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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr RANKIN (Bendigo) .- The proposals of the Government, as set out in this bill, offer the only sound means available to assist the wheat industry. The amendment of the Leader of the

Opposition (Mr. Curtin) would, if carried, merely delay the granting of the necessary assistance. The bill has been opposed by certain members of the United Australia party, of whom the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) is typical, and by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) on the Labour side of the House.

Mr Ward - I did not oppose the granting of assistance to those who need it.

Mr RANKIN - The honorable member for East Sydney may not be directly opposed to the granting of such assistance, but he certainly indicated that he is opposed to this bill. The honorable member for Barton said that the wheat-growers in the Moree and the more favoured districts of New South Wales were not in need of assistance, but I have known occasions when they have been in dire need. The honorable member must surely be aware that severe drought conditions are being experienced in many parts of Australia at present, with the result that, in order to ensure the continuity of the wheat industry, we must provide some .assistance for the growers. The honorable gentleman observed that during the last few years £14,000,000 had been granted in bounties to assist wheatgrowers; but he said nothing about the very large sums that have been paid in bounties in respect of other industries. Lysaghts Limited alone for instance, have been paid £6,000,000. Many of our secondary industries are sheltered behind a stout tariff wall, but the wheat-growing industry is not in that favoured position. The honorable member for Barton never hesitates to vote in favour of tariff duties for the assistance of such concerns as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company ' Limited, General Motors Limited, and other big organizations which, at times, pay almost 100 per cent, in dividends on the actual capital invested in them. As for the honorable member for East Sydney, all I can say is that he, too, is never backward in supporting proposals for customs duties to protect monopolistic interests in this country. The honorable gentleman stated that wheat could be profitably grown in Australia if 3s. 4d. a bushel could be obtained for it. Probably if 3s. 4d. a bushel were guaranteed over a long period it would be possible for growers to make a reasonable living; but it must be remembered that only about one-fifth of our total crop is consumed in this country. The remainder has to be exported at a price which definitely is not payable. The honorable member for East Sydney also said that the farmers could have sold their wheat earlier this year for 5s. a bushel. I do not think that is correct. The highest price available in Victoria to my knowledge was 4s. Id. a bushel at country stations. But when the price was offering most of the wheat was still in the ear on Victorian farms. I believe considerable area3 in New South Wales had, however, been harvested at that time.

Mr Paterson - If all the wheat could have been sold when that price was being offered, the market would undoubtedly have collapsed.

Mr RANKIN - That is so. The honorable member for East Sydney said that he was favorable to the granting of assistance only to farmers in necessitous circumstances; but has he ever declared that our protectionist policy should be confined to secondary industries in necessitous circumstances? Actually our customs duties provide protection for some of the biggest monopolies in Australia. Will the honorable member agree that those engaged in secondary industries should have to produce evidence that they are not able to make the industry pay without increased protection? In the past, the honorable member for East Sydney and most other honorable members of the Opposition, have not insisted on that condition. So long as they were able to get something out of it for those whom they represent, they have been prepared to support monopolies that increase the cost of production against the producers by increasing the cost of the farmers' tools of trade.

Mr Curtin - That is hardly fair.

Mr RANKIN - It is the truth. There is no other industry in Australia that supports so many people as does the wheat industry. It supports those who work in the factories producing farm implements. It supports the railway workers, the waterside workers, and the storekeepers. Practically every section of the community benefits when the growers have had a good year. Though the wheat-growers have received assistance by way of bounties in recent years, we must not forget that, at the beginning of the depression, when it seemed certain that Australia must default on its overseas obligations, an appeal was made to the farmers to grow more wheat. They raised a bumper crop, and at the prices offering, exported a ' large part of the equity in their land in order to keep Australia solvent, and to keep the workers in their jobs. Tet they did not squeal.

Mr Mahoney - What is the good of growing wheat if it cannot be sold?

Mr RANKIN - I agree that much of the marginal land should go out of wheat production, and revert to pasture. The wheat-growers stood by the country in its time of need, and we should stand by them now.

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