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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr SCHOLFIELD (Wannon) . - I have listened with great interest to the speeches that have been delivered on this bill. Generally speaking, honorable members of the Opposition have indicated that they favour the adoption of a homeconsumption price for wheat, although the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) added a condition that this should not be a permanent policy. However, I noticed that the applause for the proposal for the fixing of a home-con sumption price for wheat has not been as hearty as it might have been. I fear that too little sincerity has been behind some of the words that have been spoken. I support the bill, and shall, of course, vote against the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin).

If I did not wish to give my own reasons for this action, I should be quite content to refer honorable members to the speech delivered by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), which I regard as, in almost every respect, favorable to the passage of the bill. The honorable gentleman said that certain wheatgrowers obtained an income from the running of sheep on their land.

Mr Nock - The sheep are only scavengers.

Mr SCHOLFIELD - That is so; and the honorable member for Barton would have realized it had he known anything at all about the wheat industry. -It is well known that it is not profitable, in the proper sense of the word, to run sheep exclusively on wheat land. The honorable member for Barton also said that many country lads went to the city because they could not obtain work in country districts. If I understand the meaning of English, that must surely be interpreted as an admission that wheat-growing is not profitable. The wheat-growing industry provides more employment than any other single industry in this country. It is also, with one exception, the most valuable exporting industry that we have. In these circumstances, it surely deserves sympathetic consideration by this Parliament. The stabilization scheme that we are now considering is the result of many conferences, and of many years of discussion. Measures to bring it into operation have already been passed by the various State parliaments. The scheme aims at achieving a good deal in addition to the payment of a homeconsumption price for wheat. The stabilization of the price of flour, as is proposed, and the consequent stabilization of the price of bread, must be beneficial to the consumers in general. The scheme will also have a steadying effect on the incomes of the wheatgrowers, although seasonal fluctuations will still have to be faced. I believe, also, that the scheme will beneficially affect the operation of the State railways. This year, owing to the extremely adverse conditions experienced in many parts of Australia, the State budgets will be seriously affected. In Victoria alone it is estimated that, in consequence of the bad season, the freight revenue of the -State Railway Department will fall by £800,000.

The scheme that we are now considering seeks to provide, first, for the stabilization of the industry by a means approved by all parties in this Parliament; secondly, for the setting aside of £500,000 for the relief of farmers who are suffering from severe seasonal conditions; and, thirdly, for the removal of certain farmers from marginal lands on which wheat-growing is always likely to be a dubious occupation. I entirely agree with the action of the Government in assisting the State governments to fix a home-consumption price for wheat. I believe, however, that the provision of assistance for necessitous farmers, and of means by which farmers may be removed from marginal lands unsuitable for wheat-growing, should be made," not by the Commonwealth Government, but by the State governments. It is true that, in the past, the Commonwealth Government has made grants to the State governments to provide relief to farmers who have suffered from adverse seasonal conditions. No less

One complaint made against this scheme is that it will result in an increase of the price of bread. It should be remembered that the whole scheme was arranged at a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, at which the State governments agreed to fix the price of flour at £12 10s. a ton and the Commonwealth Government agreed to collect, by means of an excise duty, the difference in the price of flour made from wheat at world parity price and wheat at a price equivalent to 4s. 8d. a bushel. There is probably some justification for the contention that the price of bread will be increased when this scheme comes into operation, but the State governments will be responsible for whatever happens in that connexion. However, £12 10s. a ton is a fair price for flour when wheat fetches a normal price. Honorable members of all parties have agreed that 4s. 8d. a bushel is also a fair price for wheat. Another factor that should be remembered is that, if the price of wheat on the world market increases beyond 4s. 8d. a bushel, the millers will still be selling flour in Australia for £12 10s. a ton, and the farmers will virtually have to pay a levy to meet the difference in price. I believe that the majority of the representatives of the people of Australia in this Parliament will agree that this measure should be passed to ensure to the farmers a fair price for their wheat. In the long run, this scheme will be fair to consumers and wheat-growers alike.

Although part of the proceeds of this tax is to be used to remove farmers from marginal lands unsuitable for wheatgrowing, I repeat that the State governments should accept responsibility in this connexion. It must be obvious to every honorable member who gives careful consideration to the position of the wheat industry that, unless there is associated with this scheme some provision for a limitation of the production of wheat in Australia, similar to the limitation imposed upon the production of sugar, the whole plan may fail. If people find that arrangements have been made to ensure a fair price for all wheat grown, the farmers will undoubtedly grow more wheat unless steps are taken to limit production to a reasonable quantity. I contend that a measure for the limitation of production should be taken in conjunction with that now before us.'

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