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Wednesday, 21 October 1931

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong)

This measure is entitled " The Wheat Bounty Bill of 1931". The Minister must very nearly have run out of titles for the purpose of describing his benevolent endeavours to do something by legislation in relation to wheat. It is unnecessary on this occasion to recite the many unsuccessful attempts which the Minister has made in the last two years to assist the wheat-growers.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Unsuccessful because of the obstruction of Nationalist members in another place.

Mr LATHAM - I do not' propose to repeat what I have said previously regarding the futile attempts of the Ministry to deal with this problem, because I recognize that the Minister has not repeated the same speech that he made ou the last four or five occasions and, therefore, it would be unfair for me to- make the same reply as formerly. This is a proposal for n bounty on the production of wheat, and the bounty is to be paid on bushels produced. The Minister has suggested that it is to be paid ou bushels exported, but the bill does not provide for that. We have not yet seen the Wheat Charges Bill which is to be introduced, so we are discussing the measure, to some extent, in ignorance of the complete scheme. But this bill undoubtedly provides for a bounty on wheat produced, and not on wheat exported. The amount of the bounty is limited, first, because it is to be Gd. a bushel as a maximum, and secondly because the payment is to be limited to the difference between the price, or the f.o.b. equivalent of the price, of the wheat and the prescribed P, 1.., and the proscribed price, I understand, may be either 3s. or 3s. 6d., according to the arrangement made between the Government and the banks. There is tho suggestion also that the amount of the bounty is to be limited to £3,000,000. That is not so. This bill does not limit the payment to £3,000,000. It, provides for a bounty of 6d., subject to the limitation of the difference between the price and the prescribed price, and it also provides that the Treasurer may borrow £3,000,000 for the purpose of the act. But if the production is on the same scale as last season, more than that sum will be required.

Such a measure as this cannot be permanent. It is quite impossible to accept as a permanent part of the policy of the Commonwealth of Australia, a provision for a bounty on wheat to be raised by loan from the banks or otherwise. Obviously, this is a temporary expedient only. It is obviously quite impossible, as a permanent policy, to continue to raise money by loan for the purpose of paying a bounty on wheat.

Mr Prowse - Or with respect to anything else.

Mr LATHAM - 1 quite agree with the honorable member. The reason that I have picked out wheat is because it is only in the case of wheat that it is proposed to add £3,000,000 to the national debt for the purpose of providing a bounty for one year. The observations 1 have made would apply to any other commodity if similar action were proposed in regard to it. There is no hope of arriving at a solution of the farmer's difficulties by measures such as this. The object of the bill is to provide relief for present distress ; not to make wheat-farming in Australia profitable, but to help the farmers to live during the next season. The object is not to give 6d. a bushel on wheat whatever its price may be, but to assist the farmers in a time of very great distress. Something else will have to be done if our farmers are to carry on profitably, and it is useless to think of doing it permanently along the line* of this measure. After this bill has been passed, the only large scale industries in Australia which will not be in direct receipt of assistance by way of grants, subsidies, or protection from the customs, will be wool-growing, meatraising and the production of base metals. Every one has heard the story of the men who, not being able to see over one another heads, all obtained kerosene boxes and stood on them. It is becoming apparent to everybody in Australia that we must. ha ve a much more radical reform of our economic structure than is afforded by measures such as this. This bill is, I think, necessary because of the really dire distress of the wheat-growers. During the last recess I spent a considerable time in the wheat districts, and obtained some first-hand knowledge of conditions there. It became evident to me that the position of many of the wheat-farmers was desperate, and it is for that reason, and for that reason only, that I am prepared to support the present hill. I have shown that, in my opinion, we cannot overcome our difficulties by granting bounties and subsidies from the public funds. That is why, in the course of debates on the tariff and on industrial matters, I have pleaded for the removal of certain measures which I believe, are hampering, instead of helping, Australian industries.

I have already admitted that assistance is necessary in the case of the wheatfarmers. As to the amount of the assistance to be given, the Minister has stated that the Government has not yet arrived at an agreement with the banks. I am prepared to leave the matter to be discussed between the Government and the banks. The Government, no doubt, is concerned to secure votes, but it is also beginning to be concerned with the actual financial and economic position of the country, and the welfare of the banks is bound up with the well-being of the country. I do not propose to say anything in the course of this debate which might be regarded as bringing pressure to bear on the banks to provide a particular sum of money. I shall leave the matter in the hands of the Government and the banks, hoping that a wise conclusion will be reached. It must be borne in mind that the amount to be provided under this bill will bo obtained by loan.


Mr LATHAM - No, at interest. It will all be spent this year, and the people of Australia will have to repay the principal, and pay interest on it until it is repaid.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - In what way?

Mr LATHAM - Out of taxation. I presume, therefore, that the Government will, if it discharges its proper functions, be anxious to see that no undue burden is placed on the people of Australia as a whole.

I suggest that one or two matters in the bill might receive consideration from the drafting point of view in order to make sure that the bill will work. In clause 3 of the bill there is a definition of " f ree-on-board price," but the phrase itself is nowhere used in the bill, so far as I can see. Apparently that definition belongs to an earlier draft of the bill. Clause 5 provides that a bounty shall be payable on the production of wheat, which has been sold or delivered for sale to a licensee. Clause 6 provides that a certificate shall be given upon sale, stating, as prescribed, the "free-on-board " equivalent of the price per bushel paid, or to be paid, for the wheat. Sub-clause 2 of clause 6 shows how the " free-on-board " equivalent of the price is to be determined. All that is clear. One would have thought from the explanation of the Minister that the limit of the amount of the bounty, within the other limit of 6d. a bushel, was to be arrived at by determining the difference between the f.o.b. equivalent, and the prescribed price referred to in clause 7. It is remarkable however, that in clause 7 it is provided that-

The rate of bounty payable in respect of any wheat shall be the amount per bushel by which the price specified in the certificate issued by a licensee in respect of that wheat falls short of the prescribed price, but not exceeding in any case fid. per bushel.

If we refer again to sub-clause 1, of clause 6, we shall see that the certificate must state, as prescribed, the f.o.b. equivalent of the price per bushel paid, or to be paid, for the wheat, while clause 7 speaks of the difference between the price specified in the certificate - not the " free-on-board " equivalent - and the prescribed price. I suggest that this matter be looked into to determine whether the clauses should not be redrafted.

It seems to me that, with a measure of this kind, it would require only a moderate amount of collusion to make the Government pay to the farmers a good deal of money which otherwise it would not need to to pay at all. I am a barrister by profession, and a considerable portion of my life has been spent considering and discussing statutes to find out their true meaning. I have sometimes in this House felt a difficulty in pointing out methods of evading the purpose of acts of Parliament while remaining within the law. Even when I have not approved of a measure passed here, 1 have felt that I owed a duty to Parliament not to go out of my way to give hints to the public how they might defeat its provisions. Accordingly, on this occasion, I am not developing to the full the ingenuity which, I think, could be exercised in the defeat of this legislation. There are others, however, who will take the fullest advantage of the opportunities provided for, let us say, extracting the maximum benefit from a benevolent Commonwealth Government.

Mr Keane - How unnatural !

Mr LATHAM - The honorable member for Bendigo is one of those stark spartans who would never dream of extracting the maximum benefit from any one, not even in respect to sewing machines. At the end of this bill there is a clause which provides that the Governor-General may make regulations for giving effect to the act, and I think that there will have to be some very carefully drawn regulations, providing for substantial penalties, to prevent the Government, which represents the people of the Commonwealth, from being swindled, in effect, under the operations of this measure. It would be very easy to swindle the Government. It is often said, when a man makes a suggestion like this, that he is making an entirely unfounded charge against a body of men of the highest standing and integrity in the community. I am accustomed to bear that, and I am not going to be deterred by such a statewent from pointing out what I know to be true. Unfortunately, there are many citizens whose pride in their own ingenuity in evading the requirements of the law is greater than any qualms of conscience they may feel at disregarding ethical considerations. It may be desirable to provide definitely that the limit of £3,000,000 under this provision shall not be exceeded. I was under the impression that the harvest was always a matter of doubt, but I am told by those who have more knowledge of wheat than I have that there is no likelihood of the £3,000,000 to bf provided under this measure being exceeded. I have in mind, however, wheat that has been saved for seed, and in respect of which much money might reach the pockets of the farmers. It would be wise, therefore, to provide definitely that the limit of the bounty shall be £3,000,000. We have been informed that the general principles of the bill have been agreed to by those interested. The money for the payment of the bounty is available in the only way in which money can be available at thi? period, and the farmers sadly need and must receive assistance. Therefore, I do not oppose the bill; nevertheless I am unable to see how the wheat-farmer will be able to carry on his industry next year if the present Government is still in office.

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