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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr MAHONEY (Denison) .- I associate myself with the protests of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) against interference with the Australian potato market. Recently I discussed this matter with Mr. Cosgrove, Minister for Agriculture in Tasmania, who asked me to say that, up to the end of March, Tasmania had sent a larger quantity of potatoes to the Sydney market than had been sent in any corresponding period in the last ten years. This indicates that there was no cornering of supplies by the Tasmanian growers. The statement that such a course had been adopted was a deliberate untruth, and was made with the object of breaking down the protection which Tas: manian potatoes enjoyed on the Sydney market. Any one who has the slightest knowledge of potato-growing would not think of storing his crop in a pit. I do not know where a pit big enough could he found. Potatoes are shipped to market as quickly as possible after they are dug. Speculators in Sydney formed a big company and gambled on the possibility of the embargo being lifted. They believed that they would be able to purchase stocks in New Zealand at £5 a ton, dump them on the Sydney market at over £20 a ton, and make a big profit; but they " fell in ", because they found that there was no surplus of supplies in New Zealand. Propaganda was then begun to discredit the Tasmanian farmers by charging them with having deliberately withheld supplies. Any one who has been associated with the potato market for years knows that when the Clarence River and Richmond crops fail there is always a valuable market in Sydney for 'Tasmanian potatoes. When I was engaged in the potato-growing industry many years ago, we rejoiced at the failure of the crops in New South Wales because it enabled us to obtain higher prices. Doubtless that was a selfish attitude to adopt. It is a truism that almost invariably when there is a drought in New South Wales, Tasmania - which is blessed with a regular, beautiful climate - can be' depended on to provide a good crop. When it was seen that Tasmania was about to get its rights by having the Sydney market practically to itself, being the only State that could export good potatoes, propaganda was begun. I appeal to the Minister to do justice to the potato growers by not removing the protection after the Wilmot by-election is held to-morrow week. Will the Minister for Health and Social Services declare, on behalf of his colleague, the Minister for Commerce, that the Government will protect the Australian market for at least five years, and in that way give some security to those who are growing potatoes in order to make a living? I trust that the electors of Wilmot will pay particular attention to the representations which have been made by members of the Opposition on. their behalf, and in that way judge who are their real friends. According to a newspaper paragraph, the Minister for Health and Social Services, when a private member, said that the potato growers in Tasmania were cornering the market by storing potatoes in pits, and in that way profiteering at the expense of consumers in Sydney.

Sir Frederick Stewart - The honorable member knows that I have denied that allegation.

Mr MAHONEY - I trust that the statement is not true, and I hope that he will remove the injustice that has been done by him and other political propagandists in New South Wales who are associated with the party to which he belongs. I can recall an occasion when potatoes were being sold at £50 a ton, and there have been other instances when, due to seasonal conditions, prices have been unduly high. It was also stated in the press that Tasmanian potatoes affected with a disease, the name of which I cannot pronounce, were being placed on the Sydney market. This disease which is caused by an excess of water in the ground is sometimes prevalent in certain districts at the end of June when the ground is exceptionally wet. It is found in potatoes grown in soil in which there is a large proportion of clay, but it is not found in potatoes grown in good chocolate soils. A big business man informed me by telegram that a movement was on foot in New South Wales by hig Sydney speculators to get the embargo lifted so that they could purchase potatoes in New Zealand at £4 a ton and sell them at a profit on the Australian market. I do not know whether the Minister was actually responsible for influencing the Government to lift the embargo, but he is credited with being the person responsible. I suppose that we shall not hear anything further on this subject until the results of the Wilmot by-election are known. I feel sure that the former Prime Minister felt the strain imposed upon him by the decision of the Cabinet to lift the embargo, and doubtless that, together with his other heavy responsibilities, had something to do with his untimely death. 1 trust that the Minister will give an assurance that the interests of the Tasmanian potato-growers will be protected for at least five years.

SirFREDERICK STEWART. (Parramatta - Minister for Health and Social

Services) [4.24]. - At- least one statement made by .the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) is undeniably correct, and that is that there has been a lot. of political propaganda in connexion with this subject.

Mr Paterson - Some of it may be termed " impropaganda ".

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