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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Westtern Australia) (Ministerfor External Affairs) [5.0]. - In view of some of the remarks made this afternoon, particularly by Senator Johnston, in criticism of the Commonwealth Government, and of the amount of the grant proposed to be made to the wheat-growers of this country, from which it might appear that the Commonwealth had dealt not only ungenerously but also meanly with the farmers of Western Australia, who have been so unfortunate as to have had little or no crops this year, I rise to say something in reply. I point out that this is a Federal Parliament, not merely a parliament of a State, and the Commonwealth Government governs the whole of Australia, not merely one part of it. This bill is evidence of a recognition on the part of the Commonwealth Government of the plight of many farmers in Western Australia, by making to them a free grant of £160,000 - a sum which has never to be repaid by them and is not to be regarded as a liability. Yet Senator Johnston says that the contribution is not sufficient and is indeed miserly.

Senator E B Johnston - Does the right honorable gentleman himself think that is sufficient?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - - In Western Australia there is a parliament which represents that State only, and a government which governs that State only. That parliament and that government are more directly responsible to those settlers than is either the Commonwealth Parliament or the Commonwealth Government. The Treasury of Western Australia benefited from the sum realized from the sale of the land on which these necessitous farmers are settled. The farmers of Western Australia, therefore, are much more the direct responsibility of the parliament of their own State than of this Parliament. Let us see how the Parliament and Government of Western Australia has dealt with them. According to statements which have appeared in the West Australian,Mr. Troy, who is Minister for Lands in the Collier Government, is said to have announced that the Government of Western Australia will supplement by £50,000 the grant from the Commonwealth Government. In other words, the assessment by the Government of Western Australia of the distress of the farmers of that State is one-third of the assessment by the Commonwealth Government! For an hour this afternoon we listened to a denunciation of the Commonwealth Government for its meanness; but we heard not one word of the contribution by the State government towards the relief of these unfortunate settlers, who are clients, not of the Commonwealth Government, but of the government of the State.

Senator E B Johnston - The Government of Western Australia has asked the Commonwealth for £872,000.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - Mr. Collier has spent a lot of money on telegrams to the Commonwealth Government asking for further assistance. I understand that he sent a telegram to Senator Johnston also asking him to appeal to the Commonwealth for more money. Did Senator Johnston send a telegram to Mr. Collier to inquire why his government had not given more? But I have not told the whole story. In letters which have appeared in the West Australian - letters which Senator Johnston has most likely read, although he has not given them to the Senate - the farmers who have received such generous treatment from the State Government point out that the money is being paid to them through the medium of the Agricultural Bank, whose clients th3y are, for the purchase of chaff and other horse feed, water and sustenance, and will be charged against their account with the bank, and they themselves will be held responsible for its repayment, with interest! Senator Johnston did not tell the Senate these things, but contented himself with accusing the Commonwealth Government of miserly treatment of these settlers. Why did he not tell the Senate how the Government of Western Australia, which is directly responsible for the land settlement policy of that State, has dealt with its settlers ?

Senator E B Johnston - The Commonwealth Government was a party to the migration agreement under which that settlement took place.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - These distressed settlers were on the land long before that agreement was made.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That agreement has nothing to do with the matter before the Senate. Of course, there has been some controversy over this matter in the columns of the West Austraiian and other newspapers of Western Australia. I have read the apology of the State government in this connexion, and I have not doubt that, in due course, Senator Johnston will place its views before the Senate, as he appears to be willing at all times to defend the State Government of Western Australia.

Senator E B Johnston - I was "gagged."

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Had the honorable senator been given another hour he would not have given to the Senate the facts which I have presented to it this afternoon. The excuse submitted on behalf of the State Government is that it is hard up, whereas the Commonwealth Government has a big surplus.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - At the recent election the Government of Western Australia did not tell the electors that it was hard up, but claimed credit for having balanced its budget.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.One of the claims placed before the elec tors by that government was that it had spent more money than its predecessors, and had granted to public servants concessions which, I understand, amounted to nearly double the sum granted by it for the relief of these unfortunate farmers - concessions which are not loans, but have been granted in perpetuity. The plea that it had no money was not raised by the State government at that time.

Senator E B Johnston - byleave - I desire to make a personal explanation. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) said that I was defending the State Labour Government of Western Australia. That statement is entirely incorrect. There was a State election in Western Australia a few weeks ago, and night after night, through broadcasting stations and by other methods, I, as an official representative of the Western Australian Country party and of the Western Australian Primary Producers Association, attacked the State Labour Government, pointed out its delinquencies, and urged the electors to vote for the opposition party, which is the Country party. The right honorable gentleman, who now says that I am defending the State Labour Government, was not in Western Australia during the election campaign. He cleared out of the 'State, as he did at the last federal election, while I was doing my job.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator is exceeding the limits of a personal explanation.

Senator E B Johnston - I repeat that the right honorable gentleman is afraid to remain in Western Australia at federal election time.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator rose to make a personal explanation arising out of a statement by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce). He must confine his remarks within the limits of the leave granted.

Senator E B Johnston - I do not regard it as part of my duty to come to this Parliament to attack any State government in regard to matters of which I have not an intimate knowledge. I have, however, an intimate knowledge of federal affairs, which it is my duty to watch, and I condemn the Commonwealth

Government for its policy in regard to the wheat industry as evidenced by this bill.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I, too, desire to make a personal explanation in order to refute a statement made by Senator Johnston in relation to the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce).

The PRESIDENT - Is the honorable senator personally affected?

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I am in a better position to state the facts than is Senator Johnston.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator would be in order only if he himself were affected by any remark made by another honorable senator.

Senator BRENNAN(Victoria- Acting Attorney-General) f 5.10 1 . - in reply - I shall be brief in my reply, particularly since the fierce attack on the Government by Senator Johnston has already been adequately dealt with. The honorable senator described the assistance proposed to be given by this measure to the wheat-growers of Australia as the least generous help given in five years. He spoke as if it were the duty of the Commonwealth Government to vote sums of money year after year for the relief of wheat-growers. That is not so. The grants which have been made from time to time have been the result of a recognition by the Commonwealth Government of the exceptional circumstances which have operated during recent years. A complete answer to the charge that the amount this year is smaller than it has been for five years is that the position- of the wheat-growers of Australia to-day is better than it has been at any time during the last five years. The honorable senator's constant references to the unsympathetic action of the Government are, I am afraid, due to an unconquerable tendency to criticize the Government whatever it does. We, in this chamber, are aware that the honorable senator's speech is the outcome of his great solicitude for the wheat-farmers of Western Australia, but other persons, more cynical and censorious, may attribute his attack to entirely different causes. If they do so, it will be' the misfortune of the honorable senator, and we shall be able only to sympathize with him. In a long speech, the honorable senator had little to say by way of criticism of the measure itself.

Senator Brown asked if it would be possible for the Government to protect from garnishee proceedings the sums paid to wheat-growers under this bill. That subject has been raised on a number of occasions in connexion with bills of a similar nature. The Government has declined to include a clause of that nature, because of a doubt as to the constitutionality of such a provision, and of the power of the Commonwealth to pass laws to deal with matters which are entirely within the province of a State. That is the reason for the inclusion of clause 8, which provides that the money shall not be paid to any one but the wheat-grower. It is therefore clear that if the money is obtained from him, it must be by legal proceedings taken after the money has come into his possession.

Senator AllanMacDonald referred to the definition of "wheat-grower" in clause 2. I remind him that the Acts Interpretation Act provides that " person " includes a corporation. I cannot understand the particular case to which the honorable senator referred.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The fact remains that the limited liability company to which I referred did not get the money.

Senator BRENNAN - Under the Wheat Bounty Act a wheat-grower was not defined in the way that he is defined in this bill. The weakness which existed in the act mentioned, has now been removed, and the definition is sufficiently wide to cover a corporation or a small company engaged in the production of wheat The honorable senator also asked a question in connexion with clause 6, which can be answered in committee.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6-

Any amount granted to a State in accordance with the provisions of section four of this act shall be paid on condition that it is applied by the State in providing relief to wheatgrowers in such manner aa is approved by tha Minister after recommendation by the prescribed authority of that State.

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