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Friday, 6 March 1942

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (Minister for Commerce) . - The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has asked me to inform the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Perkins) that an immediate investigation will be made into the matters relating to the Goulburn hospital raised by the honorable member.

With regard to the debate on the wheat industry opened by the honorable, member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) this afternoon, I should like to express appreciation of the temperate language used, and the -useful suggestion made, by all honorable members with one exception. The attack was aimed chiefly at the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) because of the fact that I, as Minister for Commerce, directed that honorable member to report on the wheat storage position and weevil infestation in Western Australia, a matter of vital importance to the Department of Commerce and to the Government. I have been considerably alarmed by the conflicting reports received. Previously I had made an investigation through different channels, but no two stories were alike, and in order to get a complete find accurate picture, I decided to appoint some one of outstanding ability who had ;i thorough knowledge of the wheat industry in Australia to make an investigation. Without hesitation I chose the honorable member for Wimmera, because I was convinced that he would be able to present a clear statement of the position. To assist the honorable member I sent a wheat expert from the Department of Commerce with him. When the honorable member returned he presented me with a report for which he is deserving of the highest commendation. The report is an excellent one, and it confirms a previous report submitted to me by Mr. Wilson, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. I assure honorable members that weevil infestation in Western Australia is a very serious matter indeed. I shall quote a paragraph from the report prepared for me by Mr. Wilson, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research -

Without doubt the weevil problem in Western Australia is already serious. At Geraldton and Fremantle there are already vast weevil and lesser grain borer infestations in the bulkheads, and no means are available for dealing with the rapidly growing populations. One has only to see the No. 1 bulkhead at Geraldton, where, after less than a year's storage, there is n heavy 18-in. surface infestation, and the even more severe infestations in the Government Store and C.O.R. bulkheads at Fremantle after eighteen months of storage, to become convinced of this.

Mr. Wilsoncontinues in a similar strain, but what I have read is sufficient to indicate the seriousness of the wheat storage position in Western Australia. The Government is just as concerned with the future of the wheat industry in Australia as are honorable members oppo site, and I give an assurance that acreage restriction was considered only after much deliberation, research, and a number of conferences with various authorities. As a result of these activities we arrived at certain definite proposals to place before the respective State governments. It was never our intention to make a definite decision on any proposal involving restriction of acreage without taking the State governments concerned into our confidence, and it was with that object in view that we invited representatives of the two States in which wo thought it advisable to carry out investigations, to come to Canberra and confer with officials of my department, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and myself on this all-important matter. We submitted certain proposals to these representatives and asked them to give us a complete picture of the position in their respective States. After lengthy deliberation, especially in Western Australia, opposition to any drastic restriction was expressed by the Minister for Agriculture of that State. He said that from the point of view of State economy, he advised no restriction of acreage. A similar attitude was adopted by the South Australian Minister of Agriculture. These gentlemen put before us arguments which were very much the same as those advanced by honorable members this afternoon. We informed the Governments of Western Australia and South Australia that proportionate compensation would be paid for any restriction of acreage. During the past few months new applications have been made to me by various wheat-growers' organizations for a restriction of acreage in those two States, particularly Western Australia. Letters wore written to the Commerce Department by these organizations. One letter came from the man who is head of the Western Australian Farmers Cooperative Organization, and who is also a member of the Wheat Board, advising the Government to make drastic restrictions in wheat acreage in Western Australia. The following is an extract from that letter: -

In view of this position I really feel some much more drastic steps should be taken 1" curtail acreages, even though such policy varies as between State and State. Bearing in mind the fact that supers essential to wheat production will be very costly and, what is more important, rationed to, say, 50 or 60 per rent., acreage reduction is demanded to h far greater extent than that envisaged by the present stabilization based on normal acreages. I would also like you to bear in mind that farmers"" sons and other labourers are needed for national service, many of whom have already left the farms.

Looking at all these facts, does it not appear that the best national policy to fit present circumstances would be to enact (or offer) that to meet the grave storage problem in Western Australia, and possibly South Australia too, farmers should only crop one acre out of four acres allotted on the present stabilization quota. It would be necessary, of course, to recompense the farmers for throwing out of cultivation three-fourths of their cropping area, and this could bo done by paying, say, 1 2s. per acre on each of the three acres thrown out.

Similar letters nave been received from other organizations. Figures supplied by the Australian Wheat Board show that, at the end of 1942, there will be a carryover of 22,500,000 bushels in New South Wales, 29,500,000 bushels in Victoria, J4,250,000 bushels in South Australia, and 42,250,000 bushels in Western Australia, a total of 128,500,000 bushels. How cun it be thought that the Government was not concerned with the economy of Australia as a whole when it placed its proposals before the respective States? As the Prime Minister and I have said, State economy must be considered ; therefore, invitations were issued to representatives of the States to take part in a conference, and deliberations were held, as the result of which I shall resubmit the matter to Cabinet. I hope to be able to make, at an early date, a pronouncement which I think will be satisfactory. Consultations between the Wheat Stabilization Board, departmental officials, and representatives of the Australian Wheat Board have resulted in a basis of compensation being reached in the event of restriction being imposed. The determination was that ls. a bushel should be paid on the zone system. On that basis, areas with an average of 15 bushels to the acre would be paid 15s. an acre, and other areas in which the average is 21 or 22 bushels would receive more than ?1 an acre. When I placed that proposal before honorable members, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) mentioned the cost of preparing a firstclass fallow in which to sow wheat. My reply was, "You say that it would cost much more than the amount fixed. The Government will go so far as to compensate the grower up to the estimated cost of the preparation of the fallow." Then the matter of superphosphate was raised. I replied, " The Government will also meet you in that matter. If you have excess superphosphate on hand, the Government will purchase it from you."

Mr. Batman.; What about the pickled wheat ?

Mr SCULLY - I made the definite offer to take, at cost price, the whole of the pickled wheat that growers had for seed, in order that no hardship would be inflicted upon the growers in the respective States. Every aspect of the wheatgrowing industry was examined. In no circumstances would the Government or I do anything that might prove inimical to the wheat-grower, whatever restrictions were applied. I am a practical wheat-farmer, and I met the growers on their own ground. If any restriction had to be applied, the Government was willing to do the right thing by the respective States : therefore, it ill-becomes any one to say that we would deal harshly with any State, or single one out for specific treatment. I have dealt with the matter on its merits. Furthermore, the aspects placed before me at the conference will be conveyed by me to Cabinet, for final deliberation, which I hope will take place in a few days.

Only one other matter has been consistently raised by members from the wheat-growing States; it relates to the representation of the wheat-growers on the Australian Wheat Board. I have been a member of this Parliament since that board was established, and I have never heard any honorable member opposite, during the tenure of office of governments which they supported, bring any pressure to bear upon the administration to give to the growers representation on the Australian Wheat Board. That pressure had to wait until this Government came into power. Now, although we have been in office for only three months, for the first time in the history of the Australian Wheat Board there is a majority of bona fide representatives of the growers on the board. Further, for the first time in the history of primary production in Australia, there has been placed on every board which has come under review a majority of bona fide representatives of the primary producers. Therefore, why this shedding of crocodile tears about representation on the Australian Wheat Board, and the manner in which representatives have been selected? In all the years duringwhich honorable members opposite had an opportunity to give effect to a policy suitable to the whole of the wheatgrowing industry throughout Australia, they failed to take definite action in that direction.

I believe that I have said sufficient to make the people of Australia realize that if any restriction is applied it will be as equitable as possible, and that we are as solicitous of the welfare of the individual States and of the wheat-growers as it is humanly possible to be. I speak as the representative of the primary producing section of the Government when I say that in no circumstances and at no time will it tolerate any injustice being done to any State or any section of primary production.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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