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Wednesday, 7 December 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (12:55 PM) . - In resuming my remarks on this bill, I find it amazingly difficult to keep my mind working in the interrupted way that the submission of the Government business compels it to work, and, at the same time, work connectedly on subjects which seem to appear, disappear, and re-appear before me in a way that makes it unpleasant, at any rate, for me to consider them. Without repeating anything I said on this bill before, I merely emphasize the additional point that it proposes to give a subsidy of 10s. a ton, up to a limit of 10 tons, to primary producers, other than wheat-growers, who use fertilizer. There are certain primaryproducing interests to whom I agree the continuation of the subsidy would be fair and reasonable, but I see no reason to continue it in this year of tremendous financial commitments on the Commonwealth Government to primary producers whose circumstances do not warrant their continuing to receive it. The subsidy was designed, I take it, to increase the fertility of land. It is in the interest of the man who has the requisite capital resources to do that himself; he should not rely on the greatly-attenuated resources 'of the Commonwealth to obtain a subsidy merely to improve the yield of his own produce and the productive capacity of his own land.

Mr Scully - The 'bill excludes the wheat-growers.

Mr CURTIN - Yes, it excludes the most necessitous class of primary producers, having regard- to adversities inherent in low production, low prices, and bad seasonal conditions. I put it to the Country party that the milking of cows is a practice associated with primary production, but that on the balance Parliament has dealt generally in the last month or two with the needs of primary producers. I can see the significance of primary industries in the economic life of the nation.

Mr Sheehan - They are never satisfied.

Mr CURTIN - The average primary producer is a good citizen and a fairminded man. Thousands of producers will have the common sense to realize that this Parliament has acted fairly towards them ; also that there are other sections of the community who are in greater need than many sections of the primary producers, whose needs this Parliament has not been able to deal with. Any benefits that have come to them are incidental to and derivative of other policies which we propound, not in their interest, but in the interest of the nation. I agree with what is being done in respect of apples and pears, butter, sugar, and wheat, but I see no reason to continue this subsidy . except in cases in which it is proved that applicants would not otherwise be able to use their land to the best advantage because of shortage of money.

Mr Prowse - The quantity of fertilizer on which the subsidy is payable is reduced.

Mr CURTIN - Yes, but I know of hundreds of cases in which there is no need for the payment of the subsidy.

Mr Prowse - It is paid to the very small people.

Mr CURTIN - It is not limited in any way. I could understand its being limited to persons with comparatively poor holdings or to persons whose average returns are low, but it is applicable to all primary producers, other than wheatgrowers, regardless of needs. The subsidy is payable on fertilizer up to a limit of ten tons. Therefore, if a man in wealthy circumstances purchases 20 tons of fertilizer he gets from the Commonwealth Government a present of £5. That is wrong, and I submit that in committee we should incorporate in the bill a provision to limit the payment of the subsidy to cases in which it is proved that for financial reasons the primary producer is not making the best use of his land.

Mr Prowse - The country gets back more than the cost of the bounty.

Mr CURTIN - The country is, at the present time, getting back an output from some industries which it is far beyond the capacity of the home market to absorb, with the result that the excess production has to be sold in world markets at a price which makes necessary a subsidy to many Australian industries. That seems to be a disease of bounties which can become a serious national malady.

Mr Prowse - Bounties are not nearly so bad as the tariff.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable member for Forrest knows very well that there are poor dairy farmers in his own electorate who are in need of this bounty. I am prepared to give it to them. He also knows, better than I do, that in his electorate there are. wealthy dairy farmers who are in a far better position to do without this bounty than thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth who have no other resources open to them.

Mr Prowse - The Leader of the Opposition may know; I do not.

Mr CURTIN - 1 think that the honorable member does know them. I venture, with great respect, to say that to the degree that he himself has shared in this bounty is evidence of the kind of thing which I do not desire to see continued.

Mr Prowse - I shall not share in this bounty.

Mr CURTIN - Not now, because, so I understand, the honorable gentleman is not now associated with the industry. I am speaking of the past. I regret this personal reference. But there are many areas in the south-west of Victoria, in northern New South Wales, or in Queeusland, where, if subsidies are necessary they are not required by the primary producer who has an assured income. To have encouraged, over a period of years, the use of fertilizer is, I think, justifiable. We have done that. We have continued this bounty for several years and its purpose - to encourage the use of fertilizers - should by now have been accomplished. Hundreds of primary producers have demonstrated that the use of fertilizer increases production and therefore makes the cost of production lower. I understand that the amount involved in this legislation is £250,000.

Mr Thompson - £215,000.

Mr CURTIN - That ^ amount, I gather, is to be spent this year, plus other incidental bounties which will make a great hole in the resources of the Commonwealth. We shall have to call a halt, not only in regard to this measure, hut also in regard to other items of expenditure, in view of what has been said in this House during the present sittings about the dire peril of the nation. I put it to the common sense of honorable members that the primary producers who need this bounty should he given it, but that those who would still buy fertilizer, even if this subsidy were not provided, should not be given it. The maximum payable to each primary producer is limited to £5, but thousands of producers ought to he ashamed to take it at this particular juncture of our national life when taxes have been increased upon the poor and upon the consumers of bread ; when, with- the prospect of allround financial difficulty for this Govern- ment, we are being asked to vote millions of pounds for purposes which cannot be economically reproductive.

Mr Holt - How would the honorable member discriminate in this matter?

Mr CURTIN - A government led by the present Prime Minister conditioned the payment of one bounty by the stipulation that it should not be paid to any one who, in the previous financial year, had a taxable income, which for the purposes of federal taxation meant an income of approximately £400 a year for a man having a wife and two children. Exemptions under the federal income tax legislation are such' that any one having a taxable income is assured of reasonable means of subsistence. I suggest that, in the committee stages of the bill, an amendment imposing some limitation upon the payment of this subsidy should be inserted. Such an amendment would be quite in order, because it would not increase the appropriation. I regret the personal reference to the honorable member for Forrest; it was made under provocation.

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