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Thursday, 13 May 1920

Mr PROWSE (Swan) . - I do not know that the growers of wool and of wheat will thank the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) for having moved the adjournment this afternoon. He has certainly not expressed the views of the majority of the growers. Representatives of the wool-growers, small and big, have been meeting in Melbourne for the last fortnight to consider how wool should be sold in the future. They will give full consideration to the suggestions of the Prime Minister, which are not suggestions of this House, and will endeavour to ascertain from every grower in Australia what his opinion upon them is. Should the growers decide that that is advisable in the interests of the Commonwealth and in their own interests, the suggestions may be adopted. But they are only suggestions, and are not being forced on the growers. If those who are considering these matters want the assistance of the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) or myself, they will, doubtless, ask for it. When I interjected that the honorable member was advocating the cause of the middleman, I did not wish to offend him, though I must insist that his speech was in the interests of the middlemen. The war has changed many things, systems .and views, and we should take advantage of any changes that may help us. We believe that the wheat of Australia can with great advantage be pooled. It has been sold to the Australian consumer at 7s. Sd. per bushel. Of that 7s. Sd., the grower has received 5s. I would remind the Prime Minister that, while credits have been built up in Loddon, credits are also built up on the farms, and we cannot endure the position too long.

Mr Hughes - This has nothing to do with me. It relates to the wheat of Victorian farmers. I am not a Victorian farmer.

Mr PROWSE - The parity price today i3 about 14s. 6d. f.o.b. When I dealt with this subject last week, I said I was not speaking acrimoniously; but I want the House to understand to-day that 14s. 6d. wheat is being sold to Australian bread-eaters at 7s. Sd. per bushel, and that we have not yet been paid for it. What we are now asking is that we should have the handling of our own wheat. After five years' experience in the co-operative handling of wheat-

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - And we have paid for the experience.

Mr PROWSE - We have paid for experience. We have the necessary machinery. We have weaned the middleman, and we find that we can do without him. We are, therefore, asking, not that the Government, but that the fanners themselves should control their own products.

Mr Hughes - Hear, hear !

Mr PROWSE - The Prime Minister has acclaimed that proposal, and I think he believes in it. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), however, has suggested that we should be given our "five bob" per bushel, and allowed to get back to the old channels. If we broke off so suddenly, we should be at once thrown into the hands of the middlemen We desire to take a referendum of the farmers, to ascertain whether they are agreeable so to pool their interests that, while protecting, as the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) has suggested, the necessary consumption of the Australian people, they would, at the same time,' be able to secure the highest price for their products. I cannot conceive of any honorable member objecting to such organization on the part of the farmers. We are in an era of organization. We find the merchants in their various linos of trade organized to protect their own interests. The workers are also organized for the same purpose. Why should not the producers organize to protect their interests?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - -W,ho objects to that?

Mr PROWSE - The honorable member suggested that when we got away from the Pool, for which we have paid, we should return to the old channels. As a matter of fact, we desire to avoid the eld channels. We want to get into modern channels.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - We will give you a chance to prove yourselves.

Mr PROWSE - We are told that those responsible for the conduct of the wheat handling in the past have given great service. They have done legitimate business, but they are, nevertheless, middlemen, and middlemen, we have been told, are parasites. If we did without the parasites we should be able to reach the consumer with our products far more cheaply than before. I do not use the term offensively. I think the Prime Minister has used it more than once.

Mr Hughes - Did the honorable member speak of Pharisees?

Mr PROWSE - No! The term " Pharisees " might be applied in other directions. We feel that there can be no reasonable objection to our proposal unless this parasitical influence is to outweigh us and prevail with the House. What we are asking is that when the farmers themselves agree to pool their interests legal sanction shall be given to the scheme. Our desire is that the farmers shall control their own interests, while at the same time protecting the food interests of the Commonwealth.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No legal sanction is necessary if the farmers can be got together.

Mr PROWSE - There are many parasites who will try to bring influence to bear, and from what I have heard to-day they will succeed in some directions.

In Western Australia we require butter from this State ; New South Wales and Queensland need chaff from Western Australia ; and Victoria and several other States require coal from New South Wales. The devising of some means for this necessary interchange of commodities between the several States is allimportant, and should receive the first attention of the House. I have asked on previous occasions that something should be done in this direction, and have been told, of course, that " the matter is being looked into." I recognise the difficulty in the way of "obtaining the requisite shipping. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) today asked the Prime Minister to arrange for the utilization of Commonwealth steamers in carrying coal to the several States, and the right honorable gentleman promised to look into that matter. I hope that when he does he will also arrange for three or four additional steamers to be placed on the Inter-State trade for the carriage of produce, so as to prevent sheep and- cattle starving in. the drought-stricken States, and to keep up the necessary dairy herds there. There will he further opportunity to deal with this subject after the referendum of the farmers of Australia has been taken. By that vote we shall ascertain what is the intention of the farmers with regard to their products, and pending their decision I shall say no more on the subject.

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