Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 28 May 1942

Senator FRASER - I am pleased that the honorable senator has made that correction. Previously he said that all the wheat was delivered to the United Kingdom.

Senator McLEAY - I said that the whole of the wheat purchased by the British Government had been paid for, but a small quantity still remained to be shipped. The amount still owing to farmers from that pool is approximately £1,250,000.

Then we come to the No. 4 pool, which was estimated to total 64,000,000 bushels. I believe that in respect of that pool, 4£d. a bushel is still owing to the farmers, making the total about 4s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. or 3s. 7£d. a bushel at country sidings, allowing charges at 9-Jd. a bushel. That additional 4 1/2 d. a bushel amounts to approximately £1,250,000, which is the same amount that is owing from the previous pool.

It is estimated that the receivals for the No. 5 pool totalled 153,000,000 bushels. It has been reported in the press that the Government does not propose to pay the wheat-farmers the full amount lor the 13,000,000 bushels received by the board in excess of the quantity guaranteed. That would amount to repudiation, or breach of promise, and I urge the Government to reconsider the matter. Press reports indicate that because the receivals amounted to 153,000,000 bushels, the total payment that the previous Government promised for 140,000,000 bushels would be spread over the larger quantity. That would mean that the farmers of Australia - I understand that they are entitled to ft further 5d. a bushel from this particular pool- would lose £3,250,000. I point out that this arrangement for a stabilization scheme and the guaranteeing of payment for 140,000,000 bushels was made by the Menzies Government in October, 1940. The then Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) introduced the necessary legislation in November, 1940. Since then the position has altered considerably because of the entry of Japan into the war. So far as the No. 5 wheat-pool is concerned, the Australian Wheat Board now finds itself in the same position as did the Apple and Pear Board in connexion with the export trade of the fruit which is handled. I think that the export on 153,000,000 bushels would be something like 80 per cent, in a normal year, but owing to the war position, it will be impossible for the Australian Wheat Board to dispose of the exportable surplus until the end of hostilities. In the handling of that problem the board and the Government have been confronted with the problem of meeting interest on overdrafts and very heavy charges for storage, &c. I understand that up to the end of June this year, the charges for which the board is liable will amount to something like 9£d. a bushel. As we consider that to be a reasonable charge for one season's wheat, we suggest to the Government that in view of the war situation, charges on that pool should be limited to 9 1/2 d. a bushel, and that the farmers should be paid for the 153,000,000 bushels delivered to the pool. Costs of production have increased greatly since 1940, when this proposal was first submitted. Superphosphate has increased by 50 per cent., the price of corn-sacks has gone up, and corresponding increases have taken place in other charges such as sales tax. For that reason, the Government should review the payment of 3s. lOd. a bushel and, if possible, go beyond the amount suggested in this motion. If that could be done, the farmers would be very grateful. What I have suggested is reasonable and fair to the large body of primary producers who are not blessed with the favoured! conditions enjoyed by some others in industry. I have been associated with the wheat industry very- closely, and know that the work of the farmers is arduous. They do not work only eight hours a day ; they are engaged from daylight to dark. Considering that invalid and old-age pensions have been increased by 25 per cent., and having regard to the payment of child endowment and pensions to widows, the wheat-farmers are entitled to some consideration from the Government, and I am anxious to hear an announcement by the- Minister before the conclusion of the present sittings. If the Government is prepared to accept the suggestion made to it, the farmers will receive a further £3,250,000 for the wheat delivered to the No. 5 pool, which means, in round figures, that the Government is now owing the wheat-farmers of Australia £5,750,000.

I take exception to the statements made by the Minister -for Commerce (Mr. Scully) from time to time about what the various pools are costing the Government. We have only to consider the facts that I have placed before the Senate to realize that the wheat delivered in 1939-40, and in 1940-41, has not cost the Government anything. The realization price of 4s. I'd. a bushel for wheat in the No. 2 pool and about 4s. 4d. or 4s. 5d. a bushel for wheat in the No. 4 pool is considerably above the 3s. lOd. a bushel' which was guaranteed, in 1940. It is interesting to estimate whether the Treasury has .benefited up' to date from the realizations on tie three pools. I recognize that interest would cost on an average about id. a bushel, and I think that the rate due to the Commonwealth Bank . was 3£ per cent. Taking the interest charges on the wheat for the three years, we find that the wheat-farmer has paid to the Commonwealth Bank approximately £1,293,750, half of that sum having gone to the credit of the bank and the other half into the Treasury. That figure is an estimate, and allowance must be made for the charges incurred.

Another interesting feature of the scheme should be considered. I desire to correct statements made from time to time that misrepresent the position. The Australian Wheat Board has been accused of incurring extravagant costs in the management of the pools. I mentioned earlier that I estimated the charges at 9 1/2 d. a bushel, out of which the State and Commonwealth railways receive on the average 4-Jd. a bushel, so it may be said that half of the charges are paid to the various railway departments for freight alone. On the. three pools, the railways departments have received no less than. £7,750,000 in freight charges. Of course, State governments have received other benefits such as harbour dues. That shows the value of the wheat industry to the various governments in. this country. I pay a tribute to the Australian Wheat Board. It was established at the outbreak of war, and it had to put the scheme into operation promptly. It has done an exceedingly good job for the wheat-farmers, and for the Government. That fact can be substantiated by the balance-sheets presented with regard to the operations of the pools. Some of the members of the board have given their services in an. honorary capacity.

Suggest corrections