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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Minister for Commerce) . - I am rather surprised, first at the action of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) in objecting to this procedure, and secondly, at the reasons he has given, because no honorable member in this Parliament can fail to be aware of the need for the early passing of this legislation. A bill is to be brought down in conformity with a promise made to the Premiers of the various States that, as soon as possible after they had passed legislation dealing with the establishment of a homeconsumption price for wheat, the Commonwealth Parliament would immediately proceed to pass its complementary legislation. The position is, as I have already informed honorable members, that four States had already passed their legislation when the conference of Premiers was held some ten days ago. The Premier of Tasmania wired the Government that a bill would be passed by the Tasmanian Parliament on Tuesday last. This is the first opportunity that has arisen for this Parliament to deal with this matter.

Mr Curtin - Has Victoria passed its legislation?

Sir EARLE PAGE - The bill has passed the lower House and is now under consideration in the upper House.

Mr Curtin - That is one of the points which moved me to make this protest.

Sir EARLE PAGE - I am glad to know that that is the honorable gentleman's reason for objecting to the interruption of the budget debate, but he did not say so a few minutes ago. It is rather interesting that he should have so quickly to change his ground. The position is that the wheat season has already started and it is imperative that, at the earliest possible moment, the Stat'e governments, the millers, the wheat-growers, and in fact, every one associated with the indus try should know exactly where they stand. To-day I received wires from the State Premiers asking me, if possible, to forward them, confidentially, the text of the Government's proposals in this connexion, but the Government thought that it owed an obligation to the Parliament to make the first pronouncement in regard to them in the House as soon as possible and before their text was transmitted to the States. Mr. Forgan Smith, the Premier of Queensland, has wired the Government that, unless he is informed by to-morrow of the Government's proposals in regard to. this matter, millers will have to cease accepting wheat for delivery. That also is the position in the other States. There is therefore every reason for urgency. The Leader of the Opposition submitted, as another reason why the consideration of this legislation should be postponed, that the Parliament should deal with the general taxation policy of the Government before the budget debate is interrupted.

Mr Curtin - I did not say that.

Sir EARLE PAGE - This legislation involves the raising and expending of £4,000,000 a year, and if it is something independent of the budget it has to be brought down at the present time because of certain undertakings given to the States. If that is so, surely honorable members appreciate that the first pronouncement in respect of the Government's policy in this direction, should be made to this Parliament, so that on the budget debate honorable members may be able to say a word or two, if they wish to do so, in connexion with it. That is the reason which has prompted the Government to interrupt the budget debate at this stage, and I ask honorable members who, I feel sure, are sympathetic with the wheat-growers, to agree to deal with this matter as one of urgency. Until the terms of the measure are made known publicly no honorable member, and no organization, can give advice to wheatgrowers. Unfortunately, it has been found on several occasions, irrespective of what Government has been in power, that it has been necessary to delay action for the assistance of the wheat-growers until the last moment, because of a lack of unanimity in respect of the final form in which that assistance should be given.

I ask honorable members to agree to the introduction of this bill, so that its terms may be transmitted to the States without delay. Insofar as my own speech is concerned, I venture to say that the technical information contained in it is not of such a character as to be desired by the afternoon papers at all.

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