope to succeed is by the handling of their wheat in bulk. When quoting my figures I did not refer to the extra weight due to moisture. Senator Pratten did not mention that matter in his remarks.
– Yes, I did. I mentioned that it represented 4,000,000 bushels.
– The honorable senator allowed for it in respect of all the wheat, instead of allowing for it only in respect of that which’ was absolutely destroyed.
– I wish again to congratulate the Western Australian senators on having such a fine lot of enterprisingfarmers in their State. If we desire wheat production to continue to increase in the Commonwealth we must assist wheat-growers in the different States to adopt some improved methods of handling their crops, which will relieve them of the enormous burden they are obliged to carry at the present time owing to the obsolete system of handling wheat which we now have. I claim as one who has grown wheat under all circumstances that if honorable senators adopt such a course as to compel the continuance of the present system of handling wheat, they will be knocking the bottom out of wheat production in Australia.
– The farmers of Victoria have postponed the adoption of bulk handling.
– That is true, because the State Minister of Agriculture advised them that, as the cost of silo construction would be so high at the present time, they had better wait a little until it became cheaper. Honorable senators will have learned that after the Napoleonic wars and other great wars, high prices due to war conditions did not fall for from five to ten years, and I question very much whether after the last great war prices will fall within that period. In connexion with this matter, I feel that the State
Minister of Agriculture in Victoria has shown some timidity. He is a wheatgrower ; but he has been growing wheat in one . of the most prosperous districts of the State, and does not realize the hardships to . which wheat-growers pioneering the northern districts of the State have been subjected. I feel sure that if he could witness the awful conditions through which they have had to struggle, and knew that he might relieve them by establishing a better and more up-to-date method for the handling of their crops, he would take steps -in that direction immediately. The farmers of this State are, I think, somewhat timid about the adoption of bulk handling; but the men who have endeavoured to guide the destinies of the wheat-growing industry here have passed through the pioneering stage, have become to some extent prosperous, and of late years have been concerned to a greater extent with growing lambs than with growing wheat. They have been gradually giving up wheat-growing for sheep-growing, and are not now greatly affected by the difficulties which confront others in the handling of the wheat crop. In Western Australia there are very few farmers who can more profitably use their land for the growing of lambs than for the growth of wheat. The conditions in Western Australia are not so favorable as they are here for the growth of lambs. Fences are lacking, there is a scarcity of water, and the cost of materials is so high that settlers in Western Australia prefer to grow wheat until such time as the cost of materials is reduced, and that may not be for the next five or ten years.
If we are to exist as a people, and pay our way, we can expect to do so chiefly by the production of wheat, wool, and lambs. These productions are essential to the existence of the country,, and if we, as members of the Senate, can do anything to encourage the farmers to help themselves, as the Western Australian farmers propose to do, to bring about a better system for the handling of their crops, we should do so. It is our duty to give them all the assistance we can. This Bill is intended to forward a very worthy object, and, in my view, contains one of the finest proposals that could be submitted to the Senate. If the farmers of Victoria were prepared to-morrow to give £2,000,000 on the condition that the Commonwealth would advance them £1,000,000 for the purpose of erecting silos, I do not think that honorable senators would hesitate for a moment to accept their proposal.
– Would the honorable senator be of the same opinion if the figures were reversed, and the farmers put up £1,000,000 and asked the Commonwealth to put up £2,000,000?
– I believe that the Senate would even consider that.
– That is what the Senate is considering now.
– Notwithstanding that, I say that the proposal submitted in the Bill before the Senate is absolutely sound, and I hope that the fanners of Western Australia will be given all the assistance that honorable senators can give them.
– I confess to being somewhat disappointed with the debate which has taken place on this Bill. I say, quite candidly, that I do not think that honorable senators on this occasion have made the most of the opportunity which has been presented to them. I wish to briefly review the establishment of the Wheat Pool and to refer to some of the difficulties which have had to be surmounted and which are not known to many honorable senators who were overseas when the Wheat Pool was established. It was never the conception of any one man, and it may be said to have come about as inevitable on the outbreak of the war and the development of war conditions throughout the world. There was a practical stoppage of freight to Australia to the extent of .600,000 tons, and, following the drought of 1914, we had the greatest year for production that Australia has ever known.. We were confronted in the midst of war conditions and the strenuous life which people were leading in those days with the problem of evolving a scheme for the disposal of our wheat, and I claim to-day that the establishment of the Wheat Pool, in the circumstances, was one of our greatest achievements during the war.
When we took possession of the bountiful harvest of wheat there was not one man in Australia who was able to advise me to whom I did not appeal for advice as chairman of the Wheat Pool when I became responsible for its administration. There was not one person who could ad vise me as to how long wheat would keep, and what diseases were likely to develop in it. I went into the matter, as a lay-* man, with no previous experience of wheat,’ and I can claim that no man worked harder than I did to acquire the knowledge of the subject in the possession of some of the best citizens of Australia. Shipping was daily decreasing, we had no iron and no steel, and the Railway Departments were slackening off in the building of trucks. We required thousands of yards of tarpaulin, and we could not buy a yard, not because we did not try, but because it was not possible to purchase it in any part of the world. We would have two days of hail and rain together, and we had to bring wheat to the seaboard. The impossibility of obtaining tarpaulins or canvas in this country cost Australia £300,000 or £400,000, and all we could do: was to sit down and look at the position. We have learned some lessons since then, and have established the flax industry in Australia. I had conference after conference with Railway Commissioners, appealing to them to supply tarpaulins for the protection of the wheat. The cleaning costs’ 2d. per bushel. Many of the calculations that have been submitted to-day have been based on normal seasons, but if conditions were always normal ‘we probably would not need silos. The losses incurred in connexion with one mice or weevil plague, or in consequence of damage by weather, would cover the cost of erecting silos within a period of ten years. We have already lost, owing to the unusual conditions which have prevailed, the cost of a complete silo system. I do not desire to attach the blame to any one, but we have had enormous surpluses with which to deal, and considering all these circumstances, the losses in Australia have been exceptionally small. It is easy for some honorable senators to quote figures concerning losses, but from the official information which has been submitted to me it would appear that the actual loss has been 2.38 per cent. Even if the conditions had bean normal, and we had the most perfect machinery available for carrying out this great undertaking, it would have been a wonderful achievement; but when we consider the circumstances I do not think it can be said that a loss of only 2.38 per cent, is anything but miraculous. The honorable senator, who dealt rather exhaustively with this phase of the question - I am not blaming him for his limited knowledge, as he is to some extent a layman in wheat matters - made a somewhat bold assertion concerning the increase in weight. It is impossible to state definitely what the increase is likely to be, as it depends largely upon the conditions in which the wheat is received. 1 have, however, been informed on reliable authority that in some instances farmers have actually waited for rain to fall on their wheat before delivering it, with the natural result that the Australian Wheat Board was called upon to pay foi- water as well as wheat. How were we to control that? Some of the wheat received in the early days contained a good deal of moisture, but it had to be stored for so long that by the time it was ready for shipment it had not only lost its moisture, but had decreased in weight, and we were called upon to compensate the purchasers in consequence. On the other hand, we sometimes under -estimated the increase, and were fortunate enough to receive a cheque representing the difference. Nowadays we have to compensate the purchasers for the decrease ‘ which has occurred.
– The Minister has stated that the total loss in weight was approximately one-quarter of 1 per cent.
– Yes; that is the percentage on the figures that have been submitted to me. We received wheat, and issued certificates on 503,264,1)00 bushels, and the estimate of the losses which, I believe, more than covers the whole of the losses in Australia, is approximately 12,000,000 bushels.
– That is 2. per cent.
– The actual loss is 2.38 per cent. I am submitting information that has been supplied to me by the Australian Wheat Board, and I am prepared to say that every individual in Australia whom we approached, and who had any knowledge of the matter, gave us the best advice available: The Australian Wheat Board sought the assistance of Governments, scientists, shippers, and wheat-handlers generally, and there was a strong desire on the part of every one to do his best in the interests of the scheme. When wheat was damaged, it was necessary to treat it, and in protecting the grain we had to purchase galvanized iron, which at one time was unprocurable in any part -of the Com monwealth. The Government, having control of shipping, became the sole importers of iron from America, and when it was being quoted .at £90 per ton, we were successful iu obtaining supplies at £65 per ton, which meant a saving of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the producers of this country. The whole work. had to be thoroughly organized in a manner that has never been before attempted by any Government, and it is very easy to pick out the faults and sneer at those who were doing their best to make the scheme a success. It must be remembered that the prices ruling at the time were not what they are to-day, and on one occasion I can remember being called upon to complete a midnight contract which had been made between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) when abroad and M. Clementel. The agreement was drawn up on the basis of 4s. per bushel, and the Board had to provide the shipping. The agreement was submitted to the members of the Board, and every one was afraid to sign it, but I informed the Board that Ave would have to sign it, as we could not shirk our responsibility. It is easy for some honorable senators to make sneering references to the work of the Australian Wheat Board now wheat is. 15s. per bushel, but in those days we had received offers from various parts of the world ranging from 3s. to 3s. 6d. per bushel, including an offer from the British Government. Now, of course, every one can sell wheat at a good price, and I regret that we have not more at our disposal.
I am sorry that Senator Pratten used the figures he did to-day. As Chairman of the Wheat Board, the only advice that I have given to the farmers has been to hold their scrip. I have never permitted the members of the Board, or its officers, to disclose any information that was likely to affect the value of the scrip in the slightest degree.
– I did not say anything about scrip.
– It is the inference that may be drawn from such statements as those made by the honorable senator.” We have a public duty to perform, and should be very discreet in any remarks we make of such a character. On the last occasion on which the honorable senator referred to this matter, there was almost a panic down town.
– That is a compliment to the honorable senator.
– It may be; but such remarks are generally followed by in- 1sinuations which reflect to some extent on the management of the Wheat Pool. No member of the Wheat Board receives a penny, or even a tram ticket, from the funds of the Pool for services rendered. Et has been a labour of love, and I think we should at least be given some ‘credit for the work which we have performed under difficult circumstances. I admit that mistakes have been made - perhaps hundreds - but a mistake once made was never repeated. We had to endeavour to procure canvas to provide covering for the wheat, and had also to arrange for the proper storage. We had to contend with many difficulties, and had all the bad luck in the world, because in the “ boom “ year wheat was about 4s. per bushel in Chicago. Senator Pratten has said that there was a loss of 18,000,000 bushels, and, although I am not a professional accountant, I have sufficient knowledge of accountancy to know that the figures I have submitted are reliable. The secretary of the Australian Wheat Board is a highly competent officer, and on two occasions at least he has refused promotion’ to the position of auditor and head of the permanent staff in the Victorian Treasury, to enable him to complete his work. We can, therefore, accept the figures he has submitted with safety. I have been informed to-day by the secretary of the Board that Senator Pratten has over-estimated the losses by at least 6,000,000 bushels, and I am not quoting my opinion against that of Senator Pratten. I am giving the figures of one of the most competent accountants in Australia. It may eventually be proved that Senator Pratten’s figures are not altogether incorrect; but unless that honorable senator is perfectly sure that they are reliable, he has no right to make loose statements which may affect the position.
– I object to the Vice-President of the Executive Council using the word “loose.” I stand by the figures I have given, and am prepared to show how they are made up.
– Well, I am prepared to correct the statement, and say that, unless the figures have been pro perly and completely verified, they should not be given.
– The Minister’s information is obtained from the books of the Wheat Board.
– Of course, it is; What else have I to guide me ? They are the official records of the Board. Inaccurate statements create a good deal of distrust in the minds of outsiders; but I want to be fair, and give the fullest possible information that I have at my disposal. The official records show that the losses in the different States have been as follow :- Victoria, 2,300,000 bushels; New South Wales, 3,500,000 bushels; South Australia, 6,400,000 bushels; and Western Australia, 1,300,000 bushels; or a total of 13,500,000 bushels.
– That is, so far as is known.
– That is the fullest information I can give. No one in this world can tell what is the value of the stacks to-day; but 9S per cent, of it is assured, and the remaining 2 per centcan only be estimated.
– The Minister is not allowing for any increase in weight.
– We are not able to ascertain the increase in weight;1’ but the figures for 1915-16 in Victoria represent 750,000 bushels, and in Western Australia, 50,000 bushels. For 1917-18 the Victorian figures cannot be ascertained, because the whole of the wheat has not been handled. For 1918-19 Western Australia shows a gain of 99,000 bushels. Much of the matter that has been introduced during the debate would have been better left unsaid, because it necessitates me replying in defence of the officers who have been associated with the Australian Wheat Board.
– What about the statement made by Senator Plain that there had been a loss of 10 per cent. ?
– Senator Plain and Senator Pratten were really conversing across the chamber, and it was im* possible ‘ for me to follow the figures which were submitted. I asked Senator Plain for information once or twice, but it was not forthcoming.
Reference has been made to the erection of wheat silos in New South Wales. I have been associated with the Australian
Wheat Board from its very inception, and I know that the work which has been done at the terminal silo at New South Wales has never been excelled in any part of the world. It is one of the grandest works ever accomplished by Australian tradesmen, and I am glad to say that there has never been an .industrial dispute in connexion with it. Although if has been in progress for some eighteen months, I have never received a complaint from any engineer as to the defective character of the work upon it. In regard to the field silos I have received complaints, but seeing that the works involve an expenditure of £1,500,000, and. that the amount in dispute for the remedying of defects in them represents only £11,000, it will be seen that there is not much cause for complaint. I have asked engineers to make an analysis of the position, and they are of opinion that the State of New South Wales is responsible for £5,000 out of the £11,000 which I have mentioned. We have ordered the contractors to remedy the defects covered by the balance, and until they do so they will not get their certificates in regard to the completion of the work. To-day it was stated that certificates had been issued. I deny that any certificate has been issued..
– Who said that certificates had been issued ?
– It is true that partial certificates have been granted in connexion with advance payments, but the final certificate has not been issued in any case. Consequently we hold deposits, which will enable us to make any adjustments that may be necessary in accordance with the reports of our engineers. It is not right that statements should be made in this Chamber which practically suggest corruption upon my part. We frequently blame the public for their criticism of Parliament, but we ourselves encourage that criticism by the loose statements which we frequently make here.
– About the firm of Metcalf and Company, and Mr. Graham, “Yes.”
– I will come to that matter. When discussion takes place in this Chamber in respect of the firm of Metcalf, and Mr. Graham, I, as Chairman of the Wheat-Board, have to shoulder my share of responsibility. I have stood enough criticism of the character to which I am now taking exception during the past five years, and I will tolerate it no longer. Regarding the trouble which has occurred in New South Wales, I sent a complete report to Mr. Dunn regarding every defect discovered on the whole of the wheat silos which have been erected there. On the 3rd inst. I asked him to let me know the estimated cost of repairing the defects, and also who was responsible for them - the designers, the engineers, or the contractors. Whilst sitting in my place in this Chamber to-day, there was placed in my hands the following reply, dated 21st September -
I am directed to inform you that every effort is being made to repair the faults referred to as rapidly as possible, and our engineer-in-chief assures me that the bins mentioned will be made good in every respect.
Seeing thai an expenditure of £1,500,000 is. involved in this undertaking, and that the amount in dispute for repairs is only £11,000, I think we have cause to congratulate ourselves upon such a good record. ‘ When the work has been completed - and it will not be paid for until then - it will be a credit to ‘ Australia.
At ; the.,last [election every Nationalist candidate . urged upon, the electors the necessity for increased production. I know there is a little doubt in the minds of some honorable senators as to whether Western Australia desires to ,proceed with this scheme. Personally, I believe that the Government of that State intend to co-operate fully with the Commonwealth and with the farmers who are interested in the success of the venture. I have communications which make that fact very clear, although they do not bear the signature of the Western Australian Premier. The fact, however, that they have been forwarded to a representative of Western Australia in this Parliament is a sufficient guarantee to me of their accuracy. But even if the Government of Western Australia did not desire that this scheme should be carried out, would that be a reason why we should hold our hands and defer taking the requisite action ? ls this an inferior Parliament, or the Parliament which should lead Australia? In nine cases out of ten, during the progress of the war, there was constant cooperation between the Commonwealth and the
States. In most cases, I admit that that was rendered imperative, because the States had to come to the Commonwealth for financial assistance. To-day, I do not believe it possible for Western Australia to accept responsibility for the scheme which is embodied in this Bill. She can escape from her financial troubles only by production and development. This scheme will prove as big an’ assistance to the Government of Western Australia as it will to the farmers of that State. .Seeing that w.e have stressed the necessity for increased production, are we now going to sit back and assume that we have not the power to do this or that? To-day this country ought to be teeming with machinery for our industries, our lands should be opening up, and our production should be based on the most scientific methods. The farmer should no longer be messing about the purchase of bags at 15s. per dozen when, by adopting the bulk system of handling, be can effect a saving of 4d. a bushel. Senator Pratten has asked if this scheme will pay. We shall have full inquiries made into the matter, and if Western Australia is building bigger silos than she requires to accommodate her wheat, the necessary steps will be taken to safeguard our interests. We have perfect control over the matter, because, unless we vote the money required for the scheme, it cannot be proceeded with. I consider that the way in which the wheat of Australia was handled during the war period was a remarkable performance, seeing that the losses sustained were so slight.
I ask honorable senators to take the big Australian view of this matter. We certainly ought to endeavour to develop wheat-growing as a national industry. During the next forty or fifty years there will be practically no limit to its development in this country; but we must recognise that our own farmers are at a disadvantage as compared with the farmers of Argentine, Great Britain, and Canada. They must always’ bo handicapped to the extent of 2d. or 3d. per bushel, owing to our geographical position. W’hen normal times re-assert themselves, a matter of 3d. per bushel may mean keeping our wheat out of the world’s markets. At the recent election, we told the people of Australia that we were not in favour of continuing the compulsory Wheat Pool, but if the States deemed it necessary to establish a Pool, we would co-operate with them by every means in our power. The States have decided to establish a Pool; they have placed the conditions relating to it before us, and we have promised to co-operate with them. Of course, the Commonwealth will not requisition the wheat, but the States will acquire it, and when they have done that we shall deal direct with the States, and not with the farmers. In other words, we propose to leave all the local organization to the States, and that, I think, is a sound policy. Honorable senators stood up to this programme during the recent election campaign. I know that making promises upon public platforms is one thing, and keeping them is another; but it is our obligation to respect the pledges which we have given. Even if men disagree with us, they will, at least, honour us if we attempt to redeem our promises.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council does not suggest that we promised to support a thing like this?
– We are irretrievably committed to help industries in every possible way. I defy any member of the Nationalist party to say otherwise. I do not suggest that we are committed to every detail of the Bill, which requires to be analyzed in a secluded spot to obtain a thorough grip of its details, but to the general principle which is embodied in it I unhesitatingly say that we are committed. This will not be the first Bill of. the same character that will be submitted for our consideration.
– After all it is merely a system of State banking, and I am not sure that I did not hear a proposal by Senator Earle for the granting of subsidies for the purpose of developing certain mines in Tasmania.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council is quite wrong. I advised the Commonwealth to develop a mine there itself, but not to join a company for the purpose of developing it.
– Evidently the honorable senator thought it was good business if he could get the cash from the Commonwealth. I hope we shall not hear a repetition of the cry, ‘ ‘ Why . do not tha States do this work for themselves? “ If we are going to adopt that line of argument, it is a case of God help Australia. I hope that the Bill will be carried, and that in operation ib will prove to be an undoubted success.
– Upon the point of wheat losses, neither I nor any other honorable senator has ever stated that the Australian Wheat Board is responsible) for those losses, because the responsibility for the care of the wheat was peculiarly that of the State Boards only.
– Whilst that is so, the Commonwealth alone was responsible for the financing of the scheme during the war.
– But the Australian Wheat Board is absolved from the losses which have been made.
– That is so. We are not responsible for the control of the wheat at all. The Central Wheat Board never lost a bushel or a single grain of wheat, because its control only started when the wheat was shipped. But, having said bo much, I do not think that I ought to sit down and leave the other poor, devils, who worked in the way thai I have previously stated, without saying a single word in their defence. The great majority of them worked extremely hard to make a success of the scheme. There were one or two little incidents connected with the undertaking which Droved the exception to that rule. Those who made mistakes have had their trial, and I am willing, as a Britisher, to accept the verdict of the Court.
I hope the Bill will be a forerunner of a much-needed line of development in Australia. We have splendid possibilities, but if we wait for private enterprise bo put big undertakings of this kind on a firm basis we are likely to wait for a very long time. Every care that prudence dictates should be taken, but we have to make a bigger collective and national effort, not to restrict, but to help private enterprise to expand . and develop this country industrially and otherwise. I did nob intend to say anything offensive or hot, bub there was a good deal of a sorb of halfinsinuation that some things were not as right’ as they ought to be. I do not say they are perfect, but we have made no more mistakes than the average man, and, having got through our jobs, we want to retire when our time comes without any unpleasantness. I wish bo make a special appeal bo honorable senators generally. We have all to be a bit bigger than we were before the war, and we must take some little. risks. I believe that this is a sporting chance to help men who, in the industrial sense, have shown the best sporting spirit in Australia. They are the first body of men who have come together to help themselves in this way, and I am prepared, as I hope other honorable senators will be, to give them a chance to do work which will be a credit to themselves and to Australia’.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Senate adjourned at 3.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200924_senate_8_93/>.