18th Parliament · 1st Session
The Senate, on the 6th December, 1946, adjourned to a date and hour to be fixed by the President and to be notified to each honorable senator.
The Senate met pursuant to such notification.
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motions (bySenator Clothier) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator Beerworth on account of illness.
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator Tangney on account of ill health.
Acknowledgment by His Majesty the King.
THE PRESIDENT. - I have received from His Royal Highness the GovernorGeneral the following communication in connexion with the Address-in-Reply : -
I desire to acquaint you that the AddressinReply at the opening of the Eighteenth Parliament was duly laid before His Majesty the King, and I am commanded to convey to you and to honorable senators His Majesty’s sincere thanks for the loyal message to which your address gives expression.
Assent to the following bills re ported : -
Appropriation Bill 1046-47.
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1946-47.
Sales Tax Bills (Nos. 1 to 9) 1946.
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill (No. 2) 1946.
Customs Tariff (Special War Duty) Validation Bill 1946.
Excise Tariff Validation Bill (No. 2) 1946.
States Grants (Drought Relief) Bill 1946.
Wheat Industry Assistance Bill 1946.
States Grants Bill 1946.
Ministers of State Bill 1946.
Census and Statistics Bill 1946.
Qantas Empire Airways Agreement Bill 1946.
Loan (Housing) Bill 1946.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Bill 1946.
Wheat Tax Bill 1946.
Wheat Export Charge Bill (No. 2) 1946.
Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill (No. 2) 1946.
Constitution Alteration (Social Services) Bill 1946.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Shipping aware that a ship arrived in Sydney Harbour yesterday, or the day before, with a large consignment of potatoes for New South “Wales and Queensland but no labour was available to unload the vessel? In view of the scarcity of potatoes in New South Wales and Queensland, can the Minister say whether the necessary labour will be made available or whether these potatoes, as has happened on previous occasions, will be left on this vessel until they become unfit for human consumption?
– I am not aware of the arrival of the vessel to which the honorable senator refers. I have read press reports that a ship carrying potatoes was expected to arrive in Sydney about this time. I shall inquire into the matter and supply an answer to the honorable senator.
– In view of the grave dissatisfaction in South Australia because of the fact that the department’s programmefor the installation of new telephones is not proceeding as satisfactorily as might be expected, will the Postmaster-General give urgent consideration to this matter with a view to expediting installations ?
– I shall investigate the matter as requested by the honorable senator, but I point out thai although the Postmaster-General’s Department is now installing telephones at a rate exceeding its pre-war capacity, the lag is still increasing. I assure the honorable senator that installations are being effected as quickly as possible as man-power and materials become available.
– Will the Minister for Health inform the Senate what progress is being made in the negotiations with the British Medical Association, or with medical men, in regard to a national medical scheme for the Commonwealth ?
– As the honorable senator is aware, it was announced, prior to the general elections last September, that, if returned to office, the Government would implement such a scheme. The Prime Minister stated that the scheme would be free, comprehensive, and of the highest technical excellence. Discussions have been held between the Commonwealth and the States, at the official level. These are to be followed by a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers for Health on the 14th and the loth of April. There has not yet been a conference between the Government and the medical profession regarding the proposed national medical scheme, but quite recently, I invited the Federal Council of the British Medical Association to confer with me regarding the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The council is meeting in Melbourne this week, and we are endeavouring to arrange a conference later in the week. There are considerable difficulties to be encountered in the establishment of a national medical scheme. Many aspects have to be examined. However, I hope to make a. recommendation to the Government for the setting up of the necessary administrative machinery, and to confer upon the administrative body all the powers necessary to set the free medical scheme in operation.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Shipping in a position to make more shipping available to convey the early potato crop from northern Tasmania to the mainland where potatoes are urgently required? Is he aware that delay in the provision of shipping space for Tasmanian potatoes will cause serious loss to growers?
– Every effort is being made to provide additional shipping, not only for Tasmanian ports but also for all other ports in the Com monwealth. The honorable senator may rest assured that the position is being watched closely by both the Controller of Potatoes and the Shipping Board, and that every endeavour will be made to transport potatoes from Tasmania to the mainland as soon as possible.
– Will the Minister for Social Services have printed at an early date, and in tabulated form, concise information regarding the various social services that have been introduced by the present Government so that members of Parliament may be in a position to answer more readily the many questions that are directed to them on this matter ?
– A handbook of social services covering all benefits administered by the Department of Social Services has been published. It has been brought up to date and is available to the pub llc in its revised form. Many copies of it have been distributed. However, I expect that there will be many alterations, probably of a comparatively minor nature, when the consolidated social services legislation contemplated by the Government is enacted. I hope that that measure will be introduced later this session. I have been engaged for some months upon its preparation, and I suggest that it would be better to wait until Parliament has dealt with it before issuing a new handbook. I assure the honorable senator that as soon as the full ambit of the Government’s social services programme is determined, such a handbook will be made readily available to the people.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Shipping in a position, to make a statement to the Senate regarding the threatened ban on- the working of overtime on the Sydney waterfront? If such a. ban is to be put into effect, will the Minister say how it will affect the unloading of ships at Sydney, and will he state what action the Government intends to take to provide for the expeditious unloading of ships, particularly those which carry perishable goods?
– There is a dispute at present regarding the working of overtime on the waterfront at Sydney. An order .has been issued by the Stevedoring Indutry Commission directing the working of overtime. As the Commission lias been established to control industrial matters on the waterfront, I do not propose to take any action at this stage. The matter is one for determination by the commission. I understand that certain negotiations are in progress and that, as the result of these, the commission and the Waterside Workers Federation may overcome the difficulty in relation to the working of overtime. I assume that steps will be taken, by the commission to provide for the unloading of perishable cargo.
– Will the Minister for Supply and Shipping investigate the possibility of making available to people who are homeless or living in cramped and unhealthy quarters, particularly in South Australia, certain army and air force huts that are not now being used by the services, to provide temporary accommodation for them?
– .State governments have the first call on all service huts and other buildings that have been declared surplus. The Government of New South Wales has already taken advantage of the opportunity to take over a number of such huts for the use of homeless people. The Government of South Australia has the opportunity to do likewise. The Commonwealth Government does not intend to take action as suggested by the honorable senator, but it will make every facility available for the disposal of hutments to such State governments as desire to use them for housing purposes.
– The honorable senator is wise enough in political matters to know that the Commonwealth Government has no power to determine the hours that shall be worked in any State.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration whether the negotiations in connexion with the chartering of Acquitania for the purpose of bringing immigrants to this country have yet been completed ? If they have not, can the Minister say what is delaying the chartering of the vessel? ‘
– -Completion of the negotiations has been delayed a few days, hut at the moment I am not at liberty to state the reason for the holdup. I shall refer the honorable senator’s question to the Minister for Immigration, who will inform him as to the present position.
f 3.23]. -I lay on the table the following paper: -
United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment - Report of First Session of Preparatory Committee, and move -
That the paper be printed.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
[3.24]. - hy leave - In order that honorable senators may have an opportunity to discuss recent developments in international affairs, I propose to table for their consideration a statement covering various matters concerning Australia’s foreign policy made by the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) on Wednesday last.
It refers, first, to the progress made at the recent United Nations Assembly meeting in New York covering the resolutions on the veto and on disarmament and atomic energy, the position in regard to the Australian trusteeship agreement for New Guinea, and the United States proposed trusteeship agreement for the Japanese mandated islands. Next, it touches on the South Pacific Commission Agreement. It then deals with the present situation in India, Indonesia, Burma, and in SouthEast Asia generally, and indicates the extent of Australia’s interests in that region. The statement then refers to the position in regard to the peace treaties with Germany’s satellites and the settlements with Germany and with Austria, and outlines briefly the occupation policy in Japan and our views on the Pacific peace settlement. Finally, the statement outlines Australia’s responsibilities and foreign policy generally, our special relationship with Great Britain, and the desirability of reviewing the machinery for British Commonwealth consultation and common action.
I lay on the table the following papers : -
Foreign Affairs - Statement by the Minister for External Affairs, 26th February, 1947. United Nations -
Assembly Resolution on Voting Procedure in the Security Council.
Assembly Resolution on Principles Governing the General Regulations and Reduction of Armaments.
Trusteeship Agreement for the Mandated Territory of New Guinea approved by Assembly.
Agreement Establishing the South Pacific Commission. India -
Statement by Rt. Hon. C. R. Attlee, 20th February, 1947. (ft) Statement by High Commissioner for India in Australia. 21st February, 1947.
Statement by Minister for External Affairs, 21st February, 1947.
Australian Overseas Trade with Certain Countries in South East Asia 1938- 1946.
Settlements withItaly and Germany’s Satellites -
Settlement with Germany -
Settlement with Austria: Aide Memoire to the Deputies of the Council of Foreign Ministers by the Australian Government.
Settlement with Japan: Text of Far Eastern Commission Basic Policy Document. and move -
That the papers be printed.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
Sale to New Zealand
– Does the Minister for Supply and Shipping propose to make a statement to the Senate in connexion with the contract with New Zealand for the sale of wheat, as was done by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) in the House of Representatives last week?
– I appreciate the suggestion from the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the conduct of the business of the Senate, but the Government’s representatives here consider that they have the capacity to attend to the business of this chamber. When they think that the time is opportune, a statement will be made on the matter.
Formal Motion for Adjournment
– I have received from Senator McLeay an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The arrangement made by the Australian Government to sell wheat to the New Zealand Government at a price well below the ruling -world parity and the necessity to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into all
– I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 9 a.m.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– I regret that the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) has not seen fit to make a statement on the recent signing of a wheat agreement with the Government of New Zealand for the four years 1946-47 to 1949-50, because this is a matter of great importance to Australia. A statement on the subject was made in the House of Representatives last Wednesday, and I expected that this chamber would have before it a similar announcement to-day. As no such statement has been made, I avail myself of the forms of the Senate to discuss this matter. The Government has agreed to sell to the Government’ of New Zealand 4,500,000 bushels of wheat in each of the years 1947, 194S, 1949 and 1950” at 5s. 9d. a bushel f.o.b. bulk wheat, notwithstanding that the ruling price is approximately 14s. a bushel. That also is the price charged to one of our largest buyers, namely, the United Kingdom Government. That such an agreement has been entered into reveals an amazing lack of foresight and business acumen on the part of the responsible Minister and the Cabinet which approved the deal. There has been considerable controversy regarding the sale of wheat at 5s. 9d. a bushel, and I am astonished at the reply given by the responsible Minister to a question which I asked in this chamber in July, 1946, particularly in the light of a statement made by the New Zealand Minister for Industries and Agriculture in the Parliament of that dominion prior to my question being asked here. I do not propose to say anything about the sale of the 1946 crop at 9s. 6d. a bushel, because I understand that that was the export price, as well as the price charged to the United Kingdom Government, when the negotiations were in hand. I propose to concentrate on the agreement covering the other four years mentioned.
I understand from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) that the contract was signed only recently, when the Government knew that the price of wheat had advanced from the 1945 rate of 9s. 6d. a bushel to the present price of 14s. a bushel. It would appear that the Government, in an attempt to protect the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, has made a serious blunder, and so, before reciting the facts, I direct the following questions to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice), who represents the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Senate : - 1. Did the Vice-President of the Executive Council, when Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, commit the Government to supply wheat to New Zealand for four years at 5s. 9d. a bushel? 2. If the answer to that question is “ No why did the Government in 1947 enter into a contract to supply wheat at that price? Either the Vice-President of the Executive Council, when Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, originally made a ‘blunder and the Government thought that it was in honour bound to stand up to the agreement entered into by him, or the Government has made a perfect fool of itself in agreeing to such a sale.
In order to shield itself the Government has saddled the taxpayers of this country with a debt amounting to £1,800,000 this year, which is the difference between the amount which will be received for the wheat sold at 5s. 9d. a bushel and the price which would have been received had the sale .been made at 14s. a .bushel. Reports from Russia and other wheat-growing countries are to the effect that the crops this year have been poor, and that in consequence prices of wheat will remain high for a number of years. The matter is serious when we reflect on the heavy taxes being paid in Australia to-day. The wheatgrowers may have some measure of satisfaction in contemplating that the losses arising out of the Government’s action will be borne by the taxpayers generally, but at the same time they know that Australian primary producers will have to contribute in the form of taxes to those losses. On this occasion I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs, who is honest and usually speaks to the point, to come clean. I ask him who made the blunder. Was it the Vice-President of the Executive Council or the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture? I was astonished that the Minister for Trade and Customs could not say this afternoon when the contract with the New Zealand Government was signed.
In order to clear up the misunderstanding, and decide whether the VicePresident of the Executive Council gave wrong information to the Parliament, and misled the wheat-growers of Australia, I propose to place on record statements made on this subject in the Parliament of New Zealand. They indicate that the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture agreed to supply wheat for four years at the ridiculously low price of 5s. 9d. a bushel, and, apparently, the Government felt in honour bound to support his action. But knowing the facts, I am sure that the people of Australia would have appreciated a truthful and clear statement of the position. Mr. Sullivan came to Australia and commenced negotiations in December, 1945, -with the VicePresident of the Executive Council, who was then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. On the 19th of that month, in Sydney, he wrote to the Vice-President of the Executive Council as follows : -
Dear Mr. Scully,
Prior to my return to New Zealand I would like to place on record the understanding reached between us in connexion with New Zealand’s requirements of wheat from Australia.
You lm ire given mc the following alternative quotations, which arc subject to acceptance by the New Zealand Government within a reasonable time, and I am hopeful of letting you have our decision prior to 20th January, 1940.
The alternative offers are set out hereunder -
In reply to that letter the Vice-President of the Executive Council wrote on the 20th December as follows : -
Dear Mr. Sullivan,
I acknowledge your letter of 19th December confirming the understanding which we reached in regard to New Zealand requirements of wheat from Australia. I note that your Government will advise the Commonwealth Government of their decision in this matter before the 20th January, 1046.
With warmest personal regards and wishing you the compliments of the season.
Thus, a letter was written by Mr. Sullivan on the 19th December, 1945, setting out the difficulties, and the following day the Vice-President of the Executive Council replied drawing attention specifically to that letter. If that correspondence does not constitute a contract I do not know what does. The Minister for Trade and Customs, who represents the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in this chamber, must tell the Senate either that the Vice-President of the Executive Council blundered in this matter, or that the statement made by Mr. Sullivan in the New Zealand Parliament was not true. I suggest that the Minister has seen copies of the letters which I have read, and is in a position to tell the Senate whether the statements made in this Parliament, in which, passages from important official letters were quoted, are correct or not. In view of the facts I have pointed out, the Minister must admit that the VicePresident of the Executive Council committed the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian wheat-growers to the sale of this wheat on the terms mentioned. The only other communication mentioned by Mr. Sullivan when speaking in the New Zealand Parliament was a cablegram despatched by the New Zealand Government confirming the sale. That cablegram, which was sent on the 26th January, 1946, appears in the New Zealand Hansard. It reads -
Mr. Sullivan has informed us of the cordial and helpful discussions he had with the members of your Government and officials regarding the arrangements for the purchase of wheat In his letter to Mr. Scully dated 19th December alternative bases of purchase by the New Zealand Government were outlined and we desire to inform yon that we accept on the following basis: -
New Zealand to pay 9s. 6d. f.o.b., for the 4,!”)00.000 bushels to be taken by 30th November, 1940, and thereafter for the following four veins, a price to be negotiated which will not exceed 5s. 9d. f.o.b. It is understood that there ‘ is a definite probability of the price being lower than 5s. Od… and that endeavours will bc made to secure, if possible, the fixing of a lower price.
I do not propose to take up the time of the Senate unnecessarily by reading in full the replies given by the “VicePresident of the Executive Council and the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, as well as other Ministers, in the debate which occurred in the House of Representatives. However, I propose to deal at some length with the attitude adopted by the Australian Wheat Board in this matter. I repeat that the two letters and the cablegram which I have already mentioned confirming the sale were signed in December, 1945, and January, 1946. Mr. Sullivan made his statement in the New Zealand Parliament on the 5th July, 1946, and when the VicePresident of the Executive Council was asked a question on the matter in this Parliament on the 15th July, 1946, he replied -
The Government sold 4,500,000 bushels of wheat to New Zealand in January last at the price at which all other sales were being made at the time. This was done in consultation with the Wheat Board and with its full knowledge. The Government undertook to meet New Zealand’s representatives at a future da ti1 on the subject of future sales. This meeting has not yet taken place.
In view of the written documents which I have already quoted, that reply is misleading. If those documents are not correct it is the duty of the Government to bc frank about the matter and say so. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that the price of 9s. 6d. a bushel, the current price at that time, was fixed in consultation with the Australian Wheat Board ; but he failed to say that he refused to consult with the board with respect to the sale of wheat at 5s. 9d. a “bushel for the following four years. That price is ridiculous. He also failed to say that the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, and the manager of the board, Mr. John Thompson, had told him in the preceding year that the board would not listen to any proposal to sell wheat at a price lower than that which was being received from Great Britain. I remind honorable senators that the Australian Wheat Board exists, so we are told, in order to protect the interests of the growers. Yet, in this matter the Minister overrode both the manager and chairman of the board, whilst, according to statements made by those two gentlemen, the board as a whole was never consulted in this matter. In view of the fact that producers aTe compelled to supply their products to boards, I am certain that they and the people of Australia will have something te say about the action of an incompetent and inexperienced Minister making sale3 over the head of the Australian Wheat Board at a price which is ludicrous from a business point of view. It is interesting to read a statement by Mr. Thompson which was published in the press with relation to the debate which took place in this Parliament, when the impression was given by spokesmen of the Government that both the chairman and manager of the board had been consulted with respect to the sale of wheat at 5s. 9d. a bushel. Both those gentlemen deny that statement. Mr. Thompson is reported in the press to have said -
In respect of the debate on the New Zealand wheat deal on Friday, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) is quoted as saying, “ The Wheat Board was consulted throughout”. The board as such was not consulted at any stage, and Sir Louis Bussau (the chairman) and I only in the very early stages. When … at the meeting referred to by Mr. Scully, the New Zealand representatives asked for a price which would enable them to resell at 7s. 3d. a bushel in New Zealand, I had no hesitation in saying that there was no hope of the board listening to such a proposal when the export price to the United Kingdom was 9s. (ki. per bushel at Australian ports.
And this is characteristic of the political stunts of which some Ministers of this Government are guilty - i
The New Zealanders said that to pay more would cause trouble with their growers, who would demand the same price as the landed cost of the imported wheat.
When the negotiations were in progress, there was an election pending in New Zealand, and when these pertinent questions were being asked in the Commonwealth Parliament, there was an election pending in this country. I need not say any more than that.
– A disastrous election for the Opposition.
– Honorable senators opposite may be able to fool the people some of the time, but I doubt very much if they will he able to fool the wheat-growers and the taxpayers of this country over this deal. The letter continues -
Sir Louis Bussau pointed out that they could hardly expect Australian farmers to forgo several shillings a bushel to help the New Zealand Government to keep down the price of wheat to fellow farmers. I informed them that the board would not agree to sell for less than the price to the United Kingdom.
In spite of these views expressed by Sir Louis Bussau and Mr. Thompson, a Minister has committed this Government to the sale of wheat to New Zealand for four years at 5s. 9d. a bushel, when the export price is 14s. a bushel. This will mean that the taxpayers of this country will have to provide £1,800,000 to finance the sale of 4,500,000 bushels of wheat in the first year of the agreement alone. Should the export price remain at 14s. a bushel for the full four years, the loss to the taxpayers of Australia will be between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000, due to this sad blunder. This is deplorable, and the Ministers concerned should b’e called upon to give an explanation. If the Government has nothing to hide, why is it afraid to place before a select committee of this Parliament, or before the Parliament itself, the correspondence that passed between the Australian and New Zealand Ministers who conducted the negotiations ?
At the height of the controversy over this deal, an interesting statement was made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. According to a New Zealand press report, Mr. Sullivan produced the letter from the Vice-President of the Executive Council, of the 20th December, 1945, and gave a full account of the events leading up to it. The Prime Minister of. New Zealand said that if ho had been asked previously why Mr. Sullivan had not made an explanation, he would have advised Mr. Sullivan not to make it until the Australian federal elections were over. Apart from the political implication in this matter, I emphasize that whoever was responsible for Australia’s part in this agreement made a bad business blunder which will cost the Australian taxpayers a large sum of money. Again, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made the agreement in the knowledge of- the facts that I have stated, or whether he so far committed the Government that it was bound to honour its obligations? Alternatively, did the Government, in the year 1947, as a body of supposedly intelligent men, agree to sell Australian wheat for four years at 5s. 9d. a bushel when the export price was 14s. a bushel and likely to remain at that figure for a number of years? Again I protest most emphatically against the manner in which the negotiations were carried out, and against the extraordinarily unfavorable deal which will cost the Australian taxpayers many millions of pounds.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has passed judgment upon a transaction between the Commonwealth of Australia and the sister dominion of New Zealand providing for the sale of Australian wheat over a period of five years. The honorable senator has condemned the agreement because he considers that the price at which the wheat is to be sold is out of all proportion to its true value, and has forecast that during the entire currency of the agreement, the world parity price of wheat will remain in excess of the figure stipulated in the agreement. But surely it is most difficult indeed to prophesy what the world wheat position will be in 1950. In any case, is there not some merit in negotiating with another member of the British Commonwealth of Nations for the sale of a food commodity such as wheat at a price which must be regarded as reasonable or even good in normal circumstances?
What are the facts of this matter ? Mr. Sullivan, the New Zealand Minister for Agriculture, visited Australia in December, 1945, and asked whether wheat could be supplied to New Zealand for a period of five years at a uniform price to be agreed upon. That was not an altogether novel request because, during the war, this Government entered into a number of business transactions with the Government of New Zealand which were highly satisfactory to this country. I refer particularly to leather. Also, when we were enduring severe drought conditions, we received a substantial quantity of fodder from New Zealand at a price most satisfactory to this country. So, there has been some reciprocity in such agreements for a number of years. As I have said, Mr. Sullivan came to this country to purchase wheat on behalf of his country in December, 1945. It was generally recognized then that if an agreement over a long period were made it would have to be at a price much less than the export price then ruling, namely, 9s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b., but on the other hand, much higher than that to which, according to records, wheat could be expected to fall during the period of the agreement. Apparently the Leader of the Opposition has no objection to the agreement made in 1945 for the sale of wheat from the 1946 crop at 9s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. bulk, which, of course, was a most satisfactory figure. The Commonwealth Government decided ultimately that it could not sell wheat from the then current crop - the 1945-46 crop - for less than the ruling export price, and a contract was made, for 4,500,000 bushels to be supplied at 9s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. bulk, which is 9s. 111/2d. a bushel bagged. The contract also dealt with other items, such as the extra price for bagged wheat and shipping arrangements. When this contract was under discussion, the question of supplies for the succeeding four years arose, and it was agreed that, in due course, a further agreement would be negotiated. That was in 1945.
In discussing the price to be included in a further agreement, it was agreed that a reduction of the world parity price was possible and that, df export prices should fall in the succeeding twelve months, the price to be paid over the four years would have to be the subject of discussion. However, it was agreed that the price would be not higher than 5s. 9d. a bushel; it might be less than that figure, but certainly would not be more. No contract was made as in the case of the 1945-46 crop, the undertaking being that a contract would be negotiated later providing for a price not higher than 5s. 9d. a bushel.
When the New Zealand Minister for Finance, Mr. Nash, visited Australia in January of this year in company with the New Zealand Wheat Comptroller, a contract was then negotiated and approved. The details of that contract are as follows: -
In reviewing all the circumstances, the Government decided that, over the four seasons, it would return the prevailing prices to the growers. Thus, the Australian Wheat Board will be paid by the Commonwealth Government for each cargo shipped to New Zealand at the export price ruling at the date when arrangements are concluded by the board for the shipment of the wheat. The Commonwealth Government will be paid by the New Zealand Government at the rate of 5s. 9d. a bushel. That means, of course, that the growers will receive the world parity price and that the Commonwealth Government will make up the difference between that price and the rate of 5s. 9d. a bushel. Honorable senators will realize the difficulty of assessing at this stage whether the deal is a good one or not.
Athough it has been said that the former general manager of the Wheat Board, Mr. Thompson, had nothing to do with the negotiations, the fact is that he was associated with the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), in the early discussions. There was no essential difference between the statement which was made by Mr. Thompson and the statement which was made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council last Thursday. Mr. Thompson said that the chairman of the board, Sir Louis Bussau, and he had been consulted about the wheat deal only in its early stages. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said -
Many alternative plans were discussed, but ultimately it was decided to make an agreement to supply 4,500,000 bushels out of the 1945-40 crop at the current price, viz. 9s. Gd. a bushel f.o.b. bulk. The Australian Wheat Board was consulted throughout these discussions.
The Leader of the Opposition implied that the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board knew nothing whatever about the discussions between the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and representatives of the New Zealand Government. Actually the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board took part in the early discussions. The general manager of the board and .Sir Louis Bussau attended the conference, and visited Sydney and Canberra to confer with the former Minister and his officers on the subject. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that their ultimate decision was that they could make a contract for only one year but would be prepared to negotiate regarding the remaining four years at a later stage. Honorable senators will note that throughout those, proceedings there was a definite idea that the growers could not expect to receive a price of 9s. 6d. a bushel for the entire five-year period and that the then general manager of the Australian Wheat Board accepted the view that a lower price than that agreed upon for the 1945-46 season would prevail for the following years. Referring to his conversation in December, 1945, with a senior official of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture regarding the early negotiations with New Zealand representatives, Mr. Thompson said that that official told him that the discussions had centred on a price of 5s. 9d. a bushel but that no finality would be reached for some months. In reply to a question asked in the House of Representatives by the honora’ble member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), the Vice-President of the Executive Council said that the Government had undertaken to meet New Zealand representatives at a future date on the subject of future sales, and that the meeting would not take place for some time. I was very pleased that the Leader of the Opposition did not suggest that the negotiations were anything but fair and above board. He said that the deal was unwise and that the Government should not have been a party to such a contract because the price was too low. Again, referring to his conversation with the departmental official, Mr. Thompson said -
When T objected to the farmers paying instead of the community, he assured me that the intention was for the Government to make up the difference -to the growers, subject to any stabilization arrangement that might be entered into.
In the House of Representatives last Thursday, the Vice-President of the Executive Council quoted a. minute of the Australian Wheat Board dated the 14th August, 1946, in. which the chairman, Sir Louis Bussau, was recorded as having told the board that the Minister had said that any arrangement which might be made would not affect the board, which would receive the export parity price for the wheat. Mr. Thompson said-
A senior official of the Commerce Department and I went into a huddle and I offered to put a proposal to the board that it should supply New Zealand with wheat for five years at 7s. 3d. a bushel f.o.b. Australian ports.
Had Mr. Thompson’s proposal been agreed to by the board, 1S,000,000 bushels of wheat would have been sold in five years at a price of 7s. 3d. a bushel, giving the growers a return of £6,525,000, without provision for any compensation being paid to the growers’ organization. Under the Government’s arrangement, the wheat will realize £6,018,750, which represents £506,250 less over the period of five years. However, the growers will obtain full realizations. Mr. Thompson claims to have said that, if the board accepted his proposition, it would require a guarantee that in each succeeding year New Zealand would take as much wheat from Australia as it took in 1945-46. The Minister’s answer to that is that this is provided for in the contract. It might be asked why a senior official of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, not the chairman or general manager of the Australian Wheat Board, assisted the Minister during the negotiations. I point out that, at the stage when it was decided that the Australian WheatBoard would be safeguarded against loss, the board ceased to be interested in further price negotiations. Apparently, in Mr. Thompson’s view, 7s. 3d. a bushel was a reasonable price for a period of five ye.-u’s. His judgment is open to the same criticism as is now being levelled at the Government, namely, that it has agreed to an ‘Unreasonably low price. The important fact is that the sales were arranged on a government-to-government basis and that the officer who assisted the Minister was the appropriate authority in the circumstances by virtue of his experience and rank. It is important to remember that New Zealand helped Australia greatly during the war. I have before me a note which I made some time ago regarding supplies of hides from New Zealand to Australia. It is as follows: -
Early in November, 1941, very soon after the Curtin Government came into office, the then Minister for Supply and Shipping, Mr. Beasley, concluded a very important arrangement with the New Zealand Prime Minister. In that arrangement Now Zealand agreed to retain control over her hide supplies and to dispose of them through the New Zealand Marketing Board to Australia at the f.o.b. equivalent of standard New Zealand domestic prices.
That arrangement was honoured to the letter and operated from November, 1941, until July, 1945. In that period New Zealand made available to Australia about 330,000 ox and cow hides.
That was at a time when New Zealand could have got much higher prices for this commodity, had it been sold at the world parity price. The statement before me continues -
I am not in a position to estimate the prices that might have been obtained by New Zealand for those hides, if they had been sold in the open market and not reserved for Australia.
It is a fact, however, that hides and leather were two essential war-time commodities that have been in world short supply for years and that prices offering overseas for them, particularly in Mediterranean countries and some other countries, have been fantastically high. Consequently the sacrifice by New Zealand in the interest of the war effort and of Australia was considerable. Then I made further reference to the question of supply during the drought period.
If the Government has erred at all on the side of generosity to our sister dominion, there is this aspect to be taken into consideration: This transaction should create a favorable atmosphere for Australian wheat in the New Zealand market. It should ensure that New Zealand will at all times take our wheat, and probably, at >a price relating to the Australian home-consumption price based on production costs. As I said at the outset, although on the face of it 5s. 9d. a bushel may seem a low figure compared with 14s. a bushel, which is the world parity, there is no doubt that, with mechanized methods of production, when the world’s leading wheat-producing countries once get into their stride again, the total production, will increase rapidly. At the present time it is very difficult to estimate what the position will be in 1950.
I have an extract before me from an address by Mr. George Mclvor to the delegates of Saskatchewan Co-operative Producers Limited, delivered at Regina, in November, 1946, dealing with the international wheat outlook.
– Is he an authority?
– Yes ; in this chamber I would not quote any but the highest authority. Mr. Mclvor said -
I do not think that any of us want to see an unreasonably high level of wheat prices prevailing during the early post-war period.
We know from experience that there are repercussions from this sort of thing both upon our own agricultural economies, aud in importing countries to which we must look for continuing markets.
The sharp recovery in wheat acreages in 1040 must be noted. The large wheat acreage and production in the United States - substantially higher than pre-war levels - should be noted.
This situation, combined with price trends, contains elements of warning to all of us who are looking at the future of the wheat industry of this country.
I feel that we would be very unwise not to recognize first, the high prices of wheat now prevailing, and, secondly, the result of the stimulation to wheat acreage and production.
He concluded by mentioning the Canadian selling policy to ensure that Canada should not be overstocked with wheat, when the present sellers’ market is over. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that he had been accused of not having taken the Australian Wheat Board into his confidence and of having robbed the Australian wheat-growers of a ‘huge sum of money in a deal that might have been concluded at some future date. He drew attention to the following extract from the minutes of the meeting of the Australian Wheat Board held on- the 14th August, 194’6:-
The chairman duly communicated with the Minister and reported as follows on the conversation - “Discussions have taken place between the Government and New Zealand authorities regarding future supplies, but no agreement has yet been made. Any arrangement that may be made between the two governments will not affect the board, which will get its export parity for wheat, i.e., the price at which the wheat is selling to other destinations at the time of New Zealand shipments.
New Zealand is wanting a contract, but that would be purely a matter between Government and Government, and the board will not be involved in any way in arrangements made “.
That, of course, has been made clear by the Leader of the Opposition and myself. Although members of the Australian Wheat Board were associated with the early negotiations, it must be admitted that it had no direct influence in respect of the agreement eventually reached. I understand that that agreement was finalized only a short while ago, but the negotiations proceeded for a long period.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke only regarding the debit side of this transaction, but in dealing with a sister dominion, and taking a long-range view of the future of the wheat and other industries, the Government’s action in agreeing to a price which it considered reasonable, but which the Opposition has criticized as unreasonable, it should be realized that this transaction must stabilize the market for our wheat until 1950. That is important, because it may represent the beginning of a system of reciprocity which will eventually result in substantial benefits to this country. Although the Government has been attacked in the House of Representatives over this transaction, I do not believe that the criticism offered in this chamber is actuated solely by political motives. For some years the wheat problem has been the subject of a great deal of political controversy. That fact is admitted, but nevertheless the Government believes that eventually this deal will prove to be a reasonable business transaction. Ministers contend that there is no justification at all for the accusation by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government made a serious blunder, and that it had no conception of sound business dealing in its handling of this matter. The Leader of the Opposition will probably not be a member of the Senate in 1950, but I am convinced that in 1950 he would not condemn this transaction as he has done this afternoon.
– I have listened with interest to the statement made by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) in an attempt to refute the arguments put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay), but I have no hesitation in saying that this is the biggest business bungle that has ever ta.ken place in this country. It stands on its own. The deal has been carried out by inexperienced men, and that is the most unfortunate feature of it. They set themselves up to be prophets as to the weather, future wheat seasons, and what the price of wheat will be. I say that that is too ridiculous for words. When they started to negotiate for this sale to New Zealand, wheat was 9s. 6d. a bushel, and they said, “ Wheat is going to fall, fall and fall “. But what has happened? The price of wheat has risen from 9s. 6d. to 14s. 6d. a bushel !
– The poor people of Great Britain have had to pay for it.
– That is the position to-day. Had this Government been alert, it would have closed with Great Britain, as Canada did, in the sale which it made to Great Britain at 9s. a bushel for four years. Compare that with the price under the New Zealand agreement at 5s. 9d. a bushel ! The price of 5s. 9d. a bushel is a maximum, but it may fall below that figure. Why the Government entered into an agreement for that period is beyond my comprehension. It has fallen in the fat, whilst the New Zealand Government has made, a good deal. That Government is guaranteeing its own farmers 7s. 3d. or 7s. 6d. a bushel for their wheat.
– It is guaranteeing them what it will cost to purchase Australian wheat.
– The unfortunate part of this transaction is that the men who represent the wheat-growers and have control of their wheat - I refer to the Australian Wheat Board - were ignored in the matter. It is true that they were consulted about the sale of wheat at 9s. 6d. a bushel, but when it was a matter of selling wheat at a much lower price the Australian Wheat Board was not consulted. Sir Louis Bussau said before the recent elections that he knew nothing about a sale of wheat to New Zealand. All he knew was that some wheat had been sold at 9s. 6d. a bushel. Now Mr. John Thompson says the same thing. The Australian Wheat Board should have been consulted. Why all this secrecy? Should not the representatives of the wheat-growers have had some say in the price at which their wheat was to be sold? If this sort of thing is to happen in the future with Australian primary products, many of which are being sold by governments, God help this country. We need to have in charge of these sales mon who have the confidence of the primary producers. ‘ Prior to this sale, the Government did have some support from wheat-growers for its wheat stabilization scheme, but it has no such support now.
– What have the wheatgrowers lost?
– No one knows exactly, but the present price of wheat is 14s. 6d. a bushel. The guaranteed price is not so high as that. When the Government realized that this transaction was being severely criticized throughout the country it agreed to make up to the wheat-growers the difference between 5s. 9d. and the guaranteed price. That was an afterthought. The position now is that the losses will be borne by the general taxpayers, but it must be remembered that wheat-growers are taxpayers and, as such, will have to hear their share of the losses. It is a most disgraceful transaction and those responsible for it should not again be permitted to jeopardize the interests of the wheatgrowers. There was great secrecy over the transaction until the last moment. The Minister for Trade and Customs has said that the negotiations commenced in 1945, but were completed only recently. I should like to know how much wheat was delivered during that period. If delivery is not an acceptance of a contract I. do not know what is. The Minister referred to hides and skins from New
Zealand. What happened to them? They were made into boots and shoes and returned to New Zealand.
– Only some of the hides and skins were returned in the form of boots and shoes.
– All New Zealand’s requirements of boots and shoes were returned. Why should Australia subsidize such a rich country as New Zealand to the amount of £1,S00,000 a year? The Australian taxpayers should rise up .in protest. Already the wheat-growers are up in arms about this transaction. The Government boasts that it pays subsidies amounting to £14,000,000 a year to primary producers. That may be so, but, at the same time, the primary producers are being robbed of £30,000,000.
– They were never better off.
– Who are more entitled to be better off than the wheatgrowers? They have had twelve years of great hardship.
– The governments which the honorable senator supported during that period did not subsidize the wheat-growers.
– Now, when there is a good .harvest and the wheat-grower has a chance to pay something off his mortgage, the Government steps in and says “No”. The whole of the wheat available for home consumption is sold at 5s. 2d. a bushel, notwithstanding that the export price is 14s. 6d. a bushel. We are not objecting to that. The whole of the wheat used to feed stock and poultry is sold at 5s. 2d. a bushel. Many pigraisers who did not buy one bag of wheat before the present arrangement came into operation are buying hundreds of bags of wheat to-day at that price. They are getting high prices for their pigs. The same story can be told in respect of tallow. The price of tallow in Great Britain is £127 a ton, yet the Australian producer gets only £27 a ton for his tallow. The difference between the appraised prices of hides and skins in Australia and the overseas prices represents a loss of £3,000,000 to Australian primary producers. The consumers of this country are being subsidized by the primary producers. A similar story could be told concerning wool. The graziers have been robbed of £8,000,000 in respect of skin wool. As I have said, the primary producers have been robbed of £30,000,000; yet the Government boasts of the subsidies that it pays to them. The whole position is ridiculous. This transaction will go down in history as the biggest blunder ever made by an Australian government. I hope that in future the representatives of the primary producers on the various boards which handle their produce will have some say in the disposal of such produce. I endorse everything that the Leader of the Opposition has said to-day, and I agree with him that the wheat-growers of Australia are disgusted with this transaction, which the Government claims was made in their interests.
.- We appear to be getting away from the subject-matter before the Chair, which is wheat. Ministers have declared time and time again that no contract was made with the Government of New Zealand until recently, but when driven into a corner, they admit that an agreement was entered into. In ordinary business ethics there is Jio difference between a contract and an agreement. Surely an agreement honorably entered into between two governments is as binding as a contract? For about eighteen months the Government has been fobbing off the Opposition when asked questions on this subject. Its attempts at deceit are not worthy of a government. The net result of this transaction seems to be that Australia is making a free gift of about £7,000,000 to the people of New Zealand ; it is at least £5,000,000.
– Should the price of wheat fall, Australia may make a profit out of the transaction.
– The argument of the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) is based on pessimism. He, like his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice), paints a gloomy picture of low prices for wheat in three or four years’ time. That is not likely, seeing that the world is hungry.
– Who will buy wheat at 14s. a bushel?
– For some unknown reason, the Government decided to make a free gift to New Zealand, a wealthy country whose soil is most fertile, so it said, “Australia will present you with a free gift of £7,000,000”. There might have been some justification for a free gift to Great Britain, where people are starving, but the Government has not done so.
– How does the honorable senator know that a free gift has not been made to Great Britain?
– We have not heard anything about it. In any event the gift should have been made two years ago when the need was even greater than it is to-day. When this gift was decided on, the Government intended that it should be made at the expense of Australian wheat-growers.
– Be fair.
– Now, when driven into a corner, the Government says that the wheat-growers will be recompensed. The taxpayers of Australia will foot the bill for this gift of £7,000,000 to New Zealand; it will come out of everybody’s pocket. The Government seems to be pessimistic about the price of wheat, but optimistic about the wealth of Australia and what we shall be able to do. The Minister’s defence of the Government’s action is ludicrous. He described this as the first step in stabilizing the market for wheat between Australia and’ New Zealand - stabilizing the market at half the price which should be returned to the wheat-grower! Does the Minister mean that the Government is going to stabilize the market for New Zealand at the expense of the wheat-growers and taxpayers of Australia? Does stabilization mean selling one’s goods at half the price they are worth ?
I shall not deal in detail with every phase of this transaction. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) has given a fairly full account of the sequence of events. It is clear that the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) was so ashamed of the transaction from a business point of view that he was absolutely determined to hide it completely from the farmers and people of Australia. It seems that right from “ the jump “ the Minister knew that he was making a mistake. He knew that he was making a straight-out gift by selling wheat at half its value at the expense of the wheat-growers. He also knew that had the facts been disclosed to the growers before the last general elections they would have been up in arms. He was determined to hide the transaction completely at least until the elections were over, and then for as long as he possibly could. Now, when the Government is driven right into a corner, it is at its wit’s end to find a way out of its blunder ; and its spokesmen have the infernal impudence to talk about the transaction as a good business deal, because the price of wheat will drop by 4s. .a bushel, or more, before the period of four years has expired. That sort of transaction does not appeal to me. It is clear that the Minister and the Government have been altogether lacking in candour in this matter.
– Is that why the Minister came unstuck?
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council is no longer Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, but why I do not know. His successor now has the awkward task of trying to hide his mistakes and justify this transaction under which a gift was made ou behalf of the people of Australia to New Zealand, a rich country, of approximately £7,000,000, whilst the Government had not said one word about making a gift to the Mother Country, a poorer country, to which we owe so much and to which we might have given food, or money. Details of the transaction are now disclosed, and from the documents tabled we are able to judge it on its merits. All that the Minister can say is that by 1950 it may turn out to be a good bargain because the Government believes that by then the bottom will have dropped right out of the wheat market. Senator Gibson said that this transaction was made by a Minister with no business experience. But no businessman, however limited his experience, would have made a deal of this kind. Obviously, this gift was made to New Zealand because the Government wanted to make itself a good fellow with another government of the same political colour. First, the Government was prepared to make the gift at the expense of the wheat-growers; but when it found it could not do that, because the growers were bowling it out in various attacks upon it, the Government decided that it would “ put it over “ the taxpayers of Australia. As the taxpayers have given the Government a mandate to “ put it over “ them, the Government is taking full advantage of that mandate. But it is a new departure in parliamentary procedure when matters of such great importance as this transaction, which affects the whole economic life of Australia, should be carefully hidden from the ordinary citizen. Only as the result of extreme pressure has the Government at last come out and declared, “ There was no contract; there was an agreement! “
– I have listened with interest to the sequence of events leading up to this transaction as clearly narrated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Mcleay), and also to the reply made by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice)’ in defence of the Government. A definite principle is involved in this transaction, namely, that we must ensure that the producers shall have the responsibility of marketing their produce because they are best equipped for that responsibility. During the war we accepted a great deal of government interference in business. To a large degree such interference was unavoidable. We had to send our supplies, particularly foodstuffs, to countries most in need of them and we had to direct our efforts to the production of goods and materials for war purposes. In such circumstances the Government naturally assumed the duty of disposing of all of our production. But, now that hostilities have ceased for over eighteen months, it becomes necessary to revert to a system under which the producers who are thoroughly conversant with the marketing of products shall be entrusted with that task. In the past when appointments to various commodity boards were due to be made, the Australian Country party invariably advocated the principle of grower control of marketing boards. For many years the Australian Country party has advocated orderly marketing.
The difference between our policy and that of the Government in this respect is that whilst we insist upon growercontrol of commodity boards, the Government invariably has placed such boards under ministerial control. In this transaction we see what the Government’s’ policy has let us in for. Evidently, the members of the Australian Wheat Board, with the exception of the chairman and the manager, were not consulted about this transaction. Had a majority of the members of the board been representatives of the growers, no transaction of this kind would have been made. They would never have agreed to sell 4,500,000 bushels of wheat annually for four years at 5s. 9d. a bushel to New Zealand. The Opposition, with every justification, has asked that all of the documents relating to the transaction be laid on the table in order to give honorable senators an opportunity to examine the transaction thoroughly. The Government has refused to do that.
The Opposition has also asked htat a select committee be appointed to investigate every phase of the transaction. If the Government has nothing to fear from such an investigation why does it refuse to appoint a committee of inquiry? The agreement provides for the sale of Australian wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 9d. a bushel for the four years following 1946. That figure is considerably less than that at which Canada has agreed to sell wheat to the United Kingdom. The Minister who was responsible for negotiating the agreement between Australia and New Zealand on behalf of the Commonwealth had the agreement between Canada and the United Kingdom before him, because it was made at an early date. Why was that agreement not taken as a guide? It involves the sister dominion of Canada and the United Kingdom, and I am sure that no one will argue that Canada wished to extract the last possible penny from the Old Country. Why did the Government agree to sell Australian wheat to New Zealand at a much lower figure than that provided for in the agreement between Canada and the United Kingdom, namely 9s. a bushel? We have agreed to sell wheat to New Zealand for four years at a maximum of 5s. 9d. a bushel, but our loss may not end there. I have before me the text of a cable sent by the New Zealand Government to the Commonwealth Government on the 26th January, 1946. It states -
Mr. Sullivan has informed us of the cordial and helpful discussions he had with the members of your Government and officials regarding the arrangements for the purchase of wheat. In his letter to Mr. Scully dated 19th December alternative bases of purchase by the New Zealand Government were outlined, and we desire to inform you that we accept ou the following basis: - New Zealand to pay 9s. Gd. f.o.b. for the 4,500,090 bushels to be taken by 30th November, 194C, and thereafter for the following four years, a price to be negotiated which will not exceed 5s. 9d. f.o.b. It is understood that there is a definite probability of the price being lower than 5s. 9d. and that endeavours will be made to secure, if possible, the fixing of a lower price.
We wish to thank you for your co-operation and help and for the cordial and kindly way in which you received Mr. Sullivan and the officials who accompanied him.
So there is definite provision in the agreement for a possible reduction of even the price of 5s. 9d. a bushel. The Minister for Trade and Customs said that the price would not be lower than 5s. 9d. a bushel. That statement is in direct conflict with the wording of the cable that I have read. Other discrepancies are noticeable between statements made by Mr. Sullivan and by the former Commonwealth Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the Vice President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), and I think it is essential that a committee should be set up to inquire into this matter. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs now whether the agreement provides for a possible reduction of the sale price of 5s. 9d. a bushel.
– The agreement provides that the price will not be lower than 5s. 9d. a bushel.
– Then there are two conflicting statements - one in the cable from the New Zealand Government and the other by our own Minister for Trade and Customs. It is useless to endeavour to cloud the issue. The taxpayers of this country are being asked to subsidize the standard of living of the New Zealand people by £1,800,000 a year for four years, should the present export price of wheat prevail, but should this price increase the loss to the Australian taxpayers will be even greater. The Government cannot forecast accurately what the ultimate burden of the agreement will be. We have no assurance that the price of wheat will fall. The Government has given New Zealand a blank cheque signed by the people of this country.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I have listened with considerable interest to the debate that has taken place in the Senate this afternoon. I also had the privilege of hearing the broadcast of similar proceedings in the House of Representatives. If ever there was a storm in a tea cup it is occurring now in connexion with this agreement. In the House of Representatives the Opposition endeavoured first to make political capital by suggesting that the Commonwealth Government had inflicted severe hardship upon the wheat-growers of this country. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) declaimed with great gusto that the Government was selling the property of the Australian wheat-growers, and that the wheat-growers would lose over the transaction. Of course, as the debate proceeded, it became obvious that the wheatgrowers would not lose anything because they would be paid the export price for their wheat, and realizing that they were on the wrong track, the Opposition changed its attack by alleging that the taxpayers of this country were being robbed. Any one who has been in public life for long knows that frequently requests are made to governments for assistance of various kinds, and that governments disburse the taxpayers’ money on various projects. For instance from time to time this chamber has agreed to the payment of vast sums of money to assist primary producers. In the last few years, many millions of pounds have been expended in this way.
– At the expense of the taxpayers.
– Yes. Senator Leckie said that if the stabilization of prices meant selling goods at much less than their real value, he would not bo a party to it; but what has been the practice in this connexion? Last year, this Parliament voted £22,000,000 for the payment of subsidies to primary producers. Where did that money come from ? It came, of course, from the tax payers, and it was paid to primary producers to stabilize the prices of their products. Since the war, this Government has expended approximately £50,000,000 in subsidizing primary industries. So, the fact that the Government has decided to sell a certain quantity of wheat to New Zealand at a price less than that ruling in the world to-day does not involve any new principle. I point out too, that nobody can say whether world parity will be more or less than 5s. 9d. a bushel two or three years hence. Estimates of likely prices are just so much conjecture on the part of those who have attacked the Government over this agreement. As one speaker has already pointed out, the mechanization of the wheat industry, and the great efforts that are being made by wheat producing nations to improve upon peak pre-war production may result in a substantial fall in the price of wheat in the very near future. This agreement is for four years - up to 1950 - and I venture to say that no honorable senator can possibly estimate accurately what the price of wheat will be then. Therefore, all this disturbance is purely and simply an endeavour on the part of the Opposition to gain some political kudos and to embarrass the Government. Honorable senators opposite have no real regard for the wheat growers or for the taxpayers of this country.
Is the sister dominion of New Zealand not worthy of special consideration ? As the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) pointed out this afternoon, when Australia was in urgent need of leather goods during the war, had it not been for the action of the New Zealand Government in supplying leather to this country at a price lower than that prevailing on the world markets, possibly some Australian citizens would have had to go barefooted, or Australia’s production of essential war equipment would have been curtailed. Should we not reciprocate in some manner in order to show our gratitude for what was done on that occasion ? Did the taxpayers of New Zealand rise in their wrath and denounce the New Zealand Government for coming to the assistance of Australia during the war? I have not read of it, and honor able senators opposite have made no reference to it. The Opposition claims that the Government is subsidizing the standard of living in New Zealand. Let us consider what it has done, in fact. New Zealand is potentially a good customer for Australian wheat.
– So is Great Britain.
– Great Britain can obtain all the Australian wheat it wants as far as we on this side of the Senate are concerned. Australia is to export to New Zealand a total of between 3,500,000 bushels and 4,500,000 bushels of wheat annually. Does that mean all of our annual exportable surplus? Certainly not! In a good season, that quantity would represent only a small portion of what Australia could export. Consider the implications of this deal. What will happen in years to come if there is a world-wide glut of wheat and Australia has difficulty in disposing of its crop? Australia will have established goodwill in the sister dominion, where the people will have learned to appreciate Australian wheat. If this sum of £1,000,000 or so that honorable senators opposite have spoken about is to be the price that Australia must pay for the establishment of a market close to its own shores, it is a very cheap price. New Zealand will in future provide a good market for Australian wheat at world prices. New Zealand is not a great wheat-growing country, and the Commonwealth Government is to be commended for endeavouring to obtain that market for Australian wheat.
Honorable senators opposite are always urging the Government to do. this, that, or the other thing, but when the Government does something that will benefit the nation in the long run, they make excuses to criticize it. The arrangements for the sale of Australian wheat to New Zealand commenced in 1945. What were the Australian wheat-growers doing at that time? They were clamouring for the stabilization of the wheat industry and the establishment of a guaranteed price for wheat. They were doing this because they knew that the world’s wheat markets were unstable. They could not forecast what prices they would be able to obtain in the future. The negotiations were continued, and now the Government has kept its word and concluded an agreement in the terms which it promised to the New Zealand Government. Honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in the House of Representatives would have the Government repudiate the agreement simply because circumstances have caused the price of wheat to rise higher than was expected. What kind of a reputation would the Australian Government have amongst other nations if it repudiated the agreement and showed that it could not be relied upon to keep its word? The reputation of the Australian people in other countries is worth a great deal. The arrangement with the New Zealand Government may cost the Australian taxpayers a little money now, but it will cause their reputation abroad to remain high in future trade discussions.
When we analyse this debate, we find that honorable senators opposite have offered only carping criticism in the hope of securing a little political kudos. Some time ago, they raised an outcry that the primary producers were the victims of mismanagement by the Government, but they had only uncovered a “ mare’s nest ‘’, and the only way in which they could hide their discomfiture was to divertattention by screaming loudly that the taxpayers were being involved in some way. Now they are clamouring for a royal commission and the tabling of all documents relating to the agreement with New Zealand in the hope that, in the process, they may create confusion in the public mind and cause some of the people to believe that the Government has done something wrong. However, I believe that the people will appreciate what the Government has done. The agreement was made in the best interests of Australia. It will help our sister dominion of New Zealand. It has fixed a fair price for wheat, considering the fact that we do not know what the future holds for the wheat industry. The Government has nothing of which to be ashamed. It will stand higher than ever in the estimation of other governments which wish to trade with Australia, because they will realize that the Commonwealth Government, having given its word, can be relied upon to carry out a bargain even though conditions may change so as to make that bargain unfavorable to Australia. Therefore, I hope that the motion before the Senate will be defeated, a fate which it richly deserves.
– m reply - I must reply to the extraordinary statement by Senator Sheehan that this affair is only “ a storm in a tea-cup “. The honorable gentleman said that the Government had been compelled to sign the contract with the New Zealand Government in order to honour an agreement, although responsible Ministers, both in this House and in the House of Representatives, have denied that there ever was such an agreement. Those ministerial statements form the basis for one of the charges that we have made against the Government in connexion with its transaction with the New Zealand Government. I should like Senator Sheehan to go to the wheat-growing districts of Victoria and publicly repeat the statement that he made this afternoon that the arrangement with the New Zealand Government was necessary in order to help New Zealand. I deprecate the honorable senator’s reference to the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) in the House of Representatives. That honorable gentleman has always fought for the welfare of primary producers. He drew attention in the House of Representatives to the fact that the Australian Wheat Board had been compelled, by direction of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), who was formerly Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, to sell wheat for the manufacture of dog biscuits at a price below the export parity price. I was very disappointed that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice) did not reply to the specific questions that I put to him in a fair and friendly manner. No other Minister had the courage to rise and defend this murky transaction concluded by the Government. Even the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley), who is the Leader of the Government in the Senate, remained silent. Finally, a union agitator was brought on by the Government at the eleventh hour, and he made one of the most extraordinary speeches that could have been made on a matter of great importance. Is it an insignificant matter to arrange for the sale of 18,000,000 bushels of wheat in such a way that the blundering of the Vice-President of the Executive Council and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) condoned by the Government, will cost the Australian taxpayers a total of £1,800,000 in 1947, and perhaps £7,000,000 altogether over the period during which the contract will be effective? Is that a matter that the Opposition should treat lightly? Does the Government expect the people of Australia just to sit back and “ take it “ ? Honorable senators opposite talked a lot of nonsense about subsidies to keep down prices. That had nothing to do with the subject under discussion. Those references were intended merely to distract attention from the real point at issue.
This deal between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New Zealand was made in December, 1945. It was confirmed in 1946 by a cablegram from the New Zealand Government. Prior to the elections, in spite of questions asked by members of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, the Government did everything possible to mislead the Parliament and the wheat-growers of Australia on this subject. The Vice-President of the Executive Council said that the Australian Wheat Board had been consulted “ throughout the discussions “. The chairman of the board, Sir Louis Bussau, and the general manager of the board, Mr. John Thompson, said that they discussed the subject of supplying wheat to New Zealand in 1946, but that they would not consider selling it to that dominion at less than the export parity price, or the price charged to Great Britain for Australian wheat. Because of this, a contract was made for the sale of wheat from the 1945-46 crop to New Zealand at the export parity price. The Minister for Trade and Customs said this afternoon that, in the negotiations for the sale of wheat to New Zealand for five years at the ridiculous price of 5s. 9d. a bushel, some bureaucrat - a fellow from the Department of Commerce and Agriculture - and the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, decided to take the risk because, in their opinion, the experienced men on the Australian Wheat Board were bad judges of the situation. According to them, the opinions of Mr. Thompson, who has been associated with the wheat industry throughout his life, and other representatives of the wheat-growers on the board, were not worth considering in such a matter.
The Minister for Trade and Customs admitted that openly this afternoon. He stands condemned in the eyes of the taxpayers. Government supporters also used the ludicrous argument that wheat-growers will not suffer as a result of the agreement because the taxpayers will have to find the money necessary to raise the return to the growers from 5s. 9d. a bushel to the world parity price. I have never heard anything so silly. One would think that primary producers were not taxpayers. When we consider the rates of tax that the farmers must pay, we realize that they will have to contribute very substantially to the cost of this blunder committed by the Government. It was ridiculous of Senator Sheehan to treat the matter lightly and try to draw a red herring across the trail. I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, did enter into a contract with New Zealand. He refused to answer. I also asked whether the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture entered into such a contract. But I had to wait until Senator Sheehan rose to learn, on his admission, that the Vice-President of the Executive Council had committed the Commonwealth Government to an agreement. He and some bureaucrat from the Department of Commerce and Agriculture had overridden the Australian Wheat Board. Therefore, when Mr. Wash came to Australia at a much later stage, the Government had no alternative hut to honour the contract and charge the taxpayers of Australia with the cost of it. Prior to the last general elections; representatives of the Australian Wheat Board in South Australia and elswhere were definite in their statements that no contract had been made for the sale of Australian wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 9d. a bushel. Statements have now been made that the former Minister for Commerce and Agri culture and the New Zealand Minister, when they discussed this transaction, were anxious that the agreed price should not be too high in view of the elections pending in New Zealand and in Australia. Responsible Ministers have refused to answer the charges I have made. The taxpayers have been committed to bearing the cost of this serious Government blunder. In view of the fact that members of this Parliament have been misled on this important subject, the Government should either table the correspondence associated with the transaction or refer the matter to a select committee. I greatly regret the silence of Ministers on this subject. It is not a petty matter. It involves an important principle, and, as Senator Gibson has said, the wheatgrowers can have no faith in any wheat stabilization scheme when such deals are made by the Government. What is the value of all the talk by Ministers about placing in the hands of primary producers the power to dispose of their own products, if political considerations are allowed to predominate when the first critical issue arises? In this deal, the Government paid no regard to the views of the members of the Wheat Board, who were vitally interested in the transaction and whosejudgment was more reliable than that of a departmental official. The Government has committed probably the most serious blunder that it has made in dealing with primary products.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What was the strength of the (a) temporary and ( b ) permanent officers of the Commonwealth Public Service at the outbreak of war and at the latest available date?
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer : -
Officers and Salaries
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Civil Aviationhas supplied the following answers : -
On the 19th February, 1947, I advised the honorable senator by correspondence in terms as follow : -
With reference to your question in the Senate on the6th December last regarding the Australian National Airlines Commission, the following particulars are now furnished for your information: -
Executive and administrative officers, 63; flying crew officers, 131.
The names and salaries of the commission’s thirteen principal executive and administrative officers employed as at the 10th February, 1947, are -
The remaining 50 executives and administrative officers in receipt of salaries of £600 per annum or more comprise branch managers, traffic superintendents, accountants and other senior officers employed in the various departments of the commission’s head office and branch organization throughout the Commonwealth. Their salaries fall within the following salary groups: - £600-£700 per annum, 36 officers; £700-£800 per annum, 12; £800-£850 per annum, 2. The 131 members of the commission’s flying crew staff in receipt of salaries in excess of £600 per annum comprise - First officers (67), £630-£730; senior first officers (15), £750-£800; captains (33), £850-£l,000; senior captains (16), £1,100-£1,250.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Mc-Kenna) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act to permit the staffs of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission, other than those permanently holding statutory offices, being brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act. At present, the staffs concerned are not subject to the act, but are engaged for such periods, and are subject to such conditions, as are prescribed. Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should be brought under the Public Service Act have been made to the Government by Public Service organizations whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected. The committee which, at the request of the Government, investigated departments last year, also recommended, in a majority report, that the staffs of Commonwealth activities generally should be brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act.
As a principle, the Government considers that, as far as possible, all Commonwealth activities should be brought directly under the Commonwealth Public Service Act, thus ensuring a uniform system for staffing, and for determining matters relating to salary fixation and the general conditions of employment of all Commonwealth employees by a centralized body which has had extensive experience in personnel administration. It will be generally agreed that, unless there are special reasons for a contrary course, no Commonwealth activity should stand alone, and, in effect, be excluded from the oversight and review of its organization, methods, &c, on lines which Parliament has laid down in section 17 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, just as none with financial responsibility is free from checks imposed by the Audit Act.
The bill now submitted for the consideration of honorable senators provides the machinery for transfer of the staffs concerned to the control of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. Any information desired in regard to the separate clauses can be given at the committee stage. At this juncture, it will suffice for me to say that the existing rights and privileges of the staffs will be retained, and that in respect of the staffing of the commissions the existing legislative provision regarding preference to exservicemen is not being altered. I commend the measure to the favorable consideration of honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator McLeay) adjourned.
Order of the day No. 1 - Foreign. Affairs, Ministerial Statement - Resumption of debate - read and discharged.
Motion (by Senator Ashley) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
.- I have here an article manufactured in Victoria and sold extensively throughout Australia. It is branded “ G.U.D.” and Ls guaranteed as a miracle mender which will repair china, glass, earthenware, wood, metal, leather, bakelite, celluloid, paper, felt, cloth, &c. Some little time ago there was a scarcity of cement for mending purposes; working men could not get cement to mend their shoes. The manufacturers of this article seized on the opportunity, and are offering to the public something which is absolutely worthless. It will not do one of the things which it is claimed to do. When the matter was reported to me I bought a tube of the so-called cement and tried it. It is not an exaggeration to say that it will not stick two fingers together. If a joiner or other tradesman wants to test u preparation of this kind he doe3 so by trying it on his fingers. If it sticks his fingers together the preparation is regarded as satisfactory, but this article will not even do that. It is time that the Government took steps to safeguard the people from being exploited in this way.
Question resolved in the .affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1940-
No. 39 - Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 40 - Amalgamated Engineering Union; and others.
No. 41 - Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 42 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No. 43 - Commonwealth Temporary Clerks’ Associaton; and Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia.
No. 44 - Professional Officers’ Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 45 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No. 40 - Hospital Employees’ Federation of Australasia.
No. 47 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’ Union.
No. 48 - Hospital Employees’ Federation of Australasia.
No. 49 - Amalgamated Engineering Union.
No. 50 - Non-Official Postmasters’ Association of Australia.
No. 51 - Commoonwealth Foremen’s Association.
Nos. 52 and 53 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No. 54 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers’ Union and Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No.55 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia.
No. 56 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia. 1947-
No. 1 - Commonwealth Telephone Officers’ Association.
No. 2 - Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 3 - Repatriation Medical Officers’ Association.
No. 4 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 5 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia; and others
No. 6 - Australian Journalists’ Association.
No. 7 - Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia and others.
No. 8- Hotel, Club, Restaurant, Caterers, Tea Rooms and Boarding House Employees’ Union of New South Wales.
Nos. 9 and 10 - Australian Journalists’ Association.
Australian Broadcasting Act - Fourteenth Annual Report and Balance-sheet of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, for year 1945-46.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 182.
Banking Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, Nos. 189, 190, 191.
Canned Fruits Export Charges Act- Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 10.
Census and Statistics Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 3.
Commonwealth Bank Act -
Appointment - A. C. McPherson. Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 188.
Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act - Rules of Court - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 168.
Commonwealth Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation- A. R. Anderson, T. J. Broughton, J. M. Chapman, D. B. Fraser,B. Hann, J.H. Harper, D. Ross, R. O. Walton.
Commerce and Agriculture - C. R. Buttsworth, C. F. Dwyer, D. O. Ford, W. G. T. Laffan, H. C. Perrott, O. F. A. Williams.
External Affairs - H. T. Sullivan.
Interior- S. C. B. Gascoigne, E. W. O.
Perry, D. W. N. Stibbs.
Labour and National Service - F. H.
Lindsey, A. W. Russell, O. P. Wickham.
Parliamentary Library- M. E. Harry, T. Maclean,J. B.O’Hara, R. J. Wallace.
Post-war Reconstruction - K. A. L. Best,
Supply and Shipping- W. B. Dallwitz, T. D. Dimmick, C. L. Knight, W. C. Smith, 6. A. Thomas, J. G. Tomlinson, D. W. Wansey, H. T. Watts.
Treasury - R. G. Davey, R. J. Randall,
Works and Housing - J. M. Cameron, W. G.R. Gilfillan, V. G. Holden, G. M. Kerr, R. A. T. Ledger, H. T. Loxton, L. G. Redmond, I. S.
Richards, E. F. Rowntree.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, Nos. 1, 2, 13 (Parliamentary Officers).
Twenty-second Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by the Public Service Board, dated 31st December,
Customs Act -
Customs Proclamation - No. 668.
Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1946, Nos. 169, 178, 179. 1947, No. 11.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act -
National Security (Capital Issues) Regulations - Order - Capital issues (Declaration and exemption).
National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (123).
National Security (Prices) RegulationsOrders Nos. 2827-2868.
National Security (Shipping Coordination) Regulations - Orders - 1947, Nos. 2-5.
Control of new commercial motor vehicles.
Control of new motor cars.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. (i.
Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 195.
Land Tax Assessment Act - Regulations -
Statutory Rules 1947, No. 4.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Commonwealth purposes - Brymaroo,
Commonwealth office accommodation pur poses - Melbourne, Victoria.
Customs purposes -
Clare, South Australia.
Yeuda, New South Wales.
Defence purposes -
Adelaide, South Australia.
Bulimba Point, Queensland.
Guildford (Redcliffe), Western Australia.
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Postal purposes -
Albany, Western Australia.
Guildford, Western Australia.
Mortdale, New South Wales.
North. Beach, Western Australia.
Scone, New South Wales.
Telephonic purposes - Wanneroo, Western Australia.
National Security Act -
National Security (Apple and Fear- Acquisition ) . Regulations - Order - Apple and pear acquisition 1946-47.
National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations -
Order - Exemption.
Order by Industrial Commission of New South Wales - Salary of Town Clerk of City of Greater Newcastle.
National Security (Field Peas Acquisition) Regulations - Order - Field peas (Tasmania) acquisition - Revocation.
National Security (General) Regulations - Orders -
Brush ware (Consolidating) - Revocation.
Control of automotive spare parts (No. 2) - Revocation.
Control of rubber (No. 8) - Revocation.
National Security (Industrial Property) Regulations - Inventions and designs (88).
National Security (Prices) Regulations - Orders- Nos. 2791-2826.
National Security (Rationing) Regulations - Orders - Nos. 135-139.
National Security (Shipping Coordination) Regulations- Orders - 1946, Nos. 51-63,
National Security (Supplementary) Regulations - Order - Deferment of banking business.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, Nos. 132 (Substitute copy), 170, 171, 172, 174, 175, 176, 184, 185, 186, 192, 193, 194, 196, 197, 198.
Nationality Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 9.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 6.
Norfolk Island Act- Ordinances - 1946 -
No. 1.- Crown Lands:
No. 2. - Liquor Prohibition.
Overseas Telecommunications Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 173.
Papua-New Guinea Provisional Administration Act - Ordinances- 1946-
No. 9 - Native Labour Contracts of Service Validation.
No. 10- Supply (No. 1) 1946-1947.
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1946, No. 131 (Substitute copy).
Re-establishment and Employment Act -
Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1946- Nos. 177, 180. 1947- No. 12.
Science and Industry Endowment Act - Report by the Auditor-General on the accounts of the Science and Industry Endowment Fund for year 1945-46.
Science and Industry Research Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 8.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Regulations - 1947 - No. 1 (Education Ordinance ) .
War Service Homes Act -
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No.. 7. Report of War Service Homes Commission for year 1945-46, together with statements and balance-sheet.
Senate adjourned at 5.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 5 March 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1947/19470305_senate_18_190/>.