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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) (8:38 AM) . - I am disappointed with the Bill. Although the Prime Minister states that the wheat operations are partly to be financed by the Commonwealth Bank, still it is not specifically stated so in the Bill. By way of interjection he said that other banks would assist to finance the scheme. We on this side consider that there is no necessity to bring in Other banks when we have the Commonwealth Bank, with the whole of the resources of Australia behind it. There is absolutely no need to go outside the sphere of the Commonwealth Bank to financethe Wheat Pool. Instead of the present arrangement to finance the wheattransactions, the Commonwealth Government should have endeavoured to enter in- to agreements with the States to form a compulsory Pool, operating throughout the whole of Australia. There is to-day a great deal of dissatisfaction among the secondary industries of New South Wales owing to the price of wheat for home consumption being higher than that charged for wheat for shipment overseas. In consequence the Australian milling trade has been seriously hampered. A properly managed Commonwealth Wheat Pool would not allow of this position. With a number of voluntary Pools the competition for available markets will tend to cut prices and to lessen the returns to the growers; but a compulsory Pool under unified control, would limit competition and increase the price obtained for the product. Of course, it is not necessary to have a guarantee in good seasons, but we are likely to face a critical period within the next twelve months, when the price of wheat may not be sufficient to cover the cost of production. It is then that every resource at the disposal of the Commonwealth should be used to safeguard the interests of the primary producers. We have had ample evidence to prove that we cannot possibly produce wheat at a less cost than 4s. per bushel, and in giving a guarantee of 3s. 8d. per bushel the Government are throwing the responsibility of any loss upon the shoulders of the primary producers.

Mr Jackson - There is no indication that the producers will get only 3s. 8d.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - The Bill says that the guarantee will not be more than 3s. 8d. If the guarantee does not cover the cost of production it might just as well be ls. 3d. or ls. 6d. We maintain that this guarantee of 3s. 8d. per bushel is of no practical use to the man on the land. The argument was brought forward that if the wheat guarantee were made 4s. a bushel any loss would have to be met out of Consolidated Revenue. I remind honorable members that a Tariff duty is imposed to protect an industry which is a direct charge on the earnings of the people. The people' have to pay for the Tariff : but they do that willingly, in order that our industries may be maintained. The Country party do not believe in the Tariff, but still they exerted pressure on the Government to pass several Bounty Bills to assist secondary industries, and of course those grants were taken out of Consolidated Revenue?

Mr Cook - Does the honorable member favour meeting any loss on Pools out of the Consolidated Revenue ?

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I am not in favour 'of making good losses that are due to inefficiency. But there is no evidence that the farming industry to-day is not efficiently managed. The evidence of the Commission appointed to inquire into that matter reported, that wheat could not be produced year by year under 4s. per bushel. Honorable members objected to a guarantee of 4s. because, as they said, any loss sustained would have to be met out of Consolidated Revenue. The purpose of a guarantee is that if a loss is sustained the primary producer shall be safeguarded. Such protection is on all-fours with Customs duties for the protection of the manufacturing industries. It is a remarkable fact that the so-called representatives of the primary producers in this Chamber who are prepared to vote for bounties for the secondary industries are not ready to support the giving of similar assistance to the man upon the land. The Bill provides that if certain conditions of the guarantee given to the banking corporation are not observed the Treasurer of the Commonwealth may be relieved of all liability thereunder. I do not know that it is competent for 'the Commonwealth to contract itself out of a liability. If it can do so there is nothing to prevent the Government saying at any time that it does not believe that the banking corporation is honouring the conditions it has laid down, and it will, therefore, withdraw the guarantee.

Mr BRUCE - That is not possible. The guarantee is subject to certain conditions, but when it appears that the conditions are not being observed, the Treasurer may disclaim liability.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - We do not know what conditions the Government intend to lay down.

Mr BRuCE - Each year an agreement has been made between either the Commonweath Bank and the Wheat Pool or between the Commonwealth Government and the Wheat Pool, and this proposal follows exactly the same procedure.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I am pleased to have that explanation. Will the right honorable gentleman say why there is no specific mention of the Commonwealth Bank in the Bill? The Commonwealth, having given the guarantee and stipulated certain conditions, should also insist that the business be done through the Commonwealth Bank, unless the Deputy Governor has stated that it is impossible for him to finance the Pool.

Mr Bruce - That is exactly the position. It is at the request of the Deputy Governor that this business is being conducted in the way proposed.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - That explains the omission; but, as a general principle, all Government transactions should be done through the Commonwealth' Bank. In Committee an amendment will be moved from this side of the House that the guarantee be not less than 4s. per bushel, and I trust that those honorable members opposite who have the interests of the farmers at heart, and have voted to remit large sums of taxation to the wealthy section of the community, and for the payment of bounties to secondary industries, will show their sympathy for a great branch of primary production.

Mir. LAMBERT (West Sydney) [8.46 a.m.]. - Whilst I have no objection to the claims advanced by the honorable member for Gwydir for the granting of assistance to the man on the land, I would like to see all classes' of the community treated equally well. For instance, a measure should be brought down to guarantee the workers of Australia a minimum or living wage. If the primary producer is to be protected by the Commonwealth, similar assistance should be extended to the waterside workers and others who are working for wages. Having been a farmer some years ago, I understand the position of the man upon the land, but I cannot see why one class of the community should be favoured at the expense of the taxpayers generally.

Mr Hill - This guarantee has never cost the taxpayers a half-penny.

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