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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) . - I have every confidence in the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), who is in charge of this Bill, so far as his treatment of the dairymen of Australia is concerned. He has had personal experience in the dairying industry, and 1 have carefully watched his career during the last few years. I have been on many conferences with him, and he has always endeavoured, in. my opinion, to give a square deal, not only to the dairymen, but to the community as a whole. That, I believe, is his desire in this instance.

The remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) can not be taken very seriously, since he fold us that he was really making a little electioneering address, and that he wanted a few "pulls " of his speech to circulate amongst the dairymen. I would advise him to keep the report of his speech out of the hands of the coal miners. It cannot be denied that dairying is hard work, involving long hours, and that in the past but little pay has attached to it. There is plenty of overtime worked in the industry, but there is no pay for that overtime. I am pleased that a contract has been made for the sale of our surplus butter at a price which I consider to be only reasonable. We have recently settled quite a number of our returned soldiers on small holdings, and their principal output for some considerable' time will be dairy produce. They are paying up to £25 per head for their dairy cows, and, having regard to their interest charges and other costs, their efforts will be attended with absolute failure if they do not receive something like a reasonable price for their dairy produce. As to the cost of production, if the dairymen and their wives and children employed in the industry received Wages Board rates of pay I believe that, as the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has said, it would be impossible to sell butter at less than 4s. per lb. We feel that the dairymen have slaved long enough to provide cheap butter and other produce for the masses. The producers have at last been aroused. They have awakened to the fact that all other industries have organized, and they give them credit for their organization. But while others have been uniting to secure better results for their labour, the pro ducers have been supporting first one side and then the other - they have been driven from pillar . to post - and it was due in the end to compulsion, rather than choice, that they organized. The unfortunate farmer will now be able to obtain reasonable treatment. - He asks for nothing more. The price to be paid for our surplus butter under the contract is considered to be very high by some people, who fear that they will have to pay a corresponding price for butter for local consumption. Mv contention is that the dairying community is entitled to the world's parity for its produce. We do not ask for any favour; we ask only for that which is absolutely fair. Those engaged in manufacturing and other industries feel that they are perfectly justified in selling their labour to the highest bidder. If trade unionists could do better in some other country they would not hesitate to leave Australia. Why, then, should there be any objection to dairymen obtaining the world's parity for their produce?

Earlier in the day the House engaged in a debate on the coal shortage, and it was urged that an embargo should be placed on the export of coal. If that suggestion be adopted we shall next have a move to place an embargo on the export of wool, wheat, and butter. It has been said that there is full and plenty for all who will work and produce, and those who think that prices are too high should be reminded that the country is wide, and that there is plenty of room for them to apply their energies to production, and thus to bring down prices. When the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was Minister for Trade and Customs he placed an embargo on the export of butter, and in that way did more harm to the dairying industry than any good he is ever likely to do. The only result of his action was that many of the dairy farmers, losing faith in the industry, gave it up, and the price of butter increased. The "more the producer is penalized in that way the more the community will have to pay.

This contract .is fairly open. Under it we shall have the right to send 50 tons of butter per week to South Africa. That is a reasonable allowance. .The delegates who were selected by the dairymen themselves to proceed to England, pleaded for an open market and the abolition of price-fixing; but we could not get the open market, because the

Imperial Government have control of the shipping, and could take the butter at their own price. I venture to predict, however, that the Imperial Government have given our delegates the price they would previously have taken, and probably a little more, and that within the next few weeks we may even get an increased price. Primary producers generally do not require any "spoon-feeding," but they do ask for the world's parity and an open market. As to the butter previously sold at 175s. the producers did not definitely fix that figure; they asked something slightly over, but the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) sold it at that price to the Imperial Government. That contract was certainly considerably under the world's parity, but the Imperial Government was good enough to give us half the profits on the butter exported, amounting to something like £600,000. In regard to the present contract the -dairymen held a Conference composed of representatives from all parts of Australia, and representing both proprietary and cooperative industries. From every place where dairying was carried on, and there was any organization, a representative was asked to attend; -find, representing the industry to the extent we do, and having had the privilege and honour of appointing our own delegates to send Home, we feel that the bargain made is one that all interested should be satisfied with. This Bill is simply to give statutory power to the Butter Pool to deliver the goods, and I trust it will receive the support of the House, and be disposed of within a very short time.

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