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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr SCHOLFIELD (Wannon) . - I desire to pay a tribute to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) for having introduced this subject, but I could pay it more heartily if he had waited for some time to give the Ministry a chance to do something. This is only the second day of the sitting, and obviously it -was impossible for this Ministry even to have enunciated any plan in connexion with the wheat industry. I was very pleased, however, to hear from the lips of the honorable member who moved the motion that the secondary industries in Australia have been built up by the very strenuous efforts of the primary producers. I am pleased that that admission has at last come from a member of the Opposition. Perhaps if we get some more members in this House like the honorable member for Wakefield we shall be able to evolve a scheme that will really assist the wheat-growers, and the primary producers generally. I quite agree that the wheat industry is one of the most important in Australia, and that we cannot allow it to be ruined by low prices that are governed by world conditions, and not by conditions in Australia.

Mr Paterson - By glut conditions.

Mr SCHOLFIELD - Yes, by overproduction. Last year we put through this Parliament a measure to assist the wheat industry, and I remind honorable members of one very important vote taken in connexion with it. It dealt with the distribution of certain surplus moneys to be collected. Out of the whole House, only eight of us voted to apply that surplus towards the cost of removing wheatgrowers from marginal areas. That is one of the things that should be done, and I still maintain that the House, on that occasion, did the wrong thing when it agreed to use that money to bolster up the industry in areas that should not be producing wheat at all. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail, and that steps will be taken to remove growers from unsuitable areas so that we shall not have this recurring trouble every time the price of wheat is low. Investigation will show that it is the growers on marginal areas who are suffering because of low prices and unfavorable climatic conditions.

The mover of the motion discussed the assistance that had been given to the wheat industry by the Government during recent years, but he did so in a very disparaging way. He seemed to believe that much more should have been done. I suggest that the wheat industry itself has yet to put up a scheme definitely acceptable to all sections of the industry.

Mr Archie Cameron - Has not the honorable member examined the WilsonUppill scheme?

Mr SCHOLFIELD - The WilsonUppill scheme is not acceptable to certain of the wheat interests. The scheme agreed to by Parliament last year was condemned by certain other interests. Last year we had before us about six different schemes, and I went through them with a very intelligent and well-informed man who was himself engaged in the wheat industry. I was convinced that the wheat legislation passed through this Parliament by the Lyons Administration, although it had many drawbacks, offered the best means of dealing with the situation that confronted the wheat industry at that time. Its greatest drawback was that it raised the price of bread to the consumer.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) assured us that that scheme would not bring about an increase of the price of bread.

Mr Paterson - I said nothing of the kind.

Mr SCHOLFIELD - I suggest to the Government that it should give very careful consideration to all schemes that may be put forward for the rehabilitation of the wheat industry. I understand that there is some likelihood of the present scheme being abandoned in the near future. Therefore, I commend the Government for its decision to give careful consideration to all proposals for evolving a scheme which will be of lasting benefit to the wheat industry. I point out, however, that up to the present no scheme which has been submitted has been acceptable to all sections of the wheat industry. The Opposition pins its faith to the establishment of a home-consumption price; but that is not acceptable to all sections of the industry. The WilsonUppill scheme, in respect of which the Prime Minister has promised an investigation, has received a considerable amount of support from different sections of the wheat industry. If all sections of the industry cam agree as to the merits of that scheme, I hope tha.t the Government will give to it very serious consideration and will convene a conference of all interests likely to be affected by it. E believe that such a gathering should be summoned to consider any Commonwealth scheme for the assistance of the industry. The plight of the wheat farmers is not a matter which can be wholly corrected by action in Australia; their prosperity is determined by forces beyond our control. We cannot go on handing out the taxpayers' money for the assistance of the industry while at the same time we permit the continued cultivation of uneconomic areas. Although I realize that the prosperity of the industry is largely affected by considerations outside our own control, I believe that we could take some measures to improve it. I trust that the Government will go on with the proposed amendment of the Commonwealth Bank Act so that money may be made available more cheaply to those engaged in rural industries. Something could also be done with regard to the reduction of freight rates. But no good purpose will be served by these measures if we continue to allow the production of wheat on marginal lands. Until we are able to transfer those now engaged on marginal lands to areas more suitable for the production of wheat, the difficulties which now confront the industry will continue. That aspect of the problem should be given much more serious consideration. I am prepared to support a proposal for the provision of a large sum of money for the transfer of those farming marginal areas to more suitable areas, or for the conversion of such areas to more economic uses. The elimination of uneconomic production may enable the legitimate wheat-growers to get a profitable price for their product, thus obviating the continual approach to the Parliament for some form of assistance. Many of the marginal wheat areas should be utilized for grazing purposes. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) referred to the fact that Australian wheat is sold in Great Britain at less than production cost. I remind the honorable member that Ave have no alternative; while the overseas price remains so low, our exportable surplus must be sold abroad at less than the cost of production. The honorable member went on to say that Great Britain has never been known to send any of its products to Australia to be sold at prices below production costs.

I remind the honorable member that the protectionist policy of his party is strongly opposed to the sale in this country of imports at less than the costs of production ; that is what the honorable member would condemn as dumping.

Mr Archie Cameron - Honorable members opposite repeatedly argue that that is done when they are asking for higher customs duties on imports.

Mr SCHOLFIELD - Finally, I suggest to the Minister that before the Government brings any scheme before the House for the assistance of the wheat industry, it should call together representatives, not only of all interests likely to be affected in any way by the scheme put into operation, but also of Labour organizations, so that the interests of the consumers may be protected.

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