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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr LANE (Barton) .- I have been interested in many of the speeches made on this bill. For my own part, I wish to make it quite clear that I am not opposed to wheat-growers being granted relief when they really need it. In such cases they should receive it. My difficulty i3 that bounties have been paid in the past to many growers who did not need them. I say, definitely, to the Country party that many farmers, particularly in such districts as that surrounding the north-west plains in New South Wales, where crops of anything from 20 to 30 bushels to the acre are reaped regularly, do not require this assistance. Farmers who experience seasonal adversity or who settle on inferior land, and reap only about 10 bushels to the acre may deserve consideration. To my knowledge many men engaged in mixed farming, and running a number of sheep, show a good profit on their operations year after year. I do not know of any other section of the community which has such colossal impudence as to say to the Government, with such unfailing regularity: "We want a bounty on our production ". The most consistent of these people are certain hon.orable members of this Parliament.

Mr James - Docs the honorable member say that members of this Parliament will participate in this 'bounty?

Mr LANE - The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) said so himself last year.

Mr James - Why has not the Honorable member for Barton the courage to say it now if he believes it?

Mr LANE - I have all the courage I need to discuss this subject. The honorable member for Hunter is not the only courageous member of the House, nor is he the only honorable member who has the courage to discuss the wheat industry, or, for that matter, the coal-mining industry. I cannot understand the Government paying so much heed to the claims of the members of the Country party that primary producers engaged in wheat and wool production, the fat lamb industry, or other profitable primary pursuits, should be granted bounties simply because certain other people engaged in other and loss lucrative industries receive bounties. I object to the payment of bounties without having regard to the financial position of the recipients. Many farmers had cheques sent to them, and had been practically forced to take the money. Of course, there would have been no need to force it on the honorable member- for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) who, even if he had only a few acres of wheat, would have been one of the first to apply for the bounty, and he would have been over at the bank five minutes afterwards to lodge his cheque. All greedy men go after everything they can get.

I do not think that we should be bound by the decision of the six State parliaments which have agreed on a scheme, and are now asking this Parliament to use its powers to impose a tax on flour. I heard some members of the Country party complaining because the marketing provisions, which were submitted to the people by referendum, had been lost, thereby depriving the farmers of something which would have been of great value to them. I ask those honorable members who it was who voted against the marketing scheme? We know that Mr. Abbott, or Sir Norman Kater, of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, wrote to the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) asking him whether, if the marketing proposals were agreed to, would some other government be able to apply its provisions, not merely to the half-dozen industries for which they were intended, but also to all primary industries, thus enabling it to fix the price of wool, mutton, &c. The Attorney-General had to admit that the word "marketing" was wide enough to enable the scheme to be applied to all primary commodities. The graziers then made up their minds that, no matter what the wheat-growers might want, they did not want the prices of their commodities fixed by the Government. They were .prepared to sell their products on the market at current prices. I am not sure that the farmers are doing the right thing now in asking for the fixation of wheat prices. I hope the Government will limit the scheme to a period of not more than twelve months.

Mr Paterson - This Government could not fix prices for 24 hours.

Mr LANE - No, but it is supported - by a powerful Country party in New South Wales, and another in Victoria. We have the engineer-in-chief sitting here at the table in the person of the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), who is ably supported by his lieutenant, Bruxner, in New South Wales. Between them they are able to induce the State governments to pass legislation to enable the scheme to be put into operation. Because the 6ix State governments have accepted the scheme, this Parliament is asked io do its part, and impose this tax. Then we shall be told that, though we can fix the price of wheat, it is not possible to fix the price of bread. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) tried to make us believe, as if we were a lot of children, that what the Government was proposing to do would not affect the price of bread; that, at any rate, the Government would not be responsible for any increase of the price of bread. I say that if this Government imposes a tax on flour, and the price of bread is increased by one half-penny a loaf, then this Government is responsible for that increase. When a tax is imposed, on flour, the natural corollary is that the price of bread will rise.

The honorable member for Darling Downs said that he had got into Parliament because of statements that I had made. I say that he wilfully misconstrued my statements. The honorable member said that in Queensland the price of wheat was fixed. Of course it is, and they fix the price of practically everything in Queensland. When I was in Bowen, representatives of the tomatogrowers waited on me and asked me. to do what I could to prevent the Queensland Government from stopping them from sending tomato pulp for sale in Sydney. They told me that the Minister in charge of marketing in Queensland was so arbitrary in his methods that the primary industries were suffering severely.

I should not object to the fixation of prices if wages paid in the industry were also fixed. The award for rural workers in New South Wales is not operating at the present time, and for this the Country party in that State is responsible. If prices are to be fixed every man working in the industry is entitled to a fair wage. Arbitration courts are for the purpose of fixing wages in accordance with prices that are, in their turn, influenced by the tariff. The Australian Workers Union obtained an award for pastoral workers, but, through the action of the Country party, the rural award was suspended.

Mr Wilson - Give us a fair price for our commodities, and we should be able to pay fair wages.

Mr LANE - If the farmers are not prepared to organize their own industry so as -to enable them to get a proper return it is their own fault. The governments of some other countries are to-day insisting that agriculture should be conducted on scientific lines. Only ten days ago, a. young fellow asked me for a reference to enable him to obtain a situation in Darwin. He is a fine specimen, 6 ft. 3 in. in height, and I asked him why he did not go on the land. He told me that he had passed the intermediate examination', and that he had been at an agricultural college. He was used to farming, and had never failed to keep his end up at any 'farm work. Nevertheless, all he was able to get as a farm hand was 25s. a week and his keep. No one would more warmly welcome a scheme for the fixation of prices than I, if it would have the effect of taking the young men out of the cities, and making agriculturists of them.

Sir Earle Page - This represents the first attempt at fixing prices.

Mr LANE - Already almost £15,000,000 has been paid out in bounties on primary products, and every time a new proposal of the kind is brought forward I have raised this issue. I have been told by Country party representatives that some farmers are so inefficient, that, they are unable to produce more than 9 or 10 bushels an acre off land from which other men would produce 30 bushels. "When I asked them whether they were in favour of assisting the inefficient farmer, they replied that such men should be put off the land; that they arc only a nuisance in the industry.

Sir Earle Page - We said that they should be put on to bigger farms.

Mr LANE - The Country party has got all the bonuses and bounties that it can get, and now it is advancing a new scheme. A few years ago, a proposal was agreed to for the expenditure of £12,000,000 to pay the debts of hopelessly involved farmers, and to rehabilitate them on new areas. The fact is, however, that of the £12,000,000, the State governments have not been able to find use for more than £6,000,000.

Sir Earle Page - They have not been able to get more than £6,000,000.

Mr LANE - They have not been able to produce the men who need and deserve help.

Sir Earle Page - Yes, we have.

Mr LANE - I have followed thi.? matter as closely as most men, and T know that that is not so. I know of two small - farmers who had to spend from twelve to eighteen months in writing letters before they could come under th, debt adjustment scheme. I warned tha Government when that scheme was introduced that it could not compound with creditors of the farmers in the way which was intended. The Government could not be persuaded into adopting normal business methods. In the city, when a man finds himself unable to meet his obligations, his creditors say to him, " Come and see us, and we shall talk things over." They say to him, "What can you pay? Can you pay 10s. or 12s. 6d. in the £1 ? ". If he says that he can pay only 10s. in the £1 they come to an arrangement. If he cannot produce sufficient to guarantee his continuance in business they wipe him off the slate. Under the debt adjustment scheme, the Government has differentiated between the creditors whom it has asked to liquidate the farmers' debts.

Mr McCall - Has the honorable gentleman seen the report of the AuditorGeneral for Victoria on debt adjustment in that State?

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The debt adjustment scheme should not be discussed on this bill.

Mr LANE - The point I am making, Mr. Speaker, is that assistance to wheat farmers should be given on a sound basis. I should be glad to give assistance, indeed, generous assistance, to men who need it, but I should never agree to wealthy farmers participating in it. In evidence before the wheat commission, Mr. John McElhone said -

One of the outstanding results of the investigation appears to be the fact that no fewer than 15,844,200 sheep, or 20.5 per cent, of the State's total flocks, are depastured on holdings on which wheat is grown. Nearly a third of this total, however, is carried on holdings of 5,000 acres and upwards, indicating that they arc more likely to be pastoral holdings growing a little wheat rather than wheat farms running sheep.

What astounding evidence! Twenty-nine per cent, of the sheep flocks of New South Wales are pastured on wheat holdings. The evidence continues -

Another interesting feature is the extension of dairying among wheat farmers.. Practically one wheat-grower in eight was running a registered dairy, or 2,283 out of the total of 17,892 holdings on which wheat was grown for grain (excluding the coastal division).

The greatest development in this direction has been on the western slopes, where there were J. 309 registered dairies on wheat farms, nearly half being on the south-western slope.

Mr Anthony - Does the honorable gentleman not realize that they do that because wheat was not paying?

Mr LANE - If a business man in Sydney cannot make one department pay lit- is forced to open another.

Mr Rankin - And squeals for tariff protection.

Mr LANE - No. The men I refer to have never done that. If they cannot make their business pay they go out of business. The fact remains that of 17,892 holdings of wheat land in New South Wales a large proportion of them are used for running sheep as well as for growing wheat.

Mr Scholfield - Does the honorable gentleman not realize that money is lost thereby?

Mr LANE - The honorable member would see that he did not lose. If a bounty is to be distributed to the wheat farmers, it should be equably distributed. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Scholfield), and- the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) have said that the farmers dislike asking for the dole. They would not need to, if their industry were organized. 1 went to the Lake Cargelligo district before the railway to it was built, and I can honestly say that the rainfall there did not warrant the Government of New South Wales in making holdings available for the growing of wheat. Of course, when wheat rises to 5s. 6d. a bushel, the squatter says, "I have some land which receives a rainfall of six, eight or ten inches a year, anc! I should sell it at good prices now that I have the chance ", The men who buy it are victimized, because they can never get a fair return from their outlay. They are the men who should have the whole of this money. Not £500,000, not even £1,000,000, would be sufficient to meet their needs. Their holdings should be enlarged so that for the first time in history they may be enabled to make a living.

Young fellows, who undergo intensive training at agricultural colleges, have no prospect of being anything other than farm labourers all their lives, unless their parents happen to have a few thousand pounds of capital which can be used to put them on the land. Some farmers treat- their employees well, but the majority do not. I know boys who have spent five or six years working for men who pay them 10s. or 15s. a week and provide them with quarters which are not fit for domestic animals. I do not speak from hearsay, because I have seen the quarters in which some of the lads are expected to live. Their employees are the men who come to this Parliament and ask for bounties.

Mr Anthony - Has the honorable member seen the quarters in which the farmers live?

Mr LANE - Yes; some of them are pig-sties. If I were a farmer and had any respect f Or my wife and children, I would see that they lived under decent conditions. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) is not the only person who has lived amongst the cockies on the north coast of New South Wales. Other honorable gentlemen who represent country constituencies are not the only honorable gentlemen who have seen the Darling Downs and other rural areas, and observed the conditions under which employees are compelled to to work.

Mr Prowse - Award conditions in Queensland !

Mr LANE - Some employers observe the award, but others do not. If fixed conditions are wanted for the wheat industry, there should be fixed wages and conditions for the employees. There should be some provision which would prevent young men of 21 and 22 years of age, who wish to take on the responsibilities of family life, from being exploited in the way in which they are exploited now. I know of no industry in which the difficulties of youths are so great as they are in the land industries. There is talk of bringing boy migrants to Australia to work iia the country districts. They will remain farm labourers all their lives. Possibly, that is what is wanted. Other countries have organized agricultural industries scientifically, and they have compelled the owners of land to erect decent residences, not only for themselves and their wives and families, but also for their employees. Organiza- tion of wheat industry in Australia has never been attempted, because those engaged in it are content year after year to come to this Parliament to ask for two, three or four million pounds. I have a cutting from a Mr. Fitzhardinge, and I daresay that every member of the Country party has received a similar document. It is an extract from the Sydney Morning Herald of the 5th August last, and it. states - " We hear many complaints of low prices and many requests to the Government for artificial prices, which, of course, the taxpayers would eventually have to pay," he proceeded. " If the growers think a price in the neighbourhood of 4s. a bushel in the country is very satisfactory and payable even for the small percentage used locally, why did they not sell their wheat earlier this year?"

Mr Nock - They did.

Mr LANE - No, they did not. They stored 7,000,000 bushels in' silos in the hope of the price lifting. There were (5.000,000 bushels in the silos in South Australia. I do not doubt that the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) got rid of his wheat at an advantageous price. The report continues -

Heavy Fall in Values.

Mr. Fitzhardingesupplied figures showing the heavy fall in values since the beginning of November last year. Prices for silo wheat, net to a grower, at Temora, a representative station, he said, were: -

The honorable member for Riverina knows that some growers held their wheat back in the hope of even more enhanced prices and had it left on their hands when the slump came. If, through their own negligence, they have lost a profitable market, they have no justification in coming to this Government for assistance.

Mr Scholfield - "We are asking for our rights.

Mr LANE - The only right that the farmer has is that for which he works. He has no right to come to the Govern ment, cap in hand, asking for help if he has been negligent; but that is the attitude of the farmers all along. They say that, because certain industries have tariff protection, they have a right to expect bounties.

When the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) waa Minister for Commerce, he made out a wonderful tabulation. I notice that the present Minister for Commerce has not dared to publish a similar table. It shows that the total number of claims was 70,942 and that the bounty paid amounted to £3,342,325. Eighty per cent, of the farmers, numbering 57,019, received £1,494,S25 by way of bounty, whereas the remaining twenty per cent., numbering 13,000, received £1,847,000. These figures bear out my claim that the small percentage of Australian wheat-farmers holding large acreages, are the ones who benefit most. In my opinion, bounties and bonuses are usually paid to the people who deserve them least.

Mr Rankin - What about the bounty of £6,000,000 which has been paid to Lysaght's Limited?

Mr LANE - No bounty has been paid to that company. I point out to the honorable member that it is the workers engaged in Australia's secondary industries who provide the best market for primary products.

I contend that no member of Parliament who stands to benefit under legislation such as this, should be permitted to exercise a vote upon it. I have no objection to assistance being given to men who are doing their best to develop an industry, but I do not think it is fair that the people of the Commonwealth should be exploited in order that money may be paid to farmers who, year after year, make no attempt to improve means of production, but come here, cap in hand, seeking grants. I should like to quote from the Auditor-General's report with regard to rural debt adjustment.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will not be in order in reading the report of the Auditor-General on farmers' debt adjustment legislation. That matter cannot be discussed under this bill.

Mr LANE - As I previously stated, this Government arranged to provide £12,000,000 to the States for the adjustment of farmers' debts. The AuditorGeneral in his report, points out-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have ruled that that matter may not be discussed. The honorable member's time has expired.

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