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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Minister for Commerce) (1:56 AM) . - Both of the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to-night haT» been based on a misconception of the facts relating to this proposal. This plan has not been adopted hurriedly. It has been under consideration by the Commonwealth and State governments for almost the last two years. Ever since the defeat of the marketing referendum eighteen months ago the governments of the States and of the Commonwealth have been examining the whole problem in an endeavour to find a solution of the constitutional difficulties. Finally, after two conferences and a meeting of the Agricultural Council had been held at which the Attorneys-General of the various States were set to work, the present proposals were brought down in August last. The resolutions adopted by the State Premiers in August of this year were the result of long deliberation and were aimed at securing a permanent solution of the problem. The solution is not a temporary one, as has been suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. This legislation is to be put on the statutebook for an indefinite period so that it may be implemented continuously by State and Commonwealth Governments. The resolutions adopted by the conference in August of this year were the subject of discussion at a subsequent conference on the 28th September.

Mr Lazzarini - How can it be said that this is a permanent solution of the problem ?

Sir EARLE PAGE - It is a permanent solution in so far as it provides a home-consumption price by constitutional methods.

Mr Lazzarini - What about the other problems associated with the wheat industry ?

Sir EARLE PAGE - This legislation also deals with them. These matters were discussed again on the 29 th September and the whole basis of the legislation te be passed by the State and Commonwealth Parliaments was laid down.

Mr Curtin - Why are all those amendments which have been circulated necessary ?

Sir EARLE PAGE - These amendments do not affect the general principles of the proposals. They are merely machinery amendments necessary to secure the best working of the scheme. In September last, representatives of the States met and prepared this proposal. but because of the urgency of the posi tion of distressed farmers in certain parts of the Commonwealth the State Premiers returned to Canberra a fortnight ago and asked for an alteration of the scheme to provide a sum for the relief of droughtstricken areas. That was unanimously agreed to, but there has never been any suggestion at any of those conferences that the operation of the legislation to be brought down should be restricted to one year. The whole essence of every discussion was that the proposals to be brought down were to be of a permanent character. I point out that the tax on flour would disappear altogether if the price, of wheat rose to 5s. 2d. at Williamstown. There is also provision that the farmers themselves will pay tax in respect of wheat used for Australian consumption to enable the same price to be maintained for flour in Australia. The very basis of this scheme is permanency; it is to operate, not for one year, but for many years. I beg the committee not to destroy not only the whole of the work done, by the two or three conferences that have been held, but also the efforts over a period of years by all the interests concerned, to arrive at a workable home-consumption price plan. It has been suggested that there is something different about this plan from what is done in connexion with the provision of assistance to other industries. What other case is there in connexion with Commonwealth legislation in respect of which the same means are not adopted ? Does the beer excise come up for investigation and examination by this Parliament every year? Does the excise on spirits have to be reviewed year by year ? Certainly not. The excise levied on these items comes up for amendment or repeal when thought necessary by the Government. That is exactly what is to be done in this instance. I urge the committee te reject the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.

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