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Thursday, 13 May 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) . - I. do not intend to occupy the attention of the House for many minutes, since I should like to have from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) a pronouncement in regard to the wheat question, and also with regard to wool, if he is in a position to enlighten us on the subject to-day. Under existing conditions, I should be well pleased if we could at once get back into the old channels. The Prime Minister has given the wheat farmers a guarantee, but the situation to-day is such that it matters very little whether our wheat is pooled or not. We are in the happy position that our wheat is wanted, and wanted at a big price, by other countries, and I hope that the price, when obtained, will go into the pockets of the wheat-growers themselves. I am not going to speak for South Australia, because at this juncture the State Government should speak for its own people. I desire, however, to tell the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) that his views with regard to co-operation are by no means approved in South Australia. I cannot understand why honorable members of the Country party, who believe in freedom, of contract, and recognise that efficient handling is necessary to bring about economy, should advocate compulsory co-operation, which would cut off all the spurs of private enterprise, by which alone the value of co-operation can be tested. In South Australia we have a farmers' organization that handles more than one-half of the wheat 'grown in that State in normal times. It is a magnificent co-operative organization, but I would not give two straws for it if it were compulsory that all wheat should be handled by it. That would be no better than Government control. "No impetus would be given to good work, and the organization would drift into a lethargic state, to the detriment of the farmers. I speak with thirty-five years' experience of this matter, arid while I approve of the organization of farmers, I contend that the value of such cooperative efforts should be tested side by side with private . enterprise.

Mr Prowse - Why was .pooling not made optional during the war?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I wish my honorable friend were a little more logical, because I have not the time to set him right. In South Australia we have bad a very painful experience ofthe handling of the grain of the country by amateurs. That experience has not been confined to my State. The handling of the wheat of Victoria has been better than that of any other State, because the management has been in the hands of, not a farmer, but a big business man with a good grip of big things. It is due to that reason that Victorian wheat scrip has been worth a great deal more than the wheat scrip of the other States. The honorable member for Swan has talked in a child-like and simple way about the middleman. We should not forget that in speaking .about the middlemen we are talking about private enterprise, which has made this country, and the Empire as a whole, what it is to-day.

In South Australia the much-abused middlemen - abused by simpletons who do not think - have throughout set the price of wheat, even against our own farmers' organization. If this compulsory wheat pool which honorable members of the Country party advocate - if this stupid thing without any reason behind it - were brought into existence, men with brains would give up wheat-growing. They would not be prepared to grow wheat to be handled by amateurs who know nothing about the business. Wheat is the most risky and most difficult of all products to handle. Experience has taught us that.

Mr Riley - The same thing was said in regard to banking, but the Commonwealth Bank has been a success.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I wish my honorable friend would compare like with like.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Perhaps my honorable friend thinks that, after -all, this is a conflict between two sets of middlemen.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I really cannot reckon up my honorable friends of the Country party.

Mr Hill - We can reckon you up.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - My honorable friends of the Country party in this matter represent only the men who do not think for themselves.

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