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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr FADDEN (Darling Downs) . - The merits and demerits of this measure have been fully discussed, so that it is not necessary for me to add very much. This proposal is consistent with the accepted fiscal policy of the country. Having regard to the fact that the people have accepted the policy of arbitration for the workers - and rightly so - and tariff protection for secondary industries, it is only natural that some such measure as this should be introduced in order to confer a measure of protection on primary industries. The merits of the wheat industry are so well known as to need no emphasis from me. Honorable members who have preceded me have already emphasized what an important part the industry plays in the economic life of Australia. Every honorable member of this House - indeed, every legislator in Australia - knows that it is in a perilous condition. In certain States,' the anxieties which some wheat-farmers have had about reduced prices have been added to by greater anxiety induced by the fact that, as the result of drought, they will have no income this year at all. It was for those reasons that the State governments combined in an approach to the Commonwealth Government for its co-operation in stabilizing the industry in the interests not only of the indus try itself, but also of the States and of the Commonwealth as a whole. The importance of this measure is overshadowed only by its urgency. In order to display to honorable mem'bers of the Opposition the need for this bill, I have only to direct their attention to what has been achieved in Queensland since 1920, when a compulsory wheat pool was established with head-quarters at Toowoomba. Honorable members from Queensland will bear me out in my contention that its establishment has resulted in benefit, not only to the wheat-growers in Queensland, but also to every other citizen of that State. This measure is nothing more than an enlargement of the principle of the Queensland scheme. It was introduced at the instigation, not of the Commonwealth Government, but of the States. The project originated at a conference of State Ministers in Sydney, and it was developed at a subsequent series of conferences held at Canberra with the representatives of the Commonwealth Government. In Sydney, the States decided unanimously to ask the Commonwealth Government to use its powers of excise and bounty to supplement what they would do in the direction of fixing the price of bread. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) expressed doubt as to the constitutionality of this scheme. My only answer to him is that the State governments will fix the price of bread. The Commonwealth Government will have nothing to do with that. When the complementary legislation was introduced in the Queensland Parliament it was passed unanimously regardless of party considerations. I submit that what is good enough for the Labour Government of Queensland, which has had eighteen years of experience of the effects of similar legislation, should be good enough for the Opposition in this chamber. The Queensland Labour Government surely has just as much regard for the consumers of Queensland as the Labour Opposition in the Commonwealth Parliament has for the Australian consumers generally; and in view of the fact that a similar system has been applied in Queensland for eighteen years with benefit to every one, the Opposition here should lend this proposal its support. 1 say advisably that the Queensland legislation has operated to the benefit of all, because the cost of living in that State is lower than it is in any other State.

It will be denied by no person that, in the interests of Australia, the wheat industry needs a stabilized price based on White Australia conditions, which will enable it to carry on. The Australian fiscal policy and the White Australia policy mean that the wheatgrowers have to bear costs of production which are greater than they otherwise would be. I instance the protective tariffs and the arbitration court awards, both of which increase costs of production for the farmer. The protection which is given to other sections of the community should equally be given to the wheatfarmers.

I join with other honorable members who have suggested that when an industry is given protection it should be required to maintain Australian standards of wages, hours, and conditions.

Some honorable gentlemen have been concerned with the financial aspects of this measure. I point out that no burden was placed on the consumers of wheat by the Queensland legislation of 1920. As the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has said, the consumers will be safeguarded by the fact that the price of bread and the price of flour will be fixed by the States.

Most honorable members listened with interest and probably in disgust to what was said by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane). His speech reminded me of the words of Mark Twain to the effect that being ignorant of the subject made one more competent to talk about it. If any honorable members had any doubts as to the justification for this measure before they heard the honorable member speak, their doubts must have been set at rest by the ridiculous arguments that he advanced. The honorable gentleman apparently thought that he was speaking in opposition to the scheme, but most of the arguments that he used must have convinced honorable members generally of the need for it. For instance, the honorable gentleman said that farmers had turned wheat lands into sheep pastures. If a man were making a success of wheat-growing, he would not be likely to convert land, which had been fallowed and otherwise prepared for wheat crops, into sheep pastures. He also said that the wheatgrowers of New South Wales, whom he claimed to know well, did not observe decent standards of wages. That is another reason why this industry should * be stabilized. If the hononrable member for Barton is ever found with a kind thought and a good word for the man on the land he could, I submit, be arrested for having something in his possession reasonably suspected of having been stolen.

Mr Ward - Why not have a clause in the bill setting that out?

Mr FADDEN - It is for the State governments to do that. The government in Queensland has made the observation of award conditions precedent to farmers having the benefit of its legislation. The honorable member for Barton also said that the farmers lived in pig-sties- -a further reason why this industry should be stabilized.

When the method of raising the flour tax is considered, I should like the Government to give consideration to the fact that many mills are carrying huge stocks of wheat and flour. If the tax is to be collected, as from the 1st December, there may be duplication of the collections, and this should be carefully safeguarded against.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) objected to the flour tax and suggested that the fund from which the wheat bounty will be paid should be raised by other means of taxation. I point out to the honorable gentleman that, in the last, year for which we have statistics available, of the £63,000,000 odd of revenue that was raised from direct and indirect taxes, £43,000,000 was raised by way of customs duties and £8,000,000 from the' sales tax. An aggregate of £51,000,000 out of £63,000,000 of tax collections Avas raised indirectly. I submit that any alternative to the flour tax would not give relief to the taxpayers.

It must be appreciated that £500,000 from the fund of the industry will be lent to necessitous growers. That will not involve any extra load on the consumer. It will merely result in a reduction of what will be paid on a bushelage basis to the wheat-growers. This year Queensland is enjoying a record harvest, and expects to produce 7,000,000 bushels of wheat. If Queenslanders were to take a selfish view of this matter they would not care whether or not this measure was passed. In fact they would be a little bit better off if it were not passed. [Quorum formed.'] Queensland may be subject to certain geographical disadvantages under this scheme, but the people of that State are taking a national view of the matter, because they recognize that they are part and parcel of the Commonwealth. In the Queensland Parliament recently the Premier said -

The first point Unit arises in my mind is that wo affirm the economic proposition that all men engaged in useful services are entitled to a. reasonable standard of living, whether they are wheat-growers, sewerworkers, sugar-farmers, dairymen, or any other workers. The farmer is just as much entitled to a living wage as anybody else in the community. I do not think that will bc combated.

Those are the very reasons that encourage this Government and members on this side of the House to support this very important and I might say imperative measure in the interests of Australian economy generally. I strongly support the bill which will give to this great national industry, much-needed stabilization.

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