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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr SPEAKER - It is not right to say that an honorable member lied.

Mr PROWSE - The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has frequently explained to us that the arbitration court3 of this country provide the workers with a living wage irrespective of whether or not the various industries concerned can afford to pay the rates fixed. Surely he would not deny to the wheatgrowers a return sufficient to enable them to live on the same standard as the wageearners. Does the honorable gentleman realize that the parliaments of six States have already passed legislation to which the measure we are now considering is complementary? I repeat that he is endeavouring to draw a red herring across the trail.

Mr Green - The interest paid to banking companies is not a red herring; but the honorable member for Forrest has never protested against it.

Mr PROWSE - (Here is another red herring! I may inform! the honorable member that Mr. Powell, to whose remarks he referred in his speech of a few minutes ago, advises acceptance of this measure.

If this bill is not passed the millers will benefit from the imposition of the State legislation and the farmers will get nothing. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie said only a few minutes ago that the wheat-growers receive very little in return for their labours. I ask him, and other honorable members, to consider for a moment the processes necessary to enable bread to be sold to the consumers. First of all, a prospective farmer has to buy his land and then clear it. Next he must, cultivate and fertilize it. Then he must sow his crop and pray for rain. When he is ready to garner his harvest, he must pay a high price for sacks in which to put his wheat. Then he must arrange for its transport to market over the State railways system. Mr. Clapp, the Railways Commissioner for Victoria, as the honorable mem,ber for Kalgoorlie himself said on one occasion, has observed that he could say what would be the result of the operations of the railways in any year if he were told the volume of the harvest. The farmer must run the whole gamut of fire, flood, hail, drought, weevil and grasshopper destruction, and in fact, every possible pest, before he can put his wheat on the market. After all that work he frequently receives only about 2s. a bushel for his product. The millers who buy a portion of the crop have the wheat in their possession for only a few hours. They take no risk in connexion with it for it is fully insured. They mill it, and market the flour and other by-products and invariably make more out of their operations than do the farmers. The men who work for the millers receive wages prescribed by wagefixing tribunals. They are sure of their returns, just as are the millers, for, in consequence of the combines which millers have formed, there is no danger of under-cutting the price of flour. The workmen receive wages on an hourly basis, and if the rate is not sufficiently high, they can appeal to the wage-fixing tribunals for an increase. Practically all the people who handle the wheat and its by-products are able to live according to the Australian standards, excepting the poor farmers who are subjected to seasonal and market conditions to a degree that other sections of the community do not appreciate. In spite of all these facts the honorable member for Henty has declared that it would be unjust and indecent to vote for this bill, the object of which is simply to ensure to the fanners a more reasonable return for their product.

The cost of living should not be taken into account by honorable members only when it affects the price of foodstuffs; it should be considered also in respect of clothing, machinery, tools of trade, and all other commodities. The primary producers of this country are entitled to conditions which will enable them to live according to Australian standards. If honorable members opposite vote against this bill they will be guilty of the greatest inconsistency that nan bc imagined. Our primary-producing industries, which to-day are almost wholly unprotected, deserve some consideration from the members of this Parliament. Do honorable members forget that the five economists who volunteered, during the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, to make an investigation to ascertain the extent to which our exporting industries were handicapped by the fiscal policy of this country, declared that under the Pratten tariff the handicap was 9 per cent.? Of course it has increased very greatly since those days; but a handicap of even 9 per cent, should be taken into consideration. It has been suggested that we should abandon this bill; but I shall resist to the utmost any proposal of that kind. I have been endeavouring for twenty years, as a member of this Parliament, to persuade various governments to adopt a plan of this kind, although I say frankly that this bill does not go nearly so far as I could wish. The primary producers should have been protected many years ago, in some such way as is now proposed.

The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) did his utmost during the referendum campaign to persuade the people to vote Wo. He delivered numerous addresses in the great city of Sydney - we even heard his voice in distant Perth - to the effect that the marketing referendum should be rejected because it involved the conscription of food. Does the honorable gentleman expect certain Australian citizens to become virtual slaves in order to provide food at prices which can be compared to the prices at which it could be provided by blackfellows? Is that the standard of life which he would suggest for our farming community? The honorable member is now advocating the building of ships in Australia, though it has been shown, in the course of an investigation, that it would cost twice as much to build capital ships here as to buy them overseas. The building of ships here would, in effect, be a form of conscription, just as high tariffs and taxation of all kinds are a form of conscription. However, the honorable member could, in his suave way, persuade the people of Sydney to turn down the marketing proposals, although they had been agreed to by all the State parliaments, and by this Parliament. The amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. On r tin) is merely another attempt to draw a red herring across the trail. We know that, although the Labour governments of the various States, including the Collier Government in Western Australia, had accepted the Commonwealth Government's marketing scheme, Mr. Collier, the Labour Premier of Western Australia, advised the members of his Cabinet to support the " No " campaign during the referendum. The wheat industry, one of the greatest in Australia, is being crushed between the upper and nether millstones of party politics. It will be very interesting to see how honorable members will vote on this proposal.

Not 1 per cent, of the wheat-growers of Australia pay income tax. If the honorable member for Henty were really in earnest he would join with some of us in this House in attacking the great sheltered industries, like the motor industry, which is making a profit of 83 per cent. He, however, is anxious to extend the operations of that industry in Australia. He also supports the glass-manufacturing industry in Australia, which makes huge profits. Show me the wheat-grower who is making profits anything like as high. Compare the intrinsic value of the wheat industry with that of the other industries I have mentioned. Are the industries which make these huge profits indispensable to the country? They are not, but the wheat industry and the wool industry are. If the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition is carried it will wreck the bill, and will throw the growers back into the old condition of uncertainty. There is no bread and butter for many of the wheat-growers in the State where I come from. Already 6,000 of them have abandoned their farms, yet the industry is of such importance, not to them, but to Australia as a whole, that something must be done to put it on a better footing. The simplest way to help it is to pass the bill now before us. The States, which know their own business, have passed similar legislation, and it merely remains for us to ratify and make possible the scheme.

What would members of the Labour party say if a bill to establish industrial arbitration were held up while the workers were being sweated? The wheatgrowers of Australia are being sweated at the present time by the people of Australia. If this Parliament does not pass the bill now before us, it will become a party to that sweating.

Mr SPEAKER - I have allowed references to .the bills introduced by the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) dealing with the imposition of a flour tax. They are related to the bill now before the House, and 1 shall continue to allow references to be made to them.

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