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Wednesday, 21 October 1931

Mr KILLEN (Riverina) .- I am glad that the Government has introduced this bill. The assistance proposed to be given to the farmers will not be very great, but it will at least help them over a difficult period. Our wheat-growers have never been in such a desperate position as they are in at present. Although4 we had a record crop last year, the price was so low that the wheat was grown at a dead loss. At many country stations the price of wheat varied from ls. 6d. to ls. 8d. per bushel, which was a record low price. The farmers who grew the largest crops last year suffered the heaviest losses. It is unfortunate that many farmers who had not had a good crop for two or three years should have encountered such an extraordinary position this year. In parts of my electorate the wheat-growers had not had a good crop for four years. In other cases the crop was a total failure for two years, while last year it was only half the normal return. Like the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), I am opposed to the payment of bounties on principle. If we were living under reasonable conditions I should oppose the payment of this bounty; but, in view of the fact that our high customs duties make everything that the producers need very much more expensive that it should be, it seems that the only way they can be helped is by the payment of bounties on their produce. The ruling high prices are directly due to our heavy customs duties. I still hope that it will be possible to pay the bounty on last year's production. If this is not done, many farmers will be in such a desperate financial position that they will not be able to buy bags and other requirements to harvest the crop they have in this year. I realize that it is not possible to meet every case ; but the majority of farmers had at least a fair crop last year. The crops in many districts this year will be small, because the country was too wet for the' farmers to sow their seed. Seeing that our producers were urged by the Government to put as large an area as possible under crop last year, and were promised 4s. per bushel for their wheat - a promise that did not materialize - I think they should be given some special consideration. Although we cannot blame the Government for what has happened, we can justly ask it to provide that the bounty shall be payable on last season's production. I hope that the price of wheat will not be pegged at less than 3s. 6d. At present wheat is fetching from 2s. lid. to 3s. per bushel, which is admittedly an unprofitable price. If the price for the next crop is fixed at 3s. per bushel, the farmers will reap no benefit from this measure : even if it is only a few pence below 3s. per bushel, they will get very little benefit from it. It is absolutely necessary to provide that the price of wheat shall not be pegged at less than 3s. 6d. per bushel.

I was much surprised to hear the remarks which the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) made yesterday about the proposal to pay a bounty on wheat. The honorable gentleman said that the provision of such a bounty would be nothing but a political sop to the wheatgrowers, to which they had no right. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. Riley) spoke in a somewhat similar strain to-day.

Mr Holloway - Oh, no; he said that while he did not begrudge this assistance to the wheat-growers, he thought other sections of the community also deserved assistance.

Mr KILLEN - I did not hear the whole of the honorable gentleman's speech, but I understood him to say that because other people were worse off than the farmers, he was not favorable to the payment of a bounty on wheat. The honorable member for Balaclava made it quite clear that he was opposed to the bounty. I do not think that these honorable gentlemen realize what our wool and wheat industries mean to Australia. The interest debt of the country is paid mainly out of the proceeds of the sales of wool and wheat. Our primary producers export more than 96 per cent, of the total of Australian exports. I do not know how Australia would get on without its primary industries; but some honorable members appear to think that our secondary industries could continue to flourish without them. It is impossible for either the wheat-growers or the wool-growers of Australia to continue to produce wheat and wool at their present prices. It is true that they are continuing their operations, but, for the most part, they are working on overdrafts. The existing state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. The wool-growers are not in so bad a position as are the wheat-growers, notwithstanding that they are receiving at present only 8d. per lb. for wool which costs them at least lid. per lb. to produce. The plight of the wheat-growers is indeed desperate. I remind honorable members that if these two staple industries go out of existence, the whole community will suffer. No argument of mine should be necessary to convince honorable members that a bounty is necessary in order to save the wheat industry from destruction. I intend to support the bill, and I hope that the Minister will be able to arrange to increase the limit to which the bounty will apply to 3s. 6d. a bushel.

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