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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr JAMES (Hunter) (12:26 PM) .Ever since the Country party has been represented in the Government we have had measures placed before us from time to time for the assistance of the wheat industry, but, when the Lyons Government was independent of Country party support, it took a stand in conformity with the stand taken to-day by the Opposition, and it would not allow any wheat-grower, whose circumstances took him within the taxable range, to derive benefit from moneys voted by this Parliament for the assistance of the industry. It was interesting one year to hear the then Minister for Commerce (SirFrederick Stewart) reply to an attack which was launched by the Country party members, including some honorable gentlemen who are now Ministers, against the. principle of excluding from benefit those whose incomes came within the taxable field. One of them was the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), who is now Minister for Civil Aviation. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. ArchieCameron) was another.

Mr Archie Cameron - No; I was not a member of Parliament then.

Mr JAMES - Well, the honorable gentleman was here in 1935. The honorable member for Parramatta made it quite clear that it was the policy of the Government to give relief to farmers who were in necessitous circumstances. In reply to representations made by Country party members, the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) said that the legislation was to give " relief to the needy and not to the greedy." The bill was supported by the Labour party, the only opposition being offered by the Country party. The voting was 50 to 13 in favour of the legislation. I say, without heat, and without any desire to be hard on members of the Country party, that members of Parliament should not be permitted to vote on measures from which they will derive financial benefit. Such a practice is not, in my opinion, in conformity with the Constitution, which lays it down that no member of Parliament shall profiteer at the expense of the Crown. In a recent speech, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) explained that he was precluded by reason of his membership of this Parliament from undertaking Government survey work. Similarly, wheat-farmers who are members of this Parliament should be precluded from participating in distributions of money by the Commonwealth for the relief of distressed primary producers. When similar legislation to this was introduced on the occasion to which I have referred, the names of several honorable members who were likely to benefit were mentioned. They included the honorable member for Swan (Mr.

Gregory), the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) and the then honorable member for Grey (Mr. MoBride), and several others. Of these, the honorable member for Swan was the only one who denied that he would participate in the benefits under that legislation. A list of amounts, varying from £1,466 14s. lid. to £760 paid in previous years by way of bounty was given by the then Minister for Commerce. That list included an amount of £1,434 which had been paid to a company not even registered in Australia, clearly showing that it was not only needy farmers that benefited -by that legislation. The Minister for Commerce added -

Several honorable members have claimed that, under the Government's proposal, some of the growers who are really in need will receive no assistance. As a matter of fact, for the year 1931-32, the number of farmers who paid federal income tax was 8,500, and it is estimated that half of them were wheatfarmers. Therefore, out of a total of 65,000 growers, only 4,000 will be excluded from the benefits of the Government's scheme, but among those excluded, we may be very sure, will be those who, two years ago, were paid the amounts I have mentioned.

The official statistics for that period reveal that of taxation remissions made by the Commonwealth Government, 95 per cent, were in respect of those in receipt of an income of £8 a week or more. At that time, there were 7,000 persons in the Commonwealth who were in receipt of an income of £2,000 a year or more, and some of them had incomes of more than £5,000 a year. These 7,000 people received taxation remissions amounting to approximately £1,500,000. On the other hand, there were in New South Wales 1,305,158 persons with no income at all. Being the greatest consumers of bread, it was these people and workers in receipt of the basic wage who -had to ben'' the greatest burden of the previous flour tax legislation. It will be these same people who will be most heavily penalized by this legislation. To workers with large families, the imposition of this tax on flour will mean an average additional expenditure of 4d. or 5d. a week. People on higher incomes will not be so heavily penalized because they are in a position to purchase foods of a in ore expensive class. The Commonwealth is at present paying a considerable sum of money per annum to invalid and old-age pensioners. These pensioners are also going to be hard hit by the imposition of this tax. That is grossly unfair. I am sure that all honorable members are honest in their endeavour to provide assistance to needy farmers, but we must take into consideration the fact that the majority of wheatgrowers do not rely solely upon wheat for their income. They have other rural pursuits. Some farmers spread their activities over wheat, wool and dairy produce, while others raise cattle and sheep. If they lose on one item they are in a position to make up that loss in some other direction.

I have urged on many occasions that some assistance should be given to another of Australia's great industries, the coal industry, in which I have spent a considerable period of my life. In Britain this industry has been assisted by the Imperial Government and has been rehabilitated to a great degree. Why should not the coal-miners ask for a home-consumption price for coal in Australia? No doubt if that were done a hue and cry would be raised, and it would be claimed that as coal is a power-raising unit for secondary industries, all commodities produced by those industries would go up in price. Unfortunately coal-miners are not in a position to threaten the existence of the Government, as supporters of the Country party are, and so no consideration is given to them. I have pleaded, until I am sick and tired, for assistance and fair play for the coal industry. The Government is supposed to legislate impartially and in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth as a whole, but in my opinion unfair discrimination has been shown.

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