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Friday, 7 May 1920

Mr GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Works and Railways) - Not at all; the Prime Minister was in favour of it from the very beginning.

Mr PROWSE - I should like honorable members to realize the position of the wheat-growers of Australia. They have been as patriotic as have any other section of the community. They readily submitted to war conditions without complaint, as to the price obtained for their wheat, feeling that the best was being done for them. But let me tell the House what the " best " was for Australia compared with the best .for other wheatgrowing countries. I think that I have mentioned on a former occasion that, for the four years ending September last, in dribs and drabs, and under the most inadequate system of handling wheat, the Australian grower received 3s. 8d. per bushel. In America, in respect of the same period, the wheat-growers received 8s. 7d. per bushel; in England, 9s. 6d. per bushel; Norway, 18s. lOd. per bushel; Holland, 13s. 5 1/2d. per bushel; Italy, 183. Id. per bushel; Trance and Spain, 16s. 6d. per bushel; and Portugal, 26s. 9d. per bushel. The wheat-growers of Australia, despite the extra cost of living, received the mere pittance of 3s. 8d. per bushel. Do honorable members marvel at people giving up wheatgrowing and devoting themselves to sheep-farming or some other branch of primary industry?

Without any desire to introduce acrimony or to attach blame to any one, I complain that there has been a want of statesmanship. We were told that we were under a national obligation to produce more and more wheat. The Prime Minister who urged that upon us went to' England and sold our wheat at a price so low that the Controller of Agriculture announced to the House of Commons, in 1917, that the Australian wheatgrowers, through their patriotism, had sacrificed £8,000,000 in the sale of their wheat. Had a similar sacrifice "been made by other Allied wheat-growing countries we should have been on a par with them. As it is, in. these other countries, which received the full price, a stimulus has been given to agricultural pursuits, which have been made so attractive that they are in a better position than before the war, whereas we have reduced by 4,000,000 acres the area under wheat. In 1916, we had 12,000,000 acres under wheat in Australia, but last year we had only 8,000,000 acres sown. That cannot be said to be to the advantage of the country. We seem to be as unfortunate to-day as in other times. We continue to make bad deals. These deals, however, have not been under the control of the farmers. We recognise that the principle of the Pool is excellent. As the result of the war, many things have been made known to us. We recognise that in the pooling of Australian wheat, the finest in the world - the rest of the, world cannot do without it for mixing purposes - we shall, by so combining, bring more wealth to the Commonwealth. The principle is excellent, but we do not want, on adopting it, to put the goose to watch the oats. We want the producers to amalgamate, and so to control their wheat that they may get the best markets for it. The States have been very clever; they have once more got in ahead of us. They have bought up all the wheat they want for the year, so that the farmers to-day are supplying the people of Australia at less than half price.

I would ask the House to be very kind to the farmers. They are supplying wheat to the people to-day at much less than half the world's price. We want to take a referendum of the farmers to ascertain how many are willing to pool their wheat, so that we may pay a man with brains, and having no interest other than the service of his country, to represent us in our sales and management of our business. We shall have our London agent, and buying in Australia will be from one office only. If the farmers desire to do that, why should this House object ? Have we no right to seek to emancipate ourselves when others will not concern themselves very much about our emancipation? In the policy- that we submitted to the Prime Minister we proposed that the Government should be represented on the Pool to insure that there should be no over-exporting of wheat. In this policy we desire to protect the food of our people. If the

Government give a guarantee - and we can do without it, I think - they should have representation to see that the money so advanced is protected by the security of the wheat. These matters have not been overlooked by us ; we have not considered them in a selfish light. Our only desire is to place ourselves abreast of the most modern nations. The farmers in my own State, for instance, have decided to put ?250,000 out of their wheat returns into a scheme for bulk handling. Instead of paying 6d. per bushel to put the. wheat into bags we are going to put the money into silos and elevators, so that we may efficiently handle our produce. We feel that this country cannot be great unless we adopt modern methods, and thus secure the fullest advantages in respect of the products we work so hard to raise.

I hope the House without any feeling of acrimony will recognise the necessity for the continuation of the Pool until these matters are adjusted. We do not want to continue the present agents. We may employ some of them, but our desire is that the producer shall get nearer to the consumer. We want to make the passage of our products to the consumer abroad as well as here ascheap as possible, and in that desire we should have the sympathy of Parliament. In order that our position may be clear to the House, I say that we only desire the continuation of the Pool for this year, so that we may have time to carry out the objects which I have already indicated. We want time to enable a referendum of the farmers to be taken, and we propose to ascertain whether it would not be possible for this Parliament so to legislate as to give legal sanction to this method of pooling. The poorest farmers in the past have been the most hardly dealt with, and they will be best protected by means of this voluntary-compulsory Pool. I have grown to be a big wheat-grower by perseverance. But there was a time when I was a small grower, and when the " p.n.'s " had to be met at a most inopportune moment. Like many others I would be called upon just when my wheat was off to meet these " p.n.'s ". If I replied that I could not meet them for a little while I would be told that I had my wheat in, and that I should be able to do. so. My rejoinder was that I wanted to hold for a rise; but the " p.n.'s " had to be met.

Mr SPEAKER - (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson). - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr McWilliams - By way of a personal explanation, I desire to say that the reason why the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) did not give to the responsible Minister or the Government Whip the usual notice of his intention to move the adjournment of the House in order to discuss this question, was that he discovered that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) had already given notice of his intention to move the adjournment on another matter, and it was not until the House met that he knew that he would be able to carry out his intention to-day.

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