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Wednesday, 9 November 1938


Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- I am very sorry that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr! Scully) should have endeavoured to make of this more of a party question than one of assistance to the farmers. He has indulged in exaggerations, and has made statements that are far from correct regarding the record of the Labour party in its dealings with the wheat-farmers. I endorse the statement of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) regarding the serious position of many of the agriculturists throughout the greater part of Australia. In South Australia, Victoria, in many parts of New South Wales, and in Western Australia, the drought has been very severe, and this, combined with the very low price of wheat, has placed the growers in a position of extraordinary difficulty. Something drastic must be done to meet the position. Recently, it was decided, after much argument, to introduce legislation to provide a homeconsumption price for wheat. As was pointed out by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) just now, wo are awaiting the passing of legislation by the State parliaments before complementary legislation is introduced into this Parliament to give effect to that decision, that is the fixing of a homeconsumption price of wheat. It would be a great pity if the scheme had to be dropped. In Western Australia, the wheat pool has decided to make a first advance of only ls. 3d. or ls. 4d. a bushel at sidings. When we realize how high is the cost of production, and the many difficulties which the farmers have to face, it is evident that this is an unpayable price, even for the man who gets 20 bushels an acre. Only a few days ago I gave notice to the secretary of our party that I proposed to call a meeting to discuss this matter. The meeting was held this morning, and it was decided to bring the matter before the Government with a view to having the scheme gone on with as soon as possible, and to urge that some relief be granted to growers, not on an acreage basis, .but in accordance with their needs.


Mr Brennan - Was the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) invited to the meeting?


Mr GREGORY - He could have attended if he thought fit. I should like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) to give an assurance that, if the States pass the necessary acts, the Opposition in this House will support legislation providing for a homeconsumption price for wheat. It may be true that some wheat farmers on big areas of 10,000 or 15,000 acres are in a sound financial position, but I am not asking for assistance on their behalf. I am asking for assistance for those who are in actual need. In my own electorate there are more than 1,000 farmers, many of whom have been growing wheat for only the last seven or eight years. They were not able to take advantage of the good prices which ruled up to 1929. In 1930 and 1931 they had magnificent crops, but prices were ruinously low. Since then they have had drought after drought. lt is true that many of the farmers are operating in marginal areas, but I do not want to see them forced off the land. After all, they are the cream of our population, and they are battling along, year after year, under the most adverse conditions. The Commonwealth Government should do something to help them. It should at least lend money to the State governments without interest for a number of years to enable production to be carried on. Honorable members must realize the enormous value to Australia of the wheat industry. In my opinion the economic collapse in 1930 was due entirely to the catastrophic decline of export values, which was the direct cause of all the misery suffered by the people during the depression years. It would be ruinous from a national viewpoint not to continue the development of a comprehensive production programme in order to increase our population and ensure the safety of the nation. There can be no doubt about the necessity for Commonwealth assistance to our primary producers. I have in my hand a graph which includes data taken from Table 13 of the memorandum on the international wheat situation, prepared by the secretariat of the Wheat Advisory Committee in London. This data has been checked carefully. It shows that over a long period of years, from 1922-23 to 1937-38, the purchasing power of a bushel of wheat in Argentina, Canada and the United States of America, in every year, and in some years to a very great extent, was much higher than in Australia. This, I contend, has been due entirely to Commonwealth policy. I pointed out some time ago that a return, prepared by a qualified accountant, showed that the cost of the development of a thousand-acre farm in Western Australia in 1913, was £2,600, and in 1931 was £4,400, an increase of nearly 100 per cent. In these circumstances there is a definite obligation on the Commonwealth Government to do something to assist the establishment of a home-consumption price should be utilized to keep these men on the land." I am not now speaking only for farmers in my own State, but for wheat-growers throughout the Commonwealth. Enormous losses have been

 

industry. This could be done by agreeing to the proposal for a homeconsumption price for wheat and making available a sum of, say, £500,000, to assist farmers who are in financial difficulties. If this cannot be done, some portion at least of the money derived from the suffered by many wheat-growers in other States. Some farmers may not be In urgent need, but I know that a great many wheat-growers are, year after year, finding it most difficult to carry on. Rather than allow these people to go off the land and increase unemployment in the cities, assistance should be given by the Commonwealth Government, not only in the interests of the farmers themselves, but also in the interests of the nation. In reply to the statements made by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully), I point out that the Loan Council is not controlled by the Commonwealth Government. Each State has one vote on the council and the Commonwealth has only two, so that the States have full control, if they desire to utilize it. I am, however, more concerned with the present condition of the wheat-farmers than with political considerations. I hope that all parties will unite in an appeal to State governments and to the Commonwealth Government to fix a home-consumption price for wheat and also to provide the very necessary assistance to those farmers who are in dire need of it.







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