Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 20 July 1917

Mr POYNTON (Grey) .- I do not intend to occupy much time in the discussion of this Bill. I am still somewhat in a quandary as to whether or not we are doing the right thing in this, regard, but I recognise that it is absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken to assist in the preservation of our grain. Travellers oh our railway lines are familiar with the fearful losses due to the fact that to some extent some one has blundered. I have often thought that we in Australia are exceedingly careless and indifferent to the provision that should be made for protecting our wheat and other grain stocks from the ravages caused by mice and those worked by climatic influences. Apparently the Wheat Board, or whoever exercises control over the agents, made the mistake of falling into the groove which has so long been followed in Australia, with the result that deplorable losses have occurred, and must continue, from what I consider to be the primary negligence of those who were charged with this duty. There are to be seen stacked close to various railway stations in South Australia hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat without a particle of roofing. These stacks were originally roofed, but, unfortunately, the stacks themselves were used as the foundation for the roofing, and as soon as the mice got to work on them they collapsed, with the result that the iron which was resting upon them fell in, and the rain penetrated them.

Mr Riley - That was bad management.

Mr POYNTON - Instead of having a separate support for the roofs, the stacks, following an old custom, were used for that purpose. Whilst such a practice served very well when there was no mice plague to combat, and "when, with an ample shipping service, wheat had not to be stacked for any considerable length of time, it has led in the existing circumstances to tremendous waste.

A few days ago I put ,to the Prime Minister a question to which he was unable to give me a satisfactory answer. Under, the Wheat Board certain business men who had been engaged in the grain trade for years were appointed as wheat agents, and, I understand, were intrusted with the responsibility of properly housing and protecting the grain stacks from the elements. When travelling through a wheat-growing district recently I had a conversation with a man who was working under one of these agents, and who gave me information, which, if true, is most astonishing. He said that while the agents were held responsible for up to 3 per cent, of losses due to any failure on their part to carry out their duty, the occurrence of any loss exceeding 3 per cent, relieved them from all responsibility. He assured me that isi such circumstances they were relieved, not only from responsibility for the original 3 per cent, of loss, but for all loss in excess of that. If that be true, it is a scandal, and does not suggest much foresight on the part of those who made the agreement. Such a provision in the agreement would really be an inducement to these men to get over the maximum of 3 per cent., and so to absolve themselves from all responsibility. I put a question to the Prime Minister on the subject, but, as I have said, did not receive a satisfactory answer. This phase of the question ought .certainly to be looked into. Various estimates have been made as to the actual losses we shall suffer. I have heard some gentlemen declare that the loss will not exceed 3 per cent., while others who are engaged in the handling of wheat say that the mice plague alone will result in a loss amounting to something like 10 per cent.- The ravages of the mice plague, however, represent but one phase of our difficulty. A far more serious danger is that of the weevil. It is well known that wheat that has absorbed a certain amount of moisture will develop weevil. In to-day's papers we are informed that Adelaide is flooded, and if the heavy rainfall responsible for that flooding has also occurred in the wheat areas our wheat stacks in those districts will be in a sorry mess.

I have a complaint to make as to the attempts that have been made to remedy the bungling that has occurred. Along the various railway lines in South Australia men are to be seen engaged in the work of re-bagging the wheat in stacks. At Gulnare South, as well as in other parts, stacks from 15 to 20 feet high, and covering something like an acre of ground, are to be seen. They are one mass of loose wheat. There is hardly a bag visible, and the grain is absolutely exposed to the elements." Alongside any of these stacks one man is to be seen turning a hand winnower, which is fed by another while a third is hooking on the bag, one is sewing, and probably one or two gathering up the wheat. My colleague, the honorable member for Wakefield, will bear

Dee out when I say that similar conditions prevail at every station in the north; and it would be impossible to shift this wheat in three months by the bagging process. It occurs to me that we ought to resort, at least, to motor winnowing, which would give a much more rapid and better result than hand winnowing. It cannot be denied that we require some better provision for the storage and proper protection of the wheat we have and the wheat to come. The Bill, however, goes much further, and, in my opinion, commits us to bulk handling, as to which opinion is very divided in the State I represent. I should imagine that there is in favour of it a number equal at least to those opposed to it; and there has not been a speech made during this debate to show that bulk handling in Australia can be. compared in any way to bulk handling in the United States of America or Canada. For instance, it has not been demonstrated that we can move wheat from Australia around Cape Horn, especially in view of the fact that large quantities must be shipped in "wind-jammers," or sailing ships, and of necessity be many months on board. When I was in Canada, I saw the process of bulk handling, and I found that the maximum time that the wheat is on board, or on the road, is only about seven days.

Mr Pigott - What about the Argentine!

Mr POYNTON - How long does it take a vessel to go from the Argentine to England ?

I am credibly informed that for bulk handling it will be necessary to have an absolutely new class of shipping. If an ordinary ship be filled with loose wheat the' great expansion, resulting from moisture, causes the decks to lift, while, if, the ship is not quite filled, there is a danger, in the heavy seas that must be encountered, of a list consequent upon the shifting of the cargo. Further, I understand that, in a comparison of samples shipped in bulk, and shipped in bags, it was found that a better price was obtained for the latter. I do not wish to prevent anything being done to assist in the housing of our present supplies, and the protection of the coming harvest, but I do not care to commit myself to the bulk handling of wheat until we have considerably more information than we have been able to gather up to the present. I suggest to the Prime Minister that, instead of rushing this measure through, and taking the stand that the Commonwealth will carry it out in spite of the States - which, after all, are as much, or more, interested - there should be .further consultation with the representatives of the States to see whether we cannot protect our crop, and come to some agreement in regard to bulk handling.

One of the greatest advantages enjoyed by South Australia is in its many ports, i numbering some hundreds, from which wheat may be shipped, as compared with Victoria, where there are only two big ports at which the wheat business is conducted. I am very doubtful in my own mind whether, in view of the circumstances of South Australia, we could initiate a bulk-handling process that would altogether eliminate the necessity for using bags. Throughout Eyre's Peninsula, and right up Spencer's Gulf, the wheat is snipped from many ports. This, of course,' means a reduction in the cost of carting to the sea; and it must be apparent that we could not erect the necessary structures for loading vessels at all of these ports. The question then arises, what are the people to do in those parts of the country where the wheat would still have to be handled in bags? It is said that one of the effects of bulk handling would be a great saving in the cost of cornsacks; but with the exception of

Port . Adelaide, Port Lincoln, Wallaroo, and, probably, Port Pirie, the harvest at other ports would have to be carried in bags, as has been the case for years, or there would have to be a very high railage to the place of shipment. Not one word has been said during the debate to show 'that bulk handling has been proved satisfactory. The proposed silos are a prelude to, or a part of, a great bulkhandling scheme; and for that reason I suggest that the passage of this measure ought not to be hurried. As to the necessity for the other provisions in the Bill, however, there can be no doubt, for there is certainly room for much to be done. It is a scandal that such waste should be going on.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - These silos would deal with only a fourth or fifth of the trouble.

Mr Page - What is the -honorable member for Grey complaining of ? The Government desire tlo stop the waste.

Mr POYNTON - The Government can only stop about one-third of the waste; and I fancy the honorable member for Maranoa has not been following me. The proposed scheme commits us to bulk handling, which is a different proposition from that to erect proper stores and accommodation for the protection of the wheat we have and to come.

Mr Page - The only difference between the honorable member and the Government is that the Government desire to put the wheat into silos, while he desires to bag it.

Mr POYNTON - So far as the Bill commits us to bulk handling, I do not desire to commit myself, because bulk handling is one proposition, and the proper protection of the wheat, whether in bags or loose, another. There will be ample opportunity in the course of this debate for the Government to show that they are justified in going on with a scheme of bulk handling, which has been turned down, or, at any rate, delayed in New South Wales.

Mr Pigott - Not in New South Wales.

Mr POYNTON - That State is not going on with a scheme. There are very funny stories told about New South Wales in this connexion.

Mr Pigott - I have it from Mr. Fuller himself that, he intends to introduce the system.

Mr POYNTON - In South Australia, at any rate, the farmers, who are principally interested, are very divided in opinion-; and we ought, as I say, to have some information before us as to the merits or demerits of the proposed system. So far as the Bill commits . us to bulk handling, I am against it.

Suggest corrections