12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask you, Mr. President, the following question: - In view of the fact that the Government recently instructed that all officers of the Public Service must take their furlough before reaching the age of retirement, will you inform the Senate whether any officers of the Senate or the Joint House department should have retired in accordance with the Government’s policy, and if so, what are the names of such officers, together with the reasons in each case for not carrying out the Government’s decision ?
– There are no such officers.
Broadcast Speech by Prime Minister.
– I ask the Leader of the Senate, in view of the report appearing in the Canberra Times of the 23rd October, that the Prime Minister intends to broadcast a speech from a Sydney wireless station over the week-end, in support of the new newspaper which it is proposed shall be on sale in the streets of Sydney on Monday next, will the Prime Minister also take into consideration the fact that the time is rotten ripe for him to make a statement over the air from the same station and on the same night, as to the Government’s intention to give urgent assistance to all State Governments to enable such governments to get back to employment some of Australia’s 409,000 unemployed citizens? Further, will he also broadcast to the wheat-farmers of Australia, on the same night, and from the same station, an intimation that the Government will resubmit the Wheat Bill now before the Senate for a general Australian price for stored and new season’s wheat on the basis of 3a. 6d. per bushel?
– The question is a very involved one, and I suggest that the honorable senator should consult with the Prime Minister. I understand that the Prime Minister intends to speak over the air on behalf of a new newspaper which is to be published in Sydney next Monday, and that he will speak as a member of an organization that has put its money into it. As to the other matters mentioned by the honorable senator, it. would, I think, be far better if he consulted with the Prime Minister, instead of mentioning them in the Senate in the form of a question.
– Is it the intention of the Prime Minister to broadcast that, speech from an “ A “ class station, or one of the advertising stations ?
– The station is 2UW.
– I shall not know what arc the arrangements until I reach Sydney.
– If it is the intention of the Prime Minister to broadcast a speech in support of those people who had put their money into this newspaper venture, with the idea of assisting the project, will he also take part in the same advertising stunt on behalf of other business undertakings in which other people have invested their money? If so, I can mention » couple that would like to be assisted in that way.
– I invite that the honorable senator consult with the Prime Minister about the matter.
– All these questions are getting very close to the stage of impropriety. I therefore ask honorable senators to discontinue them.
– We do not like to think that the Prime Minister is lending himself to these advertising stunts.
- Senator Dunn has asked the following questions: -
I am now in the position to inform the honorable senator as follows : -
– Is the Leader of the Senate in a position to say what action the Government proposes to take with regard to the present shipping strike ?
– The Government is as much concerned as any other people about the industrial dispute, and I think that the Senate can safely leave in its hands anything that is being done to bring about a speedy settlement.
In regard to the bill now before another place dealing with the conversion of debt in respect of those who dissented from the recent conversion appeal-r-
Has the consent of each State Government been received to the proposal contained in the bill for the compulsory conversion of these securities?
. If the answer to question 1 is in the affirmative, was such consent given in all cases without reservations? 3.If any reservations were laid down, what was their nature?
– The replies to the right honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 26 of 1931 - Australian Postal Electricians Union.
Shipping Act - . Australian Common wealth Shipping Board -
Australian Common wealth Line of Steamers - Treasury Loan Account, and Liquidation Account, 30th April, 1931; certified to by the AuditorGeneral.
Cockatoo Island Dockyard - Balancesheet as at 31st March, 1931 ; certified to by the Auditor-General.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Repre sentatives, and (on motionby Senator Daly) read a first time.
.- I move-
Whereas on the twenty-ninth day of July, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-one the Senate resolved that the Government of the Commonwealth be authorized to request and consent to the submission by the Government of the United Kingdom to the Parliament at Westminster of a bill for a statute containing the provisions set out in the Schedule to the Resolution, and the enactment of the said statute:
And whereas it is desirable to supplement the said resolution in the manner hereinafter appearing :
Now therefore the Senate resolves that the Government of the Commonwealth be authorized to request and consent to the inclusion in the said statute of a clause as follows : - “Nothing in this act shall be deemed to require the concurrence of the Parliament and Government of the Commonwealth of Australia in any law made by Parliament with respect to any matter within the authority of the States of Australia, not being a matter within, the authority of the Parliament or Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, in any case where it would have been in accordance with the constitutional practice existing before the commencement of this act that Parliament should make such law without such concurrence.”
In the drafting of the resolution relating to the statute which was passed by the House ofRepresentatives on the 28th July last, particular care was taken to protect the rights of the States. The second paragraph of Clause 4 was included by the Imperial Conference with this object, and to still further safeguard the position of the States, additional paragraphs were added to the clause whilst it was before Parliament. Notwithstanding these safeguards, when the resolution was passed four of the States of the Commonwealth made representations to His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom regarding the proposed enactment of the Statute, as it was thought to affect the States. Consultation then ensued between that government and the Commonwealth Government, and between the Commonwealth Government and the several State governments with a view to agreeing upon a formula which would afford complete protection to the States, including their ‘right to secure the application to a State of legislation by the Parliament at Westminster on matters solely within the authority of the States if the States so requested. The only suggestion that has been made that those rights are in anyway affected is that the requirement that the consent of the Commonwealth is necessary before any law made by the Parliament of the United Kingdom is extended to Australia, would hamper a State in asking for British legislation on some matter of State concern. It is hardly possible to conceive a State making such a request, hut the Commonwealth Government is willing to make it clear that the Statute does not alter the status quo in this respect. The resolution now proposed provides that, where the subject matter belongs exclusively to the States, and where legislation by the British Parliament without the request of the Commonwealth would be in accordance with the present constitutional practice, the provision of the statute requiring the request of the Commonwealth shall not apply. As a result of the discussion the clause now before the House has been drafted. When it is included in the Statute of Westminster, the fullest protection will have been given to the exercise by the States of all the rights they possess at present. But we are giving the States still further protection. Clause 7 of the resolution provides that clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6 shall not extend to the Commonwealth as part of its law unless and until they are adopted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth. The Government has given the States an assurance that they will not introduce any measure for the extension of the provisions of the Statute, when passed, to the Commonwealth until there has been an opportunity for further discussion with the States. It is hoped that, as a result of such further discussion, all the States will agree to the application of the Statute to the Commonwealth. At present, however, whilst New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland accept the passage of the resolution, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania have not yet expressed themselves as being entirely in agreement.
– That is my information. The object of the motion is to clear away any possible embarrassments that might exist as between the Parliament of Westminster and the Parliaments of the Dominions. The principal resolution in regard to the Statute of Westminster was discussed and agreed to by the Senate some time ago, and I hope honorable senators will pass this motion, which really only provides .for the adjustment of possible embarrassments.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [11.20]. - The subjectmatter of this motion is of considerable importance, but not of great urgency, because it must be some little time before the Parliament of the United Kingdom can meet to consider the matter. Considerable exception was taken, particularly by the State which I have the honour to represent, to the terms of the motion previously submitted to the Senate in regard to the Statute of Westminster. In fact, the Legislative Assembly of Western
Australia carried a motion unanimously protesting against the terms of the motion adopted by the Commonwealth Parliament. The Leader of the Government has informed us that the States of South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania have disagreed with the view of the Commonwealth and the other States on this subject. I submit that the Senate should be informed of the reasons for their disagreement. There should be no secrecy in a matter of this kind. With the object of giving the Government an opportunity to furnish honorable senators with a statement setting out the reasons why certain States are opposed to the passage of this statute - and there should be no objection to making such information available - I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Debate resumed from the 22nd October (vide page 1071), on motion by Senator Dooley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- Very little time has been available since the adjournment of this debate last night for honorable senators to make a further examination of the principles of this bill ; but the more one looks at it the more it becomes apparent that many loopholes have been left for fraud, and tremendous difficulties are likely to be encountered in handling the proposition in this way. It is amazing to me that every measure relating to wheat with which we have had to deal has come on us at a time when the members of the House of Representatives desire to get away, or when we are on the eve of some adjournment. Surely, with a matter that is of such vital concern to our primary industries, and in respect of which the position is so critical, there must have been a realization that careful consideration was necessary. In these circumstances, the bill should have been introduced earlier, so that the discussion of it need not be rushed.
– From what date is the biU to operate?
– From the 1st October; but that is not an important point, because the organizations which handle our wheat crop, whether they bo co-operative concerns or private enterprises, are capable of giving the necessary certificates back to that date. I cannot see why we should be culled upon to conclude our consideration of this measure with such haste. We have been told that the bill is urgently required to-day by the Government. Where is the need for such urgency? Twenty-three days have already elapsed during which the bill will be operative if it is passed, and we could, without any difficulty, be given a few more days for reflection upon the complicated provisions of the measure with the object of doing everything possible to prevent injustice being done to any class of the community, and to avoid the possibility of frauds being perpetrated on the Government and on the bounty of Parliament. The members of the House of Representatives should be asked to come back to Canberra next week to deal finally with this bill. Other vitally important matters will be occupying the attention of the Government during the next day or two, which might well demand the presence in Canberra of the members of the other House. I therefore suggest that the Government should agree to the postponement of further consideration of this bill until next Tuesday.
May I point out one thing in this bill which suggests a lack of understanding of the wheat industry on the part of those responsible for the drafting of the measure. Clause 5 provides that the bounty shall “ be payable on the production of wheat which has been sold or delivered for sale to a licensee “. “ Sale to a licensee” is quite clear; but “delivery for sale” is one thing and storage is entirely another. Many farmers do not desire to part with the control of their wheat. An examination of the practice in the industry will show that about 70 per cent, of the wheat which goes into the bands of the merchants of this country is simply left with them for storage, although in the ‘majority of cases the merchants are ultimately the buyers of the wheat or they dispose of it for the farmers.
– Has the honorable senator ever heard of a case in which the merchants have not been the buyers?
– Yes, any number of cases. It quite often happens that wheat which is given to one merchant for storage is ultimately disposed of to another.
– The system of warehousing is well known and practised.
– I do not desire to enter upon a controversy as to the meaning of clause 6 of the bill, as it stands; but various suggestions may be made. I offer one or two, not from my own personal experience, but from my professional experience of things that have occurred. I notice that the honorable members of another place refrained from pointing out to the Government and the community the loopholes for fraud - and they are manifold - tha’t have been left in this clause. It seems to me that it’ will be impossible for the Government to close those avenues for fraud if it attempts to administer the provisions of the bill as they stand at present. The draftsmen could only have given a hurried consideration, after breakfast this morning or after the adjournment of this chamber last night. to the suggestions made here yesterday as to how frauds could be perpetrated under the present provisions of the bill. It has been contended by some that the co-operative concerns, the wheat merchants and the wheat-growers, are satisfied with the Government’s proposal. As a representative of the taxpayers, I am not at all satisfied that it is in the best interests of the wheat-growers or the community generally.
– Why does not the honorable senator submit some helpful suggestions ?
– Last night I mentioned several ways in which the measure could be improved. I am not permitted at this juncture to discuss the clauses in detail. There would be a slight difference in the cost of paying a prescribed bounty on f.a.q. wheat and of holding up payments over a fairly long period; but there is a way in which the
Government could overcome that difficulty ofa delay in payment, at all events in part. A certain sum of money is to be made available by the banks for distribution amongst the wheat-growers on a specified basis; but whether the amount actually required has or has not been definitely assessed, I do not know. I understand that approximately £3,000,000 is to be made available, but that would only provide a bounty at the rate of 6d. a bushel on” practically the whole of our exportable surplus. In order to lighten the burden under which the wheatgrowers are at present staggering, the Government which submitted certain proposals to the financial institutions of this country has since endeavoured to meet the situation by introducing legislation which, unfortunately, is presented to us in this very complicated form. It appears to me that if this measure is passed without amendment the Government will find itself in a position from which it will find it exceedingly difficult to extricate itself. The only method which appeals to me is that we should follow the principle adopted in connexion with other bounty legislation. We should allow every licensee who receives wheat for sale or storage on behalf of the grower, to issue a certificate covering the quantity of f.a.q. wheat received, which should be presented to the bank, as provided in sub-clause 4 of clause 6, and then the wheat-grower could immediately receive that portion of the bounty which the Government may by regulation prescribe. Such a system would safeguard the interests of wheatgrowers, merchants, and the pool. An f.a.q. certificate would not be given for wheat which was below standard. The certificates could be issued in duplicate, one copy being retained by the receiver of the wheat and the other by the bank, and thereby the interests of both parties would be safeguarded. The merchants will not issue inaccurate certificates for wheat purchased or received for sale, but if their servants are responsible for any irregularity the onus will be upon the wheat merchants, the pool, or the flour-millers, as the case may be.In such circumstances the interests of the taxpayers would be protected. Since I obtained leave to continue my remarks last night, I have been able to peruse only the first six* clauses of the bill. Parliament could provide the amount of bounty to be paid, as has been done in connexion with bounties on cotton and other products. We could limit the amount of bounty per bushel and the total amount of cash to be provided for the purpose of paying the bounty. If the banks, on behalf of the Government, provided 6d. a bushel, and the whole £3,000,000 was absorbed, the Government would benefit by any reduction in the rate of exchange on its remittances to London. If the rate of exchange dropped from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent, during the period which this measure was in operation, there would be a corresponding fall in the price of wheat; but the Government would get the benefit of the decrease in the exchange rate and consequently its budgetary position would be improved.
– The budget has not yet. been balanced.
– I realize that. This involves a capital charge on the community. If, as I have said, exchange rates should fall, the Government may benefit in one year to the extent of several million pounds. Why should not the Government incur this risk in the interests of the primary producers of this country? Having placed a limitation on the total amount which the taxpayers have to provide and upon the bounty to be payable, it seems that the only difficulty in the way is that the whole amount of the bounty cannot be paid at once. But an obstacle of that nature is preferable to a system under which there is ample opportunity for fraud. The wheat market may undergotremendous fluctuations duringt he next few months. It may be that the market will rise, as some suggest. On the other hand, a reduction in exchange rate will destroy to some extent the benefit of increased prices. It is very difficult to prophesy what is likely to happen. The rate of exchange must inevitably fall which will bring with it a reduction in wheat values. In these circumstances, it is probable that the country will be called upon to provide the whole of the £3,000,000 proposed. It is to be hoped that the financial institutions can be induced to find that amount in order to save some of the wheat- growers from the inevitable ruin now facing them. I suggest that further discussion on this measure should be adjourned until Tuesday next, so that a scheme acceptable to the Government and to the banks could be drafted. I am sure that if the banks realized the difficulties which are likely to be encountered - many of which have been mentioned during the debate, they would prefer a simpler system than that embodied in this bill. Some of the provisions of the bill seem tolerably safe, but clause 6 is not fool proof. It is one of the most foolish gestures that could be made, particularly in view of what happened in connexion with the administration of wheat pools during the war period, and for which I contend the principals were not responsible. Facilities for fraud are presented, and while they remain I do not propose to vote for the bill in its present form. The Government would be well advised in its own interests and in the interests of the taxpayers and the farmers if it agreed to adjourn the discussion on this measure until Tuesday next. All of us are anxious to help the Government to make this as good a scheme as the human mind can devise. It is not to be commended, however, for having passed the bill through another place at lightning speed. Many honorable members did not have an opportunity of examining its provisions and of visualizing its repercussions. It would be well advised to defer its further consideration, with a view to conferences being held and our representations being conveyed to those upon whom reliance has to he placed to provide the amount that is necessary if we are to do what it. is manifestly the intention of all parties to do, namely, come to the assistance of the wheat-farmer. I cannot accept responsibility for a measure that will disorganize the methods that have been adopted in my State for the disposal of its wheat crop. If the matter were deferred until Tuesday or Wednesday next, the merchants and the representatives of the voluntary pools could get together and consider what the effect was likely to he. I was told this morning that a member of one of the voluntary pools threw up his hat when he saw the bill, and affirmed that his pool was made.
He completely misunderstood the position. As I read the bill, it means the “ dead finish “ of voluntary pools. I have also, been told that the merchants are rejoicing; at the nature of its provisions. If it is going to please both sides, there must be something wrong with my powers of” deduction. I believe, however, that these: people have not studied the measureWhat opportunity have they had of doing” so and of realizing what will be the effect of clause 6? When they thoroughly understand the position there will be a complete change of front. I again protest against such an important matter being rushed when it could have been submitted a week or ten days earlier.
– Would the honorable senator have submitted the bill before consulting the States?
– I certainly think . that the States ought’ to be consulted.
– They could not be consulted before last Friday.
– The Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley) read yesterday a statement from the banks, which was dated the 7th October. It was a scrappy sort of statement, because the honorable gentleman did not mention what representations had been made to the banks, and we do not know the basis of it. It has not taken the Grown lav officers fourteen days to gather the necessary material together.
– Negotiations have been going on continuously ever since.
– The Government has arranged the matter to its own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of some persons outside, who apparently have had no opportunity of studying the bill, but is that a reason why we should push it through, and leave this country in as big a muddle as the old pool left it in some years ago? This scheme will react in. a way that is not visualized. I, unfortunately, have been associated with inquiries that have been made in relation to wheat schemes. I believe that the Minister is anxious to do what is right.
– We want to see that the farmers get something of that to which they are entitled. Next’ Monday they will be selling their new season’s wheat.
– In South Australia and Western Australia.
– What does it matter if they are? Is any farmer going to he so foolish as to take precipitate action? The farmers will wait and see whether this proposal is going to fructify, as they did when the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Gibbons) promised that they would be given 6s. 6d. per bushel, and as they did on two subsequent occasions, first when they were promised a compulsory pool and a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel, and later, when an act was passed guaranteeing them 3s. a bushel. They would not be prejudiced by the delay of a few days, but would be given a scheme that was worth while. I admit the Minister’s sincerity in this matter; but I ask him not to look at it through the eyes of the party politician. We want the scheme to be as nearly perfect as possible, not one that will bring in its train a tremendous amount of corruption, or one that cannot work smoothly in the interests of all parties. I urge the Minister not to listen to (he whip that is being cracked in a certain quarter for political purposes, but to see that the farmers get something. He has a better opportunity than anybody on this side to make this a good measure. Nothing can -happen during the next few days to the detriment of the farmers; but the delay would enable us to get together and make this a workable bill. It will be worse than unworkable in its present state. The members of the Government ought not to allow their pride to stand in the way when the welfare of such a big class in the community is at stake. Rather should they do the big thing, and not be annoyed at something of their own conception having been proved to bc ineffective and worse than useless, because of the likelihood that it will lend itself to the adoption of methods of which we do not approve. I again ask the Minister to postpone the debate so as to afford an opportunity of more closely examining what is proposed. My critical examination of the measure since the adjournment of the Senate last night has extended only as far as clause 6. I was desirous of addressing myself to certain of the other principles that are embodied in it, but I have not had the time to examine thoroughly their possible repercussions.
– If there is any delay, the members of the Government may change their minds. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
– I want them to change their minds, and I ask them to do so.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– I am somewhat diffident about addressing myself to this bill, because I have been growing wheat for a period of 20 year3, and my family for over 50 years. Last year I was one of those poor unfortunate individuals who responded to the invitation of the Government to save the nation by growing more wheat. With the assistance of a body of very efficient, hard-working, experienced share-farmers, S0,000 bushels were produced on my Bulgandra property. At . the present time, unfortunately, I am growing wheat in New South Wales and on two farms in Victoria.
– Sowing it, not growing it.
– On my country, it grows. I am sorry if, on the honorable senator’s land, it dies. I am very anxious to assist the Government, but I am more anxious to assist the wheat-growers. This bill has been rushed upon us, and wo have not had sufficient time thoroughly to dissect it. Although he has complained of not having had the time to go closely into the matter, I consider that Senator McLachlan has dissected it very well, and has made an excellent speech concerning it. Valuable speeches have been made also by other honorable senators, considering the limited opportunities they have had of delving into the pros and cons, and of considering the effect of the measure for good or evil. In my opinion, it is very faulty, and discloses the fact that a very mean effort has been made by the Government to do anything material to assist that struggling and deserving section of the community, the 60,000 odd wheat-growers. An act that was passed last year provided that the wheat-growers should be paid 3s. a bushel f.o.b. for f.a.q. wheat of that season’s crop.
– There were reservations in regard to that.
– That payment has not been made, and only a poor effort has been put forward by the Government to honour the pledge which Parliament then gave.
– The Government made the best appeal of which it was capable to this Parliament to enable it to obtain control of the Banking institutions, but the Opposition in this chamber prevented it from doing so.
– The Minister has already spoken in this debate, and I ask him to bear with me while I make my contribution to it as dispassionately as I can. I do not believe that the Government has done everything possible to carry out the promise that was made by this Parliament to the growers, that they would receive 3s. a bushel. Senator E. B. Johnston last evening, during the course of a very able speech, produced the file of the correspondence that had taken place between the Government and the Commonwealth Bank, in regard to that matter. The act was passed last December. A couple of days subsequently the Government wrote to the Commonwealth Bank, but did not receive from it a written reply for over a month. Meanwhile the acting Minister (Mr. Forde), in Melbourne and elsewhere, advised the unfortunate wheat-grower?, to sell their wheat as best they could. Some farmers had been holding their wheat in anticipation of getting the 3s., which is equal, in my case, to 2s. 4£d. at rail. In some cases it is less and in others a little more. It all depends upon the distance from seaboard. But when the Minister said “ Do the best you can; get rid of it as quickly a3 you can,” there was a perfect scramble to unload. The market was overwhelmed with people offering to sell, and the price came down by pence a bushel daily. I secured ls. 3d. a bushel in bags at rail. I had first of all been promised 6s. 6d. under the Gibbons promise, and then 7s. by Mr. Lang. I was afterwards promised 4s. at rail by the Federal Parliament, and subsequently this Parliament definitely decided that I was to get 3s. a bushel f.o.b.
– The Senate rejected the 4s. proposal.
– And it was perfectly justified in doing so. Where was the money to come from? At first the price to be paid was 4s. at rail.
– But the States had to find half that money.
– Yes, and Western Australia would have been most severely penalized under that scheme. But the first offer was 4s. a bushel at rail. Subsequently this Parliament passed an act to pay 3s. a bushel f.o.b., quite a different thing altogether from 4s. a bushel at rail, the difference between at rail and f.o.b. being as much as 9d. in the case of some farmers. Having passed that measure, the Government immediately turned round and declared that it could not make the payment. If it could not pay 3s. f.o.b. how could it possibly have paid 4s. at rail?
We find now that an act of this Parliament has been repudiated. Clause 2 of this bill provides for the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act 1930, and that means that the Government proposes to repudiate its obligation to pay the wheat farmers 3s. a bushel f.o.b., and deprive them of over £6,000,000. According to Senator E. B. Johnston, who based his statement on Mr. Wickens’ figures, and on the fact that last season’s crop had been sold at an average of Sd. per bushel below 3s. f.o.b. the payment would have amounted to £6,250,000. I think that the crop was sold at a greater average than Sd. less than the 3s. a bushel f.o.b. The farmers will no longer swallow the statement that the Senate was responsible for their not getting the 4s. Every one knows that the Government had made no financial arrangement to pay that 4s., and, apparently, it also made no arrangement to pay the 3s. f.o.b.
There are many other pitfalls in this bill. As Senator McLachlan has referred to most of them, I shall not dwell upon them, but one important omission is the lack of any provision relating to stored wheat. Many people, if they are -well enough off to do so, which not many of them are at the present moment, store their wheat on their farms or at the railway sidings.
– Do they not store with the wheat merchants?
– Yes ; the wheat firms give their clients three months’ free storage, and at the end of that time make a very small charge per ton per week.
– Under the bill there is no bounty payable on stored wheat until it is sold, unless it goes into a pool.
– People who store their wheat in the way I have mentioned in the hope of a rise in the market will, therefore, be penalized. Many who store their wheat with the leading firms are given liberal advances. At the present time nearly every one is compelled to accept an advance on his wheat. No farmer now-a-days is well enough off to do without one. But the bill makes no provision for wheat which is stored in this way.
Why should the price be restricted by the bill to 3s. a bushel f.o.b.,- which is at least ls. a bushel below cost of production? I defy the average farmer to produce at a cost which is less than 4s. a bushel f.o.b., that is, 3s. 3d. to 3s. 6d. a bushel on rail. Under this restrictive legislation the growers will, therefore, lose at least ls. a bushel. It would be far better if a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel were paid. It is all eyewash to try to gull the farmers that £3,000,000 is to be obtained from the banks to assist them; because if the market price rises by a few pence per bushel the farmers will not get a single penny in the shape of bounty. To-day the f.o.b. price of wheat is 2s. lOd. a bushel in Melbourne, and 2s. lid. in Perth. If it rises ‘another penny or two, all this talk about helping the farmers to the extent to £3,000,000 will be so much rubbish. If the Government used the £3,000,000, which I am sure the banks are willing to provide for the wheat-farmers, to pay a straight out bounty of 6d. a bushel on all exportable wheat, it would not absorb more than £2,750,000. The latest estimate of the exportable surplus is 110,000,000 bushels, but it seems to me to be on the high side unless good rains fall very soon in the northern wheat fields of Victoria and elsewhere. A bounty at the rate of 6d. a bushel on an exportable surplus of 110,000,000 bushels would absorb £2,750,000.
The poor unfortunate farmers have been cruelly misled. They have been fooled long enough. They have been cheated out of £6,000,(100 which they were promised, and which they anticipated they would receive. Their state is deplorable. The saddest journey I have ever made was my last visit to the Riverina.
– That rich district!
– Yes. Bulgandra is a very rich district. The farmers there, and particularly those engaged in share-fanning, seem to have lost heart. They have been fooled and fooled by promises of all sorts which have, never been fulfilled, and now this proposal of the Commonwealth Government to repeal the Wheat Advances Act 1930 is the last straw so far as they are concerned. They were first of all promised 6s. 6d. a bushel and then 7s. The share-farmers in the Riverina were actually promised that if the Lang party got into power they would receive 7s. a bushel for their wheat at rail. Instead of getting that 7s., or even the 3s. f.o.b. legislated for by the Commonwealth Parliament they have had to sell at prices ranging even below 2s. a bushel f.o.b. I sold my wheat at rail for ls. 3d. Some others sold at ls. 9d. in bags at rail, and bags cost 4d. a bushel last season and will cost as much this season. The price for the wheat in the paddocks was actually less than ls. a bushel, whereas the production costs were very much higher.
In his speech last night, Senator Colebatch said that the cost of production had come down very considerably. I doubt it. At any rate I can see no evidence of it. If anything the costs of machinery, super, bags and all the requirements of the farmer are as high as ever. I have taken the trouble to look up the findings of several commissions that have inquired into the cost of primary production. The last investigation was that referred to by Senator E. B. Johnston last night. It took place in Western Australia. It estimated that the cost of production at rail, using horse power, was 3s. 5d. a bushel, which is equal to 4s. a bushel f.o.b., and using the tractor, 3s. 9d. It allowed 6 per cent. as the rate of interest payable by the farmer, and it wrote down the value of the land, while it allowed only £4 10s. per ton for super on the farm.
I have never been able to secure super at £4 10s. a ton on the farm. I have bought it for cash at the factory at the seaboard for £4 12s. 6d. a ton, but the price for the super when sold on terms is still on the average £4 15s. a ton at seaboard. I have never been able to land it on any of my farms, except on one small farm close to the seaboard, at less than £5 a ton. On some farms the cost is £5 10s.
There was no exaggeration in the production cost figure arrived at by the Western Australian commission; rather the reverse. The Waite Institute, of Adelaide, has made a very thorough investigation into the subject, and estimates that the cost of production at rail is 4s. 3d. a bushel. There are at least 1,200 tractor-owners in the Wimmera district of Victoria. They are a splendid body of farmers, perhaps the most efficient in the Commonwealth. They have formed an association, and are known all over the Commonwealth for their up-to-date methods of cultivating. The Wimmera Tractor Agents Association has set down the cost of production in the Wimmera at 4s. 3d. a bushel. The agricultural societies of Victoria, at a meeting went very closely into the matter, and’ agreed with the finding of the Waite Institute and the Wimmera Tractor Agents Association that the cost of production is 4s. 3d. in bags at rail. A conference convened by the New South Wales Labour Government was recently held at Bathurst, New South Wales, and its finding was that the cost is 5s. Gd. a bushel. I cannot agree with that figure. I admit that it is difficult to get at the exact cost, but at my request a prominent firm of Melbourne accountants went into the matter very thoroughly to ascertain the actual cost of producing 82,000 bushels of wheat on my property in the eastern Riverina. It is in one of the most favoured areas for wheat-growing, and is only four miles from rail. The land is rich, and the country has a 20-inch rainfall. One of the share-farmers on that area has won the championship cup for New South Wales for two years out of three for producing the best wheat crop in the State. He obtained a yield of 44 bushels of Yandilla King wheat per acre. On my property at Bulgandra we actually produced double the Australian average, and the cost was 3s. 4d. a bushel in bags at rail, which equals 4s. a bushel f.o.b. Sydney. In other parts of Australia where the rainfall is not reliable, and the soil not so rich, the cost of production must be higher than 3s. 4d. a bushel in bags at rail. My accountants went very carefully into the matter.
– Did they allow for interest on capital?
– The land was bought at £11 10s. an acre, but the value was written down by 33 per cent., and the accountants allowed for 5 per cent, on that written-down value. When I sold some of my land to wheat-growers, I voluntarily offered to write down the price by 33 per cent., and gave the purchasers fifteen years within which to pay, with interest at 5 per cent. Unfortunately, they are not prepared to carry on at the present time. They have all thrown up the sponge. Three nien who had been share-farming with me under most favorable conditions walked off their properties, leaving behind . them their machinery and everything else, and some are now living on the dole. Even the champion, wheat-grower of New South Wales, the man to whom I referred a little earlier, made a living this winter by trapping opossums. There arc facts which, I am afraid, are little known to a great number of people concerning the awful condition of our wheat-farmers. People ask why production costs are so high that it is impossible for even the most experienced wheat-farmer to produce at less than 3s. 4d. per bushel. They are at a loss to understand why, a.t present prices, our wheat-growers are in such a desperate plight because, as most of us know, there was a time, many years ago, when farmers were delivering wheat at ls. to 2s. per bushel. In one year we sold wheat at Quambatook, Victoria, for ls. 6d. per bushel, hut, of course, we lost heavily. Unfortunately, the extraordinarily high tariff has increased tremendously the cost of everything which the farmer uses - all classes of agricultural machinery, his necessary tools of trade, as well as the requirements for himself, his wife and family. The excessively high tariff is one reason for high production costs on our ‘ farms. Another reason is the artificially high wages in industry. Superphosphate also is very dear - much dearer than in South Africa or New Zealand. In South Africa the Government carries superphosphate free on the railways, whereas in Australia the farmer has to pay haulage costs. Wheat sacks are too dear, the present price in Melbourne being 9s. 6d. per dozen. I know that this is not the fault of this Government. Our farmers are at the mercy of the jute merchants of India. We do not know what sacks cost to produce, but we do know that the price to Australian farmers is extraordinarily high. At the present time in Melbourne I understand there is one line of 70 bales available at 6s. per dozen, but, because the sacks are not of the standard weight, the purchaser must give a written guarantee that they will not be used for wheat, although they are the right size. Increased cartage costs is another item on all farms. Kail charges also are heavy, although they are not’ so high as for wool. Wool is always specially penalized, and the haulage costs are much heavier in Australia than in other countries
Under present conditions, it is impossible for our wheat-growers to produce at under 4s. per bushel f.o.b. Our growers are in a most deplorable condition in the Mallee and even in the Wimmera districts of Victoria, and in the Riverina. It almost breaks one’s heart to go about amongst them and listen to their tales of hardship. They are just about broken-hearted at their succession of reverses. The position of the wool-grower is almost as bad. Practically every wheat-farmer also grows a limited number of sheep. This is necessary because the wheat position has been so bad for some years now that he looks to sheep to help him out of his troubles, and they are necessary for proper farming. We have over 60,000 wheatgrowers and over 80,000 wool-growers in Australia. During the last few months the market has improved for wool. The press quotations of 16d. or 17d. per lb., are most mislead- ing, the average at the first series of wool sales in South Australia being less than 4fd. per lb., in New South Wales 6£d. per lb., and in Victoria 8d. per lb., and the average for the first three months of the statistical year for the whole of Australia being 6.78d. ex seaboard warehouses. During the last three months wool has risen about 25 per cent, from its lowest point; but even now the average for Australia, if the whole of the wool were marketed at to-day’s price, the return to the grower would be only 8d. to 9d. per lb., whereas the average cost of production is not less than ls. per lb. There is a good deal of misapprehension about the effect of the present improved price of wool upon our primary producers. Many people, when they read of the healthier tone of the wool market, think that, even if our wheat-farmers are in such a desperate plight, they are doing fairly well with wool and lambs. That is not so. The export lamb trade was doing relatively well until a week or two ago, when a disastrous strike occurred and dislocated the trade.
So little is known by the public as to the true state of the .wool market thai with the permission of the Senate, I should like to incorporate in my speech two short, tables of official figures giving the average monthly prices for coarse crossbred, fine crossbred, and standard merino wool. These figures, in my opinion, show conclusively that something more should be done to help our wheatgrowers, the great majority of whom are also wool-growers.
– A good deal of advantage has, of late, been taken of the system of incorporating documents in Hansard, with the result that, while an honorable senator or a member of another place may make a speech of half-an-hour’s duration, very often, if allowed to do so, he includes material equivalent to a speech lasting an hour and a half. In some cases the returns have nothing whatever to do with the argument of the speaker. Is it the pleasure of the Senate that the honorable senator have leave to include the official tables?
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– The official information giving the prices of tops, that is, wool which has been sorted, clean scoured, and combed, is as follows: -
No one can study the above figures without realizing that wool is at an exceedingly low level.
The wool index-number of the Weekly Wool Chart (Bradford) for August stands at 6S, compared with 69 in July, and 90 a year ago. The index-number is compiled from monthly average prices of wool, tops, and yarns, the base period being July, 1914. For wool alone the index-number is 54, compared with 55 in July, and 75 a year ago.- The following table shows the course _ of the indexnumbers : -
It is, perhaps, too early to make a reliable forecast of this year’s wheat crop, but official observers, who are in a posi tion to express an opinion, say that probably there will be an exportable surplus of 110,000,000 bushels. If a straightout bounty of 6d. a bushel were payable on that wheat, the amount involved would be £2,750,000, or £250,000 less than is provided for by the Government in this wretched bill, which, a3 other honorable senators have stated, is full of faults and pitfalls.
During the last twelve months, many schemes have been propounded for tb.G assistance of our wheat-farmers; but, up to the present, nothing of a practical nature has been done. Under this bill the wheat-growers might in some cases receive a bounty of Id. or 2d. a bushel if the market remains where it is; but if it rises another Id. or 2d. a bushel, they will get nothing from this Government. For this reason, I intend to fight hard for a straight-out bounty, and I hope that an amendment will be accepted by the Government to use this £3,000,000, which, wc are informed, the banks have agreed to find, to pay our wheat-farmers a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel. That would be something real and substantial, and in marked contrast to the imaginary assistance provided for in this bill. A straight-out bounty will, I repeat, C03t this Government only about £2,750,000. I do not doubt that honorable senators supporting the Government’ are just as anxious as any other member of this chamber to keep our wheat-growers on their properties, and to do something to save them from wholesale insolvency. If they are helped in this way, they will be able to pay their storekeepers who, in turn, will be able to liquidate some portion of their liabilities with their merchants, so that any money advanced by the banks for the bounty will eventually find its way back to those institutions. It will not go out of the country. Sufficient inducement was not offered to the banks to pay our farmers 3s. a bushel on last year’s wheat. I am convinced that, although the banks have been bled white by the various governments, they could still find sufficient money for a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel, because, as I have shown, it would rapidly circulate throughout the trading community and be returned to the banks.
The present situation of our wheatfarmers is most deplorable. Almost without exception they are all heavily indebted to local storekeepers. Many wheat-growers in my circle of acquaintances cannot even buy a tin. of jam, for the simple reason that their credit is wholly exhausted. I must do the storekeepers the credit of saying that the majority of them are not at all hardhearted. They are reluctant to bring any pressure to bear upon the farmers, but, in most cases, they have strained their own credit resources to the utmost limit.
I feel sure that if the Government put the position clearly and forcibly before the banks, those institutions would agree to finance a scheme for a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel which would be of real assistance to our struggling farmers. Even if wheat rose to 3s., f.o.b., and a bounty of 6d. a bushel were paid ou the exportable surplus, the return to the grower would still be about 6d. below the actual cost of production. I defy any farmer, unless he happens to be close to the seaboard, to pay reasonable interest on land at a reasonable price, provide for depreciation of machinery^ cost of super, bags, haulage, wages, &c, and put wheat free-on-board ship under 4s. a bushel.
My one desire is to see that whatever may be done for our farmers will be of a practical nature. I assure Ministers that anything which I may say in criticism of this bill is not intended to embarrass the Ministry. I speak plainly, because I have an intimate knowledge of the desperate situation of our wheatfarmers in many parts of Australia. I regret that the Government should expect the Senate to pa-s this ill-considered bill at short, notice. In my opinion, it is merely a gesture, or, to’ use a colloquialism, “ kid-stakes “ in the eyes of a majority of our wheat-farmers.
– It is not fair to describe the bill in those terms.
– I merely apply ro it a colloquialism which is understood by those whose interests are so vitally affected by it. At all events, that is how they regard it; they have told me so. Very many of our primary producers now have no time for politicians of any brand.
If we go about among them and tell them what we are trying to do to help them, they are inclined to turn the dogs loose. They do not want to see us, simply because so many promises have been made and so little has been done to help them. They have now given up all hope of getting anything from this Parliament.
– The honorable senator is exactly right.
– This bill, an Senator McLachlan has pointed out, is full of pitfalls and possibilities of corruption. I do not, for a moment, suggest, that the people in the wheat trade are dishonest. I merely point to the fact that this measure, in its present form, offers inducements to dishonest people. A wheat-grower may owe the local storekeeper anything from £100 to £200 for clothing, farm requisites, and the like, on which he is charged S per cent., 9 per cent., or even 10 per cent. The storekeeper is often a wheat buyer. He may buy the wheat of his customer for 2s. 6d., although the price at the time may bc 2s. 9d., and so allow the grower to get a bounty of 6d. per bushel on his wheat, which would bring the price up to 3s. The storekeeper could then allow the grower the equivalent of the extra 3d. per bushel off his account. I do not suggest for a moment that storekeepers are dishonest; but the possibility of that kind of thing happening is a real danger. The bill, as a matter of fact, is an invitation to people to act in that way, because of the serious plight that they are in. I am not exaggerating when I say that in the 40 years I have been associated with wheatgrowing, both with companies and with my home folk, I have never seen the wheat-growers of this country in such a. deplorable condition. My people have been growing wheat for 50 years, and 1 myself have been growing it for twenty years. Even in this long experience, 1 have never seen the wheat-growers in such a sorry plight as they are in to-day.
– And they hate politicians.
– I am afraid that that is true. They have been promised so much and have received nothing. These men, who are the backbone of the country, are heroes at election time. They have been promised prices ranging from 7s. to 3s. per bushel for their wheat, and now this miserable bill is introduced, which, at the very most, will do no more than assure them of 3s. per bushel f.o.b., or 2s. 6d. at rail. I do not think anything like £3,000,000 will be required to finance this scheme, because the price of wheat will make the payment of a substantial bounty unnecessary I regard this as an illdrawn, ill-considered, and wretched bill. I shall vote for the second reading of it, however, because it is better than nothing, and it may give the farmers Id., 2d. or even 3d. per bushel more for their wheat than they would otherwise get. But I still hope that the Government will make some alteration in the provisions of the measure. It should at least provide for the payment of a straight-out bounty of 6d. per bushel on -wheat. That would be something definite, which would give the farmers some encouragement to struggle on. Have honorable senators thought about what is likely to happen if our wheat and wool-growers are driven off the land? I do not like stressing my own experience ; I do so simply because I know the circumstances to be beyond question. But share-farmers have left my property and are now living on the dole. That has happened in one little district; but the same kind of thing is happening throughout our wheat-growing areas. This is one of the frightful results of the policy of centralization, which has been adopted in Australia. Fifty-five per cent, of the people of Victoria are living in Melbourne. That is the worst example of centralization in the history of the world. But unless something is don? to remedy the distress of the wheatgrowers, many more of them will be compelled to leave their farms, and drift into the cities to look for work in the wool stores or elsewhere. It is distressing that so many able-bodied, thoroughly hard-working wheat-growers are at present looking for work in our cities. I shall vote for the’ motion for the second reading of the bill, because the assistance proposed to be given is better than nothing, though it is mighty little.
– We are considering a bill which, according to its title is, “ A bill for an act to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of wheat and for other purposes.” The measure should really be called “a bill of good intentions.” We all know of a road that is paved with good intentions; and it is patent to everybody who takes the trouble to look, that the wheat farmers are travelling along that road rapidly to-day. Although I shall support the motion for the second reading of the bill, I quite believe that the Minister and his colleagues can see that it is full of pitfalls and shortcomings.
– Those can be remedied if the general principles of the bill are adopted.
– I hope that the Minister is speaking for the Ministry and the supporters of the Government in this and the other chamber. If the Senate amends some of the principles of the bill, I hope that the Government will not drop the measure. Such amendments would be made only to simplify the bill, and afford some more substantial help to the farmers. I do not desire to go back over ancient history. When the time comes for me to face the electors of this country, I shall be quite ready to justify any action that I have taken in connexion with the numerous wheat bills which have been placed before the Senate. But 1 want to make one reference to the past, because the Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley), in introducing the bill, stated that effect could not be given to the Wheat Advances Act, as it had been found to be unconstitutional.
– I said that the legal advisers of the banks considered that the measure was unconstitutional.
– I think it was also stated by the Assistant Minister, and I know that it was definitely stated by interjection by Senator Daly, that no such opinion had been given in regard to the bill which provided for the payment of a guaranteed price of 4s. per bushel. In reply to that statement, I wish to say that I have in my pocket a copy of the legal opinion given to the hanks on that bill, and it is in exactly similar terms to the legal opinion given on the Wheat Advances Act. The same constitutional objection was taken to both measures.; but the occasion for making this information public in regard to the first bill did not arise because it was never passed. If the Assistant Minister and his colleagues do not know that such an opinion was given I should say that they are the only people in Australia interested in the wheat industry who do not know it.
I shall now deal briefly with this bill. I do not intend to charge the Government with insincerity in introducing it. I do not regard the measure as so much eye-wash; nor do I think that the Government doe3 not intend to give effect to it. I acquit it of any intentions of that description. I believe that the measure has. been introduced with a sincere hope that it will afford relief to the farmers ; but I regard it as a very clumsy attempt to meet the situation. The conference held in Melbourne some little time ago of the Ministers of Agriculture, the representatives of the wheat-growers, the wheat-buyers, and the voluntary pools in the various States, pronounced, with one exception, in favour of a straight-out bounty on exportable wheat. The one exception was the Minister of Agriculture of Queensland, and that State has no wheat to export. The Government could have given effect to the decision of that conference by the introduction of a noncontroversal bill of about twenty lines. But by introducing this hill it has created a very difficult situation. I believe that if this measure is placed on the statutebook it will be a most fruitful cause of serious trouble.
I wish to make it quite clear that I am a supporter of the voluntary wheat pooling system. This is a principle that the wheat-growers of Australia have fought for, and have proved, in the face of the bitterest opposition, to be practicable. On the other hand, I do not intend to say a word against private wheat buyers, who, in the past, have done a great deal to assist this country; but I point out that private wheat buyers are naturally out to look after their own interests. It was only to be expected that they would not be favorable to the voluntary wheatpooling principle. It is my conviction that if the Government had consulted the private wheat buyers alone, it could not have drafted a measure which would be more likely than this one to kill a voluntary wheat-pooling system. The trouble about certain provisions in this bill is that if a man pools his wheat and the price of wheat rises later on, the wheat pool will be called upon to refund to the Government whatever amount the wheat realizes in excess of the price to be prescribed under the provisions of the bill. It is true that no price is prescribed in the bill itself; but it is generally understood, though it has not been specifically stated, that the price limit will be 3s. per bushel. In these circumstances, the voluntary pools may be involved in great difficulties. If the f.o.b. price of wheat is 2s. 6d., 2s. 7d., or 2s. Sd., and the pooling authorities issue a certificate to that effect, the farmers will be entitled to draw a bounty equal to the difference between the price stated on the certificate and 3s. per bushel. If, later on, it is found that the realization price of the wheat sold by the pool averages 3s. 2d. a bushel, the pooling’ authorities will be called upon to refund 2d. per bushel, to the Government. ,
– Arrangements are being made to overcome that difficulty.
– I am pleased to hear the Assistant Minister’s interjection, from which I take it that the Government is considering reconstructing the bill.
– Clause 10 will be amended.
– That is to some extent a reconstruction of the measure. But far greater difficulties will arise in connexion with wheat that has a lieu on it. This is. where the destructive influences may operate in regard to the wheat pools. If a wheat-grower is given a certificate for his wheat, and collects his bounty, and the wheat is subsequently sold for more than. 3s. per bushel, the lienee will gather the whole of the amount of the realization of the sale, whereas if the wheat is pooled a refund will have to be made of the amount realized in excess of 3s. per bushel. It should not have been beyond the capacity of the Government and its advisers to draft a bill which would cover this point. Everybody who knows anything about the wheat industry knows that there are very few crops in Australia to-day which do not carry a very heavy lien.
Sitting suspended from 12.^5 to 2.15 ‘p.m..
– In the few remarks that I have made upon this bill, I have endeavoured to point out what I consider to be its principal defects. I earnestly impress upon the Government the necessity of removing these objectionable features, which undoubtedly would have a hampering effect, not only upon those engaged in wheat growing, but also upon those whose responsibility it would be to administer its provisions. If we can get an assurance from the Govern-: ment that amendments to overcome these difficulties will be made in committee, I shall support the second reading. I shall go further and say that if it comes to a question of this measure or nothing at all, I shall support the bill as it stands, although I am perfectly aware of its shortcomings.
We have been informed that the banks have insisted that the bounty shall not be paid if the price of wheat goes over 3s. per bushel f.o.b. I recall that only a few months ago, when the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board appeared at the bar of the Senate, he said that the Commonwealth Bank Board was not concerned with political questions in any shape or form, and that all it had to consider was whether it could or could not find the money. He went on to say that political considerations involving how the money was to be applied were a matter for the Government and not for the banks, and that they would not think of interfering in that regard. When I recall that pronouncement it is hard for me to believe that the banks have imposed the condition that the bounty shall not be paid if wheat goes beyond the figure I have mentioned. If the price should rise to 4s. per bushel the banks would be in an infinitely better position to advance £6,000,000 than they are to provide £3,000,000 under present conditions. Realizing that the members of the Commonwealth Bank Board understand their business it is very difficult for me to believe that they and the banks generally have imposed such a limitation.
There is much more that I should like to say, but time is going on and finality must be reached as soon as possible. I have made my position clear. The bill as it stands does not afford a great measure of assistance to the f armers. It will give them some relief, although not nearly as much as they are entitled to if their wheat-growing operations are to be profitable. On the other hand, if it remains in its present form it may spell ruin to the co-operative wheat-pooling organizations in Australia. I appeal to the Government to rectify the anomalies in the bill, to which I have referred, before it is placed upon the statute-book.
1 2.19]. - Some honorable senators appear to be very much concerned with what they consider to be certain defects in the bill, but the concern of the Government is as to what action the Senate will take to create some confidence in the minds of the wheat-growers and to afford them much-needed help.
– We all are much concerned as to that.
– I believe that honorable senators on both sides of the chamber are desirous of doing all they can to assist the wheat-growers. The Government is anxious to remedy whatever defects may be discovered in this measure. It wants to assure the wheat-growers that it is behind them, and to utilize to their advantage the £3,000,000 which is to be provided by the banks.
– That desire is not confined to the Government. It is the desire of the whole Parliament.
– If the Senate wishes that figure to be exceeded we shall be confronted with the difficulty of whether the banks are prepared to provide an additional amount.
– No one is suggesting that the amount which the banks propose to make available should be increased.
– Then the only difficulty in the minds of honorable senators opposite is, as to the way in which this scheme will operate. Next week, or at least within a very short time, wheat deliveries will commence in certain districts, and the Government is anxious to be assured at once that Parliament is willing to assist in stabilizing wheatproduction at least to the extent provided in the bill. The Government does not contend that the measure is perfect in every respect, but surely if any defects are found in it they can be remedied later on. What we want to know is whether the Senate intends to pass the bill. We place upon honorable senators opposite the responsibility of passing or rejecting it. 1 do not expect honorable senators to shoulder more than their own rightful responsibility, but if this measure is defeated the responsibility for its rejection will not be upon the Government.
– It will not be defeated.
– I am glad to have that assurance. From the views expressed by some honorable senators, I was afraid that there was a danger of its rejection. I credit the Opposition in both branches of the legislature with a desire to assist the important section of the community which this bill is designed to help, and to give it the benefit of what this legislation provides. In the past the Parliament has assisted those engaged in other forms of primary and secondary production, and I urge upon the Senate the necessity of carrying this bill through all its stages to-day. If that be done the Government, the wheat-growers, business men and the banks will know definitely what course to follow. The passage of this bill will also have an important influence upon the money market, and may be of greater benefit to the community than some imagine. A heavy responsibility rests upon this chamber, and I again ask honorable senators to pass the bill with as little delay as possible.
.- The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Barnes) appears to be desirous of throwing the whole responsibility in connexion with this measure upon the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) stated that it is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose the bill. The Minister seems to be under the impression that because some honorable seu a tors in opposition to the Government have doubts as to the meaning of some of its provisions in the bill, they are opposed to the scheme.
– I got that impression.
– That is rather unfortunate. Like other honorable senators on this side of the chamber, I have grave doubts concerning the effect- of some of its provisions. If it were only a question of assisting those engaged in wheatgrowing, I should be prepared to go to the limit; but before committing myself to any definite course of action, I wish to be assured that the wheat-growers will be assisted to the fullest possible degree. The effect of other features of the measure will become obvious before it has been in operation for any time. Attention has been directed to some of its defects by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, and particularly by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Greene and Senator Colebatch, all of whom riddled the measure from beginning to end. The responsibility does not rest upon the Opposition, but upon those who drafted the bill in such a way that they have obscured the object they have in view.
– Faults can always be. found if one looks for them.
– Yes. In dealing with a measure of this nature we must naturally look for its defects. If there is any statute which should he faultless, so far as that is possible, it is one designed to assist, the wheat-growers. Legislation should be as clear as is possible. The wheat-growers occupy a somewhat unfortunate position in that they are unable to secure information and advice on obscure points. They have to depend largely upon the information they obtain from the press. This measure is not clear to any one. Even the Minister in charge of the bill cannot fully grasp all its intricate provisions. The fact that members of the Government have not hesitated to confer with the Opposition, shows .that they have some doubt as to the meaning of some of its provisions, and as to whether it will afford the assistance that is intended. I give the Government and its supporters credit for wishing to do the right thing. Senator Lynch congratulated the Government upon introducing the bill, but I regret that I cannot do so. It should not be a difficult matter to set out clearly in a bill exactly what is proposed.
The ground has been well covered by previous speakers, but there are one or two features that I believe have not been touched upon at any very great length.
They are worthy of our consideration, because they affect a section or sections whose interests ought to be safeguarded. Under this bill, what will be the position of the flour-millers who export flour to the East? By their enterprise and devotion, and the expenditure of considerable sums, a valuable trade has been built up. These persons will be seriously affected in regard to quotations for forward deliveries. A miller does not buy wheat from day to day or from week to week, but mostly on forward contract’. Country flour-millers, particularly, store comparatively large quantities in their mills, or handy to them, and they will find themselves seriously handicapped, particularly in connexion with the additional price of 6d. a bushel. I cannot see how, in their case, the computation will be made by the department, especially in relation to the export side of their business. If they are prejudicially affected, that will have a reflex action on the whole milling industry, and, in turn, upon the wheat-farmer himself. That is an aspect of this matter which demands consideration.
There is another point that has been referred to only briefly, and it affects the farmer himself. The additional 6d. a bushel to which he will become entitled upon delivery may have an effect that is not generally anticipated. If the market should fall steadily, towards 2s. 6d. a bushel, the farmers will probably rush to dispose of their wheat in order to obtain as much as possible in addition to the 6d. a bushel that the Government proposes to pay. I sincerely hope that such a contingency will not arise; but it must be kept in view, because these possibilities sometimes become certainties.
SenatorO’Halloran. - The price of wheat would have to drop below 2s. 6d. a bushel for that to happen.
– It would. I sincerely hope that it will not do so. But we do not know what may occur, and, in a measure of this character, we ought to provide against every eventuality. “We are legislating for the benefit of many thousands of our most important citizens, and we must make their future as easy as possible.
There are one or two other features that appear to me to complicate the whole position, and I cannot see how the difficulty is to be overcome. The bounty is payable upon an f.a.q. basis. Each State sets up its own standard, and in New South Wales the basis adopted may be different from that which operates in South Australia or Western Australia. Out of that practice difficulties are bound to arise.
I wish to make a very brief reference to the contention of several honorable senators that it would be better to pay 6d. a bushel straight out upon the production of wheat.
-Can the Government get the money on that basis?
– The Government has assured us that it cannot, and we are not justified in amending the measure along those lines and refusing to accept what the Government has suggested. Senator E. B. Johnston, and other honorable senators, however, have argued that it would be a proper thing to do. But to my mind, legislation of- this kind must be equitable in its application, and if we were to pay a flat rate of 6d. a bushel on production, the payment would not be an equitable one as between the States and their growers. We know that the wheat-growers of Western Australia receive from1d. to 2d. a bushel more than the growers in the eastern States, on account of the fact that they are nearer to the markets of the world, their freights are less, their production costs are lower, and in the majority of cases, the capital cost of their land is only one-fourth as much. I feel sure that Senator E. B. Johnston and the members of the Country party do not desire to differentiate in favour of the farmers of any one State. As a Senate and as a Parliament we must treat the farmers of Australia as a whole justly and equitably. They should all be placed on the same basis, and be given as much assistance as possible. I am prepared to back the Government to the limit in giving that assistance.
In closing, I emphasize the fact that the only thing I am not sure about is that this measure will do what the Government proposes, and what we want done. If it does not, because of the way in which it has been introduced, because of the ambiguous nature of many of its provisions, and because of the impossibility of honorable senators understanding and properly appreciating what they mean, the responsibility rests, not upon us, but upon the Government. I trust that the best hopes of the Government will be borne out to the full. I honestly wish that every doubt and hesitation expressed by honorable senators of the Opposition will be allayed as time goes on, and that we shall be proved to have been wrong in our impressions. I still have certain doubts; but I wish the wheat-growers all sorts of good luck, and hope that out of this measure they will obtain a greater degree of prosperity than would be possible in other circumstances.
.- First of all, I wish to ask, what are the reasons that induced the Government to promise the wheat-growers that they would be paid a bounty of 6d. a bushel? That promise was made, not because of the awful plight in which the wheatgrowers find themselves, but in order to compensate them on account of the nonfulfilment of previous promises. I cannot conceive of a body of men such as the bankers of Australia or of any other country adopting a policy such as that with which the banking authorities of this country have been credited. We are asked to believe that the Government requested the bankers to advance the sum of £3,000,000 for the payment of that compensation, and that the reluctant reply of the bankers was “ Apparently, we shall have to give you that £3,000,000. We realize that you have made a definite promise to the farmers of this country. We know that you have asked them to produce more wheat so that the country’s obligations may be met; and we also understand that thousands of farmers pledged themselves to the last penny in order to comply with your wish. For those reasons you are justified at this late stage in endeavouring to compensate them. But we will give you the £3,000,000 for which you ask, only on certain conditions.” Those conditions are such that they will make this bill extremely difficult to administer, and will possibly result in this latest promise proving as empty as previous promises have proved to be. Trade is improving everywhere, and it is the wish of all that it will continue on the up grade. The effect of that improvement throughout the world was felt immediately in Australia in the hardening of the wheat market. Can any honorable senator imagine the bankers, honorable as we know them to be, exemplary in character as they have proved themselves to be, being compelled to advance this £3,000,000, and applying the restrictions which this bill imposes, saying to the Government, “ These are the conditions: If the price of wheat does not exceed 3s. a bushel we will advance 6d. a bushel; but if it does, we will give not one penny of the compensation you have promised in return for the suffering and hardship endured by the farmers so that they might comply with your request”? I cannot imagine their adopting such a policy. If for no other purpose, this bill should be held over to give the bankers an opportunity of vindicating their honour in regard to the insinuation made. As a farmer who has grown wheat all his life, and as one who knows the farmers well, I know that, if they are to be tricked in this fashion by the bankers, it will be the last straw that will break the back of the stout yeomanry of this country. But not for one minute do I entertain the thought that the bankers of this country are so minded.
Senator Duncan has referred to the difficulty of millers buying wheat for export in the shape of flour. But there will be no difficulty in that respect; the millers will buy the wheat on the export basis, and the farmers will receive the 6d. just the same.
I could say a great deal on the bill, but its legal aspects have already been covered so handsomely by Senators Colebatch, McLachlan and others, that I need not delay the measure, except to repeat that if it were in my power to do so. I should take the risk of postponing it till I had ascertained the views of the bankers. I know the bankers well. Nobody in this country would rejoice more than they would if the price of wheat rose to 4s. No body of men would be more pleased than they to see the farmers get this £3,000,000 if for nothing else than to relieve the banks of their present liabilities, and of many of the dangers that still lie ahead of them.
.- The difficulties, real and imaginary, which have been discovered by honorable senators in the course of the discussion on this hill, throw into striking relief how little consideration was given by this chamber to past proposals of the present Government to bring into being a system of real co-operation in the handling of the farmers’ wheat. The bills to give effect to that policy, the Wheat Marketing Bill of 1930, and the similar measure which was rejected by this chamber a few months ago, provided for a compulsory pooling system ‘throughout Australia on a basis of control by the producers themselves, with the legal and moral backing of the Commonwealth Government. In the case of the 1930 bill, the proposed pool had not only the legal and moral backing of the Commonwealth Government, but also its financial support. Despite the criticism levelled at the Government during the course of this debate, and despite airy allegations that the Government had no right to make the statement it did in regard to the 4s. guarantee, that question was well ventilated and inquired into by this chamber. The whole of the facts were made available to honorable senators many months ago and, so far, I have not heard one honorable senator during this debate produce from the documents evidence that the Government did not have the full right to make the statement that the Commonwealth Bank had agreed to finance the full advance of 4s. a bushel. The Government has also been criticized for not having given effect to the Wheat Advances Act 1930, which provided for a guaranteed price of 3s. a bushel under the contingent arrangement that the Commonwealth Bank would provide the money. When honorable senators voted for that bill, they knew that the only opportunity the Government had to give effect to the measure was that the Commonwealth Bank would agree to carry out that portion of the compact which was placed with it, and to advance to the Government the money necessary to make a payment of 3s. a bushel possible. It was specifically mentioned in the bill, and the bank board was approached. Last night Senator E. B. Johnston, quoting from a file of correspondence laid on the table of the Senate some time ago, and from the sum mary contained therein, endeavoured to prove that the Government had been dilatory in the matter of approaching the Commonwealth Bank; that it had allowed the bank to delay the consideration of the question unduly, and that, it had not asked the bank for its reply. It is well known to the honorable senator and others who supported his remarks by implication, that the request of the Government was made to the bank on the eve of Christmas, at a time when all such institutions are more or less in recess, and when possibly the bank board was enjoying a well-earned rest after its arduous labours of the previous months. At any rate, it was at a time when it was impossible to get a meeting of the Bank Board. The first meeting of the board was not held until the first week in the new year. It was the first opportunity which the board had to consider the question. The facts were well ventilated in the press at the time. The Acting Minister for Markets (Mr. Forde) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) were in Melbourne, literally waiting on the doorstep of the room in which the bank board was holding its meeting, to learn what the decision of the board was to be, and when that decision was made known to them by word of mouth, it was communicated to the press that afternoon, so that the doubt which had existed for the previous three weeks might be cleared up at the very earliest moment; and so that the farmers would know the worst - that the bank board had intimated to the Government that it could not see its way to provide an advance to enable the payment, to be made. The Government has been charged with having acted without awaiting the official reply of the board’; what was the need for an official communication in writing compared with the need for communicating the decision of the board to the farmers at the earliest possible moment? Surely Senator E. B. Johnston, as a representative of a State which depends on primary production and as an accredited representative of the farmers in this chamber, reads the newspapers and makes himself familiar with what is being clone in regard to a matter which vitally concerns those he rep resents?
But the Government did not allow thi matter to rest there. It later revived the proposal to make some payment to the farmers for last season’s harvest, and proposed that a bounty totalling £3,500,000 should be paid, together with assistance to the amount of £2,500,000 for necessitous farmers. This money was to be provided by the flotation of a loan, but after consulting with its legal advisers and with the States, the Government found that owing to the state of the loan market, it was impossible to float this loan. Following upon that, it submitted to this Parliament a third scheme to help the farmers in the shape of a Fiduciary Notes Bill. The measure was subjected to considerable criticism in this chamber and throughout Australia by honorable senators opposite, who claimed that they wanted to give to the farmers real money, and not the “ spurious “ money which they claimed the fiduciary notes would be, although the notes would have had at their hack the credit and prestige of the Australian nation. Last night one honorable senator who opposed the fiduciary notes issue, and talked at that time about real and spurious money, proposed that the Commonwealth Government should meet the implied obligation under the “Wheat Advances Act 1930, by the issue of negotiable bonds to the farmers. What would be the difference between a fiduciary note issue by the Commonwealth Government for a specific purpose with the backing of the Government, and a negotiable bond issued to the farmers? Behind both pieces of paper would be the promise of the Government representing the people, that the obligation on the face of the document to redeem it would be honoured at some future date. Such is the line of argument .advanced, for political purposes, to distract the attention of the farmers from the real issue, and that is that the Senate failed to accept proposals which would have proved of benefit to the farmers of Australia. I point out to honorable senators who have criticized the Government’s proposal to issue fiduciary notes for the benefit of the farmers, that one of the clauses of this bill provides for the issue of bonds to the bank for the accommodation which they have agreed to provide to the Commonwealth Government.
– Those bonds are treasury-bills.
– But the backing for those treasury-bills will be the credit of the Australian nation, just as it was to be the backing for the fiduciary notes issue.
The history of the negotiations thatpreceded the introduction of this proposal will, I am sure, absolve this Government from responsibility for any complications that may have been introduced in the bill, or for any delay in its presentation. The first public intimation we had that anything was to be done emanated from the Premiers Conference in Melbourne on Thursday, the 10th September. It may be of interest to Senators McLachlan and Johnston, who have so severely criticized the measure, to know that the resolution upon which it is based had the endorsement of all the State representatives, excepting Tasmania. The resolution was in the following terms : -
That the Commonwealth Government provide a bounty for wheat-growers for the 1931-82 season of (id. a bushel on tho basisof f.a.q. wheat for wheat exported and an equivalent bounty for flour provided such bounty shall not increase the f.o.b. price for wheat above 3s. a bushel.
It is not competent for those who were not present at the conference to say whether the fixing of the limit of 3s. a bushel was right or wrong. We do not know what information was available to the representatives at that gathering, or what were the facts upon which they arrived at their decision ; but we do know that, at that time, the average f.o.b. price throughout Australia was under 2s. 2d. a bushel. In my own State it was ls. lid. a bushel. No one then could visualize, that within the next few weeks, one of the greatest changes in the world of finance - a change unprecedented in the history of peace - was about to take place. No one could foresee that Great Britain, the originator of the gold standard, and the nation which, since the war, had fought so tenaciously to return to it, was about to be forced off the world’s gold standard again, and. that the repercussion of that epochal change would be reflected to such a marked degree in the price of Australian wheat. But all that has happened since then, and the f.o.b. price for wheat is now 3s. a bushel in Western Australia and New South Wales. This advance in price has altered the whole aspect of the Government’s proposal. In response to overtures from the Premiers Conference a few weeks ago, the hanks agreed to make available the sum of £3,000,000 on the basis of 3s. a bushel for wheat, and the Commonwealth Bank, as a representative of the Government, and, I presume, with the laudable desire to assist the Government to make this scheme a workable one, opened up negotiations with the private banks, the wheat merchants, and the co-operative pools with a view to implementing the scheme. With all despatch, it presented a memorandum to the Government in which was embodied the proposals which were read to the Senate yesterday by the Minister in charge of the bill, and which are substantially contained in its various provisions.
Because of the changed situation due to the increase in the price of wheat, the Government felt that the banks should be approached .with a view to abolishing the price limit of 3s. a bushel so that our wheat-growers could get the full benefit of the 6d. a bushel bounty for this season’s harvest, irrespective of the price realized, or that, at all events, the limit should he raised to 3s. 6d. a bushel. Accordingly, a conference was held in Melbourne on Friday of last’ week, which was the earliest date upon which the representative’s of the State Governments could be summoned.
– Was not a conference held over a fortnight ago?
– That was the conference at which this proposal was initiated. I am referring now to a later conference of State representatives, at which the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) attended as the representative of the Commonwealth Government for the purpose of asking the banks to agree to the abolition of the price limit of 3s. per bushel. That conference, I understand, approved of the action of the Commonwealth Government, and negotiations were accordingly opened up with the banking institutions. Apart from what has appeared in the press, no definite reply has yet been received from the banks.
Those honorable senators who are so critical of the bill in its present form should remember that this is the scheme which was agreed to by the people who have to find the money. Although honorable senators opposite may be actuated by a laudable desire to assist our wheatgrowers, I would impress upon them that if we insist upon too much, or if we make the requests to the banks too definite, we may destroy what hope we have under this bill of being able to give material assistance to our farmers in connexion with this year’s harvest. I am particularly concerned that nothing shall be done to jeopardize the proposal. The bill gives the Government the right byregulation to prescribe the f.o.b. price limit for f.a.q. wheat, and to enact regulations for the proper checking, as far as this is possible, of the f.o.b. price. I agree that it may be difficult to do this, but the difficulty is not insuperable. As honorable senators know, I have no time for private wheat merchants. I have expressed my antipathy to them in this chamber on a number of occasions. I fought them when I was a member of the State Parliament of South Australia, because I have always believed in the cooperative handling of the farmers’ produce, as I believe in co-operation in other spheres. I do not suggest that private wheat merchants are men entirely without a sense of honour, nor do I infer that they would take advantage of any loopholes that may be discovered in the measure to exact extortionate profits from our wheat-growers. I believe that, as a general rule, they are honorable gentlemen who, under this scheme, will be prepared to play the game by the Government and the farmers, and will honorably comply with the regulations for the implementing of this scheme. In three of the States at least there are very effective voluntary pooling arrangements. The co-operative pools in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, handle about 60 per cent, of the total wheat production in those States. Those organizations will be publishing their f.a.q. estimates from day to day. The figures will be valuable for the purpose of checking the f.o.b. prices quoted by private wheat buyers. There will also be a general check on prices imposed by the net f.o.b. realization of pooled wheat.
Any difficulties which might arise from the application of a principle of this kind would, I think be overcome with the lifting of the price limit, but if the bank’s will not agree to this alteration it is futile for the Senate to talk of it, and idle for honorable senators to blame the Government for not insisting upon it.
Other honorable senators have referred to the possibility of certain eventualities in the working of the scheme, including difficulties in connexion with operations by millers who arc gristing and selling wheat to the East. If honorable senators will peruse the bill carefully, they will find in the regulatory power given under the respective clauses, provisions to overcome those difficulties, as well as any that may be presented in connexion with wheat placed with private merchants for storage and subsequent sale. “We should remember that all licensees under this measure will bc men or firms of substance, and that the penalty for misdemeanour, such as attempts to evade any provisions of the bill or regulations, will be the cancellation of the licence. That, I suggest, will be sufficiently severe to act a3 a deterrent if any licensees seek to take advantage of any weakness that might be disclosed in the measure.
New season’s wheat is already being delivered in many of the earlier districts of Australia. The dry spring has caused grain to ripen more rapidly than is usually the case with the result that wheat is coming forward a few days or a week earlier. In my own State wheat wa3 delivered in one district before I left Adelaide nearly three weeks ago. In the earlier districts of South Australia, which include those portions of the State where the farmers are in the worst circumstances, where they have just come through the most disastrous drought in the history of white settlement, any immediate assistance, even if it be only to the extent of 2d. or 3d. per bushel, would be like a gift from the gods under existing conditions. For that reason, we should not delay the passage of this bill one moment longer than is necessary.
Seeing that so many honorable senators have commended the bill, I hope that it will be passed, for it will at least be the means of giving some tangible assistance to the class in the community which has suffered more severely, not only from droughts, but also from depressed prices, than any other section of our people, apart from the members of the unfortunate navvy class, who have been unemployed in some cases for three or four years. I ask the Senate to accept the principles of the bill, and to recognize that the Government is making a genuine and an honest attempt to implement in effective legislation the conditions insisted upon by the banks. If this bill is carried, benefits will immediately begin to flow to the farmers, and they will be given some hope for the future.
– In expressing my intention to vote for the second reading of this bill, I hope I shall not find it necessary to survey the history of mankind from China to Peru, or to discuss the previous legislation, the promised legislation, or the abortive legislation on the subject of wheat, which has been under public notice during the past three or four years. I shall vote for the second reading of the bill, because I realize that it is designed to assist a class that is most worthy of the assistance of this Parliament. At the same time, we have to remember, as a Parliament, that our mission is not to ride about redressing human wrong3. We are the custodians of the funds and the interests of the people, and our duty to the whole community is greater than our duty to one particular section of it, however deserving. It has to be remembered, also, in connexion with certain observations thai; have been made, that our ability to assist the farmers may not be as great as our desire. We heard yesterday a very noteworthy confession from the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes), that the Government cannot draw money from the air. The Government having at length realized that, notwithstanding that it had proposed, according to itself, to draw £22,000,000 from the air, it cannot do so, it is well that certain honorable senators on my own side of the chamber should also remember it.
– They could only have done that with the consent of the Senate, which was refused.
– I promised that I would not survey the history of mankind, and I am not to be drawn into the making of such a survey by the interjection of the honorable senator.
– I think the honorable senator will admit that this Government has never attempted to borrow money which it could not pay back, which is what its predecessors in office did.
– I can only digress from the orderly progress of my remarks, to say that, so far, I have never heard of the party to which the honorable senator belongs ever having identified itself with a policy of economy. At any rate, I have never known it to raise a protest against money being borrowed; rather has it invariably helped forward what it has regarded as that good work.
I wish to say a few words upon the principles of this measure, because it appears to me that it is desirable that in regard to every important measure which comes before the Senate, we should try to get back to the principles upon which it is based. As I have said, we are not the dispensers of charity to any section of the people, however worthy they are; and I consider it very desirable that I should enunciate what I regard as the principles which entitle me to support this measure. One of the first is that it is the duty and right of any government in a time of crisis to take steps to meet the emergency, even though to do so it may have to depart somewhat from sound political principles. We are facing a crisis in the wheat industry. Our farmers have ‘been attempting for one, two, or more seasons to carry on their operations profitably; but, as we were shown in the excellent speech delivered by Senator Guthrie this morning, the more wheat they have produced the greater has been their loss each season. In these circumstances, it would be utterly wrong for us to expect that they either can or will remain on the land. But it is of vital importance to the welfare of this country that they should remain on it. That being so, it becomes one of the functions of the Government to take steps to help them to remain there, not merely in their own interests as a deserving class, but in the interests of the whole community. A second reason why
I think the farmers are entitled to some assistance is that it has been made the policy of this Government to give assistance to particular interests. The assistance which has been given to other sections of the people in their prosperity has been given largely at the expense of our rural producers. These people have been carrying the burden. If assistance could be given to other classes in their prosperity, we are at least entitled to see that similar assistance shall be given to the rural class in their adversity. It has been suggested that the allowance provided for in the bill should be a straight-out 6d. per bushel irrespective of the price of wheat. I realize, of course, that if that could be done, our task would be very much simpler and probably this measure would be much simpler. But it may well be that that is not in accordance with the promise which the banks have made. It may very well he that, although the banks have promised that they would provide £3,000,000 for the payment of a bounty on wheat, so long as the price did not exceed 3s. a bushel, they may have thought that they would not be called upon to pay anything like that amount. If that is so, the banks may not regard themselves as being bound to provide £3,000,000 to pay a straight-out bounty of 6d. per bushel on wheat. If the banks are prepared to go so far as that, a very much simpler method than that set out in the bill could be devised to carry out what are the desires of honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. I am prepared to admit, and I hope that the Government will be willing to reciprocate, that all honorable senators are desirous of doing whatever they can to render some assistance to our farming community in this time of crisis.
– The Government is glad to have that assurance.
– I am a very humble member of this side of the Senate, but I should have thought that ample assurances had already been given in that direction by honorable senators who can speak with much more authority and responsibility than I can do.
My last word upon the subject is that it would be very undesirable for honorable senators or the people outside to think that this is an easy solution of our troubles. In this measure, we are putting into practice the principle of one class living upon another class. As it is said in homely fashion, one class is taking in the washing of another class ; but it must not be thought that we can live permanently by these means.
– Surely it is better to do that than to allow another country to do our washing.
– It is not possible that a country can progress simply by one class taking in the washing of another class. We shall have to face the facts of the situation which confronts us. How does it come about that in this rich country, populated by an intelligent and an energetic people, the very essentials of life cannot be produced at a profit ? That is the situation which we will have to face, and it becomes quite clear that it has to be faced by reducing, in some way, the cost of production of those essentials of life. That brings me to another phase of the subject; but as I understand that it is desired to adjourn the debate, I ask leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
T1 at the Senate at its rising adjourn till Tuesday next at 3 p.m.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.27]. - I have no objection to this motion, but I suggest to the Government that as the debate just adjourned has revealed the fact that the majority in this chamber wish the bill to be recast in a form that will provide for a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel on all wheat exported, with a maximum payment of £3,000,000, and the retention in the hill of the provision relating to the local price, the Government should, over the week-end, take the opportunity to consult the banks to ascertain whether they would be willing to accept a scheme of that kind.
– I trust that the Government has not postponed the debate on the Wheat
Bounty Bill in the hope of anything happening to it, because I want it passed as soon as possible.
– So does the Government.
– Too often has the cup of cheer been raised to the lips of the wheat-grower’s and dashed away. I do not wish that to happen again. The bill, with all its imperfections and shortcomings - and there are not so many as some honorable senators, who are chasing phantoms, think - should become law as soon as possible. The wheat season is approaching. Only this morning we read in the press the price of new season’s wheat, which is quoted in Sydney at 2s. lid. a bushel. Therefore, the wheatgrowers wish to know exactly where they stand. Another column in the press expressed the anxiety of the growers and dealers respecting the wheat position. They do not know exactly what to do until we come to some decision at Canberra. Therefore, now that we have adjourned the debate on the Wheat Bounty Bill, I wish to be assured that the Government means business, and will put it through this House at the first opportunity
– The Government gives the honorable senator that assurance.
– I feel satisfied that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) and Senator Lynch appreciate as much as the Government does the urgency of the wheat bounty measure. It is not the’ wish of the Government to prolong the second reading. We were hopeful that it would be passed to-day, but unfortunately that has not been possible. The Leader of the Opposition has asked what the Government intends to do over the weekend. Let me say that’ the Government is anxious that the wheat-growers shall obtain 6d. a bushel for all wheat exported with a maximum payment of £3,000,000, and I assure the Senate that no stone will be left unturned by the Government in its efforts to obtain that concession from the banks. Up to the present the banks have not 9een their way clear to agree to that. They have gone so far as to say that the hill is acceptable to them, but that any interference with, or drastic alteration to it, will not meet with their approval. Therefore those who alter the bill must accept the responsibility for their action. The banks have assured the Government that they will not go further than the bill. Despite that, we feel that every effort should be made to obtain a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel on all wheat exported, without the tag. If the banks will agree to that we shall be relieved of many difficulties, or supposed difficulties, which have been seen in the bill.
– That would be much better.
– I agree with the honorable senator. I assure honorable senators that the Government has exploited every avenue.
– Does not the Government propose to consult the banks over the week-end?
– I suppose that the Government will go on with the matter.
– I have been assured that the Government will try to meet the banks.
– The Government is anxious to do that, but because of what the banks have already said I cannot promise that anything will eventuate from another consultation with them. It may be that they will refuse to have anything further to do with the bounty if the bill is interfered with; and, therefore, those who interfere with it will have to accept the responsbility for their action.
– I would point out to honorable senators that I have allowed this discussion on the Wheat Bounty Bill - it is really a sort of addendum to the second-reading debate - so that the leaders of each party in the Senate can express their opinions as to what should be done. I therefore ask honorable senators who wish to speak, to confine their remarks to the motion, and to be as brief as possible.
– I feel sure that no honorable senator on this side - if I understand the feelings of my colleagues aright - wishes to take any step which would jeopardize the ultimate passage of the Wheat Bounty Bill, and the implementing of it by the banks, if it represents the last word that the banks have to say. I gather that the action taken to-day in adjourning the debate is for the express purpose, in accordance with the deliberate promise of the Government, of approaching the banks further on this subject, and to see whether it is not possible to comply with the general expression of opinion in this House that it is desirable in all the circumstances that the assistance take the form of a straight-out bounty of 6d. a bushel on all wheat exported.
– The only danger is that the bill may be held up.
– I do not see much difficulty in that, because it is easy to provide for sales of new season’s wheat which may take place in the meantime. In conveying that assurance to the banks, I trust that the Government will make it abundantly clear that if they say that this bill represents their final word, and that they cannot go further, this Senate is quite prepared to accept the bill.
– That would throw the responsibility on the banks.
– If they adopt that attitude, the responsibility is on them and not on honorable senators. I hope that the Government will confer, not only with the Commonwealth Bank, but also with the other banks. All parties to the original arrangement should come into the discussion, and the scheme finally decided upon shouldbe one in which all the banks are in agreement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Daly) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Dooley) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Wheat Bounty Bill - Broadcasting of Speech by Prime Minister.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.46]. - I regret that the remarks of the Honorary Minister a few moments ago render it necessary for me to speak again on the Wheat Bounty Bill. At a conference this afternoon at which Senator Dooley, I, and others, were present, I informed the Prime Minister that the debate on the bill would not conclude this afternoon, and that the majority of honorable senators desired that it should be amended to provide for a straight out bounty of 6d. a bushel on exported wheat, with a maximum expenditure of £3,000,000, and that the provisions relating to the price of wheat for home consumption should be retained. I asked that the Government would, at the week-end, re-open negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank to discover whether the proposals of the Senate would be acceptable to it. I understood that the Prime Minister signified his readiness to do that and I am surprised that the Honorary Minister, instead of making a frank statement to that effect, introduced extraneous matters. The only desire of members of the Opposition is that the banks shall have a further opportunity l.o consider the wheat bounty; we have no desire that the bill shall be lost. 1 ask Senator Dooley whether the Senate is to understand that the Government will at the week-end approach the banks with the definite proposal that has been put forward from this side of the chamber.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has not stated all the facts in regard to the conference this afternoon. The proposal was that the bill should be advanced to the committee stage, and that on clause 6 the Opposition should submit its amendment, whereupon progress would be reported. The Government would then be able to submit to the bank a definite proposal. That course not having been adopted, the Government can merely bring under the notice of the bank the expressions of opinion by senators.
– Are we to understand that the Government will not consult the bank?
– No; I have already assured the Senate that the Government is keenly interested in the passage of this bill, and already has don,e everything possible to get for the farmers a straightout bounty of 6d. a bushel on export wheat. It will continue its negotiations to that end.
– The chance of success would have been greater had we reached the amendment to clause 6.
– I had hoped that that would be done, but for reasons of which I am unaware, the understanding has been departed from.
– The adjournment of the debate was arranged between the Lender of the Government and myself.
– I ask honorable senators to appreciate the fact that the Government has made every endeavour to get from the banks better terms, and I issued a warning of the fate that might befall the bill only because after Ministers had, as a result of long negotiations, submitted a proposal that apparently embodied the best terms obtainable and was acceptable to all the interests concerned, the Senate instead of accepting the measure has held it up. The only assurance I can give to the Senate is that the Government will continue the negotiations with the bank for a straight-out bounty of 6d. Senator Greene said that the Government should approach all the banks. How long would that take? A special meeting of the Commonwealth Bank Board was held to deal with the wheat bounty and the request by the Government that the price limit should be increased to 3s. 6d.
– Does the Government intend to consult the banks or not?
– I think I have made it sufficiently clear that the intention of the Government is to get the best terms it can from the bank.
-Will the Government press for £3,000,000 irrespective of the price?
– This morning I asked a question regarding a speech to be broadcast by the Prime Minister next Sunday night, but although six hours have elapsed no reply has been furnished. I hope that within the next 24 hours the dispute in the maritime industry will be settled, but there is a possibility of widespread industrial trouble on the waterfront. The farmers are waiting to know definitely what, bounty theyare to receive, and I have suggested that negotiations should be re-opened with the bank board for a guarantee of 3s.6d. a bushel. In the opinion of SenatorRae and myself, the wheat-growers are entitled to that amount. I expected that we would have some intimation from the Leader of the Senate that the Prime Minister would state in his broadcast speech what the Government proposes to do to restore to work the 400,000 persons in Australia, who are well under the bread line. Instead of attending to these three important matters, the Prime Minister seesfit to rush from Canberra to Sydney to launch a new newspaper, which has been born of the schism in the Labour party in New South Wales. Doubtless The World will adopt an antiLang policy, and launch personal attacks against the Premier of New South Wales. We are not very much concerned about that; but we would like the Prime Minister to prove his sincerity by giving effect to the policy that he enunciated at the last election, when he was returned with a majority of seventeen members in the House ofRepresentatives, the biggest portion of which has to-day disappeared. As a representative of the State of New South Wales, I enter an emphatic protest against his neglect of such important matters as those to which I have referred.
.- The. Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) is a citizen of this country, and is entitled to employ his time as he thinks fit when he is not engaged on official duties. I understand that the special reason for his visit to Sydney during this week-end is not that which has been mentioned by Senator Dunn, but to meet, in the company of other Ministers, the Chamber of Manufactures of that city. He has merely been asked to say a few words in support of a newspaper that is being launched on Monday, and in which he is interested in a personal sense. This journal will not be out after the scalps of any individual; its sole purpose will be to serve the best interests of Australia as a whole. 1 make no apology for. the way in which the Prime Minister proposes to employ his time. Surely his rights in this respect are not less than those of any honorable senator or any other member of this Parliament! We do not place leg-irons on them, or attempt to shackle them in the free exercise of their will ; they do with their time what they consider most advisable. That is all that the Prime Minister proposes to do.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 October 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19311023_senate_12_132/>.