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Friday, 2 December 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) .- This matter has been discussed in principle before. I think it must be acknowledged that the payment of £500,000 a year to compensate farmers for seasonal adversity, or to transfer farmers from uneconomic areas, is not a proper use for money raised by an excise duty on flour. I said as much in my second-reading speech. We are faced with the fact that this Parliament does not possess complete legislative powers to deal with problems associated with the wheat industry. In regard to the course followed by the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) on this occasion, in stead of formulating his own plan and making it a matter of acceptance by the States, the Minister, knowing the odium attaching to the financial features of the scheme, wishes to make the States partners in this method of raising money to assist the growers.

Mr Gregory - How could it be done otherwise, in view of the decision of the people at the referendum?

Mr CURTIN - The Minister could have drawn up this proposal as he thought it should operate, and he could then have put it before the States who would have had no alternative but to accept it.

Mr Gregory - They might not have done anything at all.

Mr CURTIN - Then the Commonwealth could still have paid a bounty upon wheat as in previous years, but the States wanted something more. The home-consumption . price for wheat, which the consumers are asked to pay, is something wholly apart from the rendering of assistance to the farmers because of seasonal adversity and the transference of farmers from uneconomic areas. As a matter of fact, provision against seasonal adversity should, in large part, be regarded as a cost of production covered by insurance.

However, as the bill left this chamber, it provided that for the current year £500,000 should be used, either for transferring farmers from marginal lands, or as compensation for losses suffered through seasonal adversity. In Queensland, there is no problem of marginal lands, and this year there is no seasonal problem, though the consumers in Queensland will contribute towards the relief of farmers suffering from seasonal adversity in Victoria and three other States. It may be that, in three years' time, the farmers of Queensland will have a seasonal problem of their own, but under this legislation as it stands, unless the amendment be agreed to, they, who will have contributed towards the assistance of farmers in other States, will be. denied the right to receive assistance in their turn if they should need it. I agree that, if we allow any of this money to be used to assist the farmers in any State because of seasonal adversity, then the farmers of Queensland are entitled to their share when occasion arises. It is proposed to provide £100,000 this year for the assistance of distressed farmers in New South "Wales. Queensland will contribute its share of this money, but, unless the amendment be agreed to, New South "Wales will make no contribution towards the relief of distressed farmei'3 in Queensland should such relief become necessary in the future. Therefore, while I disapprove of the principle embodied in this proposal, I think that, in common fairness, Queensland has a right to expect us to accept the amendment of the Senate.

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