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Thursday, 13 May 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- Time is passing, and the position is becoming somewhat acute. It is quite time some announcement was made as to the policy of the Government with regard to the intervening period 'between war restrictions and normal conditions of trade. There has been too much secrecy. I do not like the idea of getting from some outside journal information as to the proposals of the Government with regard to Australia's products. About a month ago, during my absence in "Western Australia, a letter was forwarded to me by a member of the Legislative Council in that State asking me if it was true that the Commonwealth Government proposed to take £10,000,000 of the woolgrowers money for the purpose of helping to pay Australia's debt to Great Bri- tain. If I had received that letter I would not have taken much notice of it other than to reply at once, saying there was no truth in the suggestion; but as I was absent my typist sent the communication to the office of the Prime Minister, and that Department furnished a reply saying that there was not a word of truth in the statement. Apparently that reply from the Prime Minister's Department was quite wrong, because we now see in the press that the Prime

Minister has made a suggestion on the lines set out in the letter forwarded to me from Western Australia, and we know perfectly well what a suggestion from the Prime Minister means. At the last moment we shall probably find ourselves confronted with a proposal from the Government to take certain measures. In fact, many measures are taken by the Prime Minister without consulting Parliament. While I am always ready to submit to any action taken by this Parliament, if the majority decide that it shall be done, I am not content that the Prime Minister, or any one else, should issue instructions restricting the trade of the country, unless what he does has the approval of Parliament. The other day I asked a question with regard to the action of the Australian Metal Exchange in refusing a permit to export some old horse-shoes as ballast. Certain people who export sandal-wood have been accustomed to buy up old horse-shoes and ship them as ballast. They wished to do so again, but this metal exchange, which has no statutory authority, abrogated the duties of the Minister for Trade and Customs, and refused to grant a permit for the export of these goods. There are many instances in which the Government have taken powers under the War Precautions Act which prejudice our trade. This Parliament has been fooled. When we agreed to extend the operation of that Act until three months after the proclamation of peace, we were led to believe that it would cease to operate three months after peace was signed with Germany, but we are still controlled by it. We are getting close up to the end of the financial year, and we ought to have some clear indication as to what action the Government propose to ask Parliament to take in regard to the future control of our products. Something must be done to enable us to bridge over the intervening period until we get back to normal conditions. According to a member of the Wool Committee who has just come over from Western Australia we have been travelling on a very dangerous road, and have now come to a precipice down which it is necessary to make a very gradual descent. The object of this gentleman's visit to Melbourne was to ask that certain control should be exercised by the Commonwealth in connexion with the wool export for next year, in order to enable the woolgrowers to get back to the normal conditions which existed prior to the outbreak of war. I am not anxious to see a proposition sprung on them as a surprise, and I object most strongly to the secrecy which is being observed in these negotiations. The products we are dealing with are not the property of a few. They belong to the people, and surely no harm can result from giving the negotiations the fullest publicity, because the more we know of them the more we can make inquiries from those who have a better knowledge of the conditions than ourselves, and the more good we are likely to do for the general producer.

According to the preamble of the Victorian Statute which created the Wheat Pool, an agreement had been arrived at between the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the Ministers of Agriculture of the four wheat-producing States to pay the producer the world's parity; but the farmers have not received the world's parity. In the early stages of the war, when the wharf labourers went out on strike, demanding cheaper wheat for our people here, the Commonwealth Government reduced the price to 4s. 9d. per bushel,when the world's parity was 5s. 3d. per bushel; in other words, the producers were robbed to quieten a section of the people. There seems to be extraordinary difficulty in arriving at what is the world's parity. The other day, on almost unimpeachable authority, I was told that the price of wheat in the Argentine Republic is 13s. 6d. per bushel, and that the producers there have 5,000,000 tons of wheat and maize they anticipate getting away to Europe. They have no difficulty in securing freight.

Mr Richard Foster - Our trouble is that we cannot get the shipping. Admiral Clarkson says that he has tried his best, but cannot get charters.

Mr.McWilliams. - Then how is it that Dreyfus and Company can get shipping?

Mr GREGORY - The trouble is that in dealing with products such as wheat, there are people who have made a life study of the business, and understand the whole of its ramifications. They can make their charters years ahead. Vessels may be north of Russia or south of America, but all their movements are known to those in control of these busi nesses, and they are able to make all necessary arrangements months, if not years, ahead.

Mr Mathews - Did they know the movements of these vessels during the last four or five years ?

Mr GREGORY - No. But Mr. Clement Giles made the statement here that 1,000,000 tons of shipping was offered to the Commonwealth Government in the early stages of the war, and the offer was not accepted. However, I am not reflecting on the Government. I am sure they want to get rid of this control of commodities. The life of a member of Parliament who has tried to do his duty conscientiously during the last four or five years has been a most strenuous one. I shall be glad when all these difficulties are taken off my shoulders. I know what it means to Ministers when honorable members come to them with complaints from this person and that company, and so on.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - And " getting it in the neck " every day from the press.

Mr GREGORY - I know the difficulties of Ministers. My only hit back at the Minister for the Navy is that he is allowing his Government to continue to carry on the system adopted during the war. I want to get out of it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It is not so easy to get out of it.

Mr GREGORY - I know it is not easy to do so, butthe Prime Minister seems only too ready to lead the Government into many curious and devious paths. I spoke just now about the world's parity. We ought to give the farmer the world's parity for what he produces. If we find that the price is too high for the general consumer, the people as a whole should still pay the world's parity to the producer, and dispose of the commodity to the consumer at a lower price. Any man will sell his labour or his goods in the best market he can obtain. It is only fair that the producer should get the best market price for his goods; but if it should be found that this would mean a hardship to the workers generally, let the community pay the difference if they are anxious to supply the people with a cheaper loaf.

Mr Fenton - What would the honorable member do if the world's parity for wheat was so low that it would notpay the farmer to grow it?

Mr GREGORY - When the world parity for wheat was low, the farmer had no option. He had to take it.

Mr Fenton - I would give him a fair price all through.

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member has been a long time in this Parliament, and the price of wheat has often, been very low, but we have not heard any proposition from that source on the lines which the honorable member now advocates.

Mr Mathews - This Parliament could only control the matter under the War Precautions Act.

Mr GREGORY - The Labour Government was in power when the War Precautions Act was operating. The National Federation recently issued a booklet in regard to the price of wheat in order to show how well the Government had safeguarded the interests of the farmers, and in that publication the claim was made that, between June, 1919, and October, 1919, the world's parity for wheat was only 2s. 9d. per bushel. As the farmers of Australia were being paid 5s. 6d. per bushel, they must have been getting 2s. 9d. per bushel more than the world's parity. We ought to have the truth about these matters. It was an injustice to the people generally if, when the world's parity for wheat was only 2s. 9d. per bushel - I do not believe it - the farmer was receiving 5s. 6d. per bushel.

Mr Mathews - I think it is a misstatement. To what year do those figures apply?

Mr GREGORY - The year 1919.

Mr Tudor - The statement is surely wrong.

Mr GREGORY - The circular states that from June till October the London price varied from 10s. 3d. to 9s.1d., and that the approximate average price was 9s. 9d. Freight and other charges accounted for 7s., leaving a net price of 2s. 9d. It is remarkable if in less than one year theworld's parity has jumped from 2s. 9d. to 12s. 6d. per bushel.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable members time has expired.

Mr GREGORY - In conclusion, I contend that more publicity should be given to these transactions, and that the primary producer should get the world's parity for his goods.

Question resolved in the negative.

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