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Friday, 7 May 1920


Mr FLEMING (Robertson) .- The remarks of the honorable member f or Bourke (Mr. Anstey) do not throw very much light on the matter under discussion. If the suggestion of the honorable member be true, that vessels of war were used to take Australian gold to pay for Argentine wheat, it was probably the best that could have been done under the circumstances, as a very small amount of gold would be required to pay for a large quantity of wheat. The whole trouble during the war period was one of . transport, and in the speech delivered by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) he proved conclusively, from the figures he quoted, that our geographical position had everything to do with the question. The price in Australia was extremely low; it was higher in the Argentine, still higher in the United States and Canada, higher again in France and England, and the highest price in Norway. The figures given by the honorable member for Swan were correct, and absolutely the most conclusive proof that could be brought forward to show that the whole trouble in Australia was one of transport, and the distance from the main consuming centres. We have heard a good deal this morning concerning the administration of the Wheat Pool in the past, but no suggestions have been made concerning the future. The honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill), who moved the adjournment of the House, delivered what I considered a regrettable speech, because he, as President of the Farmers and Producers Association, had the unique opportunity of informing the members of this chamber what ought to be done. So far as I could gather, the, honorable member's remarks were merely a bitter and unwarranted attack on the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). I was absent from Australia in the earlier days of the Wheat Pool, or, at least, when some of the large contracts were entered into, but it is a Very easy matter to be wise after the event, and to say what should have been done. If the honorable member for Echuca had been in Great Britain when these events were transpiring he would have seen that the Prime Minister did his best. I was in England when he effected one sale, and secured for the Australian producers a little more per bushel than any one in England thought it possible to do. The speech made by the honorable member for Echuca, in which he should have told us what the farmers wanted, was simply a bitter review of the past.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No man ever fought a bigger battle than the Prime Minister on that occasion.


Mr FLEMING - I quite agree with that. I was on the spot when Mr. Hughes put up a tremendous fight in the interests of the farmers of this country, and it is most ungrateful, to say the least of it, for the head of the Farmers and Producers Association in this State to make what is nothing short of a political attack on the Prime Minister.


Mr Hill - I have not said anything that is not true.


Mr FLEMING - The honorable member may think it true, but it is grossly unfair. It is possible to make statements which may be true to-day concerning events which happened a few years ago, but in view of what has transpired the events are not seen in their true perspective.


Mr Austin Chapman - It would be interesting to hear the Prime Minister in reply.


Mr FLEMING - He will be able to answer the accusations most effectively. From honorable members on both sides of the chamber there have been complaints in connexion with this question. One is that the farmer receives too little and another is that the price of bread is too high. We cannot have it both ways.


Mr Riley - There has been too much gambling with wheat scrip.


Mr FLEMING - If there has been gambling in the scrip there has not been any speculation in wheat. It is possible to gamble in scrip but. not in wheat itself. It is all nonsense to advocate an increased price for grain and at the same time agitate for a decrease in the price of bread. I was a member of the Prices Adjustment Board before I left for the other side of the world, and it was proved conclusively before that tribunal - in consequence of information received from the leading millers and bakers - not only in one centre, but in all the large capitals - that it cost just as much to sell bread as it did to handle the wheat through all the various processes until it was converted into bread. In other words, it cost as much to grow wheat, mill it into flour, and make the bread as it did to deliver bread.


Mr Stewart - It should not.


Mr FLEMING -Undoubtedly the system is wrong, but what is the use of making bitter and uncalled-for attacks concerning what has been done in the past instead of endeavouring to improve the handling methods? This bitterness between sections is not likely to assist the primary producer, and instead of indulging in recriminations, we should see how the waste between the producer and the consumer can be eliminated. Any one who cares to peruse the records of the Prices Adjustment Board will receive food for thought, and realize that there is much more to be done than attacking each other in this chamber. The future of the wheat position in Australia is a doubtful one. It has been said that a number of producers are relinquishing wheat-growing and engaging in grazing. There are many reasons for that. There is uncertainty in the minds of farmers concerning the future outlook of wheat on account of the transport trouble, and the fact that wheat has been allowed - as the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said - to be destroyed by mice and weevil. During the war period wheat was stored under conditions which are not likely to arise again, and the farmers should be made to clearly understand that the dangers which arose in such an unlookedfor way, and which were responsible for the destruction of such a large quantity of grain, are not likely to occur again. The position has been placed before the producers, but is it any wonder that they became disgusted ? Labour conditions have made it more difficult for a farmer to grow wheat, and it is an easier, simpler, and more pleasing proposition to raise sheep. I have tried both, and, taking year in and yearout, over a period of twentyyears, I have no hesitation in saying that men who have been stock-raising have done better than the man who has been growing wheat. There are some exceptions, but, generally speaking, the grazier is more favorably situated. The supporters of the pooling system now seem to be in favour ofa system of co-operation. There was an attempt by Australian farmers to create a co-operative movement in connexion with the handling of our primary products, but they began in the wrong way, because they expected to be financed by "Yankee" capitalists. The producers of this country would be illadvised if they allowed their primary products to get under the control of those big financial institutions in America. There is nothing that would do more to destroy the prospects of the primary producers of the Commonwealth than to allow their products to he within the grip of huge financial concerns in the United States.


Mr Stewart - Can the honorable member prove that?


Mr FLEMING - I was there when negotiations were in progress. It is easy to make comparisons between the price received' for American and Australian grain; but it suited the American interests ' to see their farmers received the highest price.


Mr Prowse - They are getting 17s. to-day.


Mr FLEMING - Undoubtedly, but owing to their geographical position; and it is likely that they will continue to do so for some time. So long as present conditions continue with the markets of the world dislocated, and the transport problem serious, the Australian parity is likely to be considerably below that of other countries more favorably situated. It is impossible to apply a proper standard just now, unless we ascertain the average price obtaining throughout the world, and allow the difference between that and the cost of transporting the grain to the principal consuming centres. If we peruse the figures, we can easily see what is a reasonable price for Australian wheat. It is easy for honorable members to make extravagant statements concerning the price Australian producers are receiving, and that which others are being paid. If they go into the matter in a calm and business-like way, and give the farmers encouragement by a system of fair play, we will have a better opportunity of increasing our production. There is really no possibility of additional areas being placed under cultivation when there is such a lack of confidence in certain directions, and the farmer and his produce are being made a political question. As the honorable member for "Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) said, " the farmer should be the basis of national greatness," and until we realize that that is so, and allow the present discord to cease, we are really doing more harm than good. We have very little prospect of meeting the enormous liabilities the war has thrown upon us by deprecating the work of others, as has been done in this Chamber to-day.

The speeches of the honorable member for Wakefield and the honorable member for Swan will do a great deal to relieve the doubt and discord which has been created, largely owing to the fact that the people are beginning to lose faith, not only in the country, but in its representatives.

Debate interrupted under standing order 119.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.







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