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Friday, 18 November 1938

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Minister for Commerce) - by leave - Following on the agreement reached by the State Premiers . at conferences with representatives of the Commonwealth Government on the 29th August and the 29th September last, the Commonwealth Government undertook to introduce legislation for the purpose of collecting a fund to provide for wheat-growers a homeconsumption price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. Williamstown on that portion of the crop sold for human consumption in Australia. The Commonwealth Government undertook to do this on the definite assurance that the State Governments would introduce legislation to fix prices for flour in their respective States. The Commonwealth proceeded to prepare the legislation which it undertook to introduce upon the passing of the necessary legislation by the States. Recently representations were made by the Premiers of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia seeking by different methods some allocation from the homeconsumption price fund for the purpose of rendering relief to drought-stricken farmers in their States. The suggestions made by those Premiers necessitated a departure from the home-consumption price plan as agreed to unanimously by the Premiers at their previous conferences, and the Commonwealth Government, therefore, deemed it advisable to call a further conference of Premiers or their representatives to discuss the whole question and ascertain what departure, if any, was unanimously desired from the plan which they had previously submitted to the Commonwealth.

A conference was held on Wednesday at Canberra of Ministers representing the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The Premier of Tasmania had indicated his views by telegram. This conference discussed the serious position of wheatgrowers in certain areas and States due to climatic conditions, particularly in Victoria where the incidence of drought will cause a serious decrease of the output of wheat for the 193S-39 season.

It was realized that the Commonwealth Government, with its huge defence commitments, would not consider the making of an additional grant; so the conference discussed the question of allocation of the funds which will be derived from the sales tax on flour. It was realized that any proposal to allocate some portion of the fund for relief purposes would involve a departure from the plan as originally proposed by the States, but there was unanimity that assistance to distressed wheat-farmers during the current season was imperative.

The conference unanimously decided : -

(1)   that the State governments fix the price of flour so that a homeconsumption price for wheat sold for human consumption in Australia may be made effective through a Commonwealth levy,

(2)   that this fund with the exception of £500,000, be distributed on a production basis,

(3)   that £500,000 be allotted in agreed proportions to the respective States for the alleviation of distressed wheat-farmers in 1938-39,

(4)   that in its opinion the scheme should be a permanent one and that from the fund established through the collection of the Commonwealth levy a sum of £500,000 should be set aside each year for the introduction of a long-range plan for the transfer of farmers in marginal areas to other more productive areas or to other forms of production and/or for the alleviation of special distress amongst wheat-farmers.

The Commonwealth legislation has already been drafted but slight alterations will be necessary in order to give effect to the decisions reached yesterday. The States of New South Wales, Queensland,

South Australia and Western Australia have passed their legislation. In Victoria the bill has reached the secondreading stage and should be passed next week, aud in Tasmania the second reading will be moved next week. The Commonwealth Government will Be in a position to introduce its legislation next week.

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