Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 2 December 1938

Mr THOMPSON (New EnglandAssistant Minister for Commerce) . - This debate is really a great hullabaloo about very little. I do not think that honorable members who are making such loud protests about the problem of marginal lands are so much concerned with the fate of the farmers occupying such land aswith the economic problem that will be created by this legislation. It is significant that most of the protests have come from those honorable members who have already indicated that they are opposed to the whole scheme for the relief of the wheatgrowers.

If honorable members will look at the amendment they will realize that it contains nothing which might be construed as selling the pass, so far as the farmers on marginal lands are concerned. They will see that there is ample protection for the rights of the Commonwealth Parliament. Unless the Commonwealth Minister in charge of this measure falls down on his job, unless he enters into a conspiracy with certain States to defeat the intention of the Commonwealth Government, there is no danger whatever that this amount of £500,000 will be wholly devoted to the relief of distress.

The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) demanded, in a very forthright fashion, to know what was in the Government's mind regarding the distribution of this money as between farmers suffering from adverse seasonal conditions, and those on marginal lands. It must be obvious what is in the Government's mind. It desires, through the medium of this legislation, which we hope will be of a permanent character, to enable the States to deal with the problem of removing wheat-farmers from uneconomic areas, where they are working under conditions which make it impossible for them to earn a living.

Mr Holt - That part of the proposal is limited to a. period of five years.

Mr THOMPSON - A lot of water can flow under the bridge in five years. I direct the attention of honorable members to the safeguards provided in the amendment. The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) said that honorable members of this Parliament should bring the Government up with a round turn, and put, a stop to what he seems to regard as a swindle. I point out to him that the amendment is in these terms - " (6.) Notwithstanding anything contained in the last preceding sub-section, the Minister may, after advice from the State Minister, approve of the whole or any part of any amount paid to a State under sub-section (2.) of this section being applied in the provision of relief to distressed wheat-growers in that State in accordance with such method of distribution as is decided by the Minister after advice from the State Minister.".

That makes it quite clear that the Commonwealth Minister will, at all times, retain control of the situation. Unless he agrees that the proposition submitted by a State is satisfactory, the State is not likely to get away with it. I presume that, whileI remain in the position of Assistant Min ister for Commerce, I shall have something to do with the various proposals put forward by the States. I should regard it as my duty toscrutinize very closely any proposal put up by a State government for the relief of distressed farmers. If I were not satisfied, I should refer the matter to the Minister for Commerce, who would probably refer it to Cabinet. Therefore, there does not seem to be the slightest danger that the fears expressed by honorable members in this debate will be realized.

The honorable member for West: Sydney wanted to know how we were going to separate the marginal farmers from the distressed wheat-growers. I cannot answer that, and I do not suppose that there is anybody here who can. It is essentially a matter for the States. This Parliament has no power to formulate a scheme for removing farmers on marginal wheat land any more than it has a right to determine which distressed farmers shall receive help from the State government. All we can do is to make our views known to the States, and to ask them to translate those views into action.

As it is the will of this Parliament that the problem of marginal wheatfarmer? should be dealt with, it should be taken as a direction from this Parlia ment, irrespective of the amendment, that the administration of the act shall be directed towards impressing on the States the importance of dealing with the problem.I do not say that it will be easy. The problem does not exist in all the States. It does not exist to any degree in Western Australia, and not at all in Queensland at the present time. In New South Wales it exists only in the chronic drought areas.I do not know to what degree it is present in Victoria, but I do not think it is regarded there as serious.

Mr LANE (BARTON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the Mallee?

Mr THOMPSON - In normal times, the Mallee is one of the best wheatgrowing areas in Victoria. It is only at the present time, when Victoria is suffering one of the worst droughts in its history, thatthe problem has come to the fore. Had it not been for the attitude of the Victorian representatives at the recent Premiers Conference, I doubt whether this matter would have come before Parliament at all. It was mainly at the instance of the Victorian representatives that the other States agreed to a modification of the home-consumption price plan in order to permit the payment of the £500,000 to distressed farmers. Now we find that Queensland has, logically enough, raised the point that it has no problem of marginal lands, and this year, at any rate, it is not concerned with distressed farmers. It is only fair, therefore, that it should have the right to divert some of the money to the relief of distressed farmers, if the need should arise in the future. Queensland will provide about £500.000 a year for the fund, and this year it will get. practically nothing back. I cannot see why honorable members should wish to wreck the bill because the Government wants to meet the wishes of Queensland in this respect.

I do not think that it is our duty to show the States how to deal with the problem of marginal areas. No plan has yet been evolved for completely solving this problem, or, if there has. I have not heard of it. Certainly, none was produced at the recent conference of wheat-growers. I believe, however, that if we provide the machinery, and a certain amount of finance, the States will, of their own volition, formulate a plan. to deal with the problem where it exists. Those States which are not troubled with that problem, but in which there is distress because of drought, or some serious catastrophe such as bush fires or Hoods, will have an opportunity, under this proposal, to obtain some relief. I direct the attention of honorable members to this aspect. We know what happens when there are disastrous floods and bush fires and hundreds of people are rendered homeless. There is immediately a nation-wide cry for the governments of Australia to come to tho rescue. There are no finicky arguments to whether we should or should not succour the victims. On the contrary, the demand is loud that we should. No honorable member would ever say that wheat-farmers, who are driven to extremity by drought or any other cause, should not get the assistance which is provided for in this legislation. 1 strongly urge honorable gentlemen not to raise a position which really does not exist under this amendment, but to agree to the amendment, trusting to the safeguard that the Commonwealth Parliament will always be master of the situation.

Mr.ROSEVEAR (Dalley) [12.31J.- During this discussion there has been a considerable amount of humbug- and evasion of the real issue before the committee. That Queensland will benefit from the amendment has. been emphasized in order, I suppose, to enlist the unanimous support of honorable gentlemen from Queeusland. I can discover nothing in. the bill or in the Senate's amendment that has any direct reference to Queensland, except that Queensland, and for that mutter, Tasmania, are for one year excluded from the benefits conferred by this section of the bill. There is nothing otherwise which makes the position of Queensland any different from that of any other State. The real purpose of this amendment is to allo'w' the States, not exclusively Queensland, to do just what they like with this money. When this bill went to the Senate, sub-clause 5 of clause 7 rea d -

Any amount paid to a State under subsection 2 of ill ia portion shall be paid upon condition that it h. applied towards meeting the cost of transferring wheat-farmers, in accordance with plana approved by the Minister after advice 110111 the State Minister, from lauds unsuitable for the economic production of wheat, or of arranging for such lands to Iki used for other purposes.

The Governments, both Commonwealth and State, were pinned down to the disbursement of money for one specific purpose - the transference of wheat-fanners from lands unsuitable for the economic production of wheat, or of arrangement for such lands to be used for other purposer. The Government is seeking to evade that obligation. The Minister says that there is some safeguard. I do not know of any, because this amendment postulates a position in which the Commonwealth Minister will act on the advice of the State Minister.

Mr Thompson - He may act.

Suggest corrections