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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) (Minister for Supplyand Development) . - in reply- References have been made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. McLeod) to the necessity for a careful supervision of the food problems of Australia. The circumstances referred to by the honorable members are already under the notice of the Government. For some weeks, the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) and I have been giving attention to the necessity to ensure adequate supplies of foodstuffs for members of the fighting forces. We are well aware of the need for bringing plans into operation without delay to prevent an acute situation arising in the immediate future. A foodstuffs controller for the Commonwealth ha? been appointed, and deputy controllers are being appointed in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. In the various States advisory committees are being established of which the State Ministers of Agriculture have agreed to act as chairman. The job of these committees will be to help in every way possible to ensure the development and expansion of food supplies, and to advise on ways and means to achieve that end. The Government is of the opinion that the matter is well in hand. Hitherto our chief concern has been to grow large quantities of wheat, oats, barley and other grain. Too little attention probably, has been paid to what have been regarded as the less important items of primary production, particularly vegetables. For that reason, a serious shortage of vegetables has developed in the last few months, contributed to, no doubt, by drought conditions and inadequate water supplies. The Government is mindful of the need to increase vegetable supplies, not only because of the larger quantities that will be needed for men of our own fighting services and the American troops already in Australia, and those due to arrive, but also for civil consumption. I a.m well aware that man-power difficulties will have tobe overcome on the production side, and this aspect is now receiving the closest attention. As the honorable member for Wannon pointed out, the provision of adequate supplies of foodstuffs is just as important as is the manufacture of munitions and the supply of war equipment generally. The Government proposes to encourage an increased production of foodstuffs by guaranteeing markets for future production, not only for this year and next year, but for the following year. Also prices will be guaranteed.

Mr Anthony - That is for specific foodstuffs.

Mr BEASLEY - Yes, for potatoes in Western Australia, for example. It is important, too, that attention shall be given to the canning of foodstuffs. This is one of the matters that will be referred to the advisory committees, which will co-opt canners in order to obtain their advice. I am confident that the whole matter is now receiving attention. I want the honorable member for Richmond to know that we are mindful of the position. I. appreciate the manner in which he has approached the subject, and the fact that he has drawn attention to it. It is good to see that he realizes the urgency of the problem. The example that he has set will encourage others who can help in this regard in various parts of the State, to come forward with suggestions which the Government may be able to adopt for assisting development. I am sure that I express the view of the Minister for Commerce when T say that it will be the policy and purpose of the Government to give assistance in every way, in order to encourage the production of vital foodstuffs which we now need and shall need in greater measure as time goes on.

Mr Anthony - The urgency of the matter arises from the fact that practically the whole of the man-power has been withdrawn, and what is left is still being withdrawn.

Mr BEASLEY - The honorable member emphasized that point. We shall make it an issue with our colleagues who are handling the matter.

In connexion with the shortage of meat, it was necessary for me to arrange last week for the transfer of 1,000 tons from Queensland to Western Australia in order to meet very urgent and pressing defence needs.

Sir GEORGE Bell - The circumstances were most extraordinary last week.

Mr BEASLEY - That is so. The point that I make, however, is that the action I was obliged to take indicates the need for planning on a Commonwealth basis, with interchange of commodities in order to balance shortage against excess supplies. That principle was applied also in connexion with butter. As troops have to be moved from point to point, it is hoped that the organization that I have suggested will be able to cope with the problem.

The honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell) has said that the growers of blue peas in Tasmania are dissatisfied with the offer of 15s. a bushel for their crop; they regard it as inadequate to meet the costs of production. The Minister for Commerce has handled this matter primarily, although I have been interested in it in relation to purchases for defence purposes, totalling 5,000 or 6,000 tons of peas; in fact the total crop of the Tasmanian growers was needed. The history of the matter is not quite as the honorable member has related it. A price of 21s. was not guaranteed. When it became known that almost the entire crop of blue peas in Tasmania was needed for defence purposes, the growers themselves suggested that a pool be established for the handling of the product, the idea being to eliminate charges which middlemen would impose, amounting in some instances to between 4s. and 5s. a bushel. We met their wishes in that regard. At about that time, a suggested offer from the British Government to purchase 1,000 tons at 20s. 6d. a bushel was discussed with the Department of Commerce. Because of shipping difficulties, the ability to deliver 1,000 tons to the British Ministry for Food could not really be established. Doubtless the growers, having this prospective sale in mind, consider that if they could have disposed of their peas on the British market, they might have been able to obtain the price that was then discussed. In order to protect the blue-pea growers of Tasmania in regard to future crops, I have guaranteed to take from them next year 6,000 tons at 15s. a bushel. The Government considers that it is ensuring to them a market for their crop, and that that will be an incentive to them to continue, because they will know what price will be available to them. If the matter is viewed in the light of fairness, it will be admitted that their position is being reasonably met.

Sir George Bell - It is stated that there has been breach of faith, and that there was a promise of 20s. 6d.

Mr BEASLEY -That is the story. A particular grower, or a number of growers, may have gained certain impressions. It was never actually established that the sale of a certain parcel to the British Ministry of Food, at a price of 20s. 6d., could have been consummated. Such a sale was mooted, but that is as far as it really went. The price of the crop then became a problem for determination by the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, and he fixed a price of 15s. a bushel. I hope that the guarantee of a purchase of 6,000 tons next year will not be interpreted by the blue pea-growers either in Tasmania or elsewhere as a suggestion that the crop should be limited to 6,000 tons, because there are civilian needs which will have to he met in addition to the requirements of the defence forces.

Sir George Bell - Civilian needs will not he met out of that 6,000 tons?

Mr BEASLEY - I am guaranteeing to purchase that quantity,but I want them to grow much more, and not to restrict their crops to that figure. It will at least provide them with a foundation, and an opportunity to make provision for the future. There is no more that need be said.

The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) spoke of the internment of fifteen members of the Australia First Movement. This is a matter of which I have no knowledge, but I shall call for the file, read the reports, and see what action the Government is prepared to take.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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