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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr GIBSON (Corangamite) .- It seems to me that this Bill has become absolutely necessary, because of the sale that has been effected of one of our primary products. It is necessary to give the agreement which has been entered into legislative authority, so that it may be properly carried out, and our butter producers may obtain the price of 240s. per cwt., secured by Messrs Sinclair and Osborne, who I am sure made the best contract that it was possible to make at the time the agreement was entered into.

Mr Ryan - What is the agreement?

Mr GIBSON - It is an agreement by which we are to receive 240s: per cwt. for our butter.

Mr Ryan - More than that.

Mr GIBSON - More, if the butter is of a higher quality than the average, and less if it is a lower quality. This contract . was entered into to extend from 1st August to 31st March, and, as I understand the matter, the Bill will be operative only during that period.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That is so.

Mr GIBSON - I look upon the Bill as a measure to enable the butter producers to carry out the contract that was entered into. It is quite . possible that a better price than 240s. per cwt. will be received for butter.

Mr Ryan - Is that why this Bill is necessary ?

Mr GIBSON - There might be something in that. I am inclined to think that a higher price than 240s. will be offered for our butter, and I have sufficient faith in the Imperial Government to believe that if it is offered we shall get that higher price. As a matter of fact, negotiations are in progress at the present time to secure a higher price. Whilst the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) was speaking, I interjected to remind him that butter was bringing as high a price as 420s. at Home. I noticed in the press the other day a quotationof 420s. per cwt. for, I think, Irish butter.

Mr Ryan - Is this agreement notin writing? Can we not peruse it and see what it contains?

Mr GIBSON - I cannot tell the honorable member.I speak of what I have seen in the press.

Mr Mahony - Has the honorable member seen the agreement?

Mr GIBSON - No; I have not.

Mr Mahony - Then the honorable member does not know any more about it than we do.

Mr GIBSON - I know that the price is to be 240s. per cwt. I think that the Minister read sufficient of the agreement to let us know what the position of our dairymen will be. He also said that the price for New Zealand butter has not yet been fixed. I think that he made a mistake there, because we were led to believe that New Zealand butter would be placed' on the London market through cooperative companies in the Old Country.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I was speaking, only yesterday in my office, to three men, one of whom is closely associated with the Government Department which deals with the matter, and they told me that the contract was not completed and that the New Zealand Government was negotiating with the Imperial Government on the same basis as our contract with a premium of 2s.

Mr GIBSON - I have no doubt that if the New Zealand producers get a premium of 2s. on our price, the Australian producers will be given the same advantage.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - It has always been the practice, though I do not know why, to give New Zealand a slight premium over Australia, because in pre-war days, New Zealand butter always secured a small premium over Australian butter.

Mr GIBSON - I was very agreeably surprised to find the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) taking such a keen interest in the primary producer, and to find that he was being followed by many other honorable members on the opposite side. When I entered this House eighteen months ago, I was surprised to find how little interest honorable members opposite took in the primary producer. Since the establishment of the Country party, it seems to me that honorable members on both sides are anxious to consider the interests of the primary producer, and I hope that he is coming into his own, as a result of the in- fluence of the little party that is now established on the cross benches.

The dairying industry is one which deserves very great consideration. It is worth something like £19,000,000 per year, and I regret to say that it is absolutely going backwards notwithstanding the fact that prices are going up. To-day in Australia we have 200,000 dairy cows less than we had in 1913, and that, notwithstanding the fact that 'the numbers of other cattle have increased. This shows that the dairyman is going out of business, and it will be an unfortunate thing for this country if he does. Let me inform honorable members of what has happened as the result of the last sale of butter effected, not by the representatives of the dairymen, but by the Government.

Mr Gregory - By the Prime Minister.

Mr GIBSON - The honorable member suggests that the sale was effected by the Prime Minister. That sale was effected at 175s. per cwt. at a time when the British Government were paying 300s. per cwt. for butter. We sold our second-grade butter, not fit for consumption in Australia, to the East at 205s. per cwt.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I do not think it is fair to say that that butter was unfit for consumption.

Mr GIBSON - I will say that it was not good enough for Australians, and that will qualify my statement sufficiently. The price at which the sale was effected was 175s. per cwt., and we got 243s. per, cwt. from South Africa. That is the treatment the dairymen received in connexion with the last sale of Australian butter.

Mr Mackay - At that time 175s. per cwt. was regarded in Queensland as a good price, considering the difficulties of shipping.

Mr GIBSON - That may be so; but we shipped to Africa for 243s. per cwt., and to the East for 205s. per cwt.

Mr Mackay - I know that the Queensland producers were satisfied that it was a good price.

Mr GIBSON - Our producers have themselves effected the last sale, and they had sufficient common sense to make a contract covering a short period. It terminates on 31st March next, and is for only one season's butter. Dairymen are out to get the advantage of the open market at the earliest possible moment. If I thought that the open market was available to them now I would not be supporting this contract. When I find that the Imperial Government arc controlling the butter trade in the Old Country I know that all that we can possibly do is to effect a sale to them upon the best conditions possible.

Mr Ryan - Is this a Bill to support the contract?

Mr GIBSON - It is intended to make the contract effective, so that it can be carried out.

Mr Ryan - Has any one seen the contract?

Mr GIBSON - The contract is merely that the butter is to be sold for 240s. per cwt.

Mr Mahony - By whom is it to be marketed in London, and under what conditions?

Mr Riley - Dalgety and Company will make a nice thing out of it.

Mr GIBSON - Dalgety and Company are not in this contract. The butter was sold by Messrs. Sinclair and Osborne as representing the producers who met in conference in Melbourne. If we fixed the price of butter at as low a price as that fixed by the Imperial Government when the previous sale was effected, the result would be that the condensed-milk factories in Australia would be able to pay a higher price for milk than the butter factories could pay. In my own district one milkcondensing factory belonging to the Nestles Company are paying a higher price for milk than the butter companies can pay.

Mr Jackson - They are making a profit on the sugar.

Mr GIBSON - Yes. The position is that the butter factories will be wiped out of existence if that kind of thing continues, and if the butter factories go, honorable members have to recognise what will go with them. If whole milk is sold, and no skim milk is kept, there will bo no calves reared in the districts in which this takes place. My own electorate is probably one of the best butter districts in Australia.

Mr Austin Chapman - Question!

Mr Riley - In Victoria.

Mr GIBSON - It is a fact that it is one of the best dairying districts, not only in Victoria, but in Australia. If a low price is paid for butter, men engaged in dairying will be induced to sell their milk to the milk-condensing factories, and there will be no young stock reared in this country. That will be a calamity to the cattle-rearing industry in Australia.

Mr Richard Foster - Men cannot go on selling milk if they do not rear calves.

Mr GIBSON - I have indicated what is happening to-day in the dairying industry. If the price of butter goes up, it will be better for the dairying industry, and generally for those engaged in rearing cattle. Warrnambool some time ago was one of the best pig markets in Victoria; but to-day, since Nestles have become established there, it has become a district in which the milk produced is used in the whole state for the production of condensed milk, and there are practically no pigs sent now to the Warrnambool market. Colac is the centre of a butterproducing district. There is no condensed milk manufactured there, and they have in consequence a very large pig market - about 600 pigs per week. We shall have no young stock and no bacon if low prices are obtained for butter, and milk is sent in the whole state to the condensed-milk factories. I support the Bill because I feel that it is necessary to enable us to carry out the contract we have entered into. It was a good contract, entered into by men of ability anxious to conserve the best interests of the producers of Australia.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I can show the honorable member the contract.

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