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Friday, 6 March 1942
Page: 289


Mr WILSON (Wimmera) .- 1 did not intend to speak at this stage, but I have been informed that certain references have been made to my visit to Western Australia in connexion with the wheat industry, and I merely wish to make clear certain points in regard to that visit. It has been said that I made certain recommendations to the Government in relation to acreage restriction in Western Australia, South Australia, and possibly other States. I did in fact visit Western Australia and South Australia at the request of the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) in order to make a survey of the wheat position, and in the briefest terms I should like to inform the House of what I found to be the position. In Western Australia to-day wheat production, in terms of present stocks, amounts to an aggregate of approximately 50,000,000 bushels. In South Australia there is somewhat less than that, the figure probably being nearer 30,000,000 bushels. In Western Australia also the infestation by weevils is causing a problem, and I could say a great deal in regard to the matter, but no doubt the report which I have made to the Minister will be made available to honorable members in the near future. Briefly, my views in regard to wheat production are these: We have a wheat surplus which cannot be reduced by means of export for some considerable time because I believe that, even after the war, there will still be a shortage of ships. Therefore, the European countries, in urgent need of foodstuffs at the end of the war, will obtain their requirements in the first instance from places which involve the shortest possible transport. In that respect the continent of America will probably have first call. Therefore I visualize that a considerable time will elapse before we shall be able to clear our stocks of wheat, particularly in Western Australia and South Australia. There is the danger of loss from weevil infestation.. Also, we have to take into consideration the fact that this nation is in a very critical position in regard to its defence. Invasion is threatened and we do not know what the future holds for us from week to week, or even from day to day. It is clear that we must mobilize all the forces at our disposal for the defence of this country. As we are assured of an ample supply of wheat, it is up to us to divert whatever man-power is available to the immediate task of defending the country. In view of the present vast stocks of wheat, to permit normal production' to continue would, it seems to me, be rather a foolish policy. It would be' more sensible to free for more important work in the defence activities of the country, so far as we may, the many young, ablebodied men who are now obliged to stay on the farms, and others who are connected with the production of this commodity, which, to a great degree, has become an embarrassment to the Government. That applies also to other industries. A considerable army of persons is engaged in servicing this industry, and keeping its machines in running order. Here is a large fund of skill, which might well be diverted to the production of requirements of which there is a shortage. If I were administering policy, I should say, " Let us by all means do that which is most needed for the defence of this country". It is not necessary to impose hardship on the farming community. It is well within the power of the Government to afford whatever protection may be needed. If the farmer is to be precluded, either now or in future, from producing the commodity which he must produce in order to meet his commitments and live, 'he must be given protection and compensation. I have said so in the report that I have made. I believe that the production of this commodity should be restricted. I reached that conclusion after surveying the position fully from all points of view. The farmers are most anxious to co-operate in that direction; they, too, take the sensible view. I can understand the view of honorable members on my right, who have suddenly awakened to the need for protecting the farmers.


Mr Badman - We were fighting for them before the honorable gentleman became a member of this House.


Mr WILSON - I have made my view clear, and I believe that it is based on sound premises. The defence of Australia is paramount at the present time. If it be necessary to call a halt to an industry which is producing far in excess of requirements, that is sound policy for the Government to follow. I hope that it will not hesitate to make such a decision when the time to do so arrives.

The revenue derived from the flour tax, a portion of which is allocated to the States for distribution among wheatgrowers on marginal lands, could be much better disbursed if it were made available in the form of an insurance fund for the assistance of growers who, in some parts of the wheat belt, suffer every year in some way from seasonal disabilities.. I hope that when the Australian Agricultural Council next meets it will take this matter into consideration, and that the States will be left more or less to deal with marginal lands, because they were responsible in the first instance for the settling of those areas. The collections made by means of the flour tax should be devoted to the purpose originally intended, in order that men who are doing a really good job may be assisted to remain on their lands. In many cases, it is impossible to define marginal lands, because the question is largely one of marginal settlers. Speaking generally, I repeat that I have not made a recommendation to the Government as to whether or not it should restrict wheat, production.


Mr Badman - The honorable member made a statement in the press.


Mr WILSON - I invite the honorable member to produce any statement made by me which can be regarded as a recommendation to the Government. I surveyed the position, and informed the

Minister of the supplies of wheat and the attitude of the farmers. I am perfectly satisfied that, if my views were in accordance with those of honorable members who have been interjecting, they would not be acceptable to the wheatgrowers. I have no doubt that the Minister will make the position clear from the standpoint of himself and the Government.







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