Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 9 November 1938

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- I welcome the motion because it gives honorable members an opportunity to impress upon the Government the necessity for steps being taken to deal with the effect upon the nation generally of the desperate condition of the wheat industry. In my opinion, this problem ranks only second in importance to that of unemployment. The present situation has arisen during the last twelve months and has been accentuated from day to day by a continuous fall of the price of wheat as well as by the neglect of the Commonwealth to deal with it. Whenever the subject has been raised in this House, it has been the practice of the present Government, since I have come into this Parliament at all events, to throw responsibility on to State governments.

Sir Frederick Stewart - What about the £14,000,000 which has been paid to wheat-farmers by the Lyons Government and for much of which I was personally responsible?

Mr POLLARD - The first step in that direction was taken by the Scullin Government. The present Government merely implemented the policy instituted by that Administration.

Sir Frederick Stewart - The Seullin Government promised ; we. paid.

Mr POLLARD - The Lyons Government merely honoured the statutory obligations of its predecessors.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is not discussing the motion before the Chair.

Mr POLLARD - The present Government has consistently shirked its obligations by endeavouring to place on State governments responsibility for action to assist our wheat-growers. The Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) this afternoon made an interesting statement, which contained a mass of historical data. He told us that there had been an inquiry by a royal commission into the condition of the wheat industry and that the previous Lyons Government had given effect to sixteen of the recommendations made by that body which cost this country £29,000. I ask the right honorable gentleman to name one recommendation that has been of substantial help to the wheat-farmer.

Sir Earle Page - As the result of the commission's recommendations, the Commonwealth Government immediately made available £4,000,000 for the payment of a bounty on wheat production, and £6,317,000 for farmers' debt adjustment.

Mr POLLARD - It was stated originally that £12,000,000 would be made available for assistance to wheatgrowers. According to the Minister's statement to-day, the money allocated by the Loan Council could be expended by the States on either public works or the provision of assistance to necessitous wheat-farmers in whatever proportion the State governments thought fit.

Sir Earle Page - State governments, apparently, put public works before the farmers.

Mr POLLARD - They chose to expend some of the money oh necessary public works.

Mr Paterson - That is not so.

Mr POLLARD - To the extent which the State governments expend the money on public works, they cannot expend it on the adjustment of farmers' debts.

Mr Paterson - The honorable member is wrong.

Mr POLLARD - Everybody who has read the speech of the Minister for Commerce knows that, in respect of debt adjustment, the right honorable gentleman made the plain statement that £12,000,000 would be made available by the Commonwealth to assist the States over a period of three years. Now the right honorable gentleman tells us that, under the arrangements of the Loan Council, a certain amount of loan money is allocated to the States to assist them in carrying on their ordinary public works' programme; therefore, the wheatfarmers and other farmers must suffer.

Sir Earle Page - The Commonwealth Government finds the money for farmers' debt adjustment, and the States find the money for works.

Mr POLLARD - That does not square with the promise made by the right honorable gentleman when the farmers' debt adjustment legislation was introduced in this House. I do not wish to indulge in recrimination, but I think it is high time that this National Parliament faced up to its obligation in respect of this problem. It should not await the passing of uniform legislation by the different States, nor should it be necessary to call a meeting of representatives of the States and insist on unanimity among them when a new problem arises such as is confronting us to-day by reason of drought. This Parliament has all the financial and other powers necessary to give effective relief to wheat-growers and to distressed farmers generally.

Sir Earle Page - When the honorable gentleman has been here a little longer he will know that that is not so.

Mr POLLARD - . The right honorable gentleman will not deny that it is within the power of the Commonwealth to grant a bounty on wheat grown, to make an acreage payment or to provide any other form of assistance. I am prepared to admit that the decision given in the James case placed certain restrictions on Commonwealth activity; but, in the final analysis, it does not prevent the Commonwealth Parliament from taking the initiative and providing bounties or other forms of assistance.

Sir Earle Page - The honorable gentleman assisted the Commonwealth with its referendum proposals.

Mr POLLARD -I did, and I am proud of the fact. It ill becomes this Parliament, when confronted with certain obstacles by virtue of a decision of the High Court, to unload its obligation, to decline to explore new methods which undoubtedly exist, and to thrust back on the States the initiative in the matter. While conferences are being held by State governments, whose capacity to raise money is limited, the Commonwealth Parliament being all-powerful in the financial sphere, the wheat-growers lose their means of livelihood and the unemployment problem is intensified. I am not very much concerned as to whether the assistance takes the form of a homeconsumption price, a bounty, or an acreage payment ; but, generally speaking, I have a decided preference for a bounty, according to the factors that operate in any particular area; because I have always felt- and still feel - that, under the home-consumption price proposition, particularly in relation to wheat, flour and the by-products of wheat, the undoubted effect is that the greatest burden is borne by the weakest and poorest section of the community, who are the greatest bread-eaters. I do not think that that can be successfully contested. In these circumstances, I, and I hope other members of my party, definitely favour a bounty of a given amount a bushel, or a payment based on an acreage calculation. I know that there are many objections to the payment on an acreage basis ; but I suggest that, because of the factors which operate in Victoria to-day, that basis might be favorably considered. One objection to it is that, as occurs in every walk of life, there are among wheat-growers dishonest people who, if they knew they were to receive an acreage payment yearly, would simply scratch the surface of their land instead of manuring and cultivating it properly. But that could not occur this year, when such persons could not realize that, owing to drought, an acreage basis of payment might be necessary. I put that view even at this late stage - and it is becoming late. The position in Victoria is desperate, and the Government should be courageous. I am not suggesting- - I never have - that the Minister for Commerce and his colleagues are unsympathetically disposed towards this problem, but I do contend that they lack initiative and courage.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.

Suggest corrections