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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- T move -

That the clause be postponed, as an instruction to the Government - that steps be taken to distribute the money in this fund in the form of refunds to the woolgrowers of Australia to whom it properly belongs.

It is noteworthy that during the five years of its existence this Government has displayed from time to time a flagrant disregard of the financial rights of certain sections of the primary producers. We have heard during the last few weeks of the disbursement of certain money which belonged to the wheatgrowers. I have also been informed that millions of pounds belonging to the butter producers has been wrongly diverted from them. Now, we have this blatant withholding of £7,000,000 from the wool-growers of Australia. Ry no conceivable argument can it be shown that that money belongs to anybody except those who grew the wool.

Mr Calwell - The honorable mem ber is interested only in the brokers and dealers.

Mr ANTHONY - The purpose of my amendment is to have this money distributed, not among brokers and dealers, but among all the wool-growers of Australia, small and big.

Mr Bryson - What about the widows and orphans?

Mr ANTHONY - Interjections of that character are the stock-in-trade of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson)1 and his colleagues. . The woolgrowers of Australia deserve more consideration than does any other section of the community! They have neither asked for nor received anything from the Government. No subsidy has ever been paid to. the wool industry, as has been paid to many other industries. It has not the benefit of any tariff protection. By means of the export of wool, funds, are established overseas which enable us to import petrol, rubber, and other commodities which the civil population of Australia needs so badly. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), in reply to a question that I asked recently, said that a lessening of the restrictions imposed in respect of petrol depended on the dollar position. Both the dollar and the sterling position depend upon the export of our wool. No bounty is sought by the wool-grower. All that he asks is that he shall receive the money which has come into the possession of the Government, acting .as his agent, as the result of the sale of his wool. Certain payments have been made to the woolgrowers under the contract that was made with the United Kingdom Government. Out of the realization of certain wool, an average price of 15 ½d. per lb. has been paid. That average price has not been received by every grower. Naturally, some growers have received more, and others less. Adjustments have been made from time to time, and these have been reflected in, the funds of the Central Wool Committee. -But this other fund has been . established as the result of the sales of skins, wool-tops, and the wool exported in the form of manufactured goods. It cannot be claimed that the Government has invested any funds, or established any machinery, for the promotion of the sales which have resulted in the accumulation of this excess profit of £7,000,000. The money has come into its possession under the terms of the wool purchase arrangement with Great. Britain. It is a huge sum. Had it been collected from the earnings of the members of various trade unions, the Government would not have ha'd the courage to propose that it should be. diverted to Consolidated Revenue. The wool-grower should not be treated differently from any other working man in Australia. Perhaps the hardest worked man in this country, particularly in times of drought and shearing, is the wool-grower. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) represents the big woolgrowing division of Gwydir.

Mr Scully - The number of sheep that I represent exceeds the number of bananas in the electorate of the honorable member.

Mr ANTHONY - Exactly. On the northern tablelands of New South Wales in my electorate, in the districts of Glen Innis, Tenterfield and Deepwater, the number of wool-growers is fairly considerable. The northern part of the electorate represented by the Minister is passing through a disastrous drought. In the last week or so, the press has published pictures showing the losses of sheep and other stock that have been sustained.

Mr Calwell - What has that matter to do with the committee?

Mr ANTHONY - The committee is interested in the fact that an amount of £7,000,000, which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be claimed to belong to the Government, is indirectly to become its property by means of this legislation. On top of what happened to money belonging to the wheat-grower, and that which should have gone to the butter producer, this treatment of the wool-grower is a scandal of first .magnitude. It is easy for the Government to say lightly, "We will take ' £7,000,000 belonging to somebody else", but it is difficult for an Opposition so small in number as we are to prevent that action. We can merely raise our voices in protest, in the hope that, when another government assumes office, this legislation will be repealed. The Labour party has held the reins of office for five years. In the first year, or two years, it was most solicitous for the welfare of the"* primary producers. Everything that it said and did was designed to establish its intense sympathy for those men. But that sympathy has languished more and more with every day that has passed. The stage has now been reached at which the Government is so arrogant as to believe that it can ' dispense ' with the support of the primary producers, and revert to its real policy. It believes that it can take £7,000,000, which properly belongs to men and women in the droughtstricken areas of Australia, "who have to resort to financial institutions to obtain feed for their . stock, upon which their industry depends. I am not acquainted with their circumstances individually, ner is the Government, but I do know that very many of them are financing operations through banking institutions. Every honorable member who represents a wool-growing district knows that the 30-called "big man" is frequently " up to his neck " in debt. That applies not only to the big man but also to the small man. I have knowledge of the circumstances of many of these individuals. Over the years, they have not had uniformly prosperous times. I expected a ministerial supporter to interject, " What did your Government do ? " or something of the kind. Whatever criticism may bo levelled at preceding "governments, at least it can be said that they did not take money belonging to the wool-grower, and place it in Consolidated Revenue.

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