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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . I see in this bill an old friend, because in happier circumstances I might have introduced it. The Government has done a fair thing in fixing the bounty on superphosphate at 25s. a ton. I am fully aware that the Government of New Zealand bears the whole of the increased cost, but I expect that the troubles of the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) were similar to my own. All Treasurers, regardless of the party to which they belong, cling as tenaciously to money as some people cling to their wisdom teeth. Ministers experience the utmost difficulty in prevailing Upon them to make money available for various purposes. The bounty of 25s. a ton is the best that we can hope for at the present time.

Like other honorable members who have spoken on this bill, I desire to emphasize the absolute dependence of Australian soils upon the application of adequate supplies of superphosphate. During the last 40 years the fertility of the eastern soils of New South Wales has decreased by from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent. Now, that fertility is being restored by the use of superphosphate. If the fertilizer be not made available in adequate quantities, the soils will begin to deteriorate.

The Minister mentioned, as a matter of interest to honorable members, that the recent meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council unanimously adopted a scheme submitted by the Department of Commerce for rationing supplies of superphosphate. The plan is based upon the use by each producer of 65 per cent, of the quantity of superphosphate used during the year 1939-40. In my opinion, it would be more equitable if the ration were determined on the hase year 1940-41. Many settlers have been carrying on a continuous programme of pasture, improvement and the laying clown of pastures, and their requirements of superphosphate have progressively increased. If their requirements be reduced upon the basis of the year 1939-40, they will suffer a substantially heavier rationing pro rata than other people who put down their pastures years ago. Even if the alteration of the base year entails a decrease of the 65 per cent, by a decimal, the suggestion is worthy of adoption. In addition to being appreciated by users of superphosphate, it would enable areas which were laid down in that year to be preserved, instead of deteriorating to natural pasture. This is not a big matter, and I feel confident that if the Minister discusses it with the department, means can be found for adopting the proposal.

I was pleased to notice that the Minister intends to establish a reserve so as to enable special crops, such as flax and vegetables for canning, to receive special attention. Anxiety has been expressed by growers of beans for canning, in the northern areas of New South Wales, that the system of rationing might inflict hardship upon them, but I know that the Minister, during the last two or three weeks, has allayed their fears. The new special crops which we are growing may play an important part in Australia's future agricultural development. The more we diversify our crops the greater will be the safety of our primary producers. Hitherto we have worked within a very narrow orbit. The reserve of 5 per cent, of manufacturers' stocks of superphosphate will do much to enable the continued production of those special crops. I congratulate the Minister upon having introduced this bill. The Government could not be expected to carry the whole of the burden of the increased cost of superphosphate, but I hope that it will accept the burden of further rises because the position of the user is becoming increasingly difficult. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research should be asked to make a thorough investigation of any available supplies of phosphatic rock in Australia, or in neighbouring islands, especially the Abrolhos islands off the north-west coast. In the past a great deal of superphosphate has been manufactured from phosphatic rock taken from those islands. It would be much better to exploit Australian resources to the full than to send to the Red Sea and other distant places for supplies. I hope that this bill will go through quickly and that the primary producers will not receive less superphosphate than it envisages that they will receive next year.

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