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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr LAZZARINI - The propaganda that preceded the introduction of this legislation included statements that the price of bread would be fixed, but, although the price of flour may remain at the one level, there is no guarantee that the price of bread will do the same. On previous occasions, when there have been reductions of the price of flour, the price of bread has remained at the same level or has risen. The basis of this legislation is the raising, by means of a tax on the food of the poorer sections of the community, of money for the creation of a fund from which money will be distributed to the wheat-growers.

I am not satisfied that this legislation will apply only to this season's wheat, because there is a large quantity of wheat carried over from last season in the silos. Nor am I satisfied that the money will be paid direct to the farmers. Harvesting operations are now in progress, and I believe that speculators have bought wheat from the farmers so that they, and not the producers, will derive the benefit of the home-consumption price. If they be allowed to do so it will be immoral. From the amount of the fund, £500,000 is to be set aside for the relief of the distressed farmers whose crops have been ruined. In my opinion any assistance given by this Parliament to the wheat industry should be confined to those farmers who are in distressed circumstances. Men who are comfortably situated should not receive further comfort at the expense of the poorer sections of the community, because it is on those sections that the weight of thistax will fall. Men who are comfortably situated should have no more right to come to this Parliament for assistance because they have suffered a loss which does not lessen the comfort of themselves or their families than have city businessmen who have suffered a setback. I should welcome a proposal for a tax on the commodities that they produce in order to provide assistance for the army of unemployed and rationed workers. Whenever we on this side of the House ask for money to assist the unemployed we get the rejoinder that all available moneys are required for defence. Yet the Government is able to come to Parliament with a proposal to tax the bread-eaters for the benefit of some people engaged in the wheat industry who could not be financially affected by a series of adverse seasons. The economic position of the unemployed is vastly inferior to that of the average farmer; accordingly it is unjust to tax them for the farmers' benefit. I have sympathy with the men who are struggling in primary industries, as I have first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which they exist - I was born and reared on a farm and I represent an electorate which contains a large rural area - but I know that to a large degree their distress is due, not so much to drought, as to exploitation. The inquiries of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry disclosed that the farmers are struggling under a huge burden of debt, which is due to a variety of causes. When I was a boy a wheat farm was self-contained. The farmer had Lis own horses and grew his own fodder, but, to-day, he is the victim of the exploitation of overseas oil and machinery interests. The farmer has to pay big prices for tractors and to expend large sums annually on fuel to run them, whereas in my youth, horses, which were fed on the products of the farm, did the work.

Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament there have been plans for assisting the wheat industry, but never a plan for its efficient organization. This stop-gap way of dealing with the wheat industry must end. I suspect that it is more a vote-catching effort than a plan for the welfare of the industry. One of the first requirements of the efficient organization of the wheat industry is proper control. I point out that other countries are burning and dumping wheat, whereas this country is assisting the wheat-grower to grow more wheat. Year by year the farmers sink deeper into the mire of debt, the basic trouble which besets them which, I hope the national Parliament will take an early opportunity to remove.

I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition, which would ensure that the money necessary for the assistance to be given to the industry will be raised in a more proper way than is proposed in this bill; that is to say, from general revenue. An income tax falls on the shoulders of those who are best able to bear the burden, but a flour tax violates every canon of taxation, in that it falls heaviest on the poor. This measure is only a palliative, and I hope that in the future steps will be taken to administer a cure.

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