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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - It would be well for the Minister to acquaint the House with the particulars of the contract, because very often the lack of information retards the passage of legislation. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) and quite a number of others have asked whether a contract has been effected between the representatives of the dairymen of Australia and the British Government; and when this Parliament is called upon to indorse such a contract by the passage of legislation it ought to have the fullest possible light on the subject. I agree with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that many dairymen are dissatisfied. I shall quote from the London letter of the Pastoral Review, which cannot by any stretch of imagination be termed a Labour paper, some remarks by Sir Thomas Mackenzie, the High Commissioner for New Zealand, whom any one who has studied his movements on the other side of the world will recognise as a valiant fighter for the interests of the Dominion he represents. It is an indictment against the British Government in relation to its handling of the commodity with which we are dealing to-night, and reads as follows: -

Sir ThomasMackenzie, High Commissioner for New Zealand, speaking last month on the subject of Government purchase of overseas butter, made a strong indictment of the Government's Empire policy, and his utterance has attracted widespread attention. He said that with regard to butter, New Zealanders were threatened with expulsion from this market unless they accepted the price the Government chose to give them. Surely a young country like New Zealand, which had been loyal throughout the war, should be put on an equal footing, at any rate, with Ireland. The Irish people could . sell their butter at 5s. per lb., and the highest price offered to New Zealand was1s. 7½d. He ventured to think that with the assistance of the Colonial Office no such injustice would be done to us as a refusal of the free market in Great Britain.

Apparently the British Government are prepared to allow producers within their own boundaries the privilege of selling butter at 5s. per lb. There is some doubt about the price New Zealand is likely to receive for her butter.

Mr Gibson - New Zealand has not yet sold her butter.

Mr FENTON - It is a questionable point; but here is a paragraph in the London letter of the Pastoral Renew which throws a little light on the subject : -

I understand that the Ministry of Food have decided to offer for New Zealand butter prices similar to those now being paid for the Danish article, and negotiations are at present proceeding with the shippers representatives here.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - One price is c.i.f. and the other is f.o.b.

Mr FENTON - If the Minister is referring to Danish butter, he knows very well that thec.i.f. costof shipping butter from Denmark to Great Britain is a mere bagatelle.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The price would come out at practically the same as is to be paid for Australian butter.

Mr FENTON - I do not think so. The great Danish co-operative companies fix their own price for butter sold in Great Britain; 'and, as the expenseof consigning the commodity from the one country to the other is, as I say, a mere bagatelle, making all allowance for c.i.f. costs, I think I am safe in saying that New Zealand will receive 247s. per cwt. for her butter as against 240s. per cwt. which is to be paid for Australian butter.

Mr Mackay - Does the honorable member wish to make Australian dairymen dissatisfied with the sale made by themselves ?

Mr FENTON - Has the honorable member, who is a shareholder, and very likely a director, of a co-operative company, ever attended a meeting of a cooperative dairy company which has been absolutely unanimous in regard to a step taken by its directors?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I have attended such a meeting.

Mr FENTON - Then the meeting must have been held in the offseason. We rarely find producers satisfied with action taken on their behalf. Were the farmers satisfied with the manner in which their wheat was handled during the war?

When the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) was speaking, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) interjected that it was costing some dairy farmers practically 4s. per lb. to produce butter which was sold, at about 2s. 2d. per lb. wholesale. Of course, it is quite apparent to all that it costs thedairy farmer more to produce 1 lb. of butter during the winter than it does during the spring; when there is a plentiful supply of fodder and the cows have a good flow of milk', but all the year round, taking one season with another, the cost of producing 1 lb. of butter does not amount to 4s.

The Labour party would give to all producers a fair and reasonable return for the labour they are called upon to perform.. We believe in giving a fair deal all round, not only to the men in the unions, but also to the producers.

Mr Gregory - Would the honorable member give the producer the world's parity ?

Mr FENTON - If I had asked the honorable member to accept the world's parity a few years ago he would have looked at me in amazement. In past years the dairymen of Australia have received more for their butter sold in Australia than they secured in London.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - That is not so.

Mr FENTON - Year in and year out, a few years ago, the average price paid for butter on the London market was below the price paid by Australian consumers. I can produce official figures to bear out what I am saying. I would go further than some honorable members of the Country party are prepared to go. I would advocate that when there is a big supply of wheat all the world over, the wheat producer here should be entitled to a fair and reasonable return for the produce he has to sell in Australia.

Mr Gregory - The honorable member means nothing by that.

Mr FENTON - I do mean what I say. If I ask for a fair day's pay for the man in the shop, I am also prepared to ask for fair conditions for the proprietary farmer and . the men working on farms. It is the policy of the Labour party to deal fairly and squarely with men who are subjected to undue competition in the markets of the world, but at the same time I demand for Australian workmen the conditions I am prepared to accord to the Australian producers.

Mr Gibson - Under the last contract we received 177s. per cwt. for butter for local consumption, while we were getting

Mr FENTON - The honorable member is picking out the war period. Would any reasonable-minded mantake the five war years, as representing normal conditions, on which to fix his business arrangements for the next ten years? We can produce butter as good as that produced in any other part of the world. Our average quality may not be quite as good as that of New Zealand, but for our best butter we should not be content to accept less by 7s. per cwt. than New Zealand secures. The High Commissioner for New Zealand, Sir Thomas Mackenzie, has put up such a good fight for New Zealand producers that if they do not obtain the Danish price for their butter they will at least get very close to it. Are the producers of Australia content to accept, in respect of their surplus butter, 7s. per cwt. less than is obtained by New Zealand? I am putting forward figures to which no exception can be taken. I do not hesitate to say that the Danes will receive about 247s. per cwt. net for their butter. It is stated that New Zealand producers are likely to get something like the same price. If that be so, the Australian butter producers, notwithstanding that some of their own representatives have arranged this contract, will receive under it 7s. per cwt. less than their brothers in New Zealand. I say to every producer, " Get the best price you can for your products in every other part of the world, and we will deal reasonably with you in your own country."

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