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Friday, 20 July 1917

Mr MAHONY (Dalley) .- The whole scheme, strikes me as being illconsidered. We are about as wise after hearing the , explanation of the Prime Minister as we were before he spoke. We are told that there will be about 6,000,000 tons of wheat in Australia by next February, yet the proposal of the Government is to make provision for protecting only one-third of the normal harvest, which represents about one-fifth of the actual amount of wheat that will need to be protected in Australia. It would appear to me that the Government have not given proper consideration to the matter of providing for the adequate protection of the wheat harvest. The Prime Minister has pointed out that the British Government have purchased the wheat from us. If that is so, it is our duty to take adequate steps to protect not only one-third of the normal harvest, but also all the wheat in the Commonwealth. The scheme now put forward will not do so.

Furthermore the Government should furnish us with some details of the scheme. They talk about erecting silos. What will be the nature of these silos? Will they be built of reinforced concrete? What will be the system of conveying the wheat to them? Will it be the first step towards bulk handling? Is the wheat to be brought to the silos in bulk, and stored in the silos in bulk, or are we to continue the first process of the present system by conveying the wheat to the silos in bags and then opening them and placing it on conveyors or hoists to be tipped into the silos? What provision is to he made for turning the wheat in the silos after it has lain in them for some time ? What is to be the method of taking it from the silos; will it be taken away in bulk and shipped, or will it be re-bagged for that purpose? L*i justice to 'honorable members, the Government should give us more information, as to these details, and not merely throw down the Bill and say, " The armies of Great Britain and the Allies are waiting for food and we have to protect it." Of course we have to protect it; every honorable member admits it, and is prepared to do the right thing in the matter; but I do not feel inclined to buy a pig in a poke. I wish to know what system of handling wheat we are to get for the expenditure of nearly £3,000,000 of Commonwealth money.

The storage and protection of wheat is not a matter that concerns the States only. It is a matter that affects the whole of the Commonwealth, and is of concern to the Empire as a whole. The Prime Minister has pointed out that it affects the rights of the Imperial Government who have purchased our wheat. Therefore it is the duty of the Commonwealth to accept full responsibility in regard to the protection of the wheat, and not merely advance £2,850,000 to the States.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The Commonwealth lias initiated the matter.

Mr MAHONY - But it is passing its responsibility on to the States.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The storage of wheat can hardly be separated from the control of the Railways. The State-owned railways will provide the land upon which the storage will be built. There cannot be dual control.

Mr MAHONY - At this stage I do not wish to tell the honorable member what views I hold in regard to the control of the Railways, but the point he has raised does not get away from the responsibility that the Commonwealth Government should assume. We are dealing with something of vital importance, not' only to Australia, but also to the Empire, and surely a Government that has been returned by the people to do everything possible to further the war aims of the Empire should have the courage to assume its responsibilities. I have heard the honorable member for Flinders enunciating the doctrine of supreme lex. Seeing that this is a matter of such great importance to the Empire, surely the Government will use the power, which the honorable member has told us they possess, the power of promoting the safety of the realm, and assume responsibility in connexion with this matter. . .

Honorable members may imagine that because the Chief Commissioner will be a representative of the Commonwealth, and will have the right of veto on all matters, the Commonwealth is protected; but that is the weakest point in the whole thing, because the right of veto can only arise when something wrong has been done. This may lead us into a very nasty position. We should protect the Commonwealth beforehand against blunders of State management, and not have power to f step in only after something has been done. Thus we may prevent some of those things that are causing an uneasy feeling in the minds of many people in New South Wales. I am not inclined to make any charges, but in commercial circles in Sydney to-day there is a most uneasy feeling that there is something that the people of the Commonwealth may regret, if the State Governments, especially the Government of New South Wales, are given control in the matter. In the interest of all parties, the Commonwealth and the Empire as a whole, the Commonwealth Government should say, "Here is a great national project; something that stands for the protection of our soldiers, and is going to help us to get on with the war, and something that is going to feed our armies. Let us assume responsibility, and control the whole business ourselves."

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