14th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 12 noon, and read prayers.
The following papers were presented: -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointments - Department of External Affairs - A. T. Stirling, T. Mathew and P. R. Heydon.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Twelfth Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by the Board of Commissioners, dated 11th December, 1935.
– Has the attention of the Leader of the Senatebeen drawn to the press statement that it is the intention of the Commonwealth Government to send to the coronation celebrations a contingent of 1,000 Australian returned soldiers? “Will he say whether that is or is not the intention of the Government ?
– So far as I am aware, the Government has not yet received an invitation to have any form of representation at the coronation celebrations. No arrangements will be made until such an invitation is received.
– I ask the Minister in charge of Territories whether the attention of the Government has been drawn to the statement of Mr. F. H. G. Simcocks, an accountant in the Treasury at Rabaul, reported in to-day’s Canberra Times, that the Treasury officials of the mandated territory of New Guinea are concerned in regard to the excessive amount of revenue which is pouring in and do not know which tax should be most reduced in order to dispose of some of the funds which have accumulated? Is it a fact that a duty of 10 per cent. is charged on all mining machinery, including Australian, imported into the territory, and that a royalty of 5 per cent. is charged on all gold produced in it? Will the Government suggest to the administration that the desire of the treasury officials to reduce the revenue might be met by affording some relief to the gold-mining industry ?
– I have seen this unauthorized statement which merely expresses the personal opinion of an official, and does not bear the authority of the Administrator, who is the only official in the territory possessing any right to make such a statement. In reply to the second portion of his question,I inform the honorable senator that representations have been made to me as to the alleged inequitable nature of the existing tax on gold produced in the territory. In fulfilment of a promise that I made, I am at present conducting an investigation into the allegation, to see whether a more equitable form of taxation can be devised.
– Will the Leader of the Senate consult with Mr. Simcocks, who is now in Sydney, with a view to ascertaining how a result similar to that experienced in Rabaul may be achieved in Australia?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.I do not propose to confer with Mr. Simcocks. I believe, however, that some one else will confer with him.
– Will the Minister representing the Prime Minister state whether it is a fact that during last year certain. Japanese interests endeavoured to obtain a lease of the vast iron ore deposits in Yampi Sound, Western Australia, and whatsteps, if any, were taken by the Government to prevent the lease from being granted?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.I am not aware of any endeavour by Japanese interests to obtain a lease of the Yampi Sound iron ore deposits. If such an attempt were made, the matter would not come within the province of the Commonwealth Government, because the granting of mining leases is the prerogative of the State Government.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister. upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Tie Minister for Trade and Customs informs me that the information is being obtained.
Restrictions upon Shipping.
asked the Minister in Charge of Territories, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders.
[12.11].- I move-
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the hill being passed through all its stages without delay.
This is the principal appropriation measure which it is necessary for the Senate to pass. Three other smaller appropriation measures have to he considered later. When these are passed and certain bills have been returned from the House of Representatives it will be possible for the Senate to adjourn until the House of Representatives has completed its consideration of the tariff.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Brennan) read a first time.
Senator BRENNAN (Victoria- Acting
Attorney-General) [12.12]. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure is designed to provide relief for the wheat-growers of Australia with respect to the harvest of 1935-36.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) criticized the Government for its hand-to-mouth policy is regard to many matters that affect the rural industries. Criticism of that sort leaves out of account the fact that Australia not long ago passed through the greatest war in history, the effects of which are still being felt, and, possibly as a consequence of it, experienced the greatest depression in our history. It would be a great mistake, I think, - and I believe that honorable senators will agree with me if we were to choose a time when the world was suffering from the consequences of a very grave war or depression to embark upon some great change in our social and economic system. The time for such a change is when normal conditions prevail. The conditions through which we have passed are, in themselves, a justification for measures of a temporary character; and in that respect the Government feelsthat it has not failed. In successive year’s since the prices of rural products generally, and possibly wheat in particular, dropped in 1930, financial assistance has been given by the Commonwealth to the wheat industry. Justification for that lay in the fact that other industries had been assisted, and that the wheat industry is of such importance to the community that, if it were not saved, the rest of the community must go down with it. More than 70,000 persons, it is estimated, are directly connected with the wheat industry, and in respect of production it is now second in importance only to wool. At the same time, the Government has not been unmindful of the need for doing something which will obviate these yearly appeals to Parliament which the Leader of the Opposition (SenatorCollings) yesterday deprecated. To a certain extent, I concur in his objections.
In 1933 a royal commission was appointed for the very purpose of discovering whether something could not be done to obviate the necessity for these yearly appeals to Parliament for assistance by the wheat industry. The second report drawn up by the. commission, which has now completed its labours, contained u recommendation that something in the nature of a home-consumption price should be created.
– It did; but there are constitutional difficulties in the way of the establishment by the Commonwealth of a compulsory pool. Even if a pool were established, its purpose as I understand it - and I think honorable senators agree - would be to fix a home-consumption price. That is to say, the end to be attained is a homeconsumption price; and attainment of that end may possibly be achieved through the agency of pools, excise, a flour tax, or other means. The outstanding fact that emerged from consideration of the wheat industry’s plight was that, to carry out any recommendations of the royal commission, it was necessary that complementary legislation should be passed by the parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States. Some of the States have not passed the necessary complementary legislation. The Commonwealth Government had promised that, in such a contingency, or in the event of other factors preventing the home-consumption price from being established for the harvest which has just ended, in order to provide assistance for the industry, it would re-impose the flour tax. That tax, as honorable senators know, was re-imposed, and it was recently lifted.
The prices ruling for wheat with respect to this season’s harvest have been consistently higher than had been obtainable in the preceding few years. The prices obtaining in the three months December to February this year have been better to the extent of about ls. a bushel than those which obtained for the same period last year. If this difference be maintained the increase of the total cheque which will be received by the growers this year as compared with last year will be between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000. The shippers’ limits for wheat f.o.r. Williamstown during the three months December to February in the years 1934-35 and 1935-36 compare as follows: -
Honorable senators are aware that the flour tax was re-enacted to provide assistance pending the enactment of the homeconsumption price legislation. The bill now before the Senate embodies the Government’s proposals regarding the distribution of relief to growers for the harvest just reaped. The total amount provided in the bill for distribution is £1,878,906. It is proposed to make available this sum by way of grants to the various States, which in turn will effect distribution amongst the growers. The amounts to be made available to the various States are as follows: -
In making this allocation amongst the States, the Government had regard to the crops which it was estimated would be harvested, and also to any unfavorable seasonal conditions experienced. In so far as the crops basis is concerned, the allocation includes provision for a payment to the States of ls. a bushel for that proportion of the crop in each State which is equivalent to the proportion of the total crop in Australia that will be used for human consumption within the Commonwealth.
This does not mean that growers are to be paid ls. a bushel on the homeconsumption quota. It is simply a basis for calculating the amount to be paid to each State for the relief of wheatgrowers.
The latest estimate of the total crop is about 140,000,000 bushels. The quantity required for human consumption in Australia is about 32.000,000 bushels, which represents 23 per cent, of the total crop. The allocation under this heading will therefore absorb £1,610,103. The balance of £268,803 has been distributed amongst the States on the basis of the degree of adverse seasonal conditions experienced by them. From the information that is available Western Australia has suffered in this regard more than any other State. An amount of £161,600 has accordingly been allotted to that State from the £268,803 provided in this connexion. Of the balance, South Australia is allotted £69,896, and New South Wales £31,784. The remainder will be divided amongst the other States on an acreage basis.
With regard to the manner of distribution by the States amongst individual wheat-growers, the bill provides that payments may be made by the States on any basis deemed reasonable in the circumstances existing in the respective States, subject to the proposed method of distribution being first approved by the Minister. As the Commonwealth is providing the money, it thinks that it should have a voice in the methods of distribution.
The methods which the various States propose to adopt in distributing the Commonwealth grant are -
New South Wales proposes to distribute the greater portion of the Commonwealth grant on an acreage basis. Approximately £93.000 will be used for relief of wheat-growers who suffered serious loss through adverse seasonal conditions.
Victoria has decided to distribute £50,000 amongst growers who suffered losses through drought, ‘hail, storm and other damage, approximately £200,000 on an acreage ‘basis, and the balance of the grant on a production basis.
Queensland will distribute 25 per cent. of the grant to wheat-growers suffering from specially adverse conditions, and the balance on an acreage basis.
South Australia proposes to distribute the amount specially added to that State’s grant in respect of adverse seasonal conditions to those fanners who reaped 3 bushels an acre and under. Of the balance of the money 50 per cent. will probably be distributed on an acreage basis, and 50 per cent. on a bushelage basis.
Western Australia proposes to distribute the amounts specially added to that State’s grant in respect of the adverse seasonal conditions as sustenance to those growers who suffered losses through drought, whilst the balance will be paid on an acreage basis.
Tasmania will distribute the money on an acreage basis.
As certain ofthe States propose to distribute some of the money as a ‘bounty on production it will be necessary, under the Constitution, for both Houses of this Parliament to pass a resolution empowering the States to pay a bounty on production, where they desire to do so, out of the funds provided under this act. A resolution to this effect will be submitted as soon as the present bill has passed through all stages.
The flour tax of £2 12s. 6d. a ton was re-enacted to provide for these payments. When the tax was re-imposed it was estimated that it would produceabout £1.600,000, if allowed to remain in operation for the full term. As the result of representations made to it, and particularly in view of the buoyancy of the revenue, the Government decided to discontinue the flour tax as from the 25th February, 1936. The total revenue derived from the tax will be about £1,200,000. The balance of approximately £680,000 will therefore have to be provided from revenue.
– Has the honorable senator figures showing the receipts of flour tax from the various States?
– I am sorry that I have not, but if the honorable senator desires the information I shall obtain it for him. With the Leader of the Opposition, I hope that this is the last occasion on which an appeal will be made to the Senate to provide this form of financial assistance for the wheat industry. We have some evidence that we are approaching better prices, and that the practice of yearly grants to this industry will cease. Meanwhile, I hope that the proposals in the bill will commend themselves to honorable senators. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) has asked for a speedy passage of this measure, and I support that appeal. Although the bill has just come before the
Senate for the first time, there is nothing exactly new in it. All honorable senators and, for that matter, honorable members of all Australian Parliaments, knew that these proposals were to be submitted to the Commonwealth Parliament. The distribution, in respect of both method and amount, is on a basis which cannot be said to be unfavorable to any one State as compared with another, and any complaints against renewal of temporary measures of this character can be met with the reply that we have bad them from year to year. We have become accustomed to assisting this and other industries, and, accordingly, there is in this bill no new principle.
– What actually is the reason for the improved wheat prices? Is it a consequence of war conditions?
– No ; the movement manifested itself early this year.
– It is due to the statistical position of wheat.
– The upward trend is related to the world carry-over of wheat. I have figures dealing with that matter, but they were made public in another place, and are on record. In view of this, I do not consider it necessary to weary honorable senators by repeating them. The condition responsible for the improved price of wheat had manifested itself before the present international situation was so serious as it is to-day, and therefore is in no way connected with it. I repeat my request to honorable senators to give the bill as speedy passage as is consistent with proper consideration.
– Quite obviously, after the reception which greeted my remarks on another matter that was before this chamber yesterday, it is necessary that I should make particularly clear the attitude of lae Opposition regarding measures which come before this .Senate, in order to avoid the possibility of misrepresentation. That has been made more obvious to me this morning by the opening remarks of the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) when introducing this bill. There is a great difference between the viewpoint from which the Opposition regards all these measures and that from which the Government regards them. It should be remembered that, although the Opposition supports Government measures occasionally because members of the Labour party consider that in the main they are desirable, it does not follow that we accept every dot over every “ i or every crossing through every “ t “.
– We appreciate that.
– It should also be remembered that this Opposition, when it declares its attitude, speaks for approximately 46 per cent, of the electors, so far as can be ascertained from the results of the last general election. By and large, the difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we adopt all the time the Australian outlook. That, I think, should be the attitude of this chamber in all its deliberations. If the Senate does not have an Australian outlook, there can be no excuse for its continued existence on the present basis on which it is elected by the people. Each State enjoys equal representation in the Senate; therefore, I take it that we should not be merely Queenslanders, or Victorians, or Western Australians, but that at all times we should be Australians legislating for all Australia.
– Hear, hear!
– I am delighted to find that on this occasion Senator Sampson agrees with me - -surely I cannot be wrong. What is the Australian outlook, and what should be our approach to measures such as the one now under consideration? In my opinion, the Senate should conform at all times to the declared national policy of Australia, which is to give full and adequate protection to all primary and secondary industries. Such a policy, I believe, would be accepted by a great majority of the Australian people regardless of their political persuasions. Honorable senators of the Opposition advocate that the wealth producers of Australia should enjoy the full results of their toil. We stand for giving the wealth produced to the wealth producers. Of course, I realize that ito put such a scheme into practice we would require to introduce an entirely different social order.
We support measures designed to relieve the distress of primary producers, because we believe that by that means we are giving more and more the full results of their toil to the producers of wheat, wool, sugar, and the various other commodities which constitute the primary production of Australia. I realize that the Government would argue, if it considered it worth while to argue with the Opposition, that we do not believe in giving the full results of their toil to all those who produce wealth. But that is incorrect. The Government would probably also contend that we place a narrow interpretation upon the term “ wealth producer “ - that we believe in giving the farm labourer a fair return for his work, but do not extend the same consideration to the farm owner. In reply to such criticism, I state that in Australia there is, at any rate, one State, Queensland, which has gone as far as it has been able to go in that direction. The Labour party maintains that any industry, whether primary or secondary, or any unit contributing anything to the final result in wealth production and distribution, would get its full reward if the Labour policy were in operation. We do not believe that the coupon clippers, the interest mongers, and the men who batten on the primary and secondary industries, should participate in this reward, because they contribute nothing to the production or the satisfactory distribution of wealth. For these reasons, the Opposition to-day gives its support to this bill; but I take this opportunity to inform the Minister that we shall offer criticism of certain of the provisions of the measure which, in our opinion, ought not to be there, and we shall suggest the inclusion of provisions which should be in the bill but are not.
When introducing the bill the Minister, if he was not being ironical, was quite a comedian. By way of correcting my apparent obtuseness yesterday, he said that the Government was ‘obliged to bring down this piecemeal kind of legislation foi’ the relief of the primary producer because of some of the disastrous experiences through which the nation had recently passed. He alluded first to the Great War. Doubtless, I would be ruled out of order if I alluded to the attitude of the Government and of honorable senators opposite on that great issue. I shall content myself by reminding them that the war concluded eighteen years ago, and asking: Have not this Government and its predecessors, during the period since the signing of the Armistice, had ample time to realize the effects of the war? Surely governments should have been prepared to cope with the results which they must have been aware would follow on the termination of the war. It was quite obvious to some of us, even though we have not had the advantage of the better education of some other honorable senators who oppose us, that there cannot be destruction of wealth without somebody, somewhere, and at some some time, having to pay for it.
The Minister, in his capacity of either instructor or comedian, also said that we had experienced a very serious depression. I venture to assert that numbers of people outside this Parliament realize the seriousness of that depression. For a number of years this Government was satisfied to tell the people that prosperity was just around the corner, but now it is continually telling them that prosperity has arrived in Australia. Only last week I heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) assert, quite seriously, that his policy had now brought about prosperity and that his “ wonderful “ Government had achieved wonderful things. The Minister stated that the Government realizes that if the wheat-growing industry is not saved, the community will go to the wall with it.
– I hope the honorable senator will not fail to tell the chamber how he would save the industry.
– I shall not unduly trespass on the time at my disposal to supply Senator Hardy with the remedies envisaged by the Labour party. The Government, which he now strongly supports, although a few months ago he condemned it, is in the saddle. On it devolves the responsibility of providing remedies, and it is the task of the Opposition to indicate the weaknesses in its proposals. At least we should be given credit for not having been guilty of merely factious opposition. When we believe that a bill does not call for opposition, we allow it to pass without discussion; but when we consider that it vitally affects the interests of the nation we yield to none in our desire to state our case. I desire to ask the Minister and honorable senators who support the Government whether they consider that the wheat industry or the community will be saved by proposals such as the one contained in ‘this bill. Nevertheless, the Opposition will support this measure, because it realizes that it is one extending relief to a section of the community that is in dire need of assistance.
What has been the attitude of the Government in regard to this matter? We realize how the hearts of Ministers bleed for the primary producer, particularly for the wheat-grower. But let us look at their record. I recall that a conference was held in Canberra on the 4th October of last year, the delegates to which were not altogether a happy family. It was convened by the Commonwealth Government for the wheat-growing interests throughout Australia to consider the situation. In my opinion, the Government should have been able to collect the necessary data without summoning that conference. It could have been obtained without difficulty by correspondence with the interested parties. Represented at that conference were some sections of the industry which were in favour of the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. I do not intend to read the remarks in that connexion, because I quoted extensively from them in a similar debate last year. Suffice it for me to say that the representative of the Commonwealth Government, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) refused to test the committee on a scheme for the establishment of a compulsory pool, such as has been tried with success in Queensland. Owing to the pool, wheat-growers in that State obtained higher prices for their product than did growers in other States.
– But Queensland had no exportable surplus.
SenatorCOLLINGS.- Of course, but that is not the point at issue. The fact remains that legislation of the kind that Dr. Page refused to entertain because the
Commonwealth Government did not support it, put the Queensland wheat-grower in a position of not being a mendicant coming to the State for relief.
– All the same they are obtaining relief.
– Yes, even this Government does not dare to discriminate against Queensland to that extent.
– It does not desire to do so.
SenatorCOLLINGS. - The Minister does extraordinary things when, at Cabinet meetings, he comes under the influence of mob psychology. Following the Canberra conference, the Government introduced legislation on the 1st November last. The second reading was not moved until the 4th December, a few days before the time when, as the Government knew perfectly well, both Houses would adjourn for the Christmas vacation. In the meantime the sufferings of the wheat-growers became intensified, but members of Parliament enjoyed their holidays, despite the calamitous conditions prevailing in the industry. Now the Leader of the Senate has secured the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable this bill to be passed through all its stages without delay.
– Why does not Queensland grow sufficient wheat to meet its own requirements?
– If the honorable senator would refer to the population figures of the States, and consider the products for which the climatic conditions of Queensland best suit it, he could answer that question for himself. The Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) said that the wheat problem would have been settled long ago, if certain States had implemented the necessary legislation ; but I ask, in all seriousness, whether he expected the States to implement a measure which had not been introduced in either branch of this Parliament. The bill was not passed until December, and sufficient time was not available to enable the States to pass complementary legislation between then and the Christmas holidays. If the contention of the Government is that this Parliament has not had sufficient time to deal with the problem, let me ask once again why we were not called together earlier last year, and kept sitting later, so that we might do the job for which the taxpayers employ and pay us.
What is the position disclosed by the report of the royal commission that inquired into the conditions in the industry? The difficulty cannot be overcome by merely tinkering with it, and granting an annual distribution of alms. Sooner or later, we must get down to bedrock, or make way for a government that understands the problems of the industry, and is prepared to set it on a proper footing. The report of the commission shows that 40 per cent. of the growers in Australia can meet their working expenses, including interest, and earn, in addition, £125 a year as their share of the wealth produced by them. Of course, the commission points out that £125 a year means more to a farmer than it would to a city worker. It is said that it is equivalent to about £200 a year, because a farmer can produce a good deal of the food required by himself and his family, and does not usually spend so much in certain directions as city dwellers. Does the Government imagine that it will solve this problem by passing piecemeal legislation? The report of the commission is most illuminating. It shows that various interests are taking a heavy toll of the industry; yet no proposal is submitted by the Government to compel predatory vested interests to disgorge some of their profits.
– Does the honorable senator think that if every recommendation of the commission were adopted, the difficulties of the growers would be solved ?
– I do not intend to be side-tracked by the Leader of the Country party. The bill provides that the bounty shall be paid to the growers irrespective of whether they have been carrying on their operations at a profit or a loss. Bounty should be given to the mast necessitous growers, but not to those who have made considerable profit, whether out of wheat-growing or by means of other occupations in which they arc engaged.
– Such as politicians?
– Yes, but I do not intend to refer to individuals ; I desire to fight fairly. The Government should establish a satisfactory basis on which to decide who shall receive the bounty. The money cannot be obtained by legerdemain. Speaking from memory, about £1,200,000 was raised by the flour tax up to the end of January last. The levying of that impost showed the utter incapacity of the Government to finance the bounty on a just basis, seeing that the bulk of the tax fell on the working classes, who are the largest consumers of bread. Up to the 24th February, when the tax ceased to operate, the total sum raised by it was about £1,500,000, and, therefore, a comparatively small amount is required from the Consolidated Revenue to enable the bounty to be paid. At the committee stage, the Opposition will endeavour to see that the assistance is given to those who are most entitled to it. Whether that can best be done by making the bounty payable only to those having no taxable income, or whether some other plan should be adopted is a matter for inquiry.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - The Sessional Orders requiring the suspension of the sitting for the lunch-hour from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m. having been suspended, with the concurrence of honorable senators I shall now leave the chair until 2 p.m.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear !
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2 p.m.
– If my memory is correct, a wise man once declared that criticism was rarely constructive and generally destructive. Those who listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) on this bill this morning must be satisfied that that declaration was sound. The honorable senator did not contribute one constructive suggestion for the solution of the difficulties of the wheatgrowers.
– We are supporting the bill.
– That is true; but the honorable gentleman used the occasion to declare that the policy of the Government in respect of the wheat industry was barren, whereas if the policy of the Labour party could be brought into operation the problems of the industry would be rapidly solved.I have found considerable difficulty, however, in ascertaining from the members of the Labour party in this chamber what the policy of their organization is in respect of the wheat industry. I even interjected while the Leader of the Opposition was speaking to ask him to state the policy of his party, but I elicited no useful information. The honorable gentleman occupied his time in setting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down - doubtless to his own satisfaction. I ask him whether, in his opinion, the recommendations of the Wheat Commission which investigated the problems of the wheat-growers at great length - and also at great cost, for I understand that the. Commission cost the country nearly £50,000 - would adequately meet the situation if put into effect , but he merely fitted on his roller skates once more and circled round the question. The members of the Labour party in this chamber have no policy for the assistance of the wheat industry.
– Our policy has been stated time and time again by ex-Senator O’Halloran and others.
– We have been told that the Labour party favours a compulsory wheat pool. I ask now whether the honorable gentlemen of the Opposition believe that if a compulsory wheat pool could be put into operation it would solve all the problems of the wheatgrowing industry overnight?
The burden of the complaint by the Leader of the Opposition seemed to be that the Government had done nothing to help the wheat industry and, in fact, had no long-range policy on the subject.
– I did not say that the Government had done nothing.
– The honorable gentleman criticized the bill at great length and the whole burden of his speech was the inactivity of the Government. During the luncheon hour I took the opportunity to refresh my mind concerning certain statements made by the Leader of the Opposition at the end of last year when he was discussing the Wheat and Wheat Products Bill in this Chamber. The honorable gentleman said on that occasion -
I can see no valid reason why we could not meet next week to consider this business under more comfortable circumstances both mentally and physically, instead of putting through legislation by a process of exhaustion. However, I am not complaining very much.
A reasonable deduction from that statement and from the speech of the honorable gentleman this morning would be that he has changed his view. There was a wide difference between what he said last year and what he said this morning. In the course of his speech last year he also said -
Frankly I do not like this bill. but he went on to say -
I am glad that something is being done for the wheat-grower.
– I am in the same position to-day.
– The honorable gentleman gave me the impression while ho was delivering his speech this morning that he thinks that nothing is being done for the wheat-grower and, in fact, the only thing that could be done to help the industry would be to apply to it the policy of the Australian Labour party. But I ask again, what is the policy of that party?
– A compulsory wheat pool.
– I expected to get that reply. I myself am a believer in a compulsory wheat pool, but do honorable members of the Opposition believe that its establishment would solve all the problems of this industry throughout the Commonwealth ?
– Not that alone. The wheat jugglers. would have to be got rid of.
– I cannot, in the time at my disposal this afternoon, go into all the aspects of this subject that occur to me, but I again assert that neither the Leader of the Opposition nor his colleagues have enunciated any comprehensive policy to rehabilitate the wheat industry. I have heard the Leader of the Opposition and also ex-Senator Daly and ex-Senator O’Halloran, speak at length in advocacy of a compulsory wheat pool, but when we have asked them, as we have done on numerous occasions : “ Show us how a compulsory wheat pool can be established constitutionally “, they have had no reply for us.
During the course of the debate on the Wheat and Wheat Products Bill towards the end of last year some of us made specific inquiries from Labour senators to ascertain whether they could show us some constitutional means of establishing a compulsory wheat pool, but they could not do so. We have to face the fact, however, that there are other than constitutional difficulties in the way of a compulsory wheat pool. Such an organization could not be established without the full consent and co-operation of the State governments unless a change were effected in the Constitution, and the States are not unanimous on the subject. During the wheat conference held some time ago, Mr. Bulcock, Minister for Agriculture in the Queensland Labour government, said that if a referendum were held with the object of securing an alteration of the Constitution to make the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool possible, the main issue would undoubtedly be obscured and the decision turn actually upon what would be the effect of such an alteration on the price of bread. I remind honorable senators that this wheat conference was representative of the industry in every respect, and was not simply a clique gathered together under the patronage of this Government. It was generally agreed at that conference that it would not be practicable to secure an alteration of the Constitution at present to make a Commonwealth pool possible yet in spite of that fact, honorable senators of the Opposition continue to attack the Government for not taking steps to set up a compulsory pool. Even if the constitutional situation were clear we have no guarantee that all the State governments would favour the establishment of a compulsory pool. I invite the attention of honorable senators to the following extract from a speech which I delivered in this chamber on this subject on the 6th December last: -
The possibility of this was revealed by the lack of unanimity among the delegates at the conference. New South Wales, an exporting State, was agreeable to support the compulsory pool; Queensland, which is not an exporting State, and Victoria were also prepared to support it. But the Western Australian representative said: “We cannot pledge ourselves to a compulsory pool. All that we can do is to promise to consider it”. And the Tasmanian representative said : “ I am personally in favour of a compulsory pool, hut if I submit it to my growers they will want to shoot mc off the planet.” Mr. Butler, the Premier of South Australia, definitely stated his opposition to a compulsory pool.
In spite of all these circumstances, honorable senators of the Labour party in this chamber and their associates elsewhere, still try to make political capital out of this proposal and indict the Government for its alleged failure to establish a pool. When their charge against the Government is analysed it is shown to be completely ineffective, for they cannot indicate how a compulsory wheat pool could be established.
Before the adjournment of parliament for the Christmas recess a measure was passed which provided for a homeconsumption price of wheat. It required however, the collaboration of the State governments to make it effective. I do not wish to weary honorable senators by discussing various aspects of the constitutional position, as the issue will shortly come before the Privy Council, but I desire to put this whole subject in a clear light. It is easy to demand, in broad and vague terms, as the Leader of the Opposition has done, that a compulsory pool shall be established, but it is quite a different matter to indicate how it can be done. After all, we must live within our Constitution.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that this Government has done nothing to assist the wheat-growers, but let us remind ourselves for a moment or two of what has happened in the last few years, and consider the probable effect of a restoration of the price level as a contribution to the solution of the difficulties of this industry. Since the beginning of the depression, when the price of wheat fell so badly, the Commonwealth Government has provided £12,52S,000 in grants and otherwise for the assistance of the wheat industry. 1 feel sure that even honorable senators of the opposition will agree that that is very liberal assistance, which, I am convinced, was not undeserved. It was, in fact, a due recognition of the perilous plight of the industry. Instead of occupying time in dealing with the details of these various grants, I wish to point out that the tendency revealed in this bill which comes before us at a time when the price is less depressed than it has been for some time, is to taper off financial grants in aid of the industry as the price of wheat rises. I believe that a reduction of the amount of assistance offered is being effected because prices have recovered to some extent.
– But that will not help farmers in drought stricken areas.
– I am aware of that, but I leave that issue on one side for the moment. I ask whether a restoration of prices will enable the wheat-growers to recover their position, and in doing so, I am not attempting in any sense whatever to decry the work of the Government in assisting the industry. We must face the fact, however, that since the partial recovery of prices a tapering off has occurred in the financial assistance granted to the industry. Carrying this consideration to its logical conclusion, we must assume that when price levels again become normal, financial assistance to the industry by bounty and otherwise will disappear. We have excellent grounds for that assumption. In 1933-34, when the price was 2s. 8&d. a bushel, relief to the amount of £3,053,000 was granted to the wheat industry ; whereas in 1935-36, when the price is estimated at 3s. 6d. a bushel, the relief to be granted is £1,800,000. That undoubtedly justifies the conclusion that, as the price recovers, financial relief to this industry will taper off until it ultimately disappears. Comparing the price this year with the price last year, the recovery of gross revenue to the industry represents approximately an additional £5,000,000 to £6,000,000. I particularly ask the Government and honorable senators to consider whether such an increase of the gross revenue earned by the industry will put it back on its feet. I mentioned earlier that the royal commission which inquired into the wheat industry made a careful investigation which cost the Commonwealth £45,000. One of the most alarming features of its findings - a feature that should perturb all who study the industry - was its analysis of the debt structure of the industry, which really controls the industry’s economic value. The commission found that the debts owed by the industry totalled £150,000,000. The commission, working on a hypothetical production of sheep to the acre, also found that the assets of the industry totalled only £135,000,000. Applying a business test, we can say, on these figures, that the industry is bankrupt by an amount of £15,000,000. For these reasons I ask whether the restoration of a high price is going .to put the industry back on its feet. The commission also found that £10,000,000 would be required to restore the plant and equipment necessary for the carrying on of the industry. Even at prices which would give the industry an increase of revenue of roughly from £5,000,000 to £6,000,000 a year, two years will be required for the industry to re-establish its plant from earnings, even without touching its debt structure, and this must be done before we can say that it is able to carry on economically. An examination of these facts must raise in the minds of honorable senators very serious problems, because we must deduce from them that the slightest reverse suffered by the wheat-growers in respect of prices will mean that the industry will be forced again to approach this Parliament as a mendicant. Because of the economic recovery during the last few years, due mainly to the wise administration of this Government, interest rates are beginning to harden. This was bound to happen, through the operation of the law of supply and demand. In other words, the value of money is going to rise on account of the increasing demand for it. But it must be remembered that while it is evidence of returning prosperity, the hardening of interest rates will increase the costs of production for the wheat-grower. Dealing with the effect of interest rates on the industry, the royal commission disclosed an alarming position. It showed that 21.5 per cent, of the farmers have to pay an interest charge of 3d. or less a bushel; 25 per cent., an interest charge of between 4d. and 6d. a bushel; 14.6 per cent., an interest charge of between 7d. and 9d. a bushel; and 14.4 per cent, an interest charge of between lOd. and ls. a bushel. While the nation generally may possibly be able to stand a hardening of the interest rates, which is bound to come as a consequence of returning prosperity, we have to realize that such a develop- ment will increase the production costs of the wheat-grower. Therefore, I submit, we have to watch very closely the future of the wheat industry in Australia.
– .What does the honorable senator suggest the Government should do?
– If the Leader of the Opposition had proposed a policy of a planned economy to control the production of industry, or sought a stabilized price, he” would not have been accused of indulging in non-constructive criticism. We must realize and take cognizance of the facts which I have just pointed out. While we congratulate ourselves on the upward trend of prices at the present time, and while, in consequence, it is not necessary to give as much assistance to the industry as we have done in the past, we must still realize that major problems, those represented in the debt structure of the industry, remain to be tackled by this Government.
– The reduced amount of the grant made by the Commonwealth Government this year for the assistance of the wheat industry is disappointing, particularly to the wheat-growers of Australia, and to those who have suffered from the drought, which has been exceptionally severe in Western Australia. Of course, those sufferers have received no benefit whatever from the present increased value of wheat in the markets of the world. The bounty proposed to be appropriated under this measure is the smallest amount that has been voted for the assistance of the industry from federal finances during the last five years; that is since, owing to the depression, prices “for wheat on the world markets fell to a low level. The basis of allocation of assistance among the States is also unsound and disappointing, and it has proved very detrimental to the wheat-growers of Western Australia, the northern and north-western areas of which have experienced the worst drought since the wide-spread drought of 1911. In his last policy speech broadcast through national stations on the 14th August, 1934, the Minister -for Commerce (.Dr. Earle Page), pointed out that the Country party had been compelled to fight for temporary assistance to the wheat industry. That is true. He claimed that the Country party had been instrumental in securing grants of £3,500,000 in 1931, £2,000,000 in 1932, and £3,000,000 in 1933. In respect of the harvest for the following year, the Parliament, acting on the advice of the royal commission which inquired into the industry and recommended a grant of £4,000,000, appropriated £4,000,000 for the assistance of wheat-growers. For this year, however, the recommendation made by that important and expensive commission in favour of the establishment of a compulsory pool was not given effect to for reasons which have been fully explained, and which I need not discuss at this juncture. However, the assistance to be given to the industry under this measure has been reduced to a total of £1,878,546, as compared with over £4,000,000 in the previous year.
– The honorable senator seems to suggest that the “United Australia party is responsible for all the injury done to the wheat industry, and the Country party for all the good.
– That may be the opinion of the honorable senator, but I have made no statement on which he could base such an observation.
– The honorable senator just said that the Country party had given these benefits to the industry.
– I said that the Minister for Commerce had made a statement to that effect. I repeat that this is the smallest grant made during the past five years to the wheat industry, and I am sorry that I cannot congratulate Dr. Earle Page, or the Country party representatives in the Government on being so successful in their efforts to secure adequate financial assistance to the wheat industry this year as the Minister claimed he had been during the previous four years. In his policy speech, Dr. Earle Page also said -
We strongly objected to the passage of discriminatory conditions attached to these grants which made them, in effect, a dole, whilst assistance through tariff protection to secondary industries was given without any such .conditions.
I cannot understand why Dr. Earle Page should describe as a dole the grant of £3,500,000 made to the wheat industry by the Scullin Government in 1931 in times of stringency and depression, whilst this year this Government, of which Dr. Earle Page is a member, although it has a surplus of £2,000,000 above its estimated revenue, can grant the industry only £1,878,546. If, as Dr. Earle Page stated, assistance granted to the industry in the past could bc characterized as a dole, then this year’s grant to the industry is only half a dole. It is the smallest grant made to the industry during the last four years.
– The increased price this year is worth over £4,500,000.
– That may be so, but nearly half the wheatgrowers in Western Australia, and many growers in some of the other States, have suffered so severely from drought that they have received no benefit whatever from the increase of price. Furthermore, some of those growers will have to bear an additional burden because of the fact that they will have to buy seed wheat this year at the higher price. This year the Commonwealth has taken far more money from the pockets of the Australian taxpayer than it did in 1934-35, and at present has a huge surplus above its estimated income, but despite these facts, the grant to the wheat industry has been reduced by £2,221,454.
– The wheat industry is better off this year than it was last year.
– I am dealing specifically with the unsympathetic treatment and lack of adequate assistance given to the wheat-farmers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia. The Government’s revenue for the first eight, months of this financial year exceeds by £4,432,000 the surplus for the corresponding period of last year; yet the Government has reduced its grant to the wheat industry this year as compared with that made last year by £2,221.000. Reverting to the remarks made by Dr. Earle Page, which I have just quoted, I point out that there is more discrimination made in this bill than in any wheat legislation introduced into this Parliament during the last five years with the object of assisting the grower. Unfortunately for the growers in Western Australia this measure discriminates against the States and the wheat-farmers most severely hit by drought conditions. As the grant of £1,878,546, with the exception of £268,000 is being distributed on the basis of production, more money will be given to those who have had the best crops, and less to those who have had poor crops or no crops at all. Unfortunately the majority of the latter class of farmers are in Western Australia. I knew perfectly well that some honorable senators would remind me that the price of wheat on the world’s markets has improved quite substantially. We hope that that improvement will be permanent, but, as I have already pointed out, growers who reaped no crop or very little crop, have received no benefit at all as a result of the increase of price. On the contrary, many of them, in addition to sustaining these losses, will have to pay more money for seed wheat this year than they would under ordinary conditions. Only £208,000 is being voted this year for special drought relief by the Commonwealth Government throughout Australia, as compared with a grant of £1,600,000 distributed to the States on a bushelage basis. Over £580,000 was voted last year for the assistance of necessitous farmers, as compared with this grant of £268,000 to be voted for the relief of . needy farmers this year. Following on Dr. Page’s argument that the protection afforded to secondary industries through the tariff is given without discrimination, I point out that the protection given to such industries is not halved because some of them are prosperous. Although the price of wheat has risen the wheat industry is still in an unsatisfactory condition. Farmers are using worn-out machinery and plant, and for many years their operations have been conducted at a loss. Yet the moment the price of wheat shows an improvement, the Government reduces the grant to the industry generally, and also the grant to necessitous farmers by more than half of what it was last year. We do not find the iron and steel, and the textile and sugar industries treated in that way immediately their operations are conducted on a profitable basis. The wheat industry of Australia, particularly of Western Australia, is not yet established on a profitable basis. Last year £872,578 was granted by the Commonwealth to assist wheat-growers in Western Australia, whereas this year, following a severe drought and a rauch smaller crop -only about 20,000,000 bushels compared with 37,500,000 bushels two years ago - there is a reduction to £392,850. Moreover, the moment the price of wheat rises, the Government hastens to reduce last year’s grant of £4,100,000 to necessitous farmers by £2,221,454 and the vote for special drought relief in an even greater proportion.
– Has not the increased price of wheat made up the difference ?
– That increased price has not been of benefit to those settlers in Western Australia who have had very poor crops. It is estimated that as many as 1,200 wheat-growers in that State have had no crop at all. It would appear that the Government’s surplus of over £2,500,000 has been secured at the expense of the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth, particularly those in Western Australia who have suffered from adverse climatic conditions. Similarly harsh treatment has been meted out to necessitous farmers this year. Of the £4,100,000 voted last year to assist the wheat industry, £573,250 was set apart for necessitous farmers. That sum was distributed as follows, on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry -
Those are official figures. This year £268,S03 is being distributed from the total of £1,878,546 as special drought relief. Last year, when seasonal conditions in Western Australia were much better, £137,000 was voted to necessitous farmers This year, only £161,600 is being granted as drought relief to wheatfarmers in Western Australia, notwithstanding that in the eastern and northeastern districts of the State seasonal conditions have been comparable with the drought of 1913.
– The figures show an increase not a decrease.
– If the honorable senator thinks that the distribution is fair, I do not. The figures show a decrease of the Australian distribution and also of the total amount granted to Western Australia for the assistance of the wheat industry - £392,000 this year, compared with £872,578 last year, when there was a better season. The Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers Association, and the Wheatgrowers Union of that State, have protested to the Prime Minister against the total inadequacy of the proposed grant, particularly that for the assistance of farmers in the areas which have suffered from drought. When in Perth on the 17th February last, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) admitted that the grant for drought relief was inadequate, but, although the Commonwealth Treasury is overflowing, no increase of the proposed grant of £161,600 for drought relief is shown in this measure. At a later stage, I shall deal more fully with that subject, and with the remarks of the Minister for Commerce. In 1934, when Western Australia was granted £872,578, the distribution was made on the basis of 3s. an acre plus 3d. a bushel. As the average return for the State was just under 10 bushels an acre, that basis meant an average of 53. 6d. an acre, plus £137,000 for necessitous farmers. This year, only £382,S50 is being granted to that State.
I object most emphatically to the unjust basis of distribution of the £1,878,546 to be made available under this bill to the various States. In a letter to me, dated the 24th January last, Mr. J. F. Murphy, Secretary to the Department of Commerce, said -
I am directed to advise you that the amount which it is proposed to allocate from available funds to the various States is based on the crops in the respective States and also has regard to any adverse seasonal conditions experienced in them.
The grant to Western Australia, will, in addition to the amount calculated on the basis of ls. per bushel for the homeconsumption quota, include a SUm of £161,600 for special drought relief. The total sum thus to be made available to Western Australia will be approximately £430,000.
Yet this bill shows only £392,000.
The basis upon which the total amounts shall be distributed to growers is a matter for each State government to decide, having before it the detailed financial position and this year’s crop returns of its own wheatgrowers.
It will be left open for the State governments to make the payments, subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government, on a flat acreage basis or an acreage basis graded according to yields, or by any other method which is considered desirable, having in mind the special circumstances of the farmers in the respective States.
I received the following letter from the Minister for Commerce, dated Sydney, 6th February -
The allocation to each State is to be based on the crops in each State and will have regard to any adverse seasonal conditions experienced in the respective States. The basis upon which the amounts shall be distributed to the growers is a matter for each State government to decide, having before it the detailed financial position and this year’s crop returns of its own wheat-growers. It is left open for the State governments to make the payments, subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government, on a flat acreage basis, or an acreage basis graduated according to yields, or by any other method which is considered desirable, having in mind the special circumstances of the farmers in the respective States.
The amount that will be distributed in your State will be approximately £393,000.
Those letters, showing a reduction of £37,000, were brought before Dr. Earle Page when he visited Perth, and subsequently a telegram was received from the Acting Secretary of the Department of Commerce, stating that some confusion existed with regard to the first letter.
The estimated harvest of 21,500,000 bushes has now fallen to 20,000,000 bushels, as stated by the Acting Minister for Commerce (Mr. Thorby). The impression in Western Australia is that the reduction of the grant by a further £370,000 was consequent upon the lessened production in that State. As most of the money has been distributed by the Government on the home-consumption quota, it follows that that would be so. The S’t.’i.tes which have had the greatest production of wheat have been paid the most money, whilst those with a lower production have received less money. In my opinion, that is a wrong principle to apply to the granting of assistance to this industry under drought conditions.
– The honorable senator appears to forget the four tax, the greater proportion of which was paid by the larger and more populous States.
– If it will please the honorable senator, I shall interrupt the course of my remarks to say that I commend the Government for altering the incidence of collection and distribution to an Australian- wide basis. It appears to the people of Western Australia that, owing to the wheat crop in that State being lighter than was anticipated, a further reduction of the grant from £430,000 to £393,000 was decided upon. Owing to drought conditions, the wheat production in Western Australia has been reduced to 20,000,000 bushels, and under this measure that State is to receive reduced instead of increased assistance from the Commonwealth Government. A few years ago the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) described the wheat policy of the Federal Government as one of “ taking from the needy to assist the greedy.” That principle is being followed in this measure. At any rate, money has apparently been taken from the needy State of Western Australia during a drought year, because the returns in that State were not nearly so good as were anticipated originally. I protest strongly against a policy which deprives Western Australia of financial assistance to the amount of £37,000, because the drought is more severe than was anticipated. Probably the amount is a great deal more, because the drought conditions were more severe in that State than in other parts of the Commonwealth. Under this bill, the following grants are to be made : -
Included in these amounts is £161,600 drought relief to Western Australia, £69,896 to South Australia, and £31,784 to New South Wales. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), in his letter of the 6th February, said that the allocation to each State was to be based on the crops in each State, and would have due regard to the adverse seasonal conditiwis in the respective wheat-growing States, lie further stated that it would be left to the State governments to make the payments subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government on a Hat acreage basis graduated according to the yield. Yet, under this measure, the sum apportioned to each State, with the exception of £26S,803, is allocated solely on the basis of production. This works out unjustly, particularly in the case of Western Australia and of South Australia, which have experienced drought conditions in some areas. If the States
Are to distribute the grant on an acreage basis, the allocation should also be on that basis, and the Government should have acted in that way. Although the States were informed that their distribution could be on an acreage basis, £1,600,000 was distributed on other than that basis, which benefited the wheatgrowers in those States with heavy crops, but was to the detriment of wheat-growers where the crops were lighter.
– Has the honorable senator always held that view?
– Yes; I believe in assisting the wheat industry as an industry, and contend that special assistance should be given to necessitous case3. If the States are to distribute grants on an acreage basis, the allocation to the States should be on that basis. I regret that under this measure the Commonwealth Government has ignored the request of the Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers’ Association and the Wheat-growers’ Union of that State, that the allocation as between the States should be on an acreage basis and that special assistance should be rendered to the wheat-growers in droughtstricken areas. Despite the fact that the crop in drought-stricken areas was one of the lowest on record, and that the wheatgrowers in the eastern States had bumper harvests, the Commonwealth Government proposes to pay a bounty on a bushelage basis as follows : -
If drought relief is included New South Wales receives 2s. ll^d. an acre, Western Australia 3s. 2d. an acre, and South Australia 2s. 9£d- an acre. These figures, carefully computed on an acreage basis, show that the Commonwealth Government’s allocation is unjust, and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, which provides that there shall be no undue discrimination between States. In view of the figures quoted it is clear that the Commonwealth Government is not rendering special assistance to drought-stricken farmers, and that the relief afforded is given at the expense of other farmers in the States concerned. When the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) visited Perth he said that the Commonwealth Government was making to that State a grant of 3s. 3d. an acre. The 3s. 3d. an acre includes the whole of the drought relief of £161,000. That means that if the growers of Western Australia receive 33. 3d. an acre under this measure, they are contributing the whole of the £161,600 provided for drought relief. If the drought relief is excluded, they are getting only ls. 10^d. an acre for the whole of last year’s crop, which is most unjust when compared with the higher sum paid to other wheatgrowers in the Commonwealth.
– The wheat-growers in New South Wales think that Western Australia is the favoured State.
– The honorable senator is entitled to draw whatever conclusion he chooses from the figures. At any rate, the whole of the allocation of £161,000 is being taken from the Western Australian wheatfanners, who, according to Dr. Earle Page, were to receive 3s. 3d. I protest strenuously against the payment of only £231,256 as an ordinary bounty, plus £161,600 as a special measure of drought relief to Western Australia, because the amount is entirely inadequate to meet the needs of a State which has suffered more severely from drought this year than has any other State. Surely the policy of the Commonwealth Government, as expressed in this bill, is that to those who have much wheat, much shall be given. The Western Australia grant, which was £S72,000 last year, has now been reduced from the £430,000 forcast by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce to £392,850. The Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers Association, and the Wheatgrowers Union have protested to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in no uncertain terms against the proposed allocation. In 1930-31 South Australia experienced drought conditions, and the Federal Government properly granted drought relief to the amount of £850,000, as compared with £161.600 to be granted to Western Australia this year, under comparable conditions. It is estimated that there are 8,000 wheat-farmers in Western Australia. The wheat yield in that State for the last harvest was estimated at 20,000,000 bushels, as compared with 27,000,000 bushels for 1934-35, and 37,500,000 bushels for 1933-34. The State average for 1933-34 was 11.7 bushels, in 1934-35 9.8 bushels, and this year it is estimated at 8.3 bushels an acre. Up to 1933 the State average was 11.86 bushels an acre. These figures show that the decline in the last two years has been 17,500,000 bushels, or almost 50 per cent. I have received the following telegram from the Premier of Western Australia in regard to the representations that his Government has made to the Commonwealth Government on this subject: -
Commonwealth lias granted £ 161,fi00 wheat relief. Have telegraphed and written asking that grant be same as last year £872,578. Will forward yon copy letter to-morrow’s air mail. (Signed) COLLIER
I regret that owing to the haste with which this measure is being rushed through this chamber to-day I shall not have an opportunity to-day to read to the Senate a copy of the representations that the Western Australian Government has made to the Federal Government on this subject.
At a special meeting of the PrimaryProducers Association of Western Australia, presided over by the president.,. Mr. Teasdale, and attended hy the Leader of the Country party in Western Australia (Mr. C. G. Latham) and many of its members, Mr. H. Gregory, M.H.K.,. and I were present by invitation. The meeting urged us to do our utmost to secure a more equitable allocation of this grant, on an acreage basis, and, further, to endeavour to prevail upon the Commonwealth Government to increase substantially the grant for the relief of drought-stricken farmers. Mr. Gregory and I promised our co-operation. Mr. Powell, president of the Wheat-growers Union of Western Australia, concluded an appeal to the Prime Minister for further assistance in the following terms -
In the season 1034-35 the sum of £872,578 was made available for assisting the wheat industry in Western Australia, when the yield was 27,000,000 bushels, whilst this year with the decreased yield to 20,000,000, only £392,000 is under consideration for this purpose. In view of the lower yield and the slightly higher price than those obtained last season, we wish to advise that the estimated State loss is over £1,500,000, and we request assistance of at least £1,000,000 for the industry in Western Australia.
I commend that proposed increase to the Minister in charge of this bill. Mr. Powell’s letter continued -
In further support of our request for assistance we respectfully refer you to the fact that when South Australia experienced drought conditions in the season 1930-31, the Federal Government granted drought relief to that State to the extent of £850,000.
Wc are strongly of the opinion that unless the Federal Government comes to the aid of the State in this matter, a national crisis must ensue, for as already stated, the exodus from the farms is proceeding at an alarming rate.
We cannot overrate the extreme urgency of the case as the farmers’ difficulties are being accentuated in most instances by the withholding nf commercial credit, thus making it obligatory for the Government to make provisions for the retaining of the farmers on their farms.
I endorse those statements in their entirety; they are quite correct. I hope that the Government will supplement this measure, which I intend to support, with another bill making an adequate grant to those States which have suffered from drought. According to figures collected by the Wheat-growers Union, 3,500 farms were affected by last year’s drought, and it is estimated that 1,200 of them have no crop at all, that 1,500 will average less than four bushels an acre, and that 600 others will average between 4 and 6 bushels an acre. These figures demonstrate the necessity for the granting of immediate assistance to the drought-stricken areas. In this connexion the request from Western Australia has the support of the State government and of both organizations representing the whole of the wheat-farmers of that State.
I now desire to refer to some quite remarkablestatements made by the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) in an interview with a deputation representing the Wheatgrowers’ Union which waited on him during his recent visit to Perth. The union made three requests to him; they are reported in the West Australian of the 18th February as follows -
In the course of his reply, Dr. Earle Page said -
The Federal Government had provided for the wheat industry exactly the same machinery as for the butter and dried fruit industries. That machinery would give to the wheat industry a home-consumption price as soon as it started to function, and the only reason why it was not already functioning was that Western Australia and South Australia had failed to pass the necessary legislation. Had that legislation been passed in time, there would have been available this year for the assistance of distressed farmers a sum of £900,000, which had been collected from the flour tax.
I disagree entirely with that statement. As honorable senators and the wheatgrowers of Western Australia are we’ll aware, the legislation passed by New South Wales applied only to wheat sown and harvested this year. It did not apply to last year’s harvest. Nor has Tasmania yet passed the requisite legislation. Despite these facts, Dr. Earle Page informed the deputation representing the Wheat-growers Union that only the failure of South Australia and Western Australia to pass the required legislation prevented the distressed farmers from receiving the sum of £900,000.
– Dr. Earle Page was obviously “ pulling the farmers’ legs “.
- Dr. Earle Page is reported to have said -
Owing to the failure of those two States to pass that legislation only £250,000 was available for drought relief. Of that amount £161,000 was allotted to Western Australia, and, plus the amount that would have been gained from a home-consumption basis, there should have been a total of £392,000, or sufficient to provide 3s. 3d. an acre on an acreage basis. The inadequacy of the amount available for relief was not in. any way due to action or failure of action by the Commonwealth, but to failure of the States named to finalize legislation as had been done by New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
Honorable senators will see that Dr. Earle Page admitted that the amount to be distributed under this bill was inadequate. His statement that New South Wales has passed legislation fixing a home-consumption price for last year’s harvest is entirely incorrect. In my opinion, it is unbecoming for a Minister of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, at a time when the Government has collected £4,500,000 in excess of its revenue in the corresponding period of last year, to say to distressed farmers : “ We would have given you £900,000, but we cannot do so because two States have failed to pass the necessary legislation “.
– Does not the honorable senator consider that the distribution of £12,000,000 is a reasonable grant to the wheat industry?
– That sum of money has been made available over a period of years for debt relief to all primary industries and does not affect this measure. I consider that the present allocation is quite inadequate, and unjust, and does little credit to the Country party members of the Ministry. Dr. Earle Page continued -
Clearly the Federal Government had fulfilled its part and it remained for the States to pass the implementing legislation to make the machinery for a home-consumption price operative.
I direct the attention of honorable sentors to the fact that Dr. Earle Page made no reference to the action of the Commonwealth Government in cancelling the flour tax which, we were informed, would have produced exactly the same amount of money for the assistance of the wheat industry as would the homeconsumption price. If the statement of Dr. Earle Page that the sum of £900,000 was not made available because of the failure of two States to pass the necessary legislation, is correct, it is clear that the whole of the relief granted to the Australian consumers by the cancellation of the flour tax has been given entirely at the expense of the drought-stricken farmers of three States, because the Government could have collected the same amount of money by continuing the operation of the flour tax. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the report of a further statement made by Dr. Earle Page -
Continuing, Dr. Earle Page said that he pointed out to Mr. Powell when he was in Canberra recently, that whether it was possible to make £900.o66 available for the assistance of distressed farmers depended on whether the home-consumption price legislation went through the State Parliament. When Mr. Powell dissented from that statement of the position of the Minister, Dr. Earle Page added: “It is on record, and it is the fact.”
In my opinion, the Commonwealth Government must accept full responsibility for calling the October conference to deal with the situation in the wheat industry so late in the year, and only one month before harvesting commenced. The least the Commonwealth Government could have done was to have made available the £900,000 originally earmarked for drought relief in this industry instead of the comparatively meagre sum of £268,000 proposed in this bill. We were led to expect better treatment from the Government, in which the Country party has half of the say. Particularly should the original sum of £900,000 have been made available when we recall that the. Government voluntarily suspended the operation of the flour tax, which could have been continued indefinitely. I take strong objection to the position which has resulted from the repeal of the flour tax. Relief has been given to the consumers at the expense of distressed farmers of three States, particularly of Western Australia, who are receiving special drought relief. If the sum of £900,000 had been distributed among the wheatgrowers of Australia, Western Australia’s share would have amounted to approximately £580,000. I have never read more puerile excuses by any Minister than those made by Dr. Earle Page in regard to the Government’s failure to carry out its obvious duty to the wheat-farmers of those districts which have unfortunately suffered from the recent drought. He said that as the complementary legislation had not been enacted by all the States the Commonwealth could only make available £250,000. I much regret that such an attitude should be adopted by any member of the Government towards the weakest section of our farmers - those growers who have suffered so severely from drought conditions and who have derived no benefit whatever from increased wheat prices. The Commonwealth Government must be he’d entirely responsible, because of its failure to convene the Agricultural Council earlier than October last, for the delay in imple- meriting the home-consumption legislation. Four of the States, including New South Wales, failed to implement the Commonwealth’s proposals for a home-consumption price of wheat in time for the last harvest, but it is grossly unfair that farmers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia should be made to suffer. The position taken up by the Commonwealth Government towards wheat-growers, as evidenced by the remarks of the Minister for Commerce in Perth, is most unjust, and it is no wonder that growers are, through their organizations, protesting strenuously to the Prime Minister against the partial abandonment of the Government’s proposals to aid wheat-farmers in drought-stricken areas. The discontinuance on the 24th February last of the sales tax on flour has had a serious effect on the position of wheat-growers in my State. If the Government had continued that tax it could have paid to wheat-farmers in drought areas the £900,000 which the Minister for Commerce had assured them would be available in the form of a home-consumption price for wheat. Because of the Government’s action the measure of assistance being given to the wheatgrowers in Western Australia this year is smaller than in any season for the last five years.
– The honorable gentleman should give all the figures.
– I have given all the relevant figures contained in the statement made by the Minister for Commerce, and I repeat that the decision of the Government to discontinue the flour tax has been taken entirely at the expense of suffering wheat-growers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. On a proportionate basis, the wheat-farmers in Western Australia would have received £580,000 of the £900,000 which the Minister for Commerce had assured us would be available. Even at this late hour I appeal to the Government to make this amount available for special drought relief purposes in Western Australia, instead of the sum of £160,000 to be allocated under this bill. This £900,000 was definitely promised by the Minister for Commerce for drought relief, subject to the Government’s proposals for a homeconsumption price being implemented by the States, and bearing in mind that Commonwealth revenue for the eight months of the present financial year is £4,500,000 in excess of the amount received for the corresponding period of last year, I urge the Government to make available the amount of £900,000 originally decided upon for drought relief. My sympathy is with the Government of Western Australia, regardless of its political affiliations in its request for £872,000 for drought relief this year, because I realize that, in dealing with its drought stricken wheat-growers under these inadequate Commonwealth proposals, it is expected to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There has been dissatisfaction
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
Motion (by Senator Brown) put -
That Senator E. B. Johnston be granted an extension of 30 minutes.
The Senate divided. (President - Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch.)
Majority . . . . 6
Question soresolved in the negative
– Because of the importance of this legislation, I agree with my leader, Senator Collings, that it. should receive ample consideration, and I should be prepared to sit until Easter in order that the position of our wheat-growers may be discussed from every angle. But it is evident that honorable senators supporting the Government do not think that such a display of industry is necessary, and as this subject has been discussed on several prior occasions, possibly it would save time if instead of listening to speeches in this debate, we read the earlier remarks of honorable senators when a similar proposal was under discussion.
I commend Senator Johnston for his able criticism of the Government in respect of this bill. His remarks contained many valuable points, and certainly the speech was a credit to the honorable senator, whom I regard as a real Country party member. He is the one representative in this chamber owning allegiance to the Country party of Western Australia who really stands up for the farmers. A few years ago Senator Hardy, then spoken of as the Cromwell of the Riverina, was looked upon as the greatest champion in the Senate of primary producers, but he has since fallen from grace. There is a marked difference between the tenor of his observations now and his speeches of a few years ago. I have had placed in my hand a number of extracts from earlier efforts of the honorable gentleman, but it is not my intention to weary the Senate by reading them all. On one occasion he stated that the Government was blinded by the “ dazzle of vested interests,” and that it was a “ monument to the people’s bad judgment.”
– Is it the intention of the honorable senator to connect his remarks with the subject-matter of the bill?
– It is, and that will not be difficult, because Senator Hardy is supporting this bill, and as his attitude to-day differs markedly from that of a few years ago, it is only fair that I should indicate in what respect his views have changed.
– This bill is the product of an entirely different government.
– This Government contains the same conservative elements, and therefore it is still a tory government, and it is approving the same methods for the distribution of money for the assistance of wheat-growers. We on this side are not opposed to assistance being given to primary producers who are in need of it. With Senator Johnston, we realize that there are in this country many thousands of wheat-farmers whose position is desperate in the extreme, and we consider that it is only fair that they should receive some measure of assistance from the Commonwealth. It is also interesting to note that Senator Johnston has changed his mind with regard to the distribution of this money, and it is pertinent to inquire the reason for this change. Apparently, the wheat-growers themselves have their own opinion of the attitude of this Government. At the annual conference of the Wheat-growers Union in Western Australia, on Saturday, the loth February, certain resolutions were reached.
Many controversial topics were debated at this conference, which, I understand, represented over 140 branches of the wheat-growers in Western Australia. Many of these farmers are actually situated in the drought-stricken areas, and are among those on whose behalf Senator Johnston made a splendid plea for more assistance from this Government. I hope the Government will take notice of that plea for which I commend ‘Senator Johnston. He takes his work as a Country party senator very seriously. However, I cannot commend him on the whole of his speech, because in his concluding remarks he advocated a continuance of the flour tax, to which members of the Opposition are opposed. But that was the only fault I could find with his speech. Possibly in time, we may influence him to change his views on this matter. At the conference of wheat-growers to which I have referred, Mr. W. Bagshaw, who is a member of the Country party, moved that a vote of no confidence be recorded against all Federal Parliamentary members of the Country party, except Senator E. B. Johnston, for failing to implement the whole of the recommendations of the royal commission which inquired into the wheat and associated industries. This conference accepted Senator Johnston as the only real representative of the Country party in this chamber. Of course, members of the Opposition claim to be true representatives of the farmer. Whether the Country party is in office or out of office, we stand for the f farmer all the time. We believe that he should be enabled to enjoy, to the full, the products of his toil. Senator Johnston believes that the farmers’ interests should always come first and invariably he stands up for them. We must commend an honorable senator who fights so earnestly on behalf of a section of the people whose industry constitutes an important part of the economic structure of Western Australia. Senator Hardy criticized severely the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings). He asked what proposal we had to suggest. He said, “ Criticism is generally destructive ; let us have something constructive.” I ask him what is the use of honorable senators on this side of the chamber continually expounding the Labour party’s programme, if no notice is to be taken of it by the honorable senator and others opposite. In season and out of season, wc have urged that the Government should tackle the fundamental problems confronting the wheat-growers, and that it should put an end to its present policy of expediency. We say that the Government should take cognizance of economic developments throughout the world, and deal basically with these problems. I point OUt, particularly to Senator Hardy, that although this Government has been in office for the last four and a half years, it is still carrying out its same old policy of distributing, from time to time, certain sums of money which give only temporary relief to the wheat-growers. I admit that in December last, rather belatedly, the Government introduced legislation for the establishment of a home-consumption price. So far as that is a step towards stabilizing the industry on a thorough and efficient basis, we support it, because we believe that we must constantly progress towards the goal of efficient organization and control for every industry in Australia. So far as the organization of the wheat industry is concerned, the Labour party’s policy was expounded in a statement made by me on behalf of exSenator O’Halloran, when he was a member of this chamber. Ex-Senator O’Halloran, who possesses one of the keenest minds in the Labour movement, and is himself a wheat-farmer, showed in his scheme how the industry could be stabilized, and how each farmer could be guaranteed a certain price for his wheat. Whether he be a member of the real Country party, like Senator Johnston, or the camouflaged Country party, like Senator Hardy, or a dyedinthewool supporter of the United Australia party, no honorable senator can justly charge the Labour party with having failed to place before the people of Australia constructive proposals to deal fundamentally with the problems confronting the wheat industry. We submit that this Government, since it assumed office in 1931, has failed to stabilize that industry.
– The people did not believe in the Labour party’s proposal.
– This particular matter probably was not placed before the people of Australia with as much verve as the lies of honorable senators opposite. Had we made our appeal to the people as strongly backed financially as that of honorable senators opposite was, I have no doubt that the electors would have returned a Labour government. However, in good time, the Labour party will assume office in the federal sphere. Daily facts are revealed to show that our policy is being adopted by the wheat-growers of Australia. A few years ago they would have nothing to do with a compulsory pool, but to-day the majority of them believe in a pool, and were a plebiscite taken on the issue of whether the wheat industry should be thoroughly and efficiently stabilized and a price guaranteed to the farmer for his wheat, the growers would vote overwhelmingly in favour of such a proposal.
– The honorable senator would not be prepared to give a chance to those who, he says, are in favour of a compulsory pool to vote on such a proposal to-morrow.
– The farmers should have the right to say whether or not they are desirous of reorganizing their industry. Daily, we see evidence of the fact that they are anxious that their industry should be thoroughly organized, so that they will be enabled to receive a decent return for their work. No one can deny that to-day the farmers are not receiving a fair return for their labour; that is the reason for the introduction of this measure, the faults in which have been revealed by Senator Johnston. However, we, as an Opposition, support any proposal that will assist the farmers. Although £47,000 has already been spent by this Government on trips abroad by its members, Dr. Earle Page has just gone to the United Kingdom. No reason has been given for his trip, although I suppose, according to his lights, he will do his best on behalf of this country on his present mission. No one is better acquainted than is Dr. Earle Page with the problems confronting the farmers. Last session he brought forward a measure to appropriate £12,000,000 to rehabilitate primary industry, but up to the present only a few thousand pounds of that sum has been distributed. Senator Hardy continually speaks of what the Government intends to do for the farmers, and the Government from time to time brings forward measures of this nature which are relatively drops in the ocean. The royal commission which inquired into the wheat industry revealed that the wheatfarmers alone owe £140,000,000, and Senator Hardy has pointed out that £10,000,000 will be required to enable the growers to secure efficient machinery to enable them to carry on their industry economically. In contrast to those huge requirements we find to-day that a mere £1,600,000 is to be distributed through the States to the wheat-growers, whilst another small sum is to be apportioned for the relief of necessitous growers. “We do not oppose the granting of such assistance because we believe in giving assistance to every person who is in need of it. Because of the stupid economic system under which we live these number thousands. The Government’s policy of continually tinkering with the situation will never prove effective. Although it claims that it has endeavoured to stabilize the industry, it has taken a long time to move towards that goal. Furthermore, it has only dealt superficially with the farmers’ problems, because it refuses to take cognizance of economic happenings throughout the world, so far as they affect the wheat industry. Ex-Senator Elliott, who was pushed out of this chamber by the United Australia party, repeatedly pointed to events happening in other parts of the world and warned the Government of the danger of com- petition in a few years from other countries which have placed their industries on a sound economic basis. The honorable member for Macquarie in the House of Representatives (Mr. John Lawson), in addresses delivered at gatherings of United Australia party supporters, since his return from Europe has corroborated the statement of ex-Senator R. D. Elliott, and said that it is more than likely that in another ten years the Australian wheat-grower will be no longer in the export business. The Government should take notice of the remarks of these men, and not be content with a policy of expediency. There is need for planned action to solve the problems confronting our primary industries, but unfortunately, the attitude of honorable senators opposite is such that it is difficult for honorable senators on this side of the chamber to make them understand the real position. Not until the crisis arrives will they try to do something. We on this side prefer to prepare for the crisis. The statement of Senator Johnston bears out what has been said with regard to expediency. Had the Government been courageous, it would not have left the distribution of this money to the States. My understanding of clause 6 is that, under it, any State which receives a grant from the Commonwealth will be free to distribute the money as it likes so long as the Minister consents to the general basis of distribution - whether it shall be an acreage basis or a bushelage basis. I now ask the Minister to say whether or not the States will be absolutely free to distribute the money as they wish, subject to the general approval of the Minister.
– Yes, subject to the Minister’s approval of the scheme.
– That means, I take, it, that the Commonwealth Government wipes its hands of the distribution of the money, and leaves it to the judgment of the States, once the scheme of distribution has been generally approved. In my opinion, the Commonwealth should have imposed conditions. Let us suppose that among the wheat-farmers of this country there are a few rich men. I know that, according to the Seventeenth Report of the Commissioner of Taxation, schedule 2, only 3,611 farmers pay in- come tax, their taxable income being £1,569,636. Among them are some members of this Parliament, who are said to be well endowed with this world’s goods. In the distribution of this money, would it be possible for a State government to discriminate between a necessitous farmer and a wealthy farmer ? If not, why not ? There is discrimination in regard to the payment of invalid and old-age pensions ; a man with an income above a certain amount is not entitled to a pension. Moreover, a woman whose husband has a certain income is not entitled to a maternity allowance.
– There is no discrimination between one recipient of an old-age pension and another.
– But there is discrimination between one human being and another. The Commonwealth proposes to hand to the States the sum of £1,878,546 for distribution among the wheat-growers of this country. I should like to know whether it intends to impose any conditions, as, for instance, one which would prevent a very rich man from receiving any of the grant?
– The Commonwealth docs not propose to act as a policeman. It assumes that the States are as honest as is the Commonwealth. A certain sum will be allotted to each State, but the method of distributing it will be for each State to decide.
– I do not impugn the honesty of either the Commonwealth or State governments. I merely ask whether it is mandatory that, once the general basis of distribution has been decided on and approved by the Minister - whether it is to be on the basis of acreage or of bushel age - there can be no discrimination.
– The States will distribute the money as they think best, subject to the general approval of the Minister.
– Some time ago Senator Johnston suggested that no action by a creditor should leave a farmer with less than £50. I should like to see some provision whereby the money paid to a farmer under this legislation may be safeguarded against confiscation by his creditors.
– That point is dealt with in clause 8.
– That clause reads -
Subject to the last precedingsection, any amount due and payable to a wheat-grower under this act shall not be paid to any person other than the wheat-grower.
It does not meet the point that I have raised. Some farmers who pay income tax will draw money under this measure. I should like to know whether that money will be treated as income. If it is treated as income in the case of a farmer who pays income tax, it will be regarded as income in the case of a necessitous farmer also, in which event it will be subject to the predatory actions of certain creditors who have no bowels of compassion when it comes to getting back money that they have lent.
– A necessitous farmer will not have any taxable income.
– I am aware of that, but a rich farmer will have a taxable income, and will pay tax on the bounty because it will be part of his income. Also it will be income to the poor farmer, and his creditors will be after it.
Sena tor Hardy. - In New South Wales farmers are protected by the Farmers’ Relief Act.
– I should like the Minister, when replying, to clear up the points that. I have mentioned. The Opposition supports the bill, and hopes that the Government will go further and render a measure of assistance to necessitous farmers in. Western Australia and elsewhere who have suffered from drought.
– As a representative of one of the major wheat-growing States, and also having had considerable experience of the wheat industry, although not now financially interested in it, I desire to address the Senate on this bill. Despite what Senator Johnston has said of the injustice done to South Australia, I am of the opinion that the farmers of that State are grateful to the Commonwealth Government for the assistance which will be rendered to them under this legislation. In his opening remarks the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) said that there was nothing new in the bill. That is true; but I find consolation in the belief that it is the last measure of its kind that will come before the Senate. This Parliament enacted legislation last year which should make the introduction of similar bills unnecessary in the future. The Minister said that the shrinkage of wheat prices was the biggest factor in making this legislation necessary. “While agreeing with that statement in the main, I point out that there are other factors and circumstances which have placed the wheat-growing industry in its present unsatisfactory condition. Fortunately the prices received by wheat-growers some years ago enabled their operations to be remunerative. In fact, wheatgrowers were urged by the various Governments, particularly the Commonwealth Government, to produce more wheat. These and other factors had the effect of inducing large numbers to undertake wheat-growing on land totally unsuitable for the purpose. One of the main difficulties to-day is that many wheat-growers who are in necessitous circumstances have been endeavouring to produce wheat on land quite incapable of growing a remunerative crop. Some time ago wheat-growing appeared to be so easy and so profitable that some overlooked the fact that years of training were necessary. Some thought that ail that they had to do was to take up a block of land, purchase a team of horses, scatter the seed and sit on the fence and watch the crop grow. Difficulties occasioned in that way cannot be removed by the Commonwealth authorities, but they can me rectified by State Parliaments. These and other matters must be faced quickly and in a determined manner, because it is useless to endeavour to keep men on marginal land when they must necessarily always be a burden on the State. It is a responsibility of governments in wheat-growing States to reorganize the wheat-growing industry, so that some land now used for wheatgrowing may revert to grazing areas.
There has been a good deal of discussion this afternoon in connexion with the allocation of grants to the various States, but I contend that it is wise to leave the allocation to the State Parliaments, which are quite capable of making the distribution on an equitable basis. I should like to inform Senator Brown, who said that the Federal Government should be responsible for the distribution of the grant, that the members of State Parliaments are quite as capable as are the members of this Parliament. There are certain provisions of the bill of which I do not approve, particularly in respect of the allocation of the grant. The measure provides that the State Governments shall have the power to deal with necessitous farmers, and to pay a bounty on an acreage basis. I am opposed to both these features, but I am not unmindful of the position of many necessitous wheat-growers. Abnormal conditions prevail in all States at different times, when some farmers owing to their crops being destroyed cannot pay their way, and it is only fair that those who suffer in that way should receive financial assistance from the Government , but if a bounty is to be paid on an acreage basis, the Commonwealth Government will be disposing of large sums of money to persons who merely sow wheat instead of those who are actually endeavouring to grow it profitably. In South Australia, and probably in some of the other States, men are being assisted by governments merely to sow wheat. They are provided with seed wheat, fertilizers and horse feed and if they receive a bounty on an acreage basis, what is to prevent some sowing seed wheat in such a way that a profitable crop cannot be reaped?
– But surely there is some form of inspection to ensure that the crop is properly sown.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.There is no adequate check so far as I know. I am not saying that such things actually occur, but it is quite possible for unscrupulous persons to act in the way I have mentioned. If an inspector has to visit 250 farms some of which are many miles away, he cannot possibly ascertain whether the superphosphate and seed wheat are being used effectively.
– On a production basis, the man with the heavy crop gets everything.
– I agree with Senator Brown that there should be some discrimination. Possibly,
Senator Foll may have the idea that a grower who reaps 20 bushels an acre should not receive a bounty and that the one who reaps 10 bushels an acre is entitled to it. Perhaps the honorable senator is unaware of the fact that some wheat-growers on land producing 12 bushels an acre may be better off financially than those producing 24 bushels an acre. Those producing the smaller yield may be working poorer land, and do not have to pay either Federal or Commonwealth land tax, but those on land producing 24 bushels to the acre, may have to contribute substantially. A man producing 24 bushels an acre may be working land assessed by the Taxation department at £10 an acre, and I maintain that those in that position have to expend more in producing a bushel of wheat than those who do not have to pay any land tax at all.
– As a practical man, the honorable senator would prefer to be growing wheat on good land.
– Of course, I should, but a good deal of discrimination is necessary. Under the legislation passed at the end of last year, which provided for the payment of a home-consumption price, the grower who produces 40 bushels an acre will derive the greater benefit. I trust that it will not be necessary to introduce further legislation of this kind, and therefore I am not particularly disturbed concerning the future.
-Why should that be so?
– The legislation passed by this Parliament providing for the payment of a homeconsumption price should enable the wheat-growers to carry on without further assistance from the federal authorities.
During the debate reference has been made to the work of the royal commission on the wheat industry. I regard that commission as the most expensive and useless ever appointed by a Federal government. Its work cost the country £45,000, and very few of its recommendations have been adopted by the Government. The commission devoted a good deal of its time to tabulating sets of figures which could have been obtained at a much lower cost. I am still in favour of the imposition of a flour tax, because the difference between that tax and a home-consumption price is in name only. The same persons pay the tax in each case. Politically, a homeconsumption price sounds better than a flour tax, but at the same time I point out that a homeconsumption price will cost the country a good deal more than a flour tax. It would have been preferable to assist the farmers by the retention of the flour tax than to incur the heavy expenditure associated with the fixing and administration of a home-consumption price. Senator Johnston complained bitterly because the grants to the States have been reduced, but it is only right that those reductions should be made. The grants provided in the bill are to assist necessitous farmers, but no one can deny truthfully that to-day the wheat-growers are in a much better position than they have been in for the last four or five years. They are now receiving nearly1s. a bushel more for their wheat than they received in previous years.
-But some growers have not produced a crop at all.
– Are we to assist the industry or to spend Commonwealth money in helping those who have been unable to produce any crop? Money appropriated in this way should be used to assist those who produce wheat, and not those who merely sow it. Unfortunately, the seasonal conditions in Western Australia have been unsatisfactory, but we should legislate to assist the industry and not only individuals.
– The persons to whom I referred were bona fide wheat-growers.
Senator JAMES McLACHLAN.That may be so. They may have met with adversity owing to abnormal conditions. Legislation should not be passed to assist every person who attempts to grow wheat. An increase of1s. a bushel on a production of 140,000,000 bushels amounts to about £7,000,000. Moreover, land values have risen, representing a capital increase to the farmers of some millions of pounds. Senator Johnston, who said that because the “Western Australian wheat-growers are in a particularly unfortunate position they should receive special treatment, should remember that legislation such as this is designed to assist the whole of Australia, and that there can be no discrimination between States. The honorable senator should also remember that for a time Western Australia, which produces gold in large quantities, received a gold bounty, which was of great benefit to that State. This should be the last measure of this kind for the relief of the wheat industry, because owing to higher prices, the conditions of primary producers generally should improve.
– The Western Australian farmers, for whom we, as their representatives, are endeavouring to obtain a little more assistance, are not mere sowers of wheat. They are bona fide farmers, some of whom have held championships for crop production over a series of years. They are men who are farming in a safe rainfall area, and many of them are returned soldiers who have been on the land ever since the war. They are not the mere sowers of wheat to whom Senator James McLachlan referred. I assure honorable senators that the men who are most sadly stricken as a result of the drought in Western Australia are those to whom I have referred. In my mind no doubt exists that they are deserving of every assistance. It is admitted that in these proposals the Government has increased the- allowance to meet the requirements of those distressed men in Western Australia. Last year the amount allocated for drought relief and for the relief of other necessitous cases amounted to £137,000, and I am very happy indeed that the Government this year has seen fit to increase that grant to £161,600. That is only a slight increase, but definitely, as I interjected when Senator E. B. Johnston was speaking, it is not a decrease. The whole tenor of the remarks of the honorable senator was that everything, including the amount of Commonwealth grants, was reduced. That is true, and we have the sole consolation that we are in company with the other States, whose grants also have been reduced ; but with regard to the distributions to necessitous farmers, Western Australia is certainly receiving an increased grant this year. However, the increase I contend, is insufficient to meet those conditions which have operated this season to the detriment of our farmers in the northeast province. I am not alone in holding that opinion because the President (Senator Lynch), Senator Collett and I, accompanied by members of the House of Representatives, waited upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when we received from the president of the Wheat-growers “Union of Western Australia, an urgent request to endeavour to persuade the Government to increase the grant to that State. At the interview the Acting Minister for Commerce (Mr. Thorby) explained fully the process of allocating this sum, including the extra amount given for necessitous cases. There is no doubt in my mind that every factor was taken into consideration by the Minister when those allocations were made. The arithmetic of Senator E. B. Johnston is quite correct in regard to the distribution on an acreage basis, omitting the amount for necessitous cases. With him, I would have liked to have seen that amount distributed on that basis, plus an extra sum for the relief of the necessitous grower. But unfortunately, the Prime Minister and Mr. Thorby could not see their way clear to increase thi grant for needy cases. I regret that the Government adopted this attitude; I can only join with Senator E. B. Johnston in hoping that a complementary measure to increase the amount of the grant will be introduced.
With regard to the bill itself, I draw attention to clause 2 which defines a wheat-grower. I would like the Minister to explain whether by any chance that definition includes a corporate body such as a farmer and his sons who have formed themselves into a limited liability company and are, in fact, wheat-growers. I understand that on the distribution of the allocation last year for necessitous cases, a registered company in Western Australia was held to be not entitled to receive a portion of this grant. I pricked up my ears when I heard the Minister remark that the Commonwealth Government, having to find the money, should have some say in its distribution. I hope that the Minister will elucidate that point when he replies to the debate. In that regard I endorse the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) that every man shall be paid according to the extent of his labour. These producers, although they are a registered company, and are excluded from the grant, are bona fide wheat-farmers and all such, whose crops suffered disaster, whether they be corporate bodies or individual growers, should receive assistance.
– Is the honorable senator sure that they did not participate in the distribution?
– Yes. The other point to which I desire to refer arises in clause 6, which states -
Any amount granted to a State in accordance with the provisions of section four of this act shall bc paid on condition that it is applied by the State in providing relief to wheatgrowers in such manner as is approved by the Minister after recommendation by the prescribed authority of that State.
I should like to know whether that clause will have the same relative effect as the previous year’s distribution of this grant to necessitous growers. I ask this because in Western Australia, unlike South Australia, where, according to Senator James McLachlan, everything appears to be proceeding smoothly, a difference of opinion exists as to the method of distribution adopted by the prescribed authority. Indeed, a select committee of the Legislative Council, prior to the last Christmas adjournment, inquired into acts and methods of the distributing authority in Western Australia.
– Who was the distributing authority?
– The Agricultural Bank, under the direction, of course, of (the Minister for Lands. I regret that Senator Johnston did not obtain an extension of time, because he had just entered upon an interesting phase of his speech. He stated that his sympathies were wholly with the State Labour Government-
– That is not correct. The honorable senator has misunderstood me.
– If I understand plain English, the honorable senator had got to the stage where
he said that his sympathies were wholly with the State Government.
– My sympathies are with any government which, in connexion with the distribution of this money, has to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
– I regret that I was not given an opportunity to hear the honorable senator’s reasons for making that statement.
– I certainly did not hear any criticism of the State Government.
– The Leader of the Senate gagged me.
– Only after the honorable senator had perorated for an hour.
– The select committee examined a number of witnesses in regard to the distribution of this grant. I shall not weary honorable senators with lengthy references to the evidence taken by that committee, but I quote its finding -
Your committee suggests that the Commonwealth representative in this State charged with the duty of distributing the Commonwealth super bonus should distribute all moneys provided by the Commonwealth Government to assist wheat-growers.
The committee gave various reasons for arriving at that decision. The distributing authority in Western Australia - the Agricultural Bank - has clients who produced approximately 11,000,000 bushels of wheat last year, whereas the clients of the Associated Banks and other institutions produced 12,000,000 bushels. Therefore, the clients of the Agricultural Bank produced nearly half of the total of the Western Australian harvest, but those clients, numbering 2,361, received approximately £S4,000, and the clients of the other institutions, numbering 764, received only £23,800. This suggests that a certain degree of bias has been exhibited by the State authority in distributing this money.
– Is this the Government for which Senator Johnston is holding a brief?
Senator ALLAN MacDONALD.Senator Johnston and that Government are not of the same political colour; but I have noticed that he never uses a word of criticism of the Labour Government, whereas I contend that it is deserving of severe censure.
– I criticized the Labour Government most vigorously during the State elections.
– The Honorable J. J. Holmes, M.L.C., chairman of the select committee, had occasion to write to the press pointing out that in the Country party centre of Katanning, 74 bank clients were assisted to the amount of £1,749, while in the Labour constituency of Northam,, 309 bank clients received assistance amounting to £9,645. The Minister for Lands subsequently replied through the press pointing out that the Northam lands .office was larger than that at Katanning, but the discrepancy is so great as to make one think that there is substance in the charge made by Mr. Holmes. In the evidence before that select committee, the secretary of the Wheatgrowers Union, Mr. E. G. Sier replied as follows to a question put by the chairman: -
The Agricultural Bank has taken the money in certain cases where it leased properties. With regard to the bushel bounty, where the lease has set out that the farmer shall pay to the hank, say, 3 bushels to the acre, the bank has appropriated the bounty on the 3 bushels to which it was entitled, and has also taken the acreage bounty to the same proportional c..ten t.
A member of the select committee put the following question to Mr. Sier : -
I take it von mean that if the bank would normally allow the farmer £100 to enable him to pary on, in view of the fact that the farmer had already received the bounty amounting to £50, the bank would only advance £50 to him?
Mr. Sier replied, “Yes.” With regard to farmers other than clients of the Agricultural Bank, Mr. Sier said -
Wo have had quite a number of complaints from clients of Associated Banks that they have not received the same consideration as Agricultural Bank clients; in fact, we considered the position so bad that we made representations to the Federal Government that, if a similar bounty is .to ‘be paid this year, it should be distributed by the Department of Commerce, as was the first bounty of 44d. per bushel, so as to obviate any possibility of bias being exercised by the Agricultural Bank.
He went on to say -
Many farmers felt that in those cases where the Agricultural Bank was not receiving interest, it was more generous with the payments.
The president of the Wheat-growers Union also made a lengthy and interesting statement, and evidence along similar lines was given by Mr. Teasdale, the president of the Primary Producers Association. In view of the statements made, the Minister should have taken cognizance of what has been the experience in Western Australia.
– Unlike the honorable senator, he does not suspect that the Government of Western Australia will be guilty of misdeeds.
– I am not voicing suspicion. I am merely quoting evidence of an authoritative nature submitted to the select committee of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, indicating clearly that there is room for questioning the state of mind of the prescribed authority in that State in connexion with the distribution of money provided by the Commonwealth, and I suggest that, as the Commonwealth finds the money, it should have some oversight of its distribution. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take what steps he may deem desirable to prevent any display of bias in this matter. The Leader of the Opposition will, I am sure, readily agree that if there is the slightest tinge of doubt about the distribution of Commonwealth money in any State, that doubt should be investigated, because it is highly desirable that there should be no suspicion of bias on the part of a distributing authority.
The Leader of the Opposition has so often asserted that his party in the Senate represents 46 per cent, of the people of Australia, that I have no doubt he really believes it is true. No one knows better than the honorable gentleman that, under the existing electoral system, voters at an election must indicate their order of preference for all candidates on their ballot-papers, otherwise their votes will be informal. This being so, they are compelled, in many cases, to vote for candidates whom they do not desire to see elected. Naturally, they place them last in the order of preference.
– I think they must have made that mistake in Western Australia at the last election.
– Not at all. At the last election, out of thirteen candidates for the Senate, the first preference votes secured by the official Labour candidates did not represent 46 per cent. of the total votes cast, but only 27 per cent. I feel sure that a similar position would, on examination, be disclosed in other States; so it is useless for the Leader of the Opposition to continue repeating his inaccurate and tiresome statement. I heartily commend the bill.
– I should not, have taken part in this debate, although I could discuss the bill from many viewpoints, but for the extraordinary speech delivered by Senator Johnston this afternoon. I have heard it said, and I endorse the remark that, as a lime-lighter, Senator Johnston has no equal. This afternoon, using the Labour Government in Western Australia to further his own ends, he quoted a number of telegrams on coloured forms for the purpose of attacking his erstwhile joss, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page).
– I did not receive any of those telegrams.
– That was because the authors knew that Senator Johnston would be only too willing to use any stick to beat the Government, in order to put himself right with the Country party and the wheat-farmer in Western Australia. I do not object to the honorable senator citing the Labour Government in Western Australia in support of his case, but I do object to hisusing New South Wales for a similar purpose. TheState of New South Wales, I am pleased to know, has always been generous in its support of Commonwealth proposals to assist other States, and I resent Senator Johnston’s suggestion that the senior State in the federation is not willing to act fairly and reasonably towards its partners. The honorable senator read extracts from a letter written by the Department of Commerce containing reference to £400,000 to be made available for assistance to wheatgrowers, and, by innuendo, he asked us to believe that the leader of his own party was robbing Western Australia of between £30,000 and £40,000. Altogether the speech of the honorable gentleman was not fair. He complained of the reduc tion of the amount to be made available for wheat-farmers in Western Australia, but did not mention that there had been a reduction of the grant for wheat-growers in other States, including New South Wales, which this year will receive £650,000 less than last year. Let me place on record the amounts allocated by the Commonwealth to the various States last year and the proposed allocation under this bill for 1936:-
If Senator Johnston had wished to be fair he would have mentioned the whole of these figures and shown a general reduction of Commonwealth assistance to all the States this year. But obviously his sole intention was to use the figures for propaganda purposes in his own State, even at the expense of his colleagues in the United Australia party, because he endeavoured to create the impression that whatever was gained for Western Australia from the Commonwealth was the result of representations by Country party members, and he placed on the United Australia party blame for the reduced amount to be made available under this bill. Whilst he was speaking I interjected with a view to putting the position in its true light before the Senate, because I resented the unfair and unreasonable method adopted by the honorable gentleman for the purpose of tickling the ears of the farmers in Western Australia. It is about time we exposed his tactics, if he is not willing to play the game fairly. He quoted the assistance to be given to Tasmania, which, for all practical purposes, is a non-wheat-growing State, and showed that the amount allocated would represent about 6s. a bushel; he adopted an altogether unsound basis in order to bolster up his claim for further assistance for Western Australia, which is one of the larger wheat-producing States of the Commonwealth. The honorable senator knows that a flour tax is the accepted means of raising money to grant assistance to wheat-farmers, and that this tax falls heavily upon citizens in the eastern States. Up to the end of February this year the amount raised by this tax in New South Wales was £486,000, in Victoria it was £330,000, in Queensland £160,000, in South Australia £97,000, in Western Australia £75,000, and in Tasmania £36,000. Notwithstanding the huge amount of tax paid by the people of New South Wales, the honorable gentleman says that New South Wales is not playing the game.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– The honorable senator, in his intense desire to obtain all the limelight, is indifferent to the effect of his remarks upon representatives of other States. His purpose apparently is not to consider what may be best for the Commonwealth as a whole, or even for his own State, but what is best for himself as a representative of the Country party of his State in the Senate. Perhaps the honorable senator is influenced by the fact that not long ago he was defeated for the leadership of the Country party in the Senate, and consequently is very disgruntled. His attack on his leader (Dr. Earle Page) suggests that that is the case.
– I made no attack whatever.
– I leave it to honorable senators to draw their own conclusions from Senator Johnston’s remarks. The honorable senator should know that much of the money which has been given to aid the farmers is the yield of a tax on bread. The amounts paid for the relief of wheat-growers during the last four years were: 1931-32, £3,296,465; 1932-33, £2,132,499 ; 1933-34, £3,044,458 ; 1934-35, £4,072,656. This year it will amount to £1,800,000, making a total, for five years, of £14,300,000. The taxpayers, as a whole, provide this assistance. It is right that farmers who are in need of assistance should be given aid. I do not agree with the prophecy that we shall soon be finished with this form of legislation ; I believe that we shall have to deal with similar measures for some time to come, because the wheat industry will be seriously affected by future world production and falls in price. Probably production, not only here but throughout the world, will have to be controlled. This may sound like a prophecy, but the production of wheat is a very big problem. Russia has resumed the exportation of wheat and China is now appearing as a seller on the world’s markets. China, particularly, is growing good wheat on areas which are markedly suitable for its cultivation. However, big as this problem may seem, we should be able to arrive at a better method than that embodied in this measure, of helping the farmers. This method is not equitable. I do not believe in “ greasing the fat sow “. I hold that the rich man should not benefit, and that this assistance should be given only to the man who is in need of it, or sectionally where the industry needs assistance to function.
– Does the honorable senator say that the rich manufacturer should not benefit under tariff protection?
– The sole object of tariff protection, as honorable senators know very well, is to build up and preserve industries in this country. Tariff protection is maintained for the same reason that subsidies of this nature are given to the wheat-growers. I have never complained of proposals of this kind, but if Senator Johnston and other honorable senators contend that assistance should be given to needy farmers, they must, as reasonable men, agree that tariff protection should be given to secondary industries. There is an equitable way of dealing with this problem in relation to both primary and secondary industries. I do not wish to delay the passage of this measure. I rose simply to reply to Senator Johnston’s allegation that New South Wales, along with some other States, is not dealing fairly with Western Australia.
-I made no such suggestion.
– If the honorable senator reads his speech - and I ask him not to revise it - he will see that he made a direct attack upon New South Wales in this respect. If that were not so, I would not have risen to resent his remarks.
– The honorable senator wants to gain a little limelight.
– I do not, and it is not necessary for me to do so because honorable senators representing New South “Wales are quite satisfied that needy farmers should receive assistance. However, we object to the tactics of some honorable senators who attempt to play-off one State against another in the interests of the State they represent. Such tactics are particularly reprehensible in this chamber and I hope that they will not be continued. I rose merely to say a few words on behalf of New South Wales which has very generously contributed to aid necessitous farmers in other States. I support the measure and I hope that Senator Johnston will, at some future date, at least thank New South Wales for its generosity in this direction and recognize that it has given such assistance without making a song about it.
– Senator Hardy was rather severe in saying that the Labour party has no economic plan to deal with the wheat industry. Most decidedly it has. In fact, if there is anything from which the Labour party suffers, it is a superabundance of constructive ideas. I do not agree with some of these proposals, but the party is certainly not barren of ideas. It has advanced quite a number of plans by which the wheat industry could be helped a little further along the road to prosperity than the Government or even Senator Hardy and Senator Johnston can help it. The Labour party believes in the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool which, I hold, would be of more benefit than a home-consumption price, although a home-consumption price would effectively meet many of the needs of the industry as the Labour party sees them. As a representative of Queensland, I have every reason to discuss such proposals, because Queensland taxpayers contribute much money for the benefit of the wheat-growing States. We contend that the Government should take definite steps to deal with the farmers’ costs, including rates of interest on mortgages and loans. It could investigate, also, transport and handling charges, as they affect the industry in this country and overseas. Mr. J. P. Abbott, who was recently elected president of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as having said in an address to a conference of graziers and wool-growers -
During the last five or six years the woolgrowers’ major problem has been one of costs and prices. During the next decade I believe it will be one of markets. The association has tackled the problem of costs with vigour and success. Unfortunately, it has not been able to prevail upon the overseas shipping companies to reduce their exorbitant and unjustifiable wool freights.
When he was Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. W. M. Hughes established a Commonwealth shipping line to minimize transport difficulties, similar to those described by Mr. Abbott, whose speech proves that the Labour party and Mr. Hughes, in his time, were quite right in establishing that line. The Government could profitably direct its attention to these matters, which have everything to do with this measure, because we cannot for ever bear the heavy costs involved in maintaining the wheat industry by the methods at present in use. For instance, we could not operate a homeconsumption price for ever if we applied that principle to every industry. Yet, it is quite possible that we may have to extend it, even to the wool industry. The Labour party has advanced practical plans in regard to these problems. The wool industry has complained of exorbitant freights, and it is probable that the wheat industry also has reason to complain of transport charges. This matter should be completely overhauled. Whenever the sugar industry comes under the consideration of this chamber, every item of cost is examined and the relevant figures are supplied, but, despite the extensive assistance given to the wheat industry, it escapes this inquisition, although Ave could justly demand such information. The Labour party has every sympathy with necessitous farmers and supports this measure. However, we have to remember that, bad as is the lot of the wheat-farmer, he has at least a settled home and can produce the wherewithal to live. To this extent, he is not so badly off as practically one-third of the potential workers of this country, who cannot find a job to-day. Even if some of them find employment they receive very little for it. Forty per cent. of the bread-winners in Australia to-day have no income, or are earning less than £1 a week. Thus, bad as the lot of the wheat-grower is, a very large percentage of workers are in an even worse position. We should consider this fact when dealing with recurring requests for assistance, not only to wheat-farmers, but also to other primary producers. The royal commissionwhich inquired into the wheat industry showed that out of the 2s. 9d. a bushel which the farmer received for his wheat, fully 1s. was absorbed in handling and transport charges. It is obvious that the Government should closely investigate the costs of production in the industry, particularly those of handling and transport. It could then ask with more confidence than it can to-day for support from honorable senators to assist the wheat-growers of Australia.
[5.0]. - In view of some of the remarks made this afternoon, particularly by Senator Johnston, in criticism of the Commonwealth Government, and of the amount of the grant proposed to be made to the wheat-growers of this country, from which it might appear that the Commonwealth had dealt not only ungenerously but also meanly with the farmers of Western Australia, who have been so unfortunate as to have had little or no crops this year, I rise to say something in reply. I point out that this is a Federal Parliament, not merely a parliament of a State, and the Commonwealth Government governs the whole of Australia, not merely one part of it. This bill is evidence of a recognition on the part of the Commonwealth Government of the plight of many farmers in Western Australia, by making to them a free grant of £160,000 - a sum which has never to be repaid by them and is not to be regarded as a liability. Yet Senator Johnston says that the contribution is not sufficient and is indeed miserly.
– Does the right honorable gentleman himself think that is sufficient?
– - In Western Australia there is a parliament which represents that State only, and a government which governs that State only. That parliament and that government are more directly responsible to those settlers than is either the Commonwealth Parliament or the Commonwealth Government. The Treasury of Western Australia benefited from the sum realized from the sale of the land on which these necessitous farmers are settled. The farmers of Western Australia, therefore, are much more the direct responsibility of the parliament of their own State than of this Parliament. Let us see how the Parliament and Government of Western Australia has dealt with them. According to statements which have appeared in the West Australian, Mr. Troy, who is Minister for Lands in the Collier Government, is said to have announced that the Government of Western Australia will supplement by £50,000 the grant from the Commonwealth Government. In other words, the assessment by the Government of Western Australia of the distress of the farmers of that State is one-third of the assessment by the Commonwealth Government! For an hour this afternoon we listened to a denunciation of the Commonwealth Government for its meanness; but we heard not one word of the contribution by the State government towards the relief of these unfortunate settlers, who are clients, not of the Commonwealth Government, but of the government of the State.
– The Government of Western Australia has asked the Commonwealth for £872,000.
– Mr. Collier has spent a lot of money on telegrams to the Commonwealth Government asking for further assistance. I understand that he sent a telegram to Senator Johnston also asking him to appeal to the Commonwealth for more money. Did Senator Johnston send a telegram to Mr. Collier to inquire why his government had not given more? But I have not told the whole story. In letters which have appeared in the West Australian - letters which Senator Johnston has most likely read, although he has not given them to the Senate - the farmers who have received such generous treatment from the State Government point out that the money is being paid to them through the medium of the Agricultural Bank, whose clients th3y are, for the purchase of chaff and other horse feed, water and sustenance, and will be charged against their account with the bank, and they themselves will be held responsible for its repayment, with interest! Senator Johnston did not tell the Senate these things, but contented himself with accusing the Commonwealth Government of miserly treatment of these settlers. Why did he not tell the Senate how the Government of Western Australia, which is directly responsible for the land settlement policy of that State, has dealt with its settlers ?
– The Commonwealth Government was a party to the migration agreement under which that settlement took place.
– These distressed settlers were on the land long before that agreement was made.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.That agreement has nothing to do with the matter before the Senate. Of course, there has been some controversy over this matter in the columns of the West Austraiian and other newspapers of Western Australia. I have read the apology of the State government in this connexion, and I have not doubt that, in due course, Senator Johnston will place its views before the Senate, as he appears to be willing at all times to defend the State Government of Western Australia.
– I was “gagged.”
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Had the honorable senator been given another hour he would not have given to the Senate the facts which I have presented to it this afternoon. The excuse submitted on behalf of the State Government is that it is hard up, whereas the Commonwealth Government has a big surplus.
– At the recent election the Government of Western Australia did not tell the electors that it was hard up, but claimed credit for having balanced its budget.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.One of the claims placed before the elec tors by that government was that it had spent more money than its predecessors, and had granted to public servants concessions which, I understand, amounted to nearly double the sum granted by it for the relief of these unfortunate farmers - concessions which are not loans, but have been granted in perpetuity. The plea that it had no money was not raised by the State government at that time.
– by leave - I desire to make a personal explanation. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) said that I was defending the State Labour Government of Western Australia. That statement is entirely incorrect. There was a State election in Western Australia a few weeks ago, and night after night, through broadcasting stations and by other methods, I, as an official representative of the Western Australian Country party and of the Western Australian Primary Producers Association, attacked the State Labour Government, pointed out its delinquencies, and urged the electors to vote for the opposition party, which is the Country party. The right honorable gentleman, who now says that I am defending the State Labour Government, was not in Western Australia during the election campaign. He cleared out of the ‘State, as he did at the last federal election, while I was doing my job.
– The honorable senator is exceeding the limits of a personal explanation.
– I repeat that the right honorable gentleman is afraid to remain in Western Australia at federal election time.
– Order ! The honorable senator rose to make a personal explanation arising out of a statement by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce). He must confine his remarks within the limits of the leave granted.
– I do not regard it as part of my duty to come to this Parliament to attack any State government in regard to matters of which I have not an intimate knowledge. I have, however, an intimate knowledge of federal affairs, which it is my duty to watch, and I condemn the Commonwealth
Government for its policy in regard to the wheat industry as evidenced by this bill.
– I, too, desire to make a personal explanation in order to refute a statement made by Senator Johnston in relation to the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce).
– Is the honorable senator personally affected?
– I am in a better position to state the facts than is Senator Johnston.
– The honorable senator would be in order only if he himself were affected by any remark made by another honorable senator.
Senator BRENNAN (Victoria- Acting Attorney-General) f 5.10 1 . - in reply - I shall be brief in my reply, particularly since the fierce attack on the Government by Senator Johnston has already been adequately dealt with. The honorable senator described the assistance proposed to be given by this measure to the wheat-growers of Australia as the least generous help given in five years. He spoke as if it were the duty of the Commonwealth Government to vote sums of money year after year for the relief of wheat-growers. That is not so. The grants which have been made from time to time have been the result of a recognition by the Commonwealth Government of the exceptional circumstances which have operated during recent years. A complete answer to the charge that the amount this year is smaller than it has been for five years is that the position- of the wheat-growers of Australia to-day is better than it has been at any time during the last five years. The honorable senator’s constant references to the unsympathetic action of the Government are, I am afraid, due to an unconquerable tendency to criticize the Government whatever it does. We, in this chamber, are aware that the honorable senator’s speech is the outcome of his great solicitude for the wheat-farmers of Western Australia, but other persons, more cynical and censorious, may attribute his attack to entirely different causes. If they do so, it will be’ the misfortune of the honorable senator, and we shall be able only to sympathize with him. In a long speech, the honorable senator had little to say by way of criticism of the measure itself.
asked if it would be possible for the Government to protect from garnishee proceedings the sums paid to wheat-growers under this bill. That subject has been raised on a number of occasions in connexion with bills of a similar nature. The Government has declined to include a clause of that nature, because of a doubt as to the constitutionality of such a provision, and of the power of the Commonwealth to pass laws to deal with matters which are entirely within the province of a State. That is the reason for the inclusion of clause 8, which provides that the money shall not be paid to any one but the wheat-grower. It is therefore clear that if the money is obtained from him, it must be by legal proceedings taken after the money has come into his possession.
Senator Allan MacDonald referred to the definition of “wheat-grower” in clause 2. I remind him that the Acts Interpretation Act provides that “ person “ includes a corporation. I cannot understand the particular case to which the honorable senator referred.
– The fact remains that the limited liability company to which I referred did not get the money.
– Under the Wheat Bounty Act a wheat-grower was not defined in the way that he is defined in this bill. The weakness which existed in the act mentioned, has now been removed, and the definition is sufficiently wide to cover a corporation or a small company engaged in the production of wheat The honorable senator also asked a question in connexion with clause 6, which can be answered in committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
Any amount granted to a State in accordance with the provisions of section four of this act shall be paid on condition that it is applied by the State in providing relief to wheatgrowers in such manner aa is approved by tha Minister after recommendation by the prescribed authority of that State.
– Speaking on the second reading of this bill, I said that I would endeavour to improve it in committee. The members of the Opposition are strongly opposed to wealthy wheat-growers receiving any of the money which has been contributed by all taxpayers including the poor. We cannot see any reason why wheat-growers not in need of financial assistance should receive any portion of this grant. I therefore move -
That at the end of tlie clause the following proviso be added: -
Provided no approval shall be given in respect of payment to any wheat-grower who is assessed as capable of paying working expenses and meeting present interest charges, plus £125 per annum being the amount set down by the commission as a full remuneration to the farmer for his own personal efforts.
I stated earlier in the day that an amount larger than £125 would be our objective, but in order to meet the Government in this matter, I have adopted that amount. I accept the statement of the royal commission on the wheat industry that £125 is a reasonable personal income for a farmer, after paying working expenses, and meeting present interest charges.
– Is that amount to represent the new basic wage for the wheat-growers ?
– Of course it is not. It is the amount mentioned by the royal commission. I trust that the amendment will be carried, because on the 8th December, 1933, the Government embodied a similar clause in the Wheat Growers Relief Bill then before Parliament. I am endeavouring to assist wheat-growers who have no taxable income, and I have used the amount embodied in my amendment because it was used by the commission. A similar clause inserted in the Wheat Growers Relief Bill 1933 read -
A wheat-grower shall not he entitled to receive assistance under this act unless -
during the year ended on the thirtieth day of June One thousand nine hundred and thirty three he derived no taxable income.
That was supported by nineteen honorable senators including members of the present Opposition and was opposed by only six. I trust that the amendment will he accepted because the members of the Opposition strongly object to wheat- growers not in needy circumstances receiving financial assistance in this form.
– I am extremely surprised that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) should move such an amendment, because in the past he has always claimed that not only the city workers, but also the farmers, should receive a reasonable return for their labour. He now declares that a reasonable return for a wheat-grower should be less than 50s. a week, an admission which he will find it hard to justify in the future. In endeavouring to calculate a wheatgrower’s costs, the royal commission on the wheat industry used an amount of £125 a year, but it did not at any stage state that that should be the maximum amount which he should receive.
– And I am not suggesting that it should be. Wheatgrowers are entitled to more than that.
– Because I believe that they should receive more than 50s. a week, I shall oppose the amendment.
– I, too, am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) should move such an amendment, because it has always been the objective of the party of which he is a member that there should be no discrimination in the payment of money appropriated for bounties, pensions, and similar purposes. The Opposition has always advocated a flat rate, and has contended that, in the payment of bounties, there should not be any inquiries into the circumstances of any individual. It is true that under this clause certain rich wheat-growers may receive the bounty provided in the bill. For instance., Senator Johnston, who does not require the money, and who possibly will not collect it, can benefit under the measure in its present form; but it would be peculiarly discriminatory if the measure were so framed that Senator Johnston and others in a similar position were precluded from participating.
– Senator Johnston is not a necessitous wheat-grower.
– No. But the honorable senator could benefit under other provisions unless special steps are taken to exclude him. I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition can expect a majority of the committee, or of the members of the House of Representatives, to accept his amendment.
– Will the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) guarantee that money appropriated under this bill will not he paid to persons, including some members of Parliament, who do not need it?
– We cannot set up an inquisition. The committee is asked to pass a measure under which all wheat-growers may benefit.
– Will the Minister accept an amendment to ensure that payments will not ‘be made to persons who have a taxable income?
– No. I ask the Leader of the Opposition not to press the amendment, because he must realize that the committee cannot support it, and even if it were accepted here it would be rejected by a majority of the House of Representatives.
– I do not propose to be influenced by threats to the effect that my amendment will misrepresent the views of my party, which may have to carry the stigma in the future, because I have included an income of £125 per annum in my amendment. I want from the Minister an assurance that a portion of this grant will not be paid to wealthy wheat-growers. Even if the amendment be rejected, I shall submit another to ascertain whether a majority of the committee think it right to vote public money to wealthy persons, some of whom are members of this Parliament. Why should money contributed by all sections of the community be used to supplement the incomes of wealthy wheat-growers?
– Does the honorable senator think that a wheat-grower who receives more than £125 per annum is a wealthy man?
– I contend that if a farmer receives an amount exceeding £125 a year after paying working expenses and meeting interest charges, his position is superior to that of a basic wage worker. If the Minister will give an assurance that this money will not be paid to wealthy people, the position will be altered materially. I believe that the moneyshould be paid to persons who have no taxable income, and I am prepared to reconstruct my amendment in those terms if that will suit the Minister.
– I regret that I am unable to give such an assurance.
– Will the Minister indicate whether he intends to investigate the finding of the select committee of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, in regard to the actions of the distributing agent for the Commonwealth, the Agricultural Bank?
– If any violation of Commonwealth law has occurred, the matter will be investigated; otherwise I regret that I am unable to accede to the honorable senator’s wish.
.- As the Minister gave us no assurance that he will safeguard the allocation of this money in order to prevent it from reaching the bank accounts of those who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to require it, I move -
That at the end of the clause the following proviso be added: - “ Provided no approval shall be given in respect of payment to any wheatgrower who is assessed as capable of paying working expenses and meeting present interest charges, plus £260 per annum.”
– If this amendment be rejected, the honorable senator will apparently continue to move similar amendments, merely altering the amount each time.
TheCHAIRMAN (Senator Sampson). - As the amendment moved by the honorable senator is, in substance, the same as the amendment just negatived, only the amount being altered, I rule that it is out of order.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 1 to 11 agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with a message intimating that it had made the amendments requested by the Senate in this bill.
Bill read a third time.
Sitting suspended from5.43 to 9.30 p.m.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.
[9. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
At the outset I wish to say that Senator Payne and other Tasmanian senators have made strong representations that the amount of money to be provided under this bill should be distributed on a case basis. The Government has given full consideration to their requests and I propose to set out the reasons why we are asking the Senate to pass the measure in its present form.
The bill provides for the distribution to growers of apples and pears of £80,000 - a portion of the amount of £100,000 which was placed an the Estimates for the assistance of necessitous fruit-growers in respect of the 1935 export season - at the rate of 4d. a bushel on all fruit exported during the year ended the 31st December, 1935. In 1933, following urgent representations on behalf of growers for assistance to compensate them for losses incurred in the export trade during that year, the Government caused an investigation to be made of the position of growers in Tasmania, which State suffered more acutely than other States, with a view to determining the best means of rendering assistance to the industry. Many proposals were examined, but most of them were found to be impracticable, and the Government finally made available £125,000, in the form of grants to the States, for assistance to growers of apples and pears. This sum was apportioned between the various States in proportion to their share in the export trade. In 1934, although export prices for apples were much better than in 1933, the industry was still in a difficult position, and again Parliament was asked to set aside £125,000 for the purpose of assisting the industry. For the financial year 1935-36 an amount of £100,000 was provided for the same purpose, and as I have said, the Government has given considerable thought to the best method of distributing this money.
The Department of Commerce has been at some pains to examine the financial results of the 1935 export season, and it has ascertained that the net realizations f.o.b. Australian ports were much better than any price obtained since 1929. In 1935 the average f.o.b. price for all overseas shipments of apples in Tasmania was 6s. 5d. a bushel, compared with ls. Sd. a bushel in 1933, and 3s. a bushel in 1934. Tasmania is responsible for the export of over 50 per cent, of the total Australian export of apples. Growers in all the other States also reported much better prices in 1934 than in previous years.
– Is that 6s. 5d. a case the figure for Tasmania ?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes. Having regard to the improved returns obtained for fruit exported in 1935, it was thought that” some means of assistance could be devised which would be of more lasting benefit to the industry than the payment of a bounty on export.
– In those earlier years, there was no provision for scientific research into the problems connected with the industry.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.No. As many growers are still suffering financial strain as the result of poor prices obtained in those years, the Government decided that a portion of the amount provided for assistance this year should be distributed to growers by way of an. export bounty, and a portion used for investigation and research into problems affecting the industry, and for the introduction of improved orchard practices in co-operation with the State Department of Agriculture. There are undoubtedly many directions in which the
Commonwealth and the States can combine for the permanent good of the industry. These include the encouragement of central packing sheds, improvement of wrapping and packing methods, advanced cultural methods, and improvement of construction of the export case, including standardization of the size of the case. In addition, there is need for scientific research into transport and marketing problems if a permanent improvement is to be effected in the marketing of our fruit overseas. Exports of apples and pears during the years 1933,1934 and 1935 have been as follows : -
The bulk of the export trade is to the United Kingdom.
In this bill, provision is made for the distribution of approximately £80,000 by way of a bounty on apples and pears at the rate of 4d. a bushel case on the quantity exported during 1935. The grant in 1933 was equivalent to approximately 6d. a case, and in 1934 to approximately 7d. a case. The figures which I have quoted show, of course, that in each of those years, there was a larger export trade.
– This year the grant is equivalent to 4d. a case.
– Yes; but if a comparison is made with prices realized in earlier years, it will be found that there is still a margin. The balance of £20,000 provided on the Estimates will be used through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in co-operation with the State Departments of Agriculture for further investigation into the problems which I have indicated. It is considered that any permanent improvement which can be effected as a result of such investigations will be of greater benefit to the industry than would the provision of an annual subsidy.
Honorable senators representing all States have, no doubt, seen from time to time letters and reports which have appeared in the daily press concerning the appearance of Australian apples and pears in the London market. I have some personal knowledge on this subject, and I know there is room for improvement in our marketing methods. The Government is anxious to bring about an improvement of the conditions affecting the industry, particularly as regards the export of apples and pears. If we are to hold and expand our markets for Australian products, it is essential that we aim at achieving the highest quality in the goods that we produce. Action has already been taken under the commerce regulations to eliminate many unsuitable varieties from our export pack, and to raise, the standards of quality in respect of apples and pears exported overseas. I am sure that Tasmanian senators will admit that some years ago there was room for improvementin this connexion in Tasmania. Many of the varieties of apples then grown were unsuitable for the export trade, butnumbersof growers were not in a financial position to work their trees over to the standard export varieties. Growers of apples in South Australia and Western Australia, who came into this business later, profited by the experience of Tasmania and the older exporting States. I know that in Western Australia the great bulk of the planting was of the approved export varieties. In Tasmania there has been, during recent years, a grafting over from the older varieties to the export varieties. The Government desires to expedite that work in order that the fruit sent overseas from all the States will he of approved export varieties. As further work is necessary on this important problem, the Government has recently appointed a fruit supervising officer in London to examine shipments of fruit arriving in the United Kingdom, and to arrange for investigation and research into any faulty consignments which may arrive there. This officer will be in a position to advise the producers in Australia of the requirements of the British market, and of the difficulties which they have to overcome. It is essential that we in Australia should be prepared to give effect to any recommendations that may be made in this direction, and continuous investigation and research are necessary here if we are to derive the full benefit from the reports madeby this officer.
– Will the ?20,000 be controlled by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Yes, in co operation with the State departments of agriculture. The reports will be sent to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and, after consultation with the departments of agriculture, the growers in the various States will be advised. It is also desirable that funds should be available to enable the growers to give effect to the results of research. Many growers who would be willing to give effect to the recommendations of experts lack either the technical knowledge or the cash to enable them to do so. From this fund assistance will be given to enable them to carry out the recommendations made as a result of these investigations. The ?20,000 is for that purpose, and I feel sure that its expenditure will have a beneficial long-term effect. After ali. our aim should be to obtain lasting markets. It is not a healthy sign that our exports depend on bounties. It would bo far better that the quality of the fruit should be such as to command a payable price in the world market than that the industry should be assisted by a bounty. I believe that scientific research will bc of more lasting benefit to the industry than is the bounty now paid. I confidently commend the bill to the Senate.
– The Opposition will support this bill, which will grant to the growers of apples and pears relief, which will, in some measure, compensate them for the low prices which their products have realized for some time past. The Opposition is also pleased that the Government, which believes in private enterprise, has been obliged to step in and assist this and other industries by assuming at least a partial control over them. Evidently the Government now recognizes that private enterprise cannot he trusted to do the job.
– Ever since it was formed the Country party has believed in orderly marketing.
– We know what the Country party stands for, because we had a sample of it this afternoon in the unedifying family brawl between Sena tor Hardy and . Senator E. B. Johnston. We do not need to be told what the Country party believes in, because we know that it stands for the highest possible protection for primary products, and the lowest possible protection for those other industries in which the main body of industrial workers are engaged. I have no desire to delay the passage of the bill by replying further to interjections. The Opposition welcomes this measure, first, because it will assist a section of primary producers, and secondly, because it shows that the Government is beginning to realize that private enterprise cannot be trusted to do the job and must be taught.
– It is refreshing to hear the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) support a measure of this kind. The honorable senator says that private enterprise has fallen down on the job, but that is not so. The Country party, ever since its formation several years ago, has believed in orderly marketing. I listened attentively to the Minister’s second-reading speech, and although I recognize that .the financial assistance granted to the industry has decreased as a result of the better prices which have obtained of late, I am glad that a large amount is to be set apart for scientific research. Every honorable senator, irrespective of party, realizes that if our export industries are to maintain their place in the markets of the world, there must be a greater application of science to industry. Under existing conditions the amount of scientific research that is applied to our export industries is dependent upon the financial grants made by the government of the day. In my opinion, there is no body of greater value to the economic life of Australia than the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Spasmodic grants for research cannot permanently benefit an industry : there must be a long-range policy. Research of any nature - whether in connexion with wheat, apples or pears, or pasture improvement - if its results are to be successful, always requires a longrange policy, and, therefore, financial security over a long term is necessary. Recently I was privileged to discuss this problem with the executive officers of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. I then stressed the need for some national plan, involving perhaps, a levy on export, to provide a scientific trust fund for the development of a long-range policy in order to enable research to be continued over a fairly lengthy period. The Government is to be congratulated on having set aside in this bill the sum of £20,000 for research in connexion with apple and pear growing. One feature of this industry which is unsatisfactory is that, despite the increased prices, the export value of apples and pears in the aggregate is now less than it was a year ago. During 1933-34 Australia exported apples valued at £1,654,241, expressed in Australian currency. In the following year the value of the apples exported fell to £1,307,791, a reduction of £346,450. As prices were higher in the second year mentioned, the falling off in the value of the apples exported, must have been due to a shrinkage of exports. That raises the subject of Empire preference. During 1933-34 Australia sold to the United Kingdom 3,821,357 bushels of apples, representing 74 per cent, of the total apples exported, and in the same year 1,326,055 bushels of apples, representing 26 per cent, of the total export in that year, was exported to other countries. During the following year 3,797,500 bushels of apples, representing 87 per cent, of the total export for that year was exported from Australia to the United Kingdom, and to other countries we sent only 565,842 bushels, or 13 per cent, of the total eport of apples. In other words, Australia sold both to Great Britain and to other countries, smaller quantities than in the previous year. What is the reason for that falling off? Under the Ottawa Agreement Australia was entitled to a preference of 4s. 6d. a cwt. but that preference has been eliminated by factors beyond our control. American subsidies, plus the depreciation of the dollar to the pound sterling has made the Empire preference given at Ottawa to the fruitgrowers almost valueless. I understand that the Apple and Pear Export Council advocates that the preference granted to the Australian fruit should be raised from 4s. 6d. to 7s. 6d. a cwt. and I hope that the Government will do its best to obtain that increased preference or alternatively, to support a scheme which will produce a close market in England for Empire fruit. I support the bill because it gives financial assistance to the industry, and I congratulate the Government on having set aside £20,000 for scientific research.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Bill, received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and .Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce) read a first time.
[10.5] - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Up to 1932 New Zealand provided a large market for Australian citrus fruits, but in that year Australia lost the market in circumstances which I do not propose to discuss. They are regrettable, but I do not propose to say who was to blame. The need for support for the industry was borne in upon the Government, and it decided to assist financially the export of oranges during the 1933 season with the object of opening up other overseas markets. That assistance took the form of a guarantee of out-of-pocket’ expenses up to a maximum of 13s. an export case on all oranges shipped to countries other than New Zealand during the 1933 season.
The export in that year was 97,000 cases and the cost to the Government in respect of the guarantee was only £3,829.
This form of assistance was continued in 1934 with the result that in that year there was a tremendous expansion of exports. Nearly 217,000 cases were exported under the guarantee. Unfortunately, a large quantity of the fruit arrived in poor condition, the prices realized were generally unsatisfactory, and it appeared that the Government would be called upon to pay out considerable sums in satisfaction of the guarantee. Certain exporters, however, had taken out a comprehensive insurance policy on the fruit exported during 1934, the premium charged in addition to the ordinary marine risk being 5d. a case. Where this was done the Government increased the guarantee to 13s. 5d. a case. Any moneys paid to exporters under these insurance policies were regarded as part of the proceeds of the fruit and were, therefore, taken into account by the Commonwealth in calculating the amount to be paid under the guarantee. The saving to the Government as a result of these policies cannot be determined definitely, but it is certain that as the result of the action of the exporters a considerable expenditure was avoided. The amount . provided on the Estimates for payment in the year 1934 was £20,000 ; but the sum ‘actually paid amounted to under £10,000. Despite the saving both to the Government and to the industry in respect of the 1934 exports the net results for that season were still very unsatisfactory. Many growers suffered severe losses in respect of their exports. Strong representations have been made to the Government for further assistance, and having regard to the saving effected by the Government, and the desirability of rendering some further aid to exporters for the year in question, it is now proposed to pay a bounty of 6d. a case on all oranges exported in 1934 to destinations other than New Zealand. The exports of oranges in that year totalled 216,482 cases, excluding exports to New Zealand, and a bounty of 6d. a case on this quantity should, therefore, amount to approximately £5,500. Parliament has already provided sufficient funds to meet this commitment as the export bounty of 2s. a case for the 1935 season will, it is estimated, absorb only £8,000 of the amount of £20,000 provided for this purpose. Bearing in mind the disastrous results in 19341, growers were chary in 1935 of shipping their oranges to the United Kingdom. The exports to that country fell to 80,000 cases in 1935 as compared with 177,000 cases in the previous year. Having regard to the losses experienced the assistance being rendered, although small, will be of considerable benefit to exporters.
– I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without bringing under the notice of the Senate the desperate plight of the citrus fruit-growers of New South Wales, and of again appealing to the Government to make an additional effort to recapture the New Zealand market. Although we may do everything possible to exploit the market in the United Kingdom, there is no gainsaying the fact that New Zealand is the most profitable market to the Australian citrus fruitgrowers. Those who suffered most severely owing to the collapse of that market were the growers, not in Queensland, but in New South Wales. In discussing the bill to provide a bounty for the 1935 season, I had an opportunity to survey the conditions prevailing in the industry, and to direct attention to the fact that in 1931-32 the total quantity of citrus fruits exported from Australia was 166,250 centals, and of that quantity New South Wales exported 116,557 centals, or 70 per cent. It will, therefore, be seen that when the New Zealand market collapsed the New South Wales growers who were responsible for 70 per cent, of the total export trade suffered most severely. Of the total of 116,557 centals exported by the New South Wales growers, New Zealand purchased 113,578 centals, or 79 per cent. In these circumstances, is it any wonder that we should again appeal to the Government to do everything possible to recapture the New Zealand market? I suggest that the Government should send a Minister immediately to New Zealand to ascertain whether the prejudice which now exists can be broken down.
– It is not a matter of prejudice but of potatoes.
– If the Labour Government in New Zealand consists of broad-minded men as is alleged, it should not hesitate to admit Australian citrus fruit, and thus assist to place the Australian industry on a firm basis. I am conversant with the difficulty confronting the growers, and I am glad that the Government is again assisting them. In spite of the efforts being made to recover the market in New Zealand, there cannot be real stability in the export industry until the Australian growers, and particularly those in New South Wales, can dispose of their product in the New Zealand market.
.- On behalf of the citrus fruit-growers in South Australia, I thank the Government for the bounty of 6d. proposed to be paid on all oranges exported in 1934 to destinations other than New Zealand. When a similar measure was before the Senate on a previous occasion, I joined with Senator Hardy in asking that an amount be provided to enable additional assistance to be given to citrus fruitgrowers. Those in South Australia are most gratified that the Government has decided to pay this bounty. There are a great many growers in South Australia, and although we have access to the New Zealand, market, of which Senator Hardy is so jealous, we are also desirous of establishing markets overseas. This year we have exported a considerable quantity of citrus fruit.
– Our loss has been your gain.
– South Australia has exported some citrus fruit to England ; but if we are to establish a market in that country, we must be granted some assistance. I again express the gratitude of the growers of South Australia to the Government for the granting of this bounty, which, I trust, will have beneficial results in the future.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [10,16]. - in reply - In reference to the representations made by Senator Hardy and Senator James McLachlan, I desire to state that negotiations with the new Government of New Zealand to secure the admission of citrus fruitfrom New South Wales are being renewed, and I hope for a successful issue.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
[10:21].- I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Following on representations made to the Government by prune-growers from the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, the Government has decided to pay a ‘bounty of3/4d. per lb. on prunes exported during the year 1935. In that year export prices fell seriously and the returns to growers decreased to such an extent that they found themselves in financial difficulties. Increased plantings of prunes since the war have resulted in a tremendous expansion of production, with the result that to-day practically 50 per cent, of the crop has to be exported. Markets have been developed in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada, and under normal conditions, with the aid of legislation by the Commonwealth and State Governments, a reasonable average return on exports and local sales is obtained. Conditions over the past eighteen months, however, have been most difficult. Prices f.o.b. of prunes exported from California to the United Kingdom fell from 53/8 cents per lb. in January, 1934, to 41/8 cents per lb. in January, 1935, and to 27/8 cents per lb. in January, 1936. As Californian prunes practically dominate the United Kingdom market, this serious fall of prices has caused a corresponding reduction of the returns to Australian producers. In view of all the circumstances the Government has decided to render some assistance to the industry to enable it to meet the immediate losses. The bill now submitted gives effect to the Government’s decision in this direction.
In view of the fact that prunes are subject to the provisions of the Dried Fruits Act 1928-1935, and to the Interstate Trade Regulations made under thatact, it is necessary to make provision for the payment of the bounty to growers who export under what is known as the “ proxy arrangement.” It is proposed that a grower shall be deemed, for the purpose of payment of bounty, to have exported such quantity of prunes as the respective State Dried Fruits Boards determine. This can. he readily ascertained from the records of the boards. Whore the grower sells his prunes outright to a packer, the quantity deemed to be exported will be determined in the prescribed manner by the Department of Commerce.
In submitting this bill, the Government does not desire to encourage this industry to seek a continuance of bounties on export. Realizing the difficult position which obtains at present, the Government has indicated that’ provision will he made at a later date for a further bounty of id. per lb. on exports during the year 1936, but that no further bounties will be paid on this commodity. In this connexion the Government is taking steps to improve the efficiency of the industry which at present is not of a very high standard. Due regard has not been paid by the industry to the market requirements overseas, and a large quantity of small-sized prunes has been exported, although the major demand is for prunes of larger size. This high proportion of small fruit is in itself a very unsatisfactory feature of the export industry. There are many other directions in which improvements can be effected, and the Government, therefore, proposes to arrange, through the Agricultural Council, an inquiry into the production and marketing methods of the industry, with a view to placing it permanently on a sound footing. Cultural methods, picking and drying of the fruit, elimination of unsuitable areas, and stimulation of local consumption, will be investigated. It is anticipated that the bounty for the 1935 exports will total about £8,500, and that, as production for the current year is not nearly as high as in 1935, the bounty will he considerably less in respect of the 1930 exports.
.* - After having listened to the second-reading speech of the Leader of the Senate, one cannot but wonder when this American menace of dumping will cease: undoubtedly it is a danger to Australian exports. The fundamental cause of the disability that the growers of prunes to-day are experiencing through the collapse of their market overseas is American dumping. An extract from The Fruit World and Market Grower summarizes the position thus -
Prior to thu present exchange difficulties Germany imported about 20,000 short tons from the United States in the 1933-34 season. In the period September-.) July 1034-35, Germany imported less than 3,000 short tons of American prunes.
In other words, Germany, in that brief period, reduced its consumption of prunes by 23,000 short tons. Being deprived of his Continental market, the American grower immediately dumped his surplus production, with the aid of substantial subsidies, on the British market, and this action caused the collapse of the price in Australia. While I do not for one moment advocate bilateral trade, instances of this nature make one cease to wonder that people do support that policy. One needs only to consider the position of the prune and dried fruits industries, the New Zealand embargo on citrus fruits from New South Wales, due to American influence, the subsidized shipping lines of America, and Australia’s adverse trade balance with America, amounting to £8,000,000 a year, to realize why many people are becoming converted to the policy of bilateral trade agreements. I venture to say that, although Australia has an adverse balance in its trade with the United States of America, the adoption, of a bilateral trade policy by the Commonwealth would materially affect the relations of that country with us. I have nothing but commendation to offer the Government for the granting of this assistance to the prune industry. The growers are doing everything in their power to improve the quality of their product, and to eliminate prunes of small size, which present the major difficulty in regard to the export trade. Honorable senators will join with me in hoping that prices will improve so that the Government will not be obliged to render assistance to the industry beyond the current season.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
[10.33]. - It will be necessary for the Senate to meet to-morrow to receive certain bills to be returned from the House of Representatives. I therefore move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 10 a.m. to-morrow.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sen ii (u ad journed at ID. 3-1 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 March 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1936/19360318_senate_14_149/>.