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Wednesday, 30 November 1938


Mr JENNINGS (Watson) .- The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), in an interesting speech, made reference to the constitutional position in relation to this hill. In the course of his remarks he said that no provision was made in the measure for the fixation of the price of bread. With this I am in agreement. I point out that the Commonwealth Parliament has no power to fix prices. However, the agreement of the various State governments to pass legislation to fix the price of flour is mentioned in the preamble to this bill. I suggest to the Government that it should make specific provision in the bill to provide that all payments shall bc dependent upon the carrying out by the State governments of their undertakings in this connexion. The question of relief to wheat-growers seems to come up like a hardy annual, and no matter what proposal is brought forward it is subject to some form of protest. There should be as much co-operation aspossible between city and country people in endeavouring to adjust the problems of this national industry. It is extremely difficult to ascertain who really make profits in the wheat industry. In other industries it is usually possible to discover where excessive profits are made, but in the ramifications of the wheat industry, from the time the grain is sold until it is manufactured into bread and the bread is sold to the consumer, it seems like a crossword puzzle to trace matters of this kind. It is absolutely necessary that the consumer of bread, as well as the grower of wheat, should be protected, but I am not satisfied that adequate protection in this respect has been assured. The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), who must be regarded as an expert in the wheat industry, has told us that the value of the wheat in a loaf of bread is not more than1d. We are aware that when wheat was twice its present price the price of bread was practically the same as it is now. While there should be a reasonable price for the grower, there should also be a reasonable price for the consumer. The scheme which the Government is seeking to implement has been accepted by State governments of every political complexion, and that the necessary State legislation has been passed in all cases, and in most instances almost unanimously. This is the first time that the States have all come into agreement on a wheat scheme. The States have agreed to legislate for the fixation of the price of flour. I am informed that the Government of New South Wales has already decided to bring down legislation to fix the price of foodstuffs. In this connexion I direct attention to clause 10 of this bill which reads as follows : -

Where the Governor-Generalis satisfied that the legislation of a State providing for the fixing of the prices at which flour or other wheat products may be sold has beenso amended, or that such action has been taken thereunder, as to affect prejudicially the position of wheat-growers in that State in respect of wheat sold for home consumption in Australia, the Governor-General may, by notice in the Gazette, suspend, during or in respect of such period as,in his opinion, the position of those wheat-growers is so prejudicially affected, payments to that State under this act and thereupon, that State shall not be entitled to receive payments under this act during or in respect of that period.

Certain penalties are provided for noncompliance with the provision of this clause. In my opinion the clause does not go far enough. What I propose to ask the Minister is that necessary action should be taken to ensure that the States will also provide for the fixation of the price of bread. This is the point upon which most of the debate has turned. I ask the Government to substitute for it a clause in the following terms: -

Where the Governor-General is satisfied that-

(a)   the legislation of a State providing for the fixing of the prices at which Hour or other wheat products may he sold has been so amended, or that such action has been taken thereunder, as to affect prejudicially the position of wheat-growers in the State in respect of wheat sold for home consumption in Australia; or

(b)   a State has not taken steps adequately to protect consumers of flour and other wheat products against excessive prices in respect of those commodities, the Governor-General may, by notice in the Gazette, suspend payments to that State under this act during or in respect of such period as, in his opinion -.

(c)   the position of those wheat-growers is so prejudicially affected; or

(d)   those consumers are not protected against such excessive prices as the case may be, and, thereupon, that State shall not be entitled to receive payments under this act during or in respect of that period.

If that is done, effective action can be taken in respect of States which may not carry out the terms of their agreement. It makes the operation of the act contingent on the fixation of the price of bread and protects the consumers in the same way as it does the wheat-growers. The provision for the fixation of the price of flour should be associated with a similar provision for the fixation of the price of bread.







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