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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- I almost regret that this motion has been brought forward to-day, because of the promise made .by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) of government assistance to the wheat industry. There is not the slightest doubt as to the vital importance of this great industry to Australia, and its position should be considered more from a national than from a political point of view, and it is a pity that such political animosity should be shown when we have the promise of a stabilization scheme. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Green) has referred to the demand for a compulsory pool, but he knows quite well that this Parliament has no power to pass the legislation that would be necessary for the establishment of such an organization. At the meeting of the Agricultural Council two years ago, Mr. Troy, the Labour Minister for Agriculture in Western Australia, expressed disapproval of a compulsory pool and said that he was not aware whether 'the Labour party in that State was in favour of that principle. 'So far it has not publicly stated that it favoured a compulsory pool. This problem so vitally affects many of my constituents and wheat farmers throughout Australia, that every effort should be made to place the industry on a sound basis. A strong case can be advanced in favour of assisting the wheat industry to the same extent as the secondary industries are protected under the tariff. It was stated at the Rome conference that almost every country realized that the welfare of the nation depended entirely on the prosperity of its farmers; and this equally applies to Australia.

Whilst I welcome the promise that the present Government will bring forward a measure for the stabilization of the industry, I impress upon it the necessity to do something to keep the farmers on the land. In Western Australia we cannot afford to lose them, because we are entirely dependent upon the export of primary products. If Australia is a selfcontained country, as the people of the East imagine it to be, why did the great depression of 1930 occur? If the policy adopted from 1920 onwards were good for this country, there should have been no depression. It was the great fall in export values that 'brought about that unhappy result. In the four years ended 1929 our exports were valued at approximately £150,000,000 per annum. That is, as those exports left Australia creditswere established to the value of £150,000,000 which, in the volume of its circulation, would mean a circulation of from £500,000,000 to £600,000,000. But in the following four years, ending 1933, exports fell on an average by £52,000,000, thus seriously curtailing the spending power of the people and creating unemployment and distress. During the next four years our exports again increased in values bringing back some semblance of the prosperity of 1925-29. These facts should impress the Government with the need for placing the two great export industries, wheat and wool, upon a payable basis.

I had felt disposed to ask questions in this House concerning the Government's intentions regarding the wheat industry, but I did not do so in view of the promise made by the Prime Minister. No State has suffered more during the last six years than has Western Australia, and no constituency has been hit harder than mine. Thousands of farmers are suffering, and many have been forced off their holdings. Some are bankrupt and others are hoping against hope. Throughout the pastoral districts in the north-western portion of Western Australia land-holders have experienced no rainfall of any consequence for over five years. It would be deplorable if areas capable of producing wealth were abandoned, and I am hopeful that further efforts will be made to assist those who have suffered severely during the drought period. These men are the best kind of settlers any country could have, because they have been prepared to take risks. I hope that legislation to stabilize the wheat industry will be brought forward at an early date, and that it will prove acceptable, not only to the Government and its supporters, but also to the wheat-growers themselves.

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