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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- There is a matter, which I view with grave concern, because it affects very greatly the constituents whom I represent. During the whole of the time in which I have been a member of this Parliament I have noticed frequent pressure and advocacy by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) for the removal of the embargo against the importation of New Zealand potatoes. The honorable gentleman has been very persistent. Some months ago the Lyons Government lifted the embargo against New Zealand potatoes, presumably for one or two reasons. Perhaps, it considered that the price of potatoes in Australia was excessive and that local production could not supply the market, or it may be that the pressure that the honorable member for Parramatta exerted upon the Cabinet and his party was so great that they could not resist it and decided that the embargo should be lifted. Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that the prohibition was lifted. For many years the Australian potato-growers have received disastrously low prices for their crops, even as low as £1 a ton. So low has the market price been that on occasions they have allowed the unemployed or any one else to dig who cared to dig the potatoes to take them away free of charge. In the last potato season, Victoria suffered adverse conditions - I do not know how the other States suffered - and the prices rose to phenomenal heights. That was not necessarily due to a scarcity of potatoes. Possibly that was a factor, but there is conclusive proof that another factor was the operation of speculators, merchants and others who profit on the activities of the farming community. A remedy for that was prevention of speculation. If that action had been taken a rise of price would not have been prevented, but the price would not have risen to an abnormal height. My chief concern at the moment is the hesitancy of the Minister for Commerce (Senator McLeay) to declare the Government's policy in regard to the embargo. I should not he surprised if the Government were to announce either this week or next week, that it proposes to continue the embargo, because it may believe that the lifting of it would affect the chances of its candidates in the "Wilmot byelection. But I am concerned not so much with that as with the possibility that when the by-election is over, the Government will again lift the embargo to the detriment and discouragement of potatofarmers in my electorate and other parts of Australia. . I urge that the Government make an immediate decision that will hold, not for the next two or three weeks, but for so long as the potatogrowers of Australia are able to supply this country's needs. I am satisfied that during the period of alleged scarcity, ample supplies of potatoes have been available from local sources. That is borne out >by the fact that shipments from New Zealand have' been excessively low, not because the growers do not desire to ship potatoes to Australia, but because the Dominion itself has been suffering a potato famine. It is possible, therefore, to visualize a situation in which New Zealand could flood the Australian potato market, to the detriment of our own growers. I take a serious view of this matter because I have been a potato-grower and know the adversities and market fluctuations that the growers suffer. There is need for stabilization of the potato market. When prices rise, growers do no more than recoup themselves for the losses they have sustained in times of adversity. I hope, therefore, that the Government's decision on this matter will be for the maintenance of the embargo, not until the Wilmot by-election is over, but for sufficiently long .a period to encourage the Australian growers to produce as much of this useful and nutritive product as the community needs.

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