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Wednesday, 7 December 1938

Mr THOMPSON (New EnglandAssistant Minister) (1:57 AM) . - in reply - Honorable members who oppose this measure do so. on two main grounds; first, because they object to the lack of discrimination in the distribution of the subsidy as between farmers with small incomes and those with large incomes; and, secondly, because they contend that the present financial position does not justify the making of so large a contribution as £215,000 for this purpose. It' is true that our financial position is such as to warrant a very close examination of any proposal for the payment of a subsidy of this kind; but I remind honorable members that this subsidy has been in existence for several years. It was first introduced, I think, by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) when he was Minister for Commerce. It- was included in the budget proposals introduced early in September, and at that time the defence position was not anything like so serious at is it to-day. Quite possibly had the position been as serious then as it is to-day the Government would have reconsidered the continuation of this subsidy for this financial year. However, as the Government committed itself in the budget to the payment of the subsidy, it proposes to go ahead with it. I have not the slightest doubt that if the financial position fails to improve, the matter will be reconsidered next year. Any refusal on the part of the Government at this stage to provide the subsidy would be a breach of faith on the part of not only the Government but also this Parliament towards those who have been receiving this assistance for the last four or five years.

There is a good deal to be said in favour of excluding those who can well afford to pay for their own fertilizer. The Government would give serious consideration to an amend ment designed for that purpose, but for the fact that it would be practically impossible to apply such discrimination. Altogether there are about 100,000 applicants for this subsidy, and every application would have to be closely investigated by departmental officers. Some years ago, an attempt was made to prevent so-called wealthy wheat-growers from participating in the wheat bounty, but it was found to be so difficult in practice th'at Parliament decided not to persevere with the experiment. That is why there is no such provision in this bill. It is not that the Government is so sympathetic with the well-to-do; it is that discrimination in the manner suggested would be difficult and costly. Only a very small percentage of persons, would be affected. I am informed that about 95 per cent, of the applicants for this subsidy can be classed as small or poor farmers. There seems to be little reason, therefore, for objecting to the bill on this ground.

Most of the fertilizers upon which the subsidy has been paid have been used for the improvement of pastures by topdressing. Other purposes for which the fertilizers were used were for growing fodder crops, fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, lucerne, maize, oats, millet, barley, rye, tobacco, sugar-cane, hops and rice. It will be seen, therefore, that the subsidy is paid in respect of a large number of valuable cereal crops of great importance in the primary-produce ing economy of Australia. It is desirable to pay this subsidy on fertilizers, not necessarily because the recipients are hard up, but because the farmers need to be educated into putting something back into the land which, for many years, has been steadily denuded of its fertility.

The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) suggested that the bounty should be paid upon the manurial content of superphosphate. That proposal was carefully investigated by the Department of Commerce, and by agricultural experts in the various States, but it was found impossible to arrive at a unit of calculation, and the proposal was abandoned.

I appeal to honorable members to support the bill. Next year, the scheme will be reviewed, not necessarily with a view to discontinuing the subsidy, but in order to ascertain what value the Commonwealth is receiving from the money expended.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 - (1.) The amount which may be paid under the last preceding section to any State shall be such as represents payments made by the State to primary producers in respect of the production of primary produce, other than wheat, in that State, at the rate of Ten shillings for each ton of artificial manure used, during the year ending the thirtieth day of Tune, One thousand nine hundred and thirtynine, in that State by primary producers in respect of that production:

Provided that, in calculating the amount which may be paid to a State under this subsection in respect of artificial manure used by any primary producers during that year -

(a)   any artificial manure in excess of ten tons used by that primary producer shall be excluded: and

(b)   fractions of a ton less than one-half of a ton shall be excluded, and fractions of a ton greater than one-halt of a ton shall be excluded to the extent by which they exceed one half of a ton.

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