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Friday, 20 July 1917

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- I do not think the Prime Minister can exaggerate the importance of this subject. We are up against a very difficult problem. The only objection I have relates not to the measure, but to the fact that the country has not been given a fair test as between the adoption of the bulk handling scheme and the retention of the present system. I regret that the Government did not come out into the open and say, " We are going to test the feeling of the country upon the bulk handling system." Had they done so, I believe .they may have converted the whole country to the acceptance of this scheme. I should have liked the country to go into the whole question of primal costs and storage under the bulk handling system, and the cost of converting rollingstock, as well as of farm conversion and the necessary shipping conversion. Those are considerations which must be faced. But I cannot see the merits of this proposal if it be segregated, and dealt with solely as a wheat-preservation proposition. Oh the Prime Minister's own showing, we shall have shortly to deal with 265,000,000 bushels of wheat, whereas this scheme provides for the preservation of only 49,000,000 bushels. Australia has had no previous experience of the keeping properties of wheat; no one in this country can tell us how long wheat grown in the temperate districts, subject to coastal influences, will keep, or how long wheat grown in the warmer climates will resist weevil. As to the other conditions, I am satisfied that wheat grown in the inland districts can be preserved. As a grower of wheat, I have no doubt as to that. Wheat is, so to speak, better able to look after itself than anything else produced by the farmer.- The wheat berry has wonderful powers of endurance. My own doubt is as to its power to resist the weevil. I heard with some disappointment the statement made by the Prime Minister, while the honorable member for Flinders was speaking, that not wheat but flour was to be stored in these silos.

Mr Hughes - I did not say that. What I said was that, when introducing the Bill, I pointed out that if we could put our wheat into flour, we could save 25 per cent, of freight space. In that way we would keep our mills employed and produce large quantities of offal, which would mean abundance of cheap food for our stock. That being so, I said we were going to endeavour to ship as much flour as possible. That cannot be done unless we have stores in which to place that flour. We have no such stores at present, but this scheme will provide us with such accommodation.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I admit that our mills are filled almost to their very doors, and that our local consumption, including seed wheat, will account for only onethird of our wheat production. The Commonwealth has guaranteed to the farmer for the next two years 4s. per bushel f.o.b. for his wheat.

Mr Riley - And the Commonwealth will lose money.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I do not think so, The farmer is told that cost of constructing storage accommodation under this scheme will amount to ls. 2d. per bushel. If we were satisfied as to fundamentals, and if the people would adopt bulk handling straight out, I should be prepared to go much further than this Bill.

Mr Hughes - If we adopted bulk handling to-day, we could not get the machinery necessary for it, and no country to which we could ship wheat has the machinery to suck the wheat out of the ship's hold.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I would answer that objection by saying that we could leave out of this scheme that part of the bulk handling system which involves pumping the wheat out of the hold, and make more provision for storage.

Mr Hughes - I am with the honorable member there.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - We are faced with these alternatives. We have to finance this wheat, and we have to deliver it in good order to the British purchasers.' That is the first duty of the Government, and up to that point they will have my assistance in any measure for the preservation of our grain. I am not satisfied, however, that this proposal can be segregated, and that it is not an inseparable part of the bulk handling system. It is a first instalment of, and commits Australia to, that system. If we were not eventually to adopt that system, then we should have incurred an expenditure in this respect which would not be justifiable even in such an emergency as that, with which we are faced. We have not had placed before us expert information as to how long wheat could be preserved in the northern areas on concrete floors with skeleton roofs. That is the most acceptable form of storage up to date. I am not comparing it with the bulk handling system.

Mr Hughes - I believe it would keep a long while under, those conditions.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The weevil is the only thing we have to fear.

Mr Hughes - The point is that once you have put your wheat into such sheds you have simply to trust to God ; you cannot tell what is going on, or what new pests may be there. On the other hand,when wheat is placed in the cylinders - in the silos - it is turned over at certain periods, aerated and examined so that you know where you are.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That serves only to emphasize the necessity for a wider measure than we have at present before us. In normal times,- a little more storage than that provided for in this Bill would be sufficient for the whole of our wheat, because under ordinary conditions we have ships coming into port to take our wheat away as fast as it reaches the sea-board. In such circumstances an extensive system of storage is unnecessary. What we have to consider is whether we should take the risk of damage to fourfifths of our wheat in respect .of which we are committed to the extent of 4s. per bushel, or whether we should go further and incur an additional cost of ls. 2d. per bushel as the primal expenditure necessary to provide storage for a larger quantity. My contention is that we cannot stop where we are. If we do, we shall run the risk of the destruction of vast quantities of wheat, and shall discourage production.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member is now destroying the first: part, of his argument that normally with bulk handling the storage which we propose to provide would be sufficient. We have to deal with . a purely abnormal position, which, however temporary, may extend over three, four, or five years, and the honorable member says we ought to spend £10,000,000 to preserve this wheat.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I say that we ought to exhaust every possible means of investigation in order to ascertain how long wheat will resist weevil. There is theexperience of other countries to guide us.

Mr Hughes - We have at our disposal information as to that experience.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - We have not had it. The country must regard this as the adoption of the bulk handling system without an investigation of the primal and conversion costs.

Mr Hughes - Those have been inquired into. The cost of the machinery and of converting the system into a complete bulk handling scheme is known. .

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - That information is not at the disposal of the Committee.

Mr Hughes - Because we are not asking the country to adopt the bulk handling system.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It seems to me that in passing this measure we shall be adopting the bulk handling system without having given full consideration to all its aspects. We cannot continue to operate the dual system. The one will soon supplant the other. It will be said that we cannot take a retrograde step. We shall be, urged to get into line, and to keep marching on. We do not want any friction in the shape of South Australia refusing to come in. I should have preferred to have seen the Prime Minister invite the States to come in and adopt this scheme.

Mr Hughes - They were invited to oome in, and agreed to do so.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - They were invited to consider a wheat storage system.

Mr Hughes - And they have considered bulk handling. Two have agreed to adopt the system, while in one State Parliament the Lower House has adopted it, and the Upper House has thrown iti out.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I shall support the Bill as a first instalment of what I regard as an incomplete storage scheme. Although I favour the bulk handling system, I am not prepared to accept it as a bulk handling scheme, because ,we have not had placed before us fundamental facts on which bulk handling should rest.

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