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Thursday, 13 May 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) . - I shall hardly be expected to cover the whole of the ground traversed by my honorable friend, the member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), or deal with all the points raised by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), and touched on in such an effective fashion by my honorable friend, the member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster). I do not propose for one moment to resurrect the debate - unhappily, I was unable to take part in it - in which the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) last Friday discussed the question of the Wheat Pool. I am content to let my work in connexion with the Wheat Pool speak for itself. I look back on the five years or so in which I was connected with the Wheat Board with mixed feelings. I am sure the Pool did great work. I am equally sure that it involved very strenuous labour. I want no more of it. If this table were piled to the ceiling with jewels precious beyond price, and I were asked to do that work again for five years for those jewels, I would not do it. So far as I am concerned, then, the position is vacant. Applicants who clamour for selection need fear no rivalry from me. When members rise in this House and say they think that the Government, now the war is over, should no longer control these pools, I am very heartily in accord with them. Not only because my reason prompts [ me in that direction, but also because I know very well that if the Government has anything to do with the business, I shall be given the job - and I am mot going to take it.

Honorable members talk about managing the wheat business either by cooperative or other means, as if it was the simplest thing in the world. They talk as if men capable of running this great wheat business of Australia, or any other great businesses, were plentiful ; and men who, although they have failed dismally in transactions one-millionth part of its magnitude, push themselves forward with perfect assurance. If the farmers of this country think that in that way lies salvation, the case is simple; all that has to be done is to convert those concerned to that opinion ; let them place the business in such hands, and put up with the consequences. I have been censured because I would not compel the farmers to put their wheat into the hands of men who said they were more competent to manage the farmers' business than were the farmers themselves. If there is to be compulsion, it can only be compulsion exercised by those constitutional authorities which the people have deliberately elected to represent them; and as, by general consent, it is agreed that this is undesirable, the matter settles itself, for I, at any rate, will be mo party to compelling men to hand over their own businesses to the hands of other men. It appears to me that there is only one of two courses - indeed, there is only one course - open. If those concerned believe in co-operation - as certainly I do - lot them convert their people. There are many virtues in co-operation, but I do not quite understand what is meant by a " voluntary compulsory " pool. I remember on one occasion going down to a wharf in. Sydney and seeing a gentleman fished out of the water with a boathook. I said to one of my friends in the union, "How did he get into the water, Bill?" and Bill replied, "We put him there because he would not join the b- union." In fact, what the growers say to me is, " They will not come into our co-operative society - you jolly well make 'em." I am not going to do that. I must not be held for one moment to censure tho6& who say that the co-operative movement is the way in which the farmers can best find salvation. I believe that it is, and I am ready, as a citizen, as well as Prime Minister, to- advocate co-operation along with any man in the country. But I will not compel people to co-operate. I will show that co-operation will pay them, and that the middleman is no friend of theirs, and cannot be; I will show all that, but I will not by law compel people to join a co-operative union.

Now I wish to say a word, as to the marketing of our products. My honorable friend, the member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) as well as the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), though in different degrees, express the same doubt as to the possibility of marketing our products. Now, there are grave reasons for the doubt that disturbs their minds - grave reasons. It is true, as both those honorable gentlemen said, that, while wheat is now, say, 12s. 6d. f.o.b., there is ample inducement to the grower. But it is one thing to grow wheat, and another thing to get it to the place where it can be sold. "When we speak of affairs resuming their normal channels - going back to pre-war conditions - we overlook completely the fact that the world is still in convulsions, that for all practical purposes - and this applies to wool as well as to wheat - there are only one or two effective buyers ; that is to say, only one or two buyers who have money. I ask the wool and wheatgrowers of Australia, as sensible, hardheaded, business men, whether they would go to a market where there was only one buyer. If they do, what must be the result?

There is division of opinion as to the best way to market wool. I feel very strongly that the future of Australia - indeed, the present welfare of Australia. - depends on the wheat and wool-grower getting the full market price for their products. Recently I ventured to give my advice, for what it was worth, to the representatives of the wool-growers. I made it perfectly clear that it was only advice - that it was my own opinion - and that if they rejected it there was an end of the matter. My suggestions did not depend on compulsion, they had nothing to do with compulsion. Speaking now, after having had something like a fortnight to consider still further the matter, and having had the advantage of reading those lucubrations which appeared in the press, and which, for want of a better term, may be alluded to as criticisms. I still say that, if the wool-grower goes into the market without a plan, he is going to come out shorn.

I noticed to-day in the newspapers two or three significant paragraphs. One was an extract, I think, from the ManchesterGuardian - though I may be wrong; another was from Yorkshire, and another was the opinion of Sir Arthur Goldfinch All these critics were against my proposal, a proposal which, in its essence, is one to sell Australian wool in Australia. "Why were they against my proposal? Because it was a bacl thing for Australia? Not at all. It was because it was a bad thing for them and the interests they stand for. I ask the growers, whether, if they had anything to sell, they would take it into the house of the only buyer, and say to him, " There is my product ; what will you give me for it?" That, in effect, is what would be the result if they send their wool to London. I say to the Australian grower that there is no compulsion; he may do as he pleases. If he likes to go and deliver himself, bound hand and foot, into a market manipulated by conflicting interests, let him do it. My proposal has nothing to do with the Government, qua Government. It does not depend upon or involve compulsion. But if they will act as sensible men, they will say, " The world must have this wool. Let those who want it come to Australia, and buy it in open competition."

It has been said that the British Government might not agree to hold off while we sold our wool here; and that argument was nut forward as a reason against my proposal. I think that those who put -it forward did so with the fervent hope that the British Government would not hold off, so that we might be compelled to send all the wool Home.

My last advice to the wool-grower of

Australia is to sell his wool here in Australia. Make buyers come to this country and buy in open market, at auction, and thus insure the world's price, whatever it is. If you watch the market - and I say this deliberately - do not be.surprised to see from now to the 30th June the beginning of a downward curve. Who will be responsible for that curve? The prospective buyers - the mem who want to create a panic in Australia by creating the impression in the mind of the grower that the market is going to break, and thus causing the wool to be rushed Home, where it would all be in the hands of one buyer. The whole world is clamouring for wool. But in the whole world there are only two, or at most three, effective buyers of wool. The rest of the world will have to use one of those buyers as middleman, and purchase its wool from him. I say, " Sell direct - sell in this place, in Australia - and sell for the best price you oan get; the Government will not interfere at all." But the Government will do this, if it is desired - and I am addressing the wool-growers of Australia through honorable members here - the Governmentwill request the British Government to do what it ought to do, namely,refrain from selling the wool it now has while we are selling the new clip. That is a perfectly fair and legitimate request. Britain had our wool during all the war for very much less than, in some cases for only one-third of, the true value; and we have not received one penny-piece of the excess prices. Nor can we get any account of how much is owing to us. There is not an indication as to whether it is £1,000,000 or £50,000,000. I maintain that this is neither business nor fair play, I say to the wool-growers of Australia, " Make up your minds to sell your wool in Australia. Notify the world that you will sell your wool in Australia, and whatever the world may say before you have made that notifcation once you have made it, it must fall in with your resolution. Request the British Government to keep off the sales, and there is an end of the matter."

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