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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr STEWART (Wimmera) .- Some of the remarks made by members of the Opposition call for a reply. They have compared the butter agreement to other sales of primary produce during the war. There is an immense difference between the two classes of transactions, as I shall show by a detailed, comparison. In the sale of the Australian wheat crop the growers were not consulted, particularly in the earlier part of the war. The original Wheat Board consisted of tho Ministers of Agriculture for the four wheat-producing States with the Prime Minister as chairman. In addition there was an Advisory Board, comprising the well known agents and shipping firms of Darling and Co., Bell and Co., Dreyfus and Co., and Dalgety and Co. Those two bodies negotiated with the Imperial Government and made the contracts for the sale of the wheat; the rank and file had no say in the matter.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They asked for representation and the 'Commonwealth' refused it.

Mr STEWART - That is so. This butter transaction is on a different footing. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. 'Greene) endeavoured to organize the dairying industry on a co-operative basis, and he put before the organized dairymen what I regarded as a very good proposal. As, however, the scheme emanated -from the Government, the dairymen were suspicious., and rejected it. The- Minister -then said, "Very well, if you wish to conduct the business in your own way, do so." Representatives of the industry assembled and appointed two of their number to- go to England to negotiate the sale to the Imperial Government. With a perfectly free hand they made the agreement, copies -of which are .available, and the Government are now asked to give legislative indorsement to it.

Mr Ryan - Does the honorable member say that the Bill will ratify the agreement ?

Mr STEWART - I do not say that it ratifies the agreement; the honorable member can read for himself what the Bill does.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - At any rate it enables the Dairy Produce Pool to give legal effect to the agreement.

Mr STEWART - Honorable members have asked why, if the dairymen have accepted the agreement, the Commonwealth Government, should be asked to give legal effect to it.

Mr Ryan - What legal effect the agreement has exists in itself.

Mr STEWART - I shall not attempt to argue a question of law with the honorable member.

Mr Ryan - Why is it necessary to give the Minister for Trade and Customs power to prohibit the export of butter?

Mr STEWART - I shall come to that point. I believe the honorable member stated that some middlemen attended the conference which accepted the agreement. That is perfectly true. Four middlemen were delegates. Another honorable member said he was fairly certain that the conference was not unanimously in favour of the acceptance of the agreement. That also is true, but the delegates who were suspicious of the agreement were the middlemen : they were the men who were not favorable to the acceptance of it.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister said the opposite was the case.

Mr STEWART - Then, perhaps, I have been misinformed.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I think the honorable member is mixing up two things, as I shall show later.

Mr STEWART - When honorable members ask why this Bill is necessary I refer them to something that happened in connexion with the Australian Dried

Fruits Association. The Association released for consumption in Australia a large quantity of dried fruits at prices less than could be obtained overseas. Middlemen and other speculators purchased as much as they could of this fruit, even going so far as to buy retail in small parcels, stored it up, shipped it overseas, and reaped a big profit.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Honorable members opposite are advocating a lower price for butter in Australia. That would play into the hands of middlemen in the way the honorable member has indicated in connexion with dried fruits; the middlemen would reap a profit to the detriment of the primary producer.

Mr STEWART - Exactly. Honorable members opposite have prophesied that the butter market overseas will rise. I admit frankly that the market may rise, and that the dairymen may then regret having made this agreement; but I still support the agreement, because the dairymen, having made the bargain, have asked us to give it legislative sanction. If, later, they regret the bargain, they will have only themselves to blame.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That will not satisfy the dairyman, who does not know anything about the agreement.

Mr STEWART - The dairyman who knows nothing about the agreement is not a co-operator.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - There is no factory throughout Australia that was not asked to send representatives to the State Conference or the Central Conference.

Mr STEWART - The whole point is that the representatives of the dairymen have asked for the assistance of Parliament in carrying out the agreement they have made. They wish to prohibit the export of butter within certain limits, because, if the price overseas does increase, the butter that should go into local consumption will he purchased by middlemen and sent overseas. In other words, there are amongst the primary producers certain men whom honorable members opposite would call " scabs " on their organization, and who will .stick to this agreement so long as it is the more profitable arrangement, but immediately they think it more' profitable to abandon the agreement and " scab " on the rest of their fellow producers, they will do so.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The people whom we call " scabs " work for lower wages; those whom the honorable member calls " scabs " are those who will ask for higher prices.

Mr STEWART - The honorable member has answered his own argument. In listening to the speeches from all sides of the House in championship of the cause of the primary producers, one cannot help wondering at the significant interest which is being displayed in the producers since they started to organize. A member of the Opposition remarked that the farmer was the backbone of the country.

Labour Members. - Hear, hear!

Mr STEWART - I have heard it said that the farmer is the " wishbone " of the country, and that members of the Labour party are holding one end, and members of the Ministerial party the other, and both are tugging vigorously to get the bigger half.

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