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Wednesday, 9 November 1938


Mr NOCK (Riverina) .- I think that the members of this House who are seised of the position of the wheatgrowers do give them their sympathy; but I think that this Parliament has not only to consider the position as it affects the wheat-growers themselves but also to recognize how seriously their position reacts on the national position. The figures published in the press a few days ago with regard to the prospects of the wheat crop in the various States were -

 

It will be seen that the total is approximately 132,000,000 bushels, compared with 186,000,000 bushels last year. When we take the relative price of last year's crop, after having kept out seed, and compare it with this year's prospective crop, after having kept out seed, it will be found that the farmers this year will receive about £11,500,000 for their crop, whereas last year it was worth £34,000,000. It represents a reduction of £22,500,000. When people are fully aware of these figures they will see how serious the position is both to the wheat-grower and to the economic welfare of Australia. It has been admitted by the Federal Government that it is prepared to co-operate with the States in order to bring in a scheme to provide a home-consumption price for wheat. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) say very definitely that he did not desire any interference with the basis and the principles of that proposed scheme, but that he advocated that there should be some extra assistance for those necessitous farmers who have been affected by drought and who will harvest little or no crop in respect of which they could participate in the distribution of money from that source. The position of the Government, as I see it, was outlined fairly clearly by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson). There must be a line of demarcation as to what its responsibility is, what is the responsibility of the State governments, and what is the responsibility of the individual wheat-grower, and nobody else's but his own. We know that neither the Federal nor any State government has any say in regard to the locality in which a wheatgrower decides to farm or as to the methods adopted by an individual farmer in growing his crop, the acreage or seed he plants, or whether or not he uses superphosphate. Consequently I say that many of the disabilities of the man on the land are not the responsibility of the Federal Government. But the tariff effect on his costs is a responsibility of the Federal Government, and the burden of arbitration, which is national policy, cannot be borne by anybody else but the Commonwealth Government. It should not be put on the exporting industry. The primary producer has also to pay for workmen's compensation and will soon be burdened by contributions to the national insurance fund. Unlike those engaged in secondary industries he is unable to pass those costs on.


Mr Mahoney - Why should not the primary producer pay for workmen's compensation ?


Mr NOCK - Because he is m a different position from those in secondary industries, and cannot pass on these special burdens imposed upon the producers of wheat by national policy. They are anomalies that should be compensated for by the National Government.


Mr SPEAKER -Order ! That matter cannot be debated upon this motion.


Mr NOCK - I submit that there is an obligation on the Commonwealth Government to compensate wheat-growers for the cost of these burdens. But compensation for drought is not a federal responsibility. If there is necessity for particular assistance because of this or any other cause, it is for the State governments to take whatever action they consider necessary. It may apply only to a part of a particular State or to the whole of a particular State, but to one State only, and, in. these circumstances, it is not a federal responsibility. Men are established on the land in certain areas of various States which are quite unsuitable for wheat-growing, and governments w hich encouraged them to go there should have to shoulder the burden of any assistance necessary to aid them to carry on. This point should be considered. The proposed home-consumption price scheme will assist the industry, but not discriminate in favour of any particular farmers in the industry. Those farmers in the industry whose successful operations have been prejudiced by drought conditions and other unfortunate circumstances should make an appeal to the State governments, but if the State governments cannot provide the necessary finance for relief, I would take no exception to the Federal Government providing money on. loan to the State governments, possibly free of interest, so that they could have no ground upon which they could refuse assistance where it was justified. The £12,000,000 being provided by the Commonwealth Government for rehabilitation is surely all for which it should be asked. It would be a great mistake to mix necessitous cases with the proposal for a home-consumption price, the principle of which has been agreed upon by six State governments and the Federal Government. It would be a catastrophe to break down that principle. I may add that I have received advice from the leading farmers' organizations in Western Australia in support of this view.

Some incorrect statements have been made during the course of this, debate. The honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) referred to assistance provided by the New South Wales Labour Government in 1920 as being the greatest measure of assistance which the wheat industry has ever received from any government. The fact is that the New South "Wales growers received a. guaranteed price of 7s. 6d. a bushel, 5s. guaranteed by the Commonwealth Government a.nd 2s. fid. by the State

Government; but 1 would remind the honorable member that the world's price for wheat at that time, and paid to growers in States where no guaranteed price applied, averaged 7s. 4½d. a bushel. The Victorian farmers received 7s. 4½d. a bushel. The extra advantage received by the New South Wales wheat-growers, as the result of the guarantee, was only 1½d. a bushel on a crop of 53,000,000 bushels, less seed. The burden imposed upon the taxpayer to provide the extra. l½d. a bushel was 3d. a bushel. Thus, the taxpayers had to find a -total of £600,000, of which the wheat-growers received only £300,000. The honorable member compares that advantage of £300,000 with the £14,000,000 which this Government has provided by way of assistance to wheat-growers, and then claims that the New South Wales Labour Government did more in 1920 to assist the wheat-growers than has ever been done by any other government in Australia. Surely the fallacy is obvious. The honorable member's statements are not in accordance with facts nor are those of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) in regard to rural rehabilitation. They show that he has not a clear conception of the manner in which the Loan Council operates, because he contended that some of the money allocated for rural rehabilitation purposes has been used for public works. That is not so. The Loan Council has the power to allocate a certain proportion of the money raised by loan for specific purposes, and the State Ministers, having a majority on the Loan Council, have the power to determine the purposes for which such amounts are made available. The Commonwealth Government does not intend to default in its promise that £12,000,000 shall he made available.


Mr Brennan - It was earmarked for that special purpose.


Mr NOCK - The money was not in hand but was to be provided as required. The sum of £6,000,000 has already been paid and the remainder will be provided from time to time, as the States are able to use it satisfactorily in carrying out their schemes. The accusation that there has been delay in regard to rural rehabilitation cannot be sustained. No State government has complained that delay has been caused owing to finance. The arranging of compositions with the creditors has been found to be a most intricate problem.


Mr Pollard - That is not the case in Victoria.


Mr NOCK - The Victorian Government is getting the money. Any delay in the States is not because of the shortage of funds, and the Commonwealth Government is carrying out its obligation. Let the States do their part of the job.

Motion (by Mr. Clark) put -

That the question be now put.







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