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Thursday, 29 October 1931

Mr GREGORY (Swan) . - I agree with the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) that the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey), who, unfortunately, was too ill to attend here last week, did not fully understand the difference between the last two bills which have been introduced to assist the wheatgrowers of this country. Although I do not approve entirely of the present measure, it is infinitely better than that which we had before us last week. With the price of wheat rising, it is possible that, under the earlier bill, no assistance at all would have been granted to wheatgrowers by way of a bounty. The bill now before us is simplicity itself, and its administration should not occasion any difficulty. I should like to see a short adjournment before it is dealt with in the committee stage, so that ' honorable members might have an opportunity to examine it thoroughly. I agree with the honorable member for Grey that if we desire to build up an export trade in wheat, it would be better to provide for a bounty on the wheat that is exported.

Generally, I do not believe in bounties; in my opinion Australia would be better off if many of the existing bounties and restrictions on industry were removed, for then the cost of production would become lower, and it would be possible to carry on a profitable export trade. I have previously pointed out that in Western Australia there is an area, equal in size to Victoria, which is capable of supporting 10,000 farmers if we had a satisfactory wheat export trade. That area enjoys a moderate rainfall ; but the rain fails in the growing season.

Mr McNeill - Is the land costly to clear?

Mr GREGORY - Not particularly costly. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) quoted from a list, which was prepared at my special request by Mr. Woods, an accountant of Perth, to show how the cost of production in 1913 compares with the cost to-day.

Mr Fenton - An entirely wrong comparison.

Mr GREGORY - The prices now being realized for our export products are below those of 1913, whereas nearly everything which the farmer has to buy costs 100 per cent, more than it did in 1913. Australia is a good country, but, unfortunately, it is being destroyed by foolish men. Being a debtor nation, Australia must export in order to pay her way. We hear a good deal about the advantages which Australia will gain from the better prices now prevailing for wheat and wool ; but we hear little of the difficulties which the wheat-growers have to face. A bounty is sometimes justified in order to assist the establishment of an industry; but if . such a bounty has to be continued year after year, there must be something wrong. I make no excuses for voting for this bounty, because I remember the many impositions which have been placed on the wheat-growers of Australia during the last decade. I remember also the fall in the prices of our primary products last year, and the numerous promises made to the producers which have not yet been fulfilled. I am not unmindful of the response of the farmers - particularly those of Western Australia - to the appeal to grow more wheat. They lost hundreds of thousands of pounds through responding to that call. This bounty will help them. Under this bill they will know exactly where they stand, whereas their position under the measure which we had before us last week was most' indefinite.

When members speak of the increased prices for wheat and wool during recent weeks, they should not lose sight of the heavy exchange rate. The more we produce, the lower will the exchange rate become. Every additional bag of wheat, or bale of wool, which is exported helps the Government to meet its overseas indebtedness, and the more we produce for export the lower will be the exchange rate, so beneficial to us at present. The action of the British Government in departing from the gold standard has also assisted, because it has increased slightly the value of our primary products overseas. The community generally should not complain because assistance is to be given to the wheat-growers. Had that assistance been given last year, their position would have been less critical than it now is, and there would not have been the huge falling off in the areasown with wheat this year. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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