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Friday, 7 May 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Government have taken the proper course, and I again enter my protest against the operations of the Wheat Pool being made the plaything of political parties. If there is one thing that has made the Australian farmer sick of the whole business, it is the belief that political influences have been operating in regard to a big national question like this, which ought to be above all politics.

Mr Austin Chapman - We all applauded the Prime Minister for his action.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - With reference to the wheat deal that has been referred to, it is unfortunate that members of the Wheat Board are not prophets. Questions were asked in this House day after day if the Prime Minister had succeeded in selling the wheat, and urgent cable messages were forwarded to London stating that the country wanted the money. And in connexion with that transaction, I remind the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) that in his statement this morning he was, perhaps un consciously, not playing the game, for he did not convey to the farmers of Australia a proper impression as to parity value. . It is quite true that, all through the war, our farmers were in an unfortunate position in relation to parity value; but this was, and is, due to our geographical situation entirely; so when honorable members quote prices current in other countries, they should put the other side of the question as well. They should show what our disabilities, due to our geographical position, are.

Mr Prowse - Was I not fair when I said that the Prime- Minister was urging us to grow wheat as a national obligation, and then sold it at a price that represented a sacrifice to the Empire of £8,000,000 ?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - It was a sacrifice to the Empire ; but not when judged from a proper commercial aspect, and in view of the circumstances of the time. It must not be forgotten that our wheat was in Australia, and was likely to remain here for years, and, therefore, it was valueless. What would havebeen the position of our farmers but for the action of the Imperial Government in buying and paying for their wheat years before it could be lifted from Australia ?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The suggestion is that we sacrificed the wheat. We got all we could for it from the Imperial Government. That is thepoint.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Of course, honorable members know this. If they do not know it, then all I can say is they have taken very little interest in the whole business, because it has been stated over and over again that the Prime Minister could not, for a time, persuade the Imperial Government to buy the wheat. But, finally, he was able to sell at 6d. per bushel above the price fixed by the Australian Wheat Board. This additional 6d. represented many millions of pounds to the Australian farmers, and when the announcement of a sale was made, there was rejoicing in this House and throughout the country.

Mr Austin Chapman - We nearly passed a vote of thanks to the Prime Minister for it.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Every true farmer did that in his heart. Let us play the game, and in any references to this matter, put both sides, so that our farmers will not be misled.

Mr Prowse - Why did the Prime Minister mislead the farmers?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - He did nothing of the kind. My honorable friend wants the farmers to handle their own wheat. I, too, want to get away from the pool system, and allow the wheat to be handled by men whose life training fits them for this business. But the Australian Wheat Board was well managed, as there was at the head of it an official who knows his business. If the farmers of this and other States want to handle their own wheat, why do they not follow the example set by the South Australian farmers? For the last twentyfive years now they have been connected with a co-operative union, which handles more than half the wheat grown in that State.

Mr Prowse - In our State the farmers handle the lot.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - How long have they been doing that?

Mr Prowse -For the last three years, and most effectively, too.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - During the past three years the Western Australian farmers have not had very good crops, and so have not had much wheat to handle. Butif they are doing what the honorable member says, what is he complaining of ? I agree that an announcement should be made, so that the State Governments may get rid of that big army of officials preparatory to wheat operations moving along the ordinary channels again.But, after all, there is no need to make so very much trouble over the business, as there is plenty of time between now and the next harvest. I urge honorable members to leavethe political aspect out of the question altogether, because this is anational question. It is, in fact, the most important subject with which we can deal, because, as honorable members know, agriculture is the base of any nation's prosperity.

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