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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3735


Mr McVEIGH (Darling Downs) - I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). I do so for several reasons. The first is that the authority to market the Australian wheat crop firmly belongs with the Australian Wheat Board which has 10 grower members who are democratically elected by the vote of the rank and file in 3 States. The legislation allows for the representatives from Queensland and Western Australia to be appointed by the respective State wheat boards. The Australian Wheat Board is the bridge, as it were, between the grower on the one hand and the consumer and purchaser on the other hand. It must be remembered that the Australian wheat crop is not the property of the Australian Government but is held in trust for the growers bv the Australian Wheat Board.

The only interference which should ever come from any Minister of the Crown is when any action of the Australian Wheat Board - and this has never happened - could result in the Australian Government contributing to the funds of the Australian Wheat Board a share of taxation revenue that it would not have had to contribute if the Australian Wheat Board had made a different decision. I want it spelled out specifically once and for all .that that is the only occasion on which a Minister should interfere. I make the statement again, and repeat it for greater emphasis, that if the Australian Government seeks to use the product of the Australian wheat farmer as an instrument of foreign policy it is the responsibility of the Australian Government to make up the leeway in overseas payments. I for one will not disagree with the principle that those who live in countries of affluence and plenty have a responsibility to supply the wherewithal and the means of existence to impoverished countries, but it is not the responsibility of the Australian wheat producer to supply his product free of charge; it is the responsibility of the Australian population as a whole. I am concerned that if the power remains in the Act for the Minister to interfere in the affairs of the Australian Wheat Board and that provision is not qualified by the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for New England, the situation could be reached in which a dictatorial governmentcould insist on the Australian Wheat Board selling, on a long term contract basis, its product to one country. We cannot allow a situation to develop in which our traditional consumers and purchasers of grain are denied access to a supply because of the trading policies, the foreign policies and the defence policies of a Labor government.

I ask the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) to spell out specifically once and for all the answer to my query on whether the Australian Wheat Board reneged on a contract. I say that the Australian Wheat Board at no stage had officially affixed its seal to a contract this year to supply wheat to the Egyptian authorities and then reneged on that contract. My information is that the contract with Egypt was signed only a few weeks ago. A decision may have been made at a meeting of the Australian Wheat Board to do certain things, but I will take up the cudgels on behalf of members of the Australian Wheat Board and nail once and for all the deliberate misrepresentation, as I see it, by those who sit opposite who say that the Australian Wheat Board welshed on a contract. It did not welsh on a contract because it had not signed a contract. The situation when the Wheat Board decided to supply wheat to Egypt for 3 years plus a one-year extension, was that it would supply wheat on the terms on which it had previously supplied it. In the meantime hostilities involving Egypt broke out, and I think it is to the credit of those responsible members of the Australian Wheat Board that they saw fit to rethink their original decision with the prime purpose of safeguarding the dollar income of the Australian farmers. True it is, if this is not the situation, that the Minister has a responsibility to let us know what the situation is, but it ill behoves him if he says that the Australian Wheat Board welshed on a contract, when in fact it had not signed a contract.







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