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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) . - The reduced amount of the grant made by the Commonwealth Government this year for the assistance of the wheat industry is disappointing, particularly to the wheat-growers of Australia, and to those who have suffered from the drought, which has been exceptionally severe in Western Australia. Of course, those sufferers have received no benefit whatever from the present increased value of wheat in the markets of the world. The bounty proposed to be appropriated under this measure is the smallest amount that has been voted for the assistance of the industry from federal finances during the last five years; that is since, owing to the depression, prices "for wheat on the world markets fell to a low level. The basis of allocation of assistance among the States is also unsound and disappointing, and it has proved very detrimental to the wheat-growers of Western Australia, the northern and north-western areas of which have experienced the worst drought since the wide-spread drought of 1911. In his last policy speech broadcast through national stations on the 14th August, 1934, the Minister -for Commerce (.Dr. Earle Page), pointed out that the Country party had been compelled to fight for temporary assistance to the wheat industry. That is true. He claimed that the Country party had been instrumental in securing grants of £3,500,000 in 1931, £2,000,000 in 1932, and £3,000,000 in 1933. In respect of the harvest for the following year, the Parliament, acting on the advice of the royal commission which inquired into the industry and recommended a grant of £4,000,000, appropriated £4,000,000 for the assistance of wheat-growers. For this year, however, the recommendation made by that important and expensive commission in favour of the establishment of a compulsory pool was not given effect to for reasons which have been fully explained, and which I need not discuss at this juncture. However, the assistance to be given to the industry under this measure has been reduced to a total of £1,878,546, as compared with over £4,000,000 in the previous year.

Senator Arkins - The honorable senator seems to suggest that the "United Australia party is responsible for all the injury done to the wheat industry, and the Country party for all the good.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That may be the opinion of the honorable senator, but I have made no statement on which he could base such an observation.

Senator Arkins - The honorable senator just said that the Country party had given these benefits to the industry.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I said that the Minister for Commerce had made a statement to that effect. I repeat that this is the smallest grant made during the past five years to the wheat industry, and I am sorry that I cannot congratulate Dr. Earle Page, or the Country party representatives in the Government on being so successful in their efforts to secure adequate financial assistance to the wheat industry this year as the Minister claimed he had been during the previous four years. In his policy speech, Dr. Earle Page also said -

We strongly objected to the passage of discriminatory conditions attached to these grants which made them, in effect, a dole, whilst assistance through tariff protection to secondary industries was given without any such .conditions.

I cannot understand why Dr. Earle Page should describe as a dole the grant of £3,500,000 made to the wheat industry by the Scullin Government in 1931 in times of stringency and depression, whilst this year this Government, of which Dr. Earle Page is a member, although it has a surplus of £2,000,000 above its estimated revenue, can grant the industry only £1,878,546. If, as Dr. Earle Page stated, assistance granted to the industry in the past could bc characterized as a dole, then this year's grant to the industry is only half a dole. It is the smallest grant made to the industry during the last four years.

Senator Dein - The increased price this year is worth over £4,500,000.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That may be so, but nearly half the wheatgrowers in Western Australia, and many growers in some of the other States, have suffered so severely from drought that they have received no benefit whatever from the increase of price. Furthermore, some of those growers will have to bear an additional burden because of the fact that they will have to buy seed wheat this year at the higher price. This year the Commonwealth has taken far more money from the pockets of the Australian taxpayer than it did in 1934-35, and at present has a huge surplus above its estimated income, but despite these facts, the grant to the wheat industry has been reduced by £2,221,454.

Senator Dein - The wheat industry is better off this year than it was last year.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I am dealing specifically with the unsympathetic treatment and lack of adequate assistance given to the wheat-farmers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia. The Government's revenue for the first eight, months of this financial year exceeds by £4,432,000 the surplus for the corresponding period of last year; yet the Government has reduced its grant to the wheat industry this year as compared with that made last year by £2,221.000. Reverting to the remarks made by Dr. Earle Page, which I have just quoted, I point out that there is more discrimination made in this bill than in any wheat legislation introduced into this Parliament during the last five years with the object of assisting the grower. Unfortunately for the growers in Western Australia this measure discriminates against the States and the wheat-farmers most severely hit by drought conditions. As the grant of £1,878,546, with the exception of £268,000 is being distributed on the basis of production, more money will be given to those who have had the best crops, and less to those who have had poor crops or no crops at all. Unfortunately the majority of the latter class of farmers are in Western Australia. I knew perfectly well that some honorable senators would remind me that the price of wheat on the world's markets has improved quite substantially. We hope that that improvement will be permanent, but, as I have already pointed out, growers who reaped no crop or very little crop, have received no benefit at all as a result of the increase of price. On the contrary, many of them, in addition to sustaining these losses, will have to pay more money for seed wheat this year than they would under ordinary conditions. Only £208,000 is being voted this year for special drought relief by the Commonwealth Government throughout Australia, as compared with a grant of £1,600,000 distributed to the States on a bushelage basis. Over £580,000 was voted last year for the assistance of necessitous farmers, as compared with this grant of £268,000 to be voted for the relief of . needy farmers this year. Following on Dr. Page's argument that the protection afforded to secondary industries through the tariff is given without discrimination, I point out that the protection given to such industries is not halved because some of them are prosperous. Although the price of wheat has risen the wheat industry is still in an unsatisfactory condition. Farmers are using worn-out machinery and plant, and for many years their operations have been conducted at a loss. Yet the moment the price of wheat shows an improvement, the Government reduces the grant to the industry generally, and also the grant to necessitous farmers by more than half of what it was last year. We do not find the iron and steel, and the textile and sugar industries treated in that way immediately their operations are conducted on a profitable basis. The wheat industry of Australia, particularly of Western Australia, is not yet established on a profitable basis. Last year £872,578 was granted by the Commonwealth to assist wheat-growers in Western Australia, whereas this year, following a severe drought and a rauch smaller crop -only about 20,000,000 bushels compared with 37,500,000 bushels two years ago - there is a reduction to £392,850. Moreover, the moment the price of wheat rises, the Government hastens to reduce last year's grant of £4,100,000 to necessitous farmers by £2,221,454 and the vote for special drought relief in an even greater proportion.

Senator Gibson - Has not the increased price of wheat made up the difference ?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That increased price has not been of benefit to those settlers in Western Australia who have had very poor crops. It is estimated that as many as 1,200 wheat-growers in that State have had no crop at all. It would appear that the Government's surplus of over £2,500,000 has been secured at the expense of the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth, particularly those in Western Australia who have suffered from adverse climatic conditions. Similarly harsh treatment has been meted out to necessitous farmers this year. Of the £4,100,000 voted last year to assist the wheat industry, £573,250 was set apart for necessitous farmers. That sum was distributed as follows, on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry -

Those are official figures. This year £268,S03 is being distributed from the total of £1,878,546 as special drought relief. Last year, when seasonal conditions in Western Australia were much better, £137,000 was voted to necessitous farmers This year, only £161,600 is being granted as drought relief to wheatfarmers in Western Australia, notwithstanding that in the eastern and northeastern districts of the State seasonal conditions have been comparable with the drought of 1913.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The figures show an increase not a decrease.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - If the honorable senator thinks that the distribution is fair, I do not. The figures show a decrease of the Australian distribution and also of the total amount granted to Western Australia for the assistance of the wheat industry - £392,000 this year, compared with £872,578 last year, when there was a better season. The Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers Association, and the Wheatgrowers Union of that State, have protested to the Prime Minister against the total inadequacy of the proposed grant, particularly that for the assistance of farmers in the areas which have suffered from drought. When in Perth on the 17th February last, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) admitted that the grant for drought relief was inadequate, but, although the Commonwealth Treasury is overflowing, no increase of the proposed grant of £161,600 for drought relief is shown in this measure. At a later stage, I shall deal more fully with that subject, and with the remarks of the Minister for Commerce. In 1934, when Western Australia was granted £872,578, the distribution was made on the basis of 3s. an acre plus 3d. a bushel. As the average return for the State was just under 10 bushels an acre, that basis meant an average of 53. 6d. an acre, plus £137,000 for necessitous farmers. This year, only £382,S50 is being granted to that State.

I object most emphatically to the unjust basis of distribution of the £1,878,546 to be made available under this bill to the various States. In a letter to me, dated the 24th January last, Mr. J. F. Murphy, Secretary to the Department of Commerce, said -

I am directed to advise you that the amount which it is proposed to allocate from available funds to the various States is based on the crops in the respective States and also has regard to any adverse seasonal conditions experienced in them.

The grant to Western Australia, will, in addition to the amount calculated on the basis of ls. per bushel for the homeconsumption quota, include a SUm of £161,600 for special drought relief. The total sum thus to be made available to Western Australia will be approximately £430,000.

Yet this bill shows only £392,000.

The basis upon which the total amounts shall be distributed to growers is a matter for each State government to decide, having before it the detailed financial position and this year's crop returns of its own wheatgrowers.

It will be left open for the State governments to make the payments, subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government, on a flat acreage basis or an acreage basis graded according to yields, or by any other method which is considered desirable, having in mind the special circumstances of the farmers in the respective States.

I received the following letter from the Minister for Commerce, dated Sydney, 6th February -

The allocation to each State is to be based on the crops in each State and will have regard to any adverse seasonal conditions experienced in the respective States. The basis upon which the amounts shall be distributed to the growers is a matter for each State government to decide, having before it the detailed financial position and this year's crop returns of its own wheat-growers. It is left open for the State governments to make the payments, subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government, on a flat acreage basis, or an acreage basis graduated according to yields, or by any other method which is considered desirable, having in mind the special circumstances of the farmers in the respective States.

The amount that will be distributed in your State will be approximately £393,000.

Those letters, showing a reduction of £37,000, were brought before Dr. Earle Page when he visited Perth, and subsequently a telegram was received from the Acting Secretary of the Department of Commerce, stating that some confusion existed with regard to the first letter.

The estimated harvest of 21,500,000 bushes has now fallen to 20,000,000 bushels, as stated by the Acting Minister for Commerce {Mr. Thorby). The impression in Western Australia is that the reduction of the grant by a further £370,000 was consequent upon the lessened production in that State. As most of the money has been distributed by the Government on the home-consumption quota, it follows that that would be so. The S't.'i.tes which have had the greatest production of wheat have been paid the most money, whilst those with a lower production have received less money. In my opinion, that is a wrong principle to apply to the granting of assistance to this industry under drought conditions.

Senator Arkins - The honorable senator appears to forget the four tax, the greater proportion of which was paid by the larger and more populous States.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - If it will please the honorable senator, I shall interrupt the course of my remarks to say that I commend the Government for altering the incidence of collection and distribution to an Australian- wide basis. It appears to the people of Western Australia that, owing to the wheat crop in that State being lighter than was anticipated, a further reduction of the grant from £430,000 to £393,000 was decided upon. Owing to drought conditions, the wheat production in Western Australia has been reduced to 20,000,000 bushels, and under this measure that State is to receive reduced instead of increased assistance from the Commonwealth Government. A few years ago the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) described the wheat policy of the Federal Government as one of " taking from the needy to assist the greedy." That principle is being followed in this measure. At any rate, money has apparently been taken from the needy State of Western Australia during a drought year, because the returns in that State were not nearly so good as were anticipated originally. I protest strongly against a policy which deprives Western Australia of financial assistance to the amount of £37,000, because the drought is more severe than was anticipated. Probably the amount is a great deal more, because the drought conditions were more severe in that State than in other parts of the Commonwealth. Under this bill, the following grants are to be made : -


Included in these amounts is £161,600 drought relief to Western Australia, £69,896 to South Australia, and £31,784 to New South Wales. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), in his letter of the 6th February, said that the allocation to each State was to be based on the crops in each State, and would have due regard to the adverse seasonal conditiwis in the respective wheat-growing States, lie further stated that it would be left to the State governments to make the payments subject to the approval of the Commonwealth Government on a Hat acreage basis graduated according to the yield. Yet, under this measure, the sum apportioned to each State, with the exception of £26S,803, is allocated solely on the basis of production. This works out unjustly, particularly in the case of Western Australia and of South Australia, which have experienced drought conditions in some areas. If the States

Are to distribute the grant on an acreage basis, the allocation should also be on that basis, and the Government should have acted in that way. Although the States were informed that their distribution could be on an acreage basis, £1,600,000 was distributed on other than that basis, which benefited the wheatgrowers in those States with heavy crops, but was to the detriment of wheat-growers where the crops were lighter.

Senator Dein - Has the honorable senator always held that view?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Yes; I believe in assisting the wheat industry as an industry, and contend that special assistance should be given to necessitous case3. If the States are to distribute grants on an acreage basis, the allocation to the States should be on that basis. I regret that under this measure the Commonwealth Government has ignored the request of the Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers' Association and the Wheat-growers' Union of that State, that the allocation as between the States should be on an acreage basis and that special assistance should be rendered to the wheat-growers in droughtstricken areas. Despite the fact that the crop in drought-stricken areas was one of the lowest on record, and that the wheatgrowers in the eastern States had bumper harvests, the Commonwealth Government proposes to pay a bounty on a bushelage basis as follows : -

If drought relief is included New South Wales receives 2s. ll^d. an acre, Western Australia 3s. 2|d. an acre, and South Australia 2s. 9£d- an acre. These figures, carefully computed on an acreage basis, show that the Commonwealth Government's allocation is unjust, and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, which provides that there shall be no undue discrimination between States. In view of the figures quoted it is clear that the Commonwealth Government is not rendering special assistance to drought-stricken farmers, and that the relief afforded is given at the expense of other farmers in the States concerned. When the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) visited Perth he said that the Commonwealth Government was making to that State a grant of 3s. 3d. an acre. The 3s. 3d. an acre includes the whole of the drought relief of £161,000. That means that if the growers of Western Australia receive 33. 3d. an acre under this measure, they are contributing the whole of the £161,600 provided for drought relief. If the drought relief is excluded, they are getting only ls. 10^d. an acre for the whole of last year's crop, which is most unjust when compared with the higher sum paid to other wheatgrowers in the Commonwealth.

Senator Hardy - The wheat-growers in New South Wales think that Western Australia is the favoured State.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - The honorable senator is entitled to draw whatever conclusion he chooses from the figures. At any rate, the whole of the allocation of £161,000 is being taken from the Western Australian wheatfanners, who, according to Dr. Earle Page, were to receive 3s. 3d. I protest strenuously against the payment of only £231,256 as an ordinary bounty, plus £161,600 as a special measure of drought relief to Western Australia, because the amount is entirely inadequate to meet the needs of a State which has suffered more severely from drought this year than has any other State. Surely the policy of the Commonwealth Government, as expressed in this bill, is that to those who have much wheat, much shall be given. The Western Australia grant, which was £S72,000 last year, has now been reduced from the £430,000 forcast by the Secretary of the Department of Commerce to £392,850. The Government of Western Australia, the Primary Producers Association, and the Wheatgrowers Union have protested to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in no uncertain terms against the proposed allocation. In 1930-31 South Australia experienced drought conditions, and the Federal Government properly granted drought relief to the amount of £850,000, as compared with £161.600 to be granted to Western Australia this year, under comparable conditions. It is estimated that there are 8,000 wheat-farmers in Western Australia. The wheat yield in that State for the last harvest was estimated at 20,000,000 bushels, as compared with 27,000,000 bushels for 1934-35, and 37,500,000 bushels for 1933-34. The State average for 1933-34 was 11.7 bushels, in 1934-35 9.8 bushels, and this year it is estimated at 8.3 bushels an acre. Up to 1933 the State average was 11.86 bushels an acre. These figures show that the decline in the last two years has been 17,500,000 bushels, or almost 50 per cent. I have received the following telegram from the Premier of Western Australia in regard to the representations that his Government has made to the Commonwealth Government on this subject: -

Commonwealth lias granted £ 161,fi00 wheat relief. Have telegraphed and written asking that grant be same as last year £872,578. Will forward yon copy letter to-morrow's air mail. (Signed) COLLIER

I regret that owing to the haste with which this measure is being rushed through this chamber to-day I shall not have an opportunity to-day to read to the Senate a copy of the representations that the Western Australian Government has made to the Federal Government on this subject.

At a special meeting of the PrimaryProducers Association of Western Australia, presided over by the president.,. Mr. Teasdale, and attended hy the Leader of the Country party in Western Australia (Mr. C.G. Latham) and many of its members, Mr. H. Gregory, M.H.K.,. and I were present by invitation. The meeting urged us to do our utmost to secure a more equitable allocation of this grant, on an acreage basis, and, further, to endeavour to prevail upon the Commonwealth Government to increase substantially the grant for the relief of drought-stricken farmers. Mr. Gregory and I promised our co-operation. Mr. Powell, president of the Wheat-growers Union of Western Australia, concluded an appeal to the Prime Minister for further assistance in the following terms -

In the season 1034-35 the sum of £872,578 was made available for assisting the wheat industry in Western Australia, when the yield was 27,000,000 bushels, whilst this year with the decreased yield to 20,000,000, only £392,000 is under consideration for this purpose. In view of the lower yield and the slightly higher price than those obtained last season, we wish to advise that the estimated State loss is over £1,500,000, and we request assistance of at least £1,000,000 for the industry in Western Australia.

I commend that proposed increase to the Minister in charge of this bill. Mr. Powell's letter continued -

In further support of our request for assistance we respectfully refer you to the fact that when South Australia experienced drought conditions in the season 1930-31, the Federal Government granted drought relief to that State to the extent of £850,000.

Wc are strongly of the opinion that unless the Federal Government comes to the aid of the State in this matter, a national crisis must ensue, for as already stated, the exodus from the farms is proceeding at an alarming rate.

We cannot overrate the extreme urgency of the case as the farmers' difficulties are being accentuated in most instances by the withholding nf commercial credit, thus making it obligatory for the Government to make provisions for the retaining of the farmers on their farms.

I endorse those statements in their entirety; they are quite correct. I hope that the Government will supplement this measure, which I intend to support, with another bill making an adequate grant to those States which have suffered from drought. According to figures collected by the Wheat-growers Union, 3,500 farms were affected by last year's drought, and it is estimated that 1,200 of them have no crop at all, that 1,500 will average less than four bushels an acre, and that 600 others will average between 4 and 6 bushels an acre. These figures demonstrate the necessity for the granting of immediate assistance to the drought-stricken areas. In this connexion the request from Western Australia has the support of the State government and of both organizations representing the whole of the wheat-farmers of that State.

I now desire to refer to some quite remarkablestatements made by the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) in an interview with a deputation representing the Wheatgrowers' Union which waited on him during his recent visit to Perth. The union made three requests to him; they are reported in the West Australian of the 18th February as follows -

(   1 ) . The setting up of a compulsory pool, with power to fix a home-consumption price for wheat. As the question of a compulsory pool had been postponed by the Federal Government, ponding the result of a Privy Council appeal, the union asked at least for an assurance that the Government intended to honour the recommendation of the Federal Wheat Commission that the wheat-growers would be brought into line with other sections of the community and given a home price for their product. The flour tax would be repealed on 25th February, and the union sought an assurance that, in repealing the flour tax, the Government would make permanent and more satisfactory arrangements to give the wheatgrowers a home-consumption price.

(2)   . The making of a sufficient Federal grant to re-finance the wheat-growing industry. The chief cause of abandonments in this State, and a cause which must have increasing effects in the future, was that the farmer's power unit was below standard, his machinery was worn out, his farm improvements had deteriorated and he had no money to finance a partial change over from wheat to wool. The Wheat Commission had stated that the Federal tariff policy raised the cost of development of the average Western Australian farm by £500. The wheat-growers of this State now asked the Federal Government to return portions of this £500 by means of low-interest loans to re-finance their industry. (3). The suspension of the tariff on such vital farming necessities as wire-netting, to permit of the exchange on a barter basis of wool for wire-netting from Germany, and other foreign countries whose markets had been lost by the Australian tariff policy. Cheap wire-netting was essential to the continuance of wheat and stock farming in Western. Australia. Farmers could get netting from Germany at 35 per cent. less than the Australian price, and in exchange, Germany would take wool at a price above parity.

In the course of his reply, Dr. Earle Page said -

The Federal Government had provided for the wheat industry exactly the same machinery as for the butter and dried fruit industries. That machinery would give to the wheat industry a home-consumption price as soon as it started to function, and the only reason why it was not already functioning was that Western Australia and South Australia had failed to pass the necessary legislation. Had that legislation been passed in time, there would have been available this year for the assistance of distressed farmers a sum of £900,000, which had been collected from the flour tax.

I disagree entirely with that statement. As honorable senators and the wheatgrowers of Western Australia are we'll aware, the legislation passed by New South Wales applied only to wheat sown and harvested this year. It did not apply to last year's harvest. Nor has Tasmania yet passed the requisite legislation. Despite these facts, Dr. Earle Page informed the deputation representing the Wheat-growers Union that only the failure of South Australia and Western Australia to pass the required legislation prevented the distressed farmers from receiving the sum of £900,000.

Senator Brown - Dr. Earle Page was obviously " pulling the farmers' legs ".

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Dr. EarlePage is reported to have said -

Owing to the failure of those two States to pass that legislation only £250,000 was available for drought relief. Of that amount £161,000 was allotted to Western Australia, and, plus the amount that would have been gained from a home-consumption basis, there should have been a total of £392,000, or sufficient to provide 3s. 3d. an acre on an acreage basis. The inadequacy of the amount available for relief was not in. any way due to action or failure of action by the Commonwealth, but to failure of the States named to finalize legislation as had been done by New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Honorable senators will see that Dr. Earle Page admitted that the amount to be distributed under this bill was inadequate. His statement that New South Wales has passed legislation fixing a home-consumption price for last year's harvest is entirely incorrect. In my opinion, it is unbecoming for a Minister of the Parliament of the Commonwealth, at a time when the Government has collected £4,500,000 in excess of its revenue in the corresponding period of last year, to say to distressed farmers : " We would have given you £900,000, but we cannot do so because two States have failed to pass the necessary legislation ".

Senator Hardy - Does not the honorable senator consider that the distribution of £12,000,000 is a reasonable grant to the wheat industry?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That sum of money has been made available over a period of years for debt relief to all primary industries and does not affect this measure. I consider that the present allocation is quite inadequate, and unjust, and does little credit to the Country party members of the Ministry. Dr. Earle Page continued -

Clearly the Federal Government had fulfilled its part and it remained for the States to pass the implementing legislation to make the machinery for a home-consumption price operative.

I direct the attention of honorable sentors to the fact that Dr. Earle Page made no reference to the action of the Commonwealth Government in cancelling the flour tax which, we were informed, would have produced exactly the same amount of money for the assistance of the wheat industry as would the homeconsumption price. If the statement of Dr. Earle Page that the sum of £900,000 was not made available because of the failure of two States to pass the necessary legislation, is correct, it is clear that the whole of the relief granted to the Australian consumers by the cancellation of the flour tax has been given entirely at the expense of the drought-stricken farmers of three States, because the Government could have collected the same amount of money by continuing the operation of the flour tax. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the report of a further statement made by Dr. Earle Page -

Continuing, Dr. Earle Page said that he pointed out to Mr. Powell when he was in Canberra recently, that whether it was possible to make £900.o66 available for the assistance of distressed farmers depended on whether the home-consumption price legislation went through the State Parliament. When Mr. Powell dissented from that statement of the position of the Minister, Dr. Earle Page added: "It is on record, and it is the fact."

In my opinion, the Commonwealth Government must accept full responsibility for calling the October conference to deal with the situation in the wheat industry so late in the year, and only one month before harvesting commenced. The least the Commonwealth Government could have done was to have made available the £900,000 originally earmarked for drought relief in this industry instead of the comparatively meagre sum of £268,000 proposed in this bill. We were led to expect better treatment from the Government, in which the Country party has half of the say. Particularly should the original sum of £900,000 have been made available when we recall that the. Government voluntarily suspended the operation of the flour tax, which could have been continued indefinitely. I take strong objection to the position which has resulted from the repeal of the flour tax. Relief has been given to the consumers at the expense of distressed farmers of three States, particularly of Western Australia, who are receiving special drought relief. If the sum of £900,000 had been distributed among the wheatgrowers of Australia, Western Australia's share would have amounted to approximately £580,000. I have never read more puerile excuses by any Minister than those made by Dr. Earle Page in regard to the Government's failure to carry out its obvious duty to the wheat-farmers of those districts which have unfortunately suffered from the recent drought. He said that as the complementary legislation had not been enacted by all the States the Commonwealth could only make available £250,000. I much regret that such an attitude should be adopted by any member of the Government towards the weakest section of our farmers - those growers who have suffered so severely from drought conditions and who have derived no benefit whatever from increased wheat prices. The Commonwealth Government must be he'd entirely responsible, because of its failure to convene the Agricultural Council earlier than October last, for the delay in imple- meriting the home-consumption legislation. Four of the States, including New South Wales, failed to implement the Commonwealth's proposals for a home-consumption price of wheat in time for the last harvest, but it is grossly unfair that farmers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia should be made to suffer. The position taken up by the Commonwealth Government towards wheat-growers, as evidenced by the remarks of the Minister for Commerce in Perth, is most unjust, and it is no wonder that growers are, through their organizations, protesting strenuously to the Prime Minister against the partial abandonment of the Government's proposals to aid wheat-farmers in drought-stricken areas. The discontinuance on the 24th February last of the sales tax on flour has had a serious effect on the position of wheat-growers in my State. If the Government had continued that tax it could have paid to wheat-farmers in drought areas the £900,000 which the Minister for Commerce had assured them would be available in the form of a home-consumption price for wheat. Because of the Government's action the measure of assistance being given to the wheatgrowers in Western Australia this year is smaller than in any season for the last five years.

Senator Arkins - The honorable gentleman should give all the figures.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - I have given all the relevant figures contained in the statement made by the Minister for Commerce, and I repeat that the decision of the Government to discontinue the flour tax has been taken entirely at the expense of suffering wheat-growers in the drought-stricken areas of Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. On a proportionate basis, the wheat-farmers in Western Australia would have received £580,000 of the £900,000 which the Minister for Commerce had assured us would be available. Even at this late hour I appeal to the Government to make this amount available for special drought relief purposes in Western Australia, instead of the sum of £160,000 to be allocated under this bill. This £900,000 was definitely promised by the Minister for Commerce for drought relief, subject to the Government's proposals for a homeconsumption price being implemented by the States, and bearing in mind that Commonwealth revenue for the eight months of the present financial year is £4,500,000 in excess of the amount received for the corresponding period of last year, I urge the Government to make available the amount of £900,000 originally decided upon for drought relief. My sympathy is with the Government of Western Australia, regardless of its political affiliations in its request for £872,000 for drought relief this year, because I realize that, in dealing with its drought stricken wheat-growers under these inadequate Commonwealth proposals, it is expected to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There has been dissatisfaction

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