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Wednesday, 18 August 1920


Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .-- We have the interesting spectacle this evening of our honorable friends in the Government corner, who claim to represent country interests, joining with other honorable members opposite, who represent, amongst other interests, those of the middlemen, in support of a measure, > which I may say at the outset, is not properly described in the title. It is described as the " Butter Agreement Act of 1920," a euphemistic name, but really it is a measure to empower the Minister for Trade and Customs to prohibit the export of butter except under certain conditions. The Bill is to confer on that Minister a power he does not already possess under the Customs Act, and is a special measure, the effect of which can not be to increase the price received by the producers for their product from August until March next. In fact, it will be generally admitted that the only purpose that the measure can have is to reduce the price - to keep the price as low as it is fixed in this alleged agreement. I make no apology for addressing the House in the interests of the primary producers, because the platform of the Labour party is framed in the interests of the primary producers and of the consumers of Australia. As I have pointed out before here, the Labour party is the only party that can point to ite platform and its programme as standing for the interests of the toilers, whether on the land or in the secondary industries. Every opportunity should be taken on the floor of the House to point out that fact, and to draw attention to those combinations between the middlemen and the alleged producers' representatives, of whom we complain. On this side of the House we have honorable members representing primary producing constituencies, and sent here by primary producers. Amongst these are the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Lavelle), the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham), the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), and others. These honorable members, would not be here unless they had been sent by the votes of the primary producers of the country; and they have the advantage that they can command the support of the representatives of such constituencies as Melbourne Ports, Port Adelaide, and West Sydney, with the waterside workers there and all around the coast, who are pledged and bound by the same platform and programme. This party can rely on the support of the miners of Kalgoorlie, Broken Hill, and Charters Towers, and the shearers and shed hands of the Darling and other places; and we can call this army in to the support of the primary producers.


Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - A good electioneering speech!


Mr RYAN - I am not making an electioneerting speech, but a statement of fact to this House.


Mr Atkinson - Do you not generally talk facts when you are electioneering?


Mr RYAN - That is more than honorable members opposite do when electioneering. This measure refers to an agreement which has been entered into for the sale to the Imperial Government of the exportable surplus of butter produced in Australia on and after the 1st July, 1920, and on and before the 31st March, 1921, "hereinafter referred to as the agreement." We find, however, that the only reference to an agreement is in the title of the Bill, the rest of the measure dealing with the power to prohibit export. First of all, I emphasize the point that this Bill is not to ratify any agreement, and does not purport to ratify any agreement; indeed, we do not know what the agreement is.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We ought to know.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I have told honorable members the whole of the terms of the agreement.


Mr RYAN - In a somewhat fragmentary way. Some light, however, has been shed on the subject by the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Gibson), who was able to mention 240s. as the price, though he said negotiations are now on foot to have it increased. Other honorable members, as well as myself, have had experience of "agreements" made in regard to the sale of wheat and wool, but no Minister can now tell us what the agreement was in regard to wool. The Government sent their most competent man to the other side of the world to unravel what the terms of the supposed agreement were, and he became so disgusted while there that he resigned his commission.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Does the honorable member desire me to read the whole verbiage of the agreement?


Mr RYAN - I desire to have the agreement laid on the table of the House, so that we may know exactly what it is.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I promise to have it laid on the table.


Mr RYAN - It is very important that that should be done, so that we and the primary producers may know what it is.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - There is nothing more in the agreement than what I have stated.


Mr RYAN - First of all, I say that this is not a Bill to ratify an agreement, and that we do not know what the agreement is that the Bill is intended to support. I deny that the agreement, whatever it is, was made by the producers of Australia. By what authority does the Minister say that the agreement was made by the producers? If the agreement was made by those whoown the butter in Australia, there is no need for any Bill, because they are bound to deliver under the contracts. The Minister admitted, by interjection, that there are four recognised middlemen on the committee. Did I understand the Minister aright ?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I think there are four.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a combination of middlemen's representatives, and primary producers.


Mr RYAN - And that is not a natural alliance. We all know that on the other side of the world the middlemen will have the predominating influence, and they are helping to make the agreement.


Mr Fenton - The butter is to be sold through the ordinary channels.


Mr RYAN - That is so- through the middlemen's representatives on the other side of the world. Is that not so?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - No ; the honorable member is entirely wrong.


Mr RYAN - I deny that this agreement, whatever it is, was made by the primary producers themselves or their representatives. I am quite sure there are amongst them men who would not concur in it if they had all the information before them they should have. What will be the effect of the agreement? What is it intended to do? Where is the necessity for it? Who suggested such a Bill? Who insisted on such a Bill? Can the Minister give us any information on those points?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I gave a great deal of information on them when I introduced the Bill.


Mr RYAN - Will the Minister say who suggested such a measure?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The British Government asked us to support the contract by legislation.


Mr RYAN - Did they ask that this should be the legislation? Because the only effect of the Bill will be to compel the primary producers of Australia to send their exportable surplus through a particular channel - through the middlemen - which it has always gone through, at a certain fixed price.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The honorable member is entirely wrong. The middlemen as such-


Mr RYAN - I do not say " as such." I say, as combined together.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Nor as combined together.


Mr RYAN - They have the most influence, and control the situation.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - No, they do not.


Mr RYAN - The Bill proposes to give the Minister power to prohibit the export of butter, except by the Dairy Produce Pool Committee, or with its consent; and the Governor-General in Council is to have power to prescribe how that committee shall be constituted.- Why is it not provided that the primary producers shall elect the committee, and shall say what its constitution shall be?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - - Had the honorable member followed me, he would know that the conference that authorized this sale authorized the appointment of the existing Dairy Produce Pool Committee to carry it out, ana recommended that the life of the committee should be ex-, tended to enable it to do so.


Mr RYAN - The Minister says' that there are four representatives of 'the middlemen on the committee.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - And there are thirteen proclaimed representatives of the producers.


Mr RYAN - The Bill says that the Governor-General in Council shall have power to make regulations not inconsistent with the Act for carrying out or giving effect to it, and, in particular, for prescribing the constitution of the committee, and the method of election or appointment and the tenure of its members. Why should that be provided if the thing is already done?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - It is not done, and cannot be done until the Bill has been passed.


Mr RYAN - The only effect of the Bill will be to compel the primary producers of this country, willy nilly, to send their butter through a certain channel at a certain price, .namely, 2s. 1.6d. per lb. free on board.


Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Which they have agreed to do.


Mr RYAN - Then there is no need for the Bill. If they have agreed to do it, they are legally bound to carry out the agreement. It is because they have not agreed to it that the Bill is needed to drive them into doing it.


Mr Hill - Do you suggest that a few * scabs " outside the dairy organization will not put their butter in?


Mr RYAN - I am not suggesting that.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The honorable member is arguing for the non-unionists now.


Mr RYAN - It is not the British Government that does the profiteering. This butter will be sent to England for the price I have mentioned, plus so much for transport, insurance, exchange, and other charges. I do not know what those charges will come to.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I have mentioned that the total cost of transporting the butter to England works out at 9d. per lb. to the consumer.


Mr RYAN - But the consumer in England will not be able to buy the butter at 2s. 1.6d. plus 9d. per lb.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Each party handling the butter in England will get his percentage, in precisely the same way as in Australia, and the grocers there will be allowed a profit of, I think, 3½d. per lb., the consumer paying a fixed price.


Mr RYAN - Australian butter is sold in England at the price ruling there for butter, which may be 5s., 6s., or 7s. per lb.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - They will get this butter at a fixed price.


Mr RYAN - The price for Australian butter is fixed in accordance with the price obtained for Danish', Irish, and other butter.


Mr Cameron - The., consumer pays more for Irish butter.


Mr RYAN - The butter that goes from Australia is sold on the English market for the prices ruling in Great Britain.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I wish that it did.


Mr RYAN - I found that meat was sent from Australia at 4|d. per lb. f.o.b., with so much added to cover the costs of transport, and was sold in England at the price ruling for Argentine and other meat. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton) referred to the complaint of Sir Thomas Mackenzie, who was continually complaining of the position of colonial producers, at whose expense profiteers on the other side of the world were making huge profits. These profiteers are often the persons who have exported produce from Australia. They have branches in London, and send produce from here to England at a fixed price, plus the cost of transport. This produce is released to them on the other side of the world at this price, and they then put it on the market, and sell it at the ruling rate there.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That cannot be done under this agreement.


Mr RYAN - What is there to prevent it?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - If the honorable member understood how the arrangement worked, he would not ask the question.


Mr RYAN - It is because I understand how it works that I draw attention to these things. What need is there for the measure? What would happen to the detriment of primary producers of this country if it were not passed?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - To begin with, in all probability they would have to wait four months for their money.


Mr RYAN - There was bound to be some excuse offered. I oppose the measure because it is intended to compel the producers of Australia to send their butter through a particular channel, at a certain price, whether they like it or not. In my opinion, they should be at liberty to export their butter as they like, and to what destination they please.







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