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Wednesday, 23 November 1938


Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Minister for Commerce) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The object of the Government in presenting this bill is to bring into operation a plan whereunder wheatgrowers shall secure a stabilized price in regard to the proportion of their crop which is used for human consumption in Australia. Every one knows the importance of the wheat industry. It is second only in importance to the great wool industry. It engages the activities of over 70,000 farmers throughout Australia, and it provides the second most important item in Australia's export values. From the point of view of direct employment, it is the most important single industry in Australia.

The welfare of this great industry is of very great importance to Australia. That welfare has received serious shocks in the last seven or eight years, and the future, to say the best, is uncertain. Since the onset of the depression in 1930, there have been considerable fluctuations in the prices of Australian commodities. The prices of export products declined to a far greater degree than the wholesale and retail price levels. All price levels relative to the 1928-29 level recovered quite substantially in the financial years 1936-37 and 1937-38. More recently, however, export prices have declined very seriously, although wholesale and retail prices have maintained their advance, which has been continuous since 1933-34. At the. present time, compared with the average for 1928-29, the export price of wheat stands at 57 per cent. General export prices are 68 per cent. of their 1928-29 level; wholesale prices are 93 per cent., and retail prices are 89 per cent.It is evident, therefore, that the wheat industry, as in the years from 1930-31 to 1934-35, is suffering adversity in far greater measure than other export industries and the Australian community as a whole.

During the years of adversity, wheat prices, on the whole, have not only been low, but have also fluctuated seriously from time to time. For example, in January, 1930, the export price at Williamstown was 5s. 2d. a bushel, whereas in December, 1930, it was 2s. 5d. a bushel. In January, 1936, the price was 3s. 8d. a bushel, and in December, 1936, it was 5s. 3d. a bushel. By December, 1937, it had declined to 4s. 4d. a bushel at Williamstown, and to-day it is about 2s. 7d. a bushel.

Short-term violent fluctuations of the price of wheat aggravate the adversity of the industry. These fluctuations are also bad for the Australian community, as a whole, because a fall of the price of wheat must mean an appreciable diminution of employment. For instance, to show the general relationship of the wheat industry to general employment, it is said in Victoria that reduced crop will reduce railway returns by £800,000 or £900,000 this year. That will make a big difference to employment in Victoria. The urgency to do something to prevent a repercussion from the fall of wheat prices ou general employment answers the objections that were raised against proceeding with this legislation. For one thing, fluctuations of the purchasing power of the wheatgrowers cause fluctuations of the general level of business activity. For another thing, wheat being such an important constituent in the regimen of the cost of living, violent fluctuations of the domestic price result in quite important fluctuations of the cost of living index, and, therefore, of the basic wage.

On all counts, it would be an excellent thing for the Australian community if the domestic price of wheat could be stabilized at a reasonable level, and attempts to ensure this domestic stability have received the attention of governments for several years past. The problem, however, has proved a baffling and elusive one. It is not so easy to organize the wheat industry from a domestic stabilization point of view. It embraces so many thousands of individual farmers, and the product is marketed both domestically and overseas in the form of both grain and flour. In this it differs from the butter and dried fruits industries, whose products are entirely treated in factories or packing sheds, thus rendering them capable of being dealt with at a small number of concentrated points. By reason of this form of domestic organization, the dairying and dried fruits industries are particularly well suited to adopt measures on a co-operative basis for obtaining a homeconsumption price. The wheat industry is not at all well adapted for this treatment and therefore, if home-consumption price methods have to be adopted, it must rely more upon governmental action. The dairying and dried fruits industries have enjoyed home-consumption prices for a considerable time, but all efforts hitherto to secure a home-consumption price for wheat, coupled with the domestic and export organization of the industry, have failed. An attempt to secure a homeconsumption price for wheat is only likely to be permanently successful if there is an interlinking of Commonwealth and State legislation, because, if one can once get seven different parliaments to carry complementary laws to deal with this matter, it is not very likely that they will be upset. Much greater stability can thus be achieved than by any method which depends entirely on the act of one parliament. I thought that I had succeeded in this direction in 1935, when under the Constitution as it was interpreted the States agreed to pass legislation which, with Commonwealth legislation, would have covered the whole field of wheat marketing. The Commonwealth Parliament passed its legislation - the Wheat and Wheat Products Act - and certain States also passed their, but unfortunately the decision of the Privy Council and the failure to. get the Constitution altered at the referendum prevented the operation of that legislation, so that the attempt to bring about the organization of the wheat industry had to lapse. Then by reason of the droughts in the Northern Hemisphere, an appreciable rise occurred in world prices in 1936 and 1937, but since July, 1937, the price has declined and from

March of this ;year the decline has been very rapid and has now reached an unprofitable level. The prospects have become so alarming that the present plan, which is based on the price-fixing powers of the State, combined with a Commonwealth levy, has been devised.

It is appropriate that I should trace briefly the recent history of price movements and world stocks of wheat. Pollowing upon three or four years of low prices resulting from the accumulation of world stocks, an appreciable rise occurred in world wheat prices in 1936 and 1937. These prices reached their peak in April and July, 1937, when as much as 5s. 8d. and 5s. 9d. a bushel at seaboard was paid. The average of daily quotations on trucks Williamstown during these months

Avas 5s. 5d. a bushel, and the monthly average for the calendar year 1937, was approximately 5s. 0½d. a bushel. Since that time, prices have declined, and from March of this year the decline has been very rapid and has now reached an unprofitable level. The lowest price in the past four years was that of 2s. 6£d. on trucks Williamstown on the 9th September. A slight rise occurred during October, the average for the month being about 3s. a bushel, but this was of a temporary nature only. The present prices for old season's wheat at Williamstown are between 2s. 7d. and 2s. 8d. a bushel.

The price decline which has been so marked since mid-May of this year has been brought about chiefly through the greatly increased stocks which it was then anticipated would be available this season to meet world requirements. Unfortunately, from the point of view of prices and of our growers, this anticipation has proved to have been fully justified. Increased production this year as compared with past years has been the order in almost all wheat-producing countries. It has been particularly the case in the United States df America and Canada, where 240,000,000 bushels in excess of the crop harvested last season has been realized. In both importing and exporting countries in Europe the harvest has been very large. The latest reports indicate that the total European harvest will exceed that of last year by over 205,000,000 bushels. The European importing countries alone have garnered about 115,000,000 bushels more than last year, whilst the European exporting countries excess over last year is 90,000,000 bushels. If we exclude Russia, China., Turkey, Iran and Iraq, from which countries reliable figures are not yet available, the world production this year totals 4,165,000,000 bushels. This compares with 3,669,000,000 bushels last year and 3,362,000,000 bushels in the previous year, and this represents a total rise of 500,000,000 bushels as compared with last year, and over 800,000,000 bushels as compared with the previous year. The harvesting of the large excesses in importing countries is naturally having its effect upon the import requirements of those countries. Because of these large increases and because also of a rather rigid control exercised over imports in certain countries - hitherto large importers - the import requirements are likely to show a decline this year even when compared with the low figures realized during the last few years. "World authorities anticipate that the needs of importing countries will not exceed 550,000,000 bushels. Parallel with this situation, is the fact that the chief world exporters have also harvested huge crops. To cater for the requirements of importing countries there is available in exporting countries surpluses totalling over 1,000,000,000 bushels, practically sufficient to meet two years' requirements at the present rate of absorption. The present situation throughout the world in regard to stocks is comparable to that which obtained in the years from 1931 to 1934. In those years, owing to accumulations of stocks, due principally to large harvests in 1928- 29- of 3.910,000,000 bushels- 1932-33 and 1933-34, world end-of-season's stocks reached twice their previous dimensions. Prior to these years, it was considered that an end-of -season carry over of less than 600,000,000 bushels was a safe margin. In the years mentioned, the accumulations had reached over 1,000,000,000 bushels. These large stocks were reduced to normal proportions only because of the failure of harvests in exporting countries during the three years from 1934-35 to 1936-37. Actually, in these three years, world disappearance was greater than the production, and this resulted in carry-over stocks being re duced by August, 1937, to about 530,000,000 bushels.

During the years 1931-34, when the world stocks were so high, the average of monthly prices on rails Williamstown were as follows: -

 

Viewed in its most favorable light, the present outlook offers little hope for any appreciable rise of prices during this and the next season.

During this period of very low prices, successive Commonwealth governments granted financial assistance to the wheat industry. The amounts granted in the several years were : -

 

Having regard to the unpromising outlook for the wheat industry, due to the position of the international wheat market, the Premiers of the various States met in Sydney on the 26th August, 1938, with a view to propounding some method to assist the growers. The conference had before it several plans for effecting some degree of stabilization of the industry, and, after having explored the various means available for this purpose, agreed to the following resolutions: -

1.   That this conference affirms the necessity of action being taken to ensure to wheatgrowers a payable price for their product.

2.   That, as a first stop of urgent national importance, the governments of the Commonwealth and States should take such immediate joint action in their respective jurisdictions as is necessary to implement a. home-consumption price plan in the season 1938-39, and following seasons; such plan to be based on an equalization levy on wheat or flour (used for homeconsumption) collected under tho excise power of the Commonwealth.

3.   That such proposal should also ensure a stable home-consumption price of flour a.nd bread in the various States at a level fair to both producer and consumer based on a homeconsumption price of 4s. 8d. a bushel at country sidings for wheat, or its equivalent; special arrangements to be made, as on former occasions, to meet the special circumstances of Tasmania.

4.   That it is of vital importance that such proposal be of a long-range character, and placed on a sound legal, financial and commercial basis from the outset, and not left vulnerable to legal challenge or dependent on voluntary co-operation.

5.   That conference is unanimously of opinion that it is impossible to devise any practicable plan based on voluntary cooperation of growers, millers and merchants.

6.   This conference has received several proposals from farmers' organizations for the institution of a permanent price equalization fund built up by contributions from the Commonwealth and wheat-growers. The conference is of opinion that they are worthy of detailed examination and, as they involve federal finance this conference submits them to the federal government for consideration.

Following upon that conference, the Premiers conferred with Commonwealth Ministers in Canberra on the 29th August, 1938, with a view to seeking the co-operation of the Commonwealth in bringing their plans to fruition.


Mr Forde - To what degree will the price of bread be affected ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - That is a matter for the States. The price offlour has been fixed with a minimum of £11 and a maximum of £13 10s. a ton, and it is estimated that bread can be produced and sold at from 51/2d. to 6d. a loaf, which was the price paid eight or nine months ago under ordinary trading conditions. The Commonwealth Government has no power to fix prices and consequently prices will be fixed by the States.


Mr Curtin - The Commonwealth Government could refuse to provide a bounty if the prices fixed by the State Government were above a certain figure.


Sir EARLE PAGE - That is provided for in the legislation now before the chamber. If a State does not carry out the programme unanimously agreed to, the Commonwealth can suspend payments. The tax must be uniform in all States.


Mr Curtin - Does the Minister suggest that when wheat-growers will be getting 2s. 2d. a bushel, plus a bounty of 6d., making 2s. 8d., this Parliament should consent to consumers paying a shilling for a 4-lb. loaf of bread?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The Leader of the Opposition can develop his argument in that connexion when he speaks later.


Mr Forde - Will not the flour-millers be getting a " rake-off ? '


Sir EARLE PAGE - I am endeavouring to explain the details of the legisla tion now before the House. I approached the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) and told him I was anxious to get- leave to introduce the measure, so that honorable members would have an opportunity to see what is proposed. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, however, said that he was opposed to that course and, consequently, I was only able to give notice of the motion which I proposed to move for leave to introduce the bill.


Mr Forde - I objected because the Government prevented us from discussing the problem of unemployment.


Sir EARLE PAGE - I am endeavouring to give the information desired.


Mr Forde - Why was this legislation not introduced earlier?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The Tasmanian Government passed its legislation only this week. Arrangements were made that uniform legislation would have to be passed by all the States before the Commonwealth Government could introduce its legislation. Further, there has been delay owing to the necessity to consider a. modified scheme. An agreement was reached on 26th August, but owing to conditions which arose subsequently, due to climatic and other circumstances, a modified scheme was suggested. The State governments submitted different proposals, but the Commonwealth Government can deal only with a scheme which has received the unanimous support of all States. A fortnight ago, I asked the States' representatives to ascertain where it was possible to adopt a modified scheme on a uniform basis. That has now been done and is incorporated in this measure. The conditions are somewhat exceptional. In some of the States, large areas of wheat-growing lands have been severely affected by drought, particularly in Victoria where it is estimated that the. yield, which normally is 39,000,000 bushels, will be only 13,000,000 bushels. In the circumstances it was decided that from the fund provided to pay a homeconsumption price On a production basis, £500,000 should be appropriated to assist those farmers whose crops have failed. It was felt that certain farmers who had enjoyed good seasons and who, at times, might have abundantassets, did not need assistance, but that others who had had several bad years needed special treatment. For the purpose of providing this assistance a sum of £500,000 is to be allocated from the total proceeds of this tax. At a meeting held a fortnight ago, the Ministers of Agriculture of the various States discussed this matter and agreed unanimously that the sum of £500,000 should be provided for the purpose of relieving distress in the various States, and that £200,000 should be allocated to Victoria and £100,000 to each of the States of Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, in order to enable them to deal with their peculiar problems.


Mr Forde - What is the total yield of the tax?


Sir EARLE PAGE - It depends on the price of wheat during the year. The tax will vary as the price of wheat varies from 5s. 2d. a bushel at Williamstown. If the price of wheat remains at 2s. 7d. a bushel, as it is at present, the amount of tax that will be obtained will vary between £3,500,000 and £4,000,000; if the price rises to 3s. a bushel, the amount obtained from the tax will decline probably to £2,800,000. The higher the price of wheat in the world's1 markets the less will be the total amount of tax collected. The amount allocated for relief purposes is variable. This allocation was arrived at unanimously by the States after full discussion; but the States went further and said, " The very fact that we are in trouble this year, insofar as the relief areas are concerned, and the manner in which suggestions were ' made as to how that trouble should be met, indicate to us the means whereby we can take out of distress and trouble a great many farmers now working in marginal areas, men whose production is only two or three bushels an acre and who should never have gone in for wheat farming on that particular land ". It is reckoned that in an ordinary good year, the wheat produced from the marginal areas would amount to between 10,000,000 and 15,000,000 bushels. It is obvious that these men are having a bad time, and their position is unsatisfactory not only to them but also to the whole of Australia. What has been suggested is that there should be taken out of this, home-consumption price fund, a sum to be determined by the Minister of Commerce in conjunction with Ministers of Agriculture in the various States, out not exceeding £500,000 a year, and that that money be utilized for the purpose of transferring farmers growing wheat on marginal lands to other areas where they might engage in mixed farming, or to finance them to increase the size of their holdings by buying up the properties of their neighbours and raising sheep in conjunction with their wheat-growing operations. It is hoped that, in this way, those now engaged on marginal lands may be able to make a decent living. That is one of the features of this scheme which has emerged from the discussions with the States. The discussion of this problem was responsible for some of the delay that has occurred in the passing of legislation by the States themselves, and is partly the reason why I am delivering this speech to-day instead of a week or ten days ago. The Commonwealth and the States have been endeavouring to work out the details of a plan which will adequately deal with this problem, of which every one in Australia is aware, and which every royal commission dealing with the wheat industry has recognized. I have no doubt that this solution will be regarded as one of the great constructive steps towards bringing the wheat industry into proper shape and enabling all those engaged in it to have a reasonable chance to make a decent living. As I have said, those who have no reasonable chance at present of making a reasonable living will be transferred to other areas where the prospects of successful operations seem much brighter. There are awaiting development areas to which they can be transferred, and there are also other avenues of production in which they might successfully engage.


Mr Beasley - That is a point which needs elaborating.


Sir EARLE PAGE - It is a matter to which the State governments have given a great deal of consideration. One of the reasons why the States have not been able to give the matter serious consideration in the past is their lack of the necessary finance to tackle the problem in a proper way, either by making provision for the enlargement of existing holdings or by the grant of financial assistance to farmers in marginal areas to engage in mixed farming.


Mr Green - We cannot have guns and bread.


Sir EARLE PAGE - The important point about this matter is that the wheat industry itself is providing the rehabilitation for the men situated in marginal areas. It is a principle well worth adopting and working out. Here we have a concerted attempt being made by all the Governments of Australia to tackle this problem on an Australia-wide basis.

The State parliaments, with the exception of Victoria, have already passed their legislation for the fixation of a home-consumption price for wheat, and it is now for the Federal Parliament to pass this complementary legislation in order to bring the whole scheme into operation with the least possible delay. This is a non-party matter, because three of the State governments are Labour governments, and the other three are nonLabour governments. Actually, it is a co-operative plan designed to provide much-needed assistance to the wheat industry, and the mere fact that the Commonwealth legislation has to be introduced by the Government now in office is no reason why it should be opposed.


Mr Fadden - Will the price of flour be subject to fluctuation?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The honorable member's question leads me to another aspect of this legislation which is of great importance. Provision is made in an accompanying bill to be introduced for the imposition of special tax on wheat when world parity rises above 5s. 2d. f.o.r. Williamstown. The tax will be of such amount as to prevent the price of wheat used for domestic consumption in Australia costing the miller more than the equivalent of 5s. 2d. a bushel at Williamstown, or 4s. 8d. at home railway sidings. If the proportion is, say, three of export at 6s. to one of homeconsumption at 5s. 2d., the export tax will be applied in such a way as to enable millers to be paid an amount which would enable them to keep bread at the price previously ruling. This is a very important aspect of this matter, and one I think which will com mend itself to all parties as an honest attempt by the Parliament to call upon the wheat-grower to give back in good times the benefits he receives in bad times. This is the first time that legislation of that sort has been placed before Parliament, but it will help to ensure that the proposal will receive something like sympathetic consideration from the people of Australia generally.


Mr Beasley - All over a certain amount will go as tax?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The position is that if flour sells as at present at £12 10s. a ton, and a miller buys wheat at 5s. 2d. a bushel at Williamstown, he can show a slight increase over his normal trading profit. If the price of wheat rises to 6s. it is obvious that unless something is done any one who owns wheat in Australia will want to sell the whole of it overseas at 6s., rather than sell to the local miller at 5s. 2d. To ensure that the miller will get his supplies at 5s. 2d. a tax will be placed on all wheat sold, and that tax will be paid over to the miller, so that he will be able to keep his flour price at £12 10s. a ton. It is an extraordinary advance on anything ever attempted in the past in connexion with this matter, and will tend towards the permanence of this legislation.

I hope that I have made the scheme clear to honorable members. It is simple in so far as the great bulk of the money raised by the home-consumption price levied will be paid to the farmers who grow wheat on the quantity of wheat they grow. But this year £500,000 will be taken from that fund for the purpose of dealing with the question of drought relief, and, as I have said, that will be divided among the States in the proportion I have indicated.


Mr Badman - What happens if they are all good years?


Sir EARLE PAGE - If the price of wheat went up to what it has been in previous years, namely, 6s. or 7s. a bushel, then the Australian consumer would not suffer; he would still continue to enjoy a uniform bread price.


Mr Forde - Does the right honorable gentleman expect that a price of 6s. or 7s. a bushel will be obtained in the near future?


Sir EARLE PAGE - I remind the honorable member that eighteen months ago the price of wheat rose by 3d. a bushel from 5s. 2d. to 5s. 5d.


Mr Nock - It was 5s. 101/2d. a bushel in Sydney.


Sir EARLE PAGE - It is hoped that in the not dim and distant future the price of wheat will again rise.


Mr Scully - How long will the legislation continue to operate?


Sir EARLE PAGE - Like other legislation placed on the statute-book, it will continue to remain in force until it is repealed. That ako applies to the legislation passed by the States. It will be, of course, within the competence of future governments to alter or repeal it. The result of this scheme will be to improve definitely the conditions of the wheat-growing industry, and because it secures permanence in respect of the price of bread, I feel sure it will meet with the approval of the Australian people generally.


Mr Beasley - Would the right honorable gentleman answer briefly the arguments in respect of the bushel basis as against an acreage basis?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The idea underlying the whole of this scheme is to provide a home-consumption price for wheat. Of the quantity of wheat produced by a farmer, he will get for what is consumed in Australia an amount comparable to what he has to pay out in general costs such as labour costs and the costs of production. There is an infraction of that principle in so far as the provision of the £500,000 for drought relief is concerned. Even if this subtraction of £500,000 from the home-consumption fund is regarded in a few years as something which should not be done, we believe that at the present time it is quite justified because of the desirability of making adequate provision for the needs of those farmers now engaged in marginal areas. It is felt that if this scheme is put into operation those now engaged on marginal areas will be transferred to other areas which can be more profitably worked.


Mr Beasley - The situation of farmers distressed through the drought is serious.


Sir EARLE PAGE - That is so. The amount of £500,000 which is proposed to be made available to assist them will undoubtedly be used in part, at any rate, to help farmers to leave unproductive holdings.


Mr Lane - Has any provision been made in the bill to fix the wages of rural workers ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - No; the bill does not touch any question relating to industrial arbitration. As the honorable member is aware, such a measure as this must be confined to one subject.


Mr Lane - Surely a provision could be inserted to the effect that in New South Wales, at any rate, the rural awards must be observed in connexion with the wheat industry?


Sir EARLE PAGE - I have no doubt that the Government of New South Wales will include in its legislation any provision of that kind that is necessary. This bill is complementary to State legislation to fix the price of flour.


Mr Scullin - Does the Minister for Commerce think that the bill is constitutional seeing that it makes certain discriminatory arrangements as between States?


Sir EARLE PAGE - We may not discriminate between States in regard to taxation, but we may do so in regard to payments. I have no doubt that this scheme will be fully effective if the States co-operate as they have promised to do. State legislation will be required to fix the price of flour and Commonwealth legislation to impose a special sales tax, or import tax, on wheat when world parity rises above 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r., Williamstown. The tax will be of such an amount as will prevent the price of wheat for home consumption costing the miller, and ultimately the consumer, more than the equivalent of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r., Williamstown. The plan now being implemented provides complete machinery to ensure that the price of wheat for home consumption will always be equivalent to 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r., Williamstown, and that the wheat producers of Australia will always receive simple world parity price in respect of wheat exported by them.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge the debt that we owe to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) for Living devised a means by which this knotty problem could be solved.

Provision is also made in the bill to refund to Tasmania the amount of tax collected in that State. This action is in accordance with the unanimous agreement of the Premiers of the wheat exporting States, and it is also in conformity with the provisions of previous legislation of this description.


Mr Nock - I take it that the amount of refund of Tasmania will be withdrawn from the accumulated fund?


Sir EARLE PAGE - Ye&. In other words, the flour tax collected in Tasmania will be refunded. This will mean that Tasmania, which is the only Australian State which has to import the bulk of its wheat and flour, will be in a somewhat different position from the other States. But the other States will reap certain advantages which Tasmania will not enjoy. For example, considerable quantities of goods are manufactured in New South Wales and sold in Tasmania. The people of New South Wales as, in fact, of Victoria also, will enjoy advantages consequent upon this Tasmanian trade. This must be offset against the advantage that Tasmania will enjoy under this legislation.


Mr Nock - What is to be done with the amount collected in respect of wheat sold at above world-parity price? Will it be returned to the miller?


Sir EARLE PAGE - I have already explained the procedure in that connexion.


Mr Mahoney - At any rate, it will not get back to the consumer.


Sir EARLE PAGE - It will ultimately do so, through the millers. The millers will buy flour at a fixed price irrespective of the world parity price of wheat.


Mr Anthony - Will pollard, bran, and other by-products of wheat used by farmers and others come under the scheme?


Sir EARLE PAGE - No. The Government feels that it is performing a national duty in co-operating with the State governments to ensure to farmers that measure of stability which must result from the payment of a homeconsumption price for wheat.


Mr Forde - Has the Government consulted the millers in connexion with this legislation ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - At various times the millers have been consulted in regard to the best taxing arrangements that can be made, but the application of the scheme to the wheat industry at large is a matter for general consideration by the governments concerned.


Mr Lane - We can be quite sure that the consumers have not been consulted.


Sir EARLE PAGE - The circumstances of the great exporting industries of this country are always reviewed at election times and the policies of the different political parties are submitted to the electors for approval or otherwise. I know of no other effective way in which consumers may be consulted on a subject of this description.


Mr Nock - Has the Government any idea when part of the proceeds of this fax can be made available to the farmers ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - I have been assured by the Treasurer that the amount of £500,000 for the relief of necessitous farmers will be made available as early as possible. Our reason for asking honorable members to consider this an urgent bill is that the collection of the tax may begin without delay. Wheat is now being harvested in different parts of Australia, and any delay in the passage of this measure will be detrimental to the whole scheme. It is estimated that under present price conditions an amount of £3,500,000 or £4,000,000 will be available in respect of the coming harvest. It is anticipated that probably £1,500,000 or £2,000,000 will be available for distribution during January or February. This will be equivalent to about 3d. a bushel on the whole crop, and it should ensure to the farmers an immediate return of about 2s. 4d. or 2s. 5d. a bushel.


Mr Anthony - How may the farmers be assured that they "will receive the bounty in respect of the wheat they sell?


Sir EARLE PAGE - Farmers who take their wheat to silos in New South Wales, for example, will be given silo scrip in respect of each consignment.


Mr Lane - .Suppose the farmers sell to agents?


Sir EARLE PAGE - In that case they will, no doubt, make allowance in their sale price for the bounty which they know t hey will be entitled to receive. Under existing price conditions the bounty will be approximately from 5d. to 7d. a bushel on the whole crop.


Mr Anthony - What if the farmers sell to millers or produce merchants?


Sir EARLE PAGE - Farmers who follow that course will know that they are entitled to thebounty, and they will make allowance for it in their selling price. The questions which . honorable members are asking me emphasize the necessity for a full explanation of the whole scheme at the earliest possible moment. I think even the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) will agree, now, that any delay in the passage of this bill will be detrimental to the farming community.


Mr Green - Is it not a fact that farmers will get only about 2d. a bushel on their whole crop ?


Sir EARLE PAGE - No ; the bounty will be anything from 5d. to 7d. a bushel.


Mr Forde - Is any provision being made in the bill for a means test?


Sir EARLE PAGE - No. The principal purpose of the measure is to ensure a home-consumption price for all wheat sold for use in Australia. It is not the practice to apply a means test in connexion with protective measures introduced for the benefit of manufacturing industries. Therefore, as the purpose of this bill is to afford a degree of protection to the wheat-growers in respect of wheat sold for consumption in Australia, there would be no justification for the application of a means test in this case. The primary purpose of this bill is to enable a home-consumption price for wheat to be fixed; the provisions which relate to the granting of assistance to necessitous farmers, while important, are secondary to the main purpose.


Mr Lane - Is anything being done to control the price of bread?


Sir EARLE PAGE - The legislation to be passed by the State parliaments will deal with that subject. It is anticipated that the price of bread will be fixed at between 51/2d. and 6d. a loaf.


Mr Anthony - How will the farmers stand in relation to seed wheat?







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