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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (5:35 AM) .It is unreasonable to ask the House to continue the budget debate, one of the most important debates of the year, at this hour of the morning, considering that the House has been in session continuously since 2.30 p.m. , yesterday. I am not surprised that one of the most prominent members on the Government side has made an emphatic protest against the Government's administration of the Air Force. It was indeed a revelation to hear the exposure by the honorable member forFlinders (Mr. Fairbairn) of the mal-administration of the Government. We must take more than passing notice of the remarks of that honorable member regarding air defence, seeing that he is a first-class pilot of world-wide experience. He has shown that the Government has bungled badly in its administration, and his speech will make the people consider seriously whether the affairs of the nation can safely be left in the hands of the present Ministry. A notable contribution to the debate was the informative speech by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden), who showed the slip-shod way in which the financial affairs of Australia are conducted. A costly trade delegation recently returned from Great Britain. Three of the leading members of the Cabinet had a trip overseas, which occupied over six months, and cost the Commonwealth approximately £20,000. Honorable members followed the accounts of the movements and actions of the delegation as far as possible from newspaper reports, and waited with interest for information as to the outcome of the tour.

In the. Gwydir electorate, at the last election, the man placed in charge of the campaign on behalf of the Government during the concludingthree or four weeks, was the Leader of the Country party in New South Wales, and the Deputy Premier, Mr. Bruxner, who made a definite attack on the Labour party, and expressed the opinion that the electors of Gwydir would be wise if they did not return the Labour candidate because, if they did, the benefits enjoyed by the primary producers under the Ottawa Agreement would go by the board. He particularly mentioned the duty of 2s. a quarter imposed by Britain on foreign wheat, but we find that the Leader of the Country party in this Parliament (Sir Earle Page) . absolutely betrayed the wheatgrowers of Australia on the occasion of his visit overseas. On no occasion, during the discussions abroad, did he put up a fight on their behalf. The protection that they have hitherto enjoyed has been lost. The action of the Government has already had an alarming effect on wheat prices in Australia. If ever protection were needed by the wheat farmers, they require it now when the price of wheat is lower than it had been for many years. The preference of 2s. a quarter or about 3d. a bushel meant rauch to the Australian wheat-growers. On the day following the announcement of the AngloAmerican Agreement the price of wheat in country districts fell from 2d. to 3d. a bushel, and in my electorate many wheat buyers were recalled by their respective firms, because they viewed the position with alarm. In its weekly report dealing with the international and local wheat positions, the large and well-known New South Wales firm of Lindley Walker Wheat Company Limited, reported. -

International wheat has been friendless for many days, and world conditions, as disclosed in their cables to-day, may leave buyers doubting but hoping - and doubting because others are doubting, particularly by those that want supplies - that they may "buy them cheaper by waiting. Big surpluses in all exporting countries coupled with a doubtful outlook owing to new made treaties involving as they do considerable diminution in Imperial preference, and the complex financial difficulties throughout the world, are weak factors in international wheat.

At this stage, at least, everything humanly possible should be done to protect the interests of the wheat-growers. Various speakers in this House have said from time to time that another period of recession is approaching ; but we should realize that the other great wheatproducing centres of the world are alive to their responsibilities to the growers. This year the United States of America, which has guaranteed the price of 2s. 6d. a bushel for wheat delivered at railway depots, has undertaken to subsidize wheat exports up to 30 cents a bushel. This has caused alarm amongst Australian wheatgrowers.

The wheat exporting countries of the world expect to have 950,000,000 bushels of wheat available for export this year, but the importing countries require only 550,000,000 bushels, so that a surplus of approximately 400,000,000 bushels will have to be handled. For this reason the Government should do everything within its power to assist our wheat industry. It is deplorable that wheat-growers' orga nizations throughout the Commonwealth should find it necessary at a time like this to make emphatic and united protests against the disgraceful manner in which the Country party representatives with our overseas delegation earlier this year betrayed the wheat industry by surrendering, apparently without a fight, the wheat preference that we enjoyed under the Ottawa Agreement.

We are hearing a great deal in these days about the Government's voluntary enlistment campaign. It is well, therefore, that honorable members should bo reminded that for several years past the Government has actually discouraged voluntary enlistment. Repeated applications have been made from various parts of my electorate for permission to form companies, but all have been rejected. Similarly, numerous applications have been made for permission to form rifle clubs, but these have met the same fate. In my opinion, the possibilities of voluntary enlistment have not been by any means exhausted. If the Government had adopted any kind of a reasonable policy, instead of the bungling methods that it has pursued, 70,000 recruits could have been enlisted long before this.

It is absolutely essential to the safety of this country that a vigorous policy of closer settlement bc adopted. The parlous condition of the wheat industry in many of our dry areas shows that it is unreasonable to expect men to grow wheat successfully in such country. But as a great deal of first-class wheat land in more reliable districts is to-day held out of wheat production, men with limited capital were forced to try their luck in unsuitable country. The Government should resume the more favoured areas and make the land available to qualified wheat-growers under reasonable conditions. If it did so the industry would soon be on a much better footing. Of course, finance is a serious obstacle, but arrangements could surely bc made for money to be obtained through the Commonwealth Bank at a low rate of interest. Effective co-operation between the Commonwealth and State Governments would completely change the complexion of this problem. A little activity has been observed in New South Wales in respect of closer settlement during the last twelve months, but, unfortunately, land has been resumed at from £1 to £1 10s. an acre in excess of its productive value. This is extremely unfortunate, for it means that farmers who settle on such land will have to carry too much overhead cost. Nevertheless, the greatest disability is not cash, but the lack of opportunity for practically-reared sons of farmers and men engaged in rural industry to approach land ballots. Ninety per cent, of the most successful farmers of Australia began on' the bottom rung of the agricultural ladder. We have many qualified men in this country who would be glad of the opportunity to take up wheat land under reasonable conditions. Men of good character and practical knowledge should be given financial assistance to engage in this industry. Such a policy would lead to decentralization, and that, in itself, would be a worth-while achievement". I urge the Government to consult with the State governments on this subject in order to stabilize this important industry. Foi effective defence we need a stabilized agricultural community.

I trust that the Government will introduce without delay its promised longrange mortgage bill. The Labour party would have preferred the opportunity to discuss in the broadest possible way the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Banking and Monetary Systems, but the Government has, so far, thwarted every endeavour to have that report fully discussed. After chopping and changing many times in respect of its" financial policy, it has now promised to introduce a long-range mortgage bill. I trust that this promise will not suffer the fate of many others that have been made in recent years on its behalf.

It is greatly to be regretted that in connexion with our defence expenditure the money raising facilities of the Commonwealth Bank have not been fully utilized. Without doubt the Commonwealth Bank could make money available to the Government for this purpose at a very low rate of interest. In this connexion I direct attention to paragraph 504, on page' 196, of the report of the Royal Commission on Banking and Monetary Sys-. terns : -

Because of this power the Commonwealth Bank is able to increase the cash of the trad er. Sculley ing banks in the ways we have pointed out above. Because of this power, too, the Commonwealth Bank can increase the cash reserves of the trading" hanks. For example, it can buy securities or other- property; it can lend to the governments or to others in a variety of ways; and it can even make money available to governments or to others free of any charge.

In these circumstances we are justified in calling upon the Government to finance its defence programme through the Commonwealth Bank. Instead of .adopting that policy the Government has seen fit to revert once more to the old, bad, practice of overseas borrowing. This procedure brought Australia to the verge of bankruptcy during the regime of the BrucePage Government. I cannot understand therefore why the present Government should revert to that policy.

Undoubtedly the Government has fallen down on. its job. Leading newspapers throughout the Commonwealth are condemning it for its ineptitude. Even during this debate prominent Government supporters and erstwhile Ministers have made vitriolic attacks upon the Ministry for its maladministration. I cannot understand why the Government does not resign at once and give the people of Australia an opportunity to restore order out of the chaos in which the country is now floundering.

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