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Friday, 6 March 1942


Mr MARWICK (Swan) .- I u rge upon the Government the need for an immediatepronouncement of policy concerning the wheat industry in relation to the coming season. Farmers are within a fortnight of seeding operations in certain States and it is imperative that they should know within a few days where they stand. In making this request I assure the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) that I am actuated by a desire to be helpful and not critical. The honorable gentleman has been very good in his correspondence with me. Nevertheless, the policy of the Government has not yet been declared, and the position is becoming more serious every day. I realize that difficulties face the Government in providing for the shipment of our wheat overseas and in providing storage for wheat in Australia. I realize, also, the necessity for some restriction of acreage. It has been recognized throughout Australia for some time that restrictions would be necessary, but every body interested in the industry is of opinion that any restrictive measure? should be on an equitable basis. The wheat-growers of Australia are prepared to make any necessary sacrifice, provided that the sacrifice is equally shared by farmers throughout the Commonwealth. There must be no differentiation between States. The Government's policy must be based on equal justice for all. I have heard it suggested within this building, and we all know that statements appeared in the press some time ago, that it was proposed to restrict the wheat acreage of Western Australia and South Australia by 66 per cent., which, it was calculated, would reduce the wheat production of Australia to about 100,000,000 bushels. I fail to see how the Government, can constitutionally differentiate between States in this matter. Any restriction of acreage should apply equally in all States. I hope that a definite pronouncement will be made without delay. Any differentiation would undoubtedly have inequitable effects. It would be impossible, for example, to measure the degree of compensation that should be provided for farmers who were prevented from sowing their usual acreage. It is probable that at the conclusion of hostilities there will bea very large quantity of wheat stored in Australia, which mightbe disposed of subsequently at a high price.This might easily be most advantageousto farmers who remained in full production and disadvantageous to farmers who were compelled to restrict their acreage. I appreciate the difficulties that have faced the

Minister for Commerce in dealing with these subjects. He has made three public statements since January, as the position of the industry has become more desperate. It has been suggested that the restriction should apply only to farmers sowing more than 300 acres. The fact that a man sows only a small acreage of wheat should not be regarded as conclusive evidence that he is a "small" farmer. Quite a number of big farmers grow only a limited quantity of wheat. This is necessary, in some areas, in order to sweeten the soil. A restriction of acreage such as has been proposed would be seriously detrimental to Western Australia. The following table based on statistics in the Commonwealth Year Rook is self-explanatory: -

 

It will be seen that on the average every Western Australian farmer puts about 100 acres more under wheat than do the farmers of the other States. The farmers in my State rely for their livelihood more than do the farmers of other States on their return from wheat production. I hope that the Minister will bear this important fact in mind. It would be a distinct disadvantage to Western Australia and South Australia to apply a 66 per cent, reduction. I am aware that the Ministers for Agriculture in Western Australia and South Australia have been in conference with the Minister for Commerce on this subject, and I know well that Mr. Wise knows the position of the industry in his State thoroughly. Doubtless he will have done his best to see that fair treatment is accorded to Western Australia. There has been a considerable volume of loose talk in regard to the storage of wheat, and the wheat position ' generally, in Western Australia. Much of it is of a commercial nature. I say very deliberately that certain interests in Australia have done their utmost to damn the bulk system which operates in Western Australia, for fear that it may be introduced in other States and, as a consequence, their livelihood destroyed. I refer particularly to representatives of jute merchants. It is interesting to note that the first criticism, levelled against the storage of wheat in; Western Australia came from those representatives on the Australian Wheat Board. That body paid a visit toWestern Australia, and commented very adversely on a stack of wheat in a particular area. I admit that the weevils are bad in that area. They are prevalent wherever wheat is stored for any length of time. It is impossible completely to destroy the weevil, but it is not impossible to mitigate its ravages. The position in that particular locality was mentioned in order to draw attention to what might become a major calamity in the wheat-growing industry of Western Australia. Yet, when that wheat was shifted only 0.32 per cent, of it was found not to be unliable; the balance of the contents of the bin was firstclass millable wheat. That gives the lie direct to the vested interests that have done their utmost during the last six oieight months to damn the scheme that has been operating in Western Australia. It will be readily realized that if the system were introduced in South Australia, and, also, in Victoria, a few jute merchants would have to look for now jobs. Even in the Canberra Times, a week or so ago, I read an article condemning the system adopted for the storage of wheat in Western Australia. A lot of the criticism is political, and most of it is from vested interests; consequently, it must be accepted with the greatest reserve by representatives of the Government. Recently the Minister, or the Government, saw fit to send the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) to Western Australia in order to investigate the position. I am not able to appraise the qualifications of the honorable member for such a task, but I say quite definitely that during the fortnight which the Assistant Minister for

Commerce spent in Western Australia he could have co-opted the services of every Western Australian member of this Parliament, at no expense to the country and at no inconvenience such as is caused to those who have to wait weeks for accommodation on the trans-Australian railway. At the request, I think, of the Prime Minister, in order to conserve finance for war needs, several parliamentary committees reversed the decision to pay visits to Western Australia. I strongly protested against the sending of the honorable member for Wimmera. If the Government did not care to ask members from Western Australia to do the job, it could have entrusted the task to representatives of the Australian Wheat Board, or to State officials. If these were not considered good enough, the investigation could have been undertaken by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. I understand that an officer of that body has been investigating the problem for quite a while, and believes that the weevil can be kept under control. As a matter of fact, it is the wheat-borer and. not the weevil which is doing the greatest damage, although the ultimate result is certainly the same. I warn the Minister to view with caution the reports that are made regularly by interests whose object is a selfish one, and who do not desire to help either the wheat-grower, or the Government in its storage problem. I do not know what policy has been evolved, but I sincerely hope that it will be made public very shortly; because it is necessary for the wheat-growers to make arrangements in respect of superphosphate. Everywhere throughout Australia, good wheat-growers are cultivating fallow, which is costly; and greater cost is incurred in the making of a decent seed bed in which to plant the wheat. I appeal to the Minister to make a pronouncement as early as possible. There is the utmost confusion in the wheatgrowing districts to-day because of the conflicting statements that have been made. When the honorable member for Wimmera reached Port Augusta on the return journey, he stated that he thought he would make to the Government a recommendation that would be acceptable and would solve the problem. I do not know that his qualifications are higher than those that are possessed by other honorable members who have been engaged in the industry. My one object is to get a final report as the result of the conferences held by the Minister, so that the wheat-growers will know where they stand, and whether they are to continue producing or are to go out of production.







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