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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) .- The debate upon this Bill has been very instructive to me, as I think it will be to the electors when they are able to read its details. I have special knowledge of, and interest in, the dairying industry. I have been connected with if for many years, and in conjunction with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) I represent probably between one-fourth and one-fifth of the total dairy production of Australia.. During the last few hours we have heard from Opposition members opinions in regard to further production which convince me that they know very little about the matter, and arouse a. suspicion in my mind that in regard to other questions of primary production, about which we have heard so much from honorable members opposite, their statements may show quite as big a divergence from the actual facts. Almost every speaker on the Opposition side has asked for information, and more information; but it seems to me, from the attitude those hon.orable members have adopted toward this Bill, that if their requests were granted,, they would almost be receiving information in a strange tongue, because it would be impossible of being understood by them. This Bill embodies practically the same principle as that for which honorable members opposite have been fighting during the last three weeks,, namely, the -recognition of organized bodies that are connected with industries. This Bill really means a recognition of the organized bodies which are entitled to speak for the dairying industry. During the last few weeks, while the House was considering the Industrial Peace Bill, honorable members of the Country party did not " butt in," and claim that we alone were competent to speak for the coal miners or other workers.We supported the efforts which were made by the Opposition to secure the recognition of organized interests in industry.

What is the history of the agreement which the House is asked to sanction? During the war, a Federal Butter Pool was in existence. It did not meet with the general approval of primary producers, and a desire was expressed that, at the earliest possible moment, Government control of the industry should be completely relinquished. In compliance with that view, the Minister convened, in March of last year, a conference of the bodies interested in dairy production to discuss the best method of bringing that about. In order that the conference should be truly representative of the industry, the Minister gave ample notice, and according to a statement published in the Age in February last, in order to consider the question of new arrangements -

Invitations arebeing sent to the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee and the representatives who were elected by the States to consider the dairy produce co-operative scheme, which was placed before them some time ago by the Minister. It is thought that these delegates, having been elected by dairymen, will be able to interpretthe views of the producers. The Minister stated last night that it was anticipated that steps would be taken in the meantime by the producers' organizations to get into touch with the representatives who are to attend the conference, so that the latter would be fully acquainted with the desires of the producers, and would be able to act with full authority. He added that the CommonwealthGovernment would not enter into any contract unless it was fully satisfied that the great body of the producers desired that it should do so, and completely approved of the terms..

I do not think any honorable member on either side of the House can object to. the principle which the Minister laid down. During the six weeks which elapsed between the convening and the holding of the conference, resolutions were carried throughout the dairying districts of Australia, of which the following- which was passed at a. meeting of. producers at

Smith town, in my electorate - was typical -

That this meeting of primary producers bring before the notice of the Federal member the unsatisfactory position dairymen are placed in with regard to the disposal of their butter, and request that he will use his influence in having the prices lifted; also that no further contract be entered into with the Imperial Government at the termination of this contract unless desired by the primary producers of this State.

Mr Cunningham - Were the producers then consulted about the agreement?

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As soon as the proposition was brought forward, the primary producers' organization in New South Wales circularized every union, which practically comprised every individual dairy farmer, with a view to having the matter thoroughly considered. At the conference held in Melbourne, in March, the following resolution was arrived at -

That this Inter-State Conference be urged to request the Minister to inform the Imperial Government that the producers desire a free market; but in the event of the Imperial Government deciding to retain control of the importation and sale of dairy produce in Great Britain after the completion of the present contract, the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Pool Committee be empowered to negotiate with and sell to the Imperial Government next season's surplus butter and cheese.

Mr Ryan - Can the honorable member show where the conference asked for a Bill of this character ?

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Later, I shall explain, I hope to the satisfaction of the honorable member for West Sydney, and his farmer constituents, why this Bill is. necessary. Such were the resolutions adopted by the conferences that met to discuss this matter. It was realized on every hand that the arrangement was not ideal, but that it was the best that could: be got, and ahalf-way house to an open market. The producers desired, if possible, to secure complete freedom from Government control, but they recognised that the actions of the Imperial Government could not be controlled by the Australian Government, and that if they were to take advantage of the British market, they must subscribe tothe terms fixed by the Imperial Government. Then the question of ability to carry out a contract arose, and that is reallywhat has necessitated the passage of this Bill. The Minister (Mr.Greene) has already detailed the method by which the agreement was arrived at. The Government did nothing in the matter; it was two delegates of the producers who went Home and arranged the following contract : -

The Pool, with the Government approval has sold tho exportable surplus of butter from the 1st of August, 1920, until the 31st March, 1921, as under : -

Price, 240s. per Cwt. for 90-grode butter, with ls. per point up or down, with 3b. per cwt. additional for unsalted butter.

Payments are tor be made at the end of fourteen days after being placed in cool storage" at port of shipment or against storage warrants.

Storage. - The cost of storage in Victoria to be paid by the sellers for an average of six weeks; after that to be paid by the Imperial Government.

Commonwealth Grader's Certificates issued when the butter was graded to be final.

The East, and South Africa. - The normal trade of the En st is to be provided for. and up to 50 tons monthly to be released for shipment to South Africa.

The price asked for was 252s. per cwt., but after bargaining a compromise was arrived at, as set out in the agreement. However, it is confidently anticipated that an increase will be granted by the Ministry of Food in Great Britain.

Mr Ryan - Is that mentioned in the contract ?


Mr Austin Chapman - Who will get that increase?

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The producers will get it.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Where did the honorable member learn that?

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A cablegram which appeared in the press a few days ago stated that it was the definite desire of the Imperial Government to give the highest possible price, in order to encourage the fullest production in every sense.

We have heard a great deal about placing an embargo- upon the exportable surplus of butter, but what has always been the position ? The price of butter is high during the winter months in Australia, and keeps high until November or December, and then gradually, and sometimes suddenly, falls, owing to the fact that the later shipments from Australia come into a flushed market in Great Britain. In 1912, the highest price for Australian butter in London was reached in J anuary. It was 134s. per cwt. This was followed by a rapid decline until the middle of the year. In 1913, the price rose until it reached' 128s. in November, and then it slumped until the middle of 1914. Even in 1915, during the war period, the price reached its highest point in December, and then fell, and remained low until the middle of 1916. That is the normal position, and what we must expect, because Danish butter, which has always supplied the bulk of British requirements, will be available next year, as it was before the war.

Honorable members of the Country party are opposed to placing embargoes on export, but when practically every cooperative society throughout Australia has decided to pool its butter, and accept the price offered by the Imperial Government, we think it is scarcely right for honorable members on the Labour benches to seek to take steps which would permit a proprietary concern to sell its butter outside the Pool until October or November at a big price, and then ask to be allowed to come into the Pool in January or February, when the price may be lower than 242s. per cwt. outside the Pool.

There has been considerable criticism in regard to the personnel of the Dairy Produce Pool. We have heard talk about " middlemen," the avowed enemies of everything Australian, and everything decent and just. Mention has been made of Mr. J. W. Sandford, who, as well as being a large merchant, happens to be the owner of the largest butter factory in South Australia. Is it conceivable that he would be desirous of securing less for the butter of the producers he represents in South Australia than can be got from the" Imperial Government?

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