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Wednesday, 9 November 1938

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) .- On general principles, I support the motion moved by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson), although I do not agree with the basis on which he suggests relief should be given to wheatgrowers in distress. I agree with the principle of a home-consumption price for wheat. Furthermore, it is the duty of this Government to make special grants to the respective States for the relief of farmers who find themselves in distress as the result of bad seasons. I cannot quite follow the reasoning of the honorable member for Wimmera that such relief should be distributed on an acreage basis. In every case the financial position of applicants for relief should be taken into consideration. In some districts, wealthy corporations and individuals own areas up to 10,000 acres. Despite seasonal adversity, these remain in a strong financial position and, because they do not need assistance, they are not entitled to any. If relief were granted on the basis of 5s. an acre, for instance, the owner of a 10,000 acre farm would receive £2,500. However, in many wheat-growing centres, the average cropping area owned by the small farmer is only from 300 to 400 acres, and on that basis, most farmers, despite the fact that they and their families depend on the industry for their livelihood, would receive only £75 or £100. The inequity of such a basis of relief is obvious. In respect to bounties also, I have always contended that payments should be made only to those who are in desperate financial straits. The honorable member for Wimmera has pointed out that distress is most acute at the present time among wheat farmers in his electorate, but I venture to suggest that extensive tracts in that district are controlled by wealthy corporations which do not need assistance from the Government. Assistance should, therefore, be distributed on the basis of need.

The Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) mentioned the sums which had been voted, and actually paid, in respect of farmers' debt adjustment. We know that the present trouble would have been obviated but for the tardiness of this Government in making that money available. Yet, in spite of the fact that the sum which it was originally proposed to vote for purpose of rural rehabilitation was £20,000,000, and only £12,000,000 has been actually voted, whilst only £6,000,000 of this amount has actually been made available to date, we are now informed by the Minister for Commerce that the State governments have been given the option of saying how they will use the balance of this money. They have been given the choice of using it for the construction of public works. As the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) has interjected, this departure from the original promise of the Government constitutes a grave betrayal of the trust reposed in it by the wheat-growers. Throughout New South Wales, under the operations of the Farmers' Relief Act, during the last three or four years, hundreds of farmers, because of financial difficulty have had their holdings placed under the control of receivers. This position has been brought about, purely because the money promised for rural rehabilitation has not been made available as expeditiously as it might be. Every honorable member who represents a country district is aware that during the last three or four years many farmers have lost their holdings through their' inability to meet their financial obligations. I suggest that this would not have happened had the money voted for rural rehabilitation been made available more expeditiously.

Mr Thompson - The Government of New South Wales has not used all of the money which has been made available to it for this purpose.

Mr SCULLY - I understand that that is so; yet, when I made representations to that government on this point, I was informed that the money was not forthcoming from the 'Commonwealth Govern- ment. I am very pleased to hear the interjection just made by the Assistant Minister. The information will better enable us to get some satisfaction on this matter from the Government of New South Wales.

Mr Thompson - No complaint has been received by the Commonwealth Government from the Government of New South Wales, that it lacks money for the purpose of rural rehabilitation.

Mr SCULLY - Nevertheless, I have beard members of that government publicly declare that it would provide more financial assistance to distressed wheatgrowers if money voted for that purpose were made available to it by the Commonwealth Government. And now we are informed by the Minister for Commerce that the State governments have been given the option of expending even the money which has been made available to them on public works or for the relief of distressed farmers.

Mr Thompson - That alternative has never been offered by the Commonwealth Government to the States.

Mr SCULLY - The Minister for Commerce just said that the States have been given that choice.

Mr Paterson - The honorable member is a little confused as to what the Minister said.

Mr SCULLY - I know that it is largely as the result of the position which has arisen in consequence of that fact that the honorable member for Wimmera has found it necessary to move his motion, [t has been stated by the Government, and by members of the Country party, that the Labour party has not consistently advocated the granting of assistance to wheat-growers. I know, as one who has been engaged in wheat-growing all my life in the north-west of New South Wales, that the only assistance of any real value ever received by the wheat-growers was given by a Labour government. Years ago, when the Labour party was in power in New South Wales, and Mr. J. T. Lang was Treasurer, the Government made an advance of 2s. 6d. a bushel which, in addition to the price of 5s. a bushel guaranteed by the Commonwealth, made a total price of 7s. 6d. a bushel, the highest ever received by the growers in Australia. The effect of this was to rescue many wheat-growers in northern New South Wales from their difficulties, and place them in a sound financial position, thanks to a Labour government. Labour governments hav0 always done everything possible to assist those engaged in the key industries of wheat-growing and wool-raising. [Leave to continue given.] In 1930, when the Scullin Government was in power, a bill was passed to provide for a compulsory wheat pool with a guaranteed price to the growers of 4s. a bushel. Arrangements were made with the Commonwealth Bank for it to finance the pool, and make advances to growers on delivery of wheat it railway sidings. This bill was rejected by the Senate - some of the Country party senators voting against it. In December, 1930, another bill was passed to provide a guarantee of 3s. a bushel, without a pool, but, on the Commonwealth Bank Board receiving a legal opinion that it was not constitutional, it declined to make the money available.

Later in that year, a bill providing for a fiduciary note issue was passed through the House of Representatives. It was proposed to find £3,500,000 for a wheat bounty and £2,500,000 for distressed wheat-growers, making in all £6,000,000 for wheat-growers. That bill vas rejected in the Senate by the antiLabour senators. In spite of these setbacks, the Labour Government still persisted, and in 1931, made available £3,296,000 with which to pay a bounty of 4£d. a bushel to wheat-growers, on all wheat marketed. Yet, in face of these determined attempts to help the wheatgrowers, and of the practical assistance given to them, some members of the Country party persist in saying that the Labour Government did nothing for the wheat-growers. I hope that a bill will be introduced immediately for the fixing of a home-consumption price for wheat.

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