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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Sir GEORGE BELL (Darwin) . - I must complain about the attitude of some Commonwealth Ministers in con sulting people who are not members of this Parliament - State Ministers for example - upon certain policies that they mean to apply. Those people are given information which they pass on to the public whilst we, who are private members of this Parliament, are left in ignorance. That strikes a blow at parliamentary representation whether it be done deliberately - as I suppose it is not - or inadvertently. In order to make my case clear, I shall refer to what has occurred in Tasmania. The Premier determined that a State Minister should be in Canberra for the purpose of co-operating with the Commonwealth Government on many matters in which the State wished to help. I welcomed the attitude of that State. One of the reasons given by the Premier to federal members for his decision was that there were many matters which the Commonwealth Government would wish to place before the State Government, but which it could not tell members of Parliament. He said that the Minister who would be sent to Canberra would have access to the Federal Cabinet. Federal members to whom he announced his decision expressed some surprise. The Tasmanian Minister for Agriculture has, in pursuance of that decision, been in Canberra on many occasions, and it is quite clear from his statements in Tasmania that he has had information supplied to him by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) and, in all probability, the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley), which has been withheld from members of this Parliament. This information has concerned rural industries in which I am especially interested, but it cannot possibly be claimed that the information is of a nature that could not be conveyed to honorable members of this House. For example, the Commonwealth Government has said it is necessary to grow a greater quantity of vegetables, including potatoes. Apparently from what was said in Tasmania by the State Minister for Agriculture, the Commonwealth Government advised him that it was prepared to make contracts a' guaranteed prices for these vegetables if they can be grown in sufficient quantities. Of course, they can he; I have said all along that all that is required is an assured market at reasonable prices. But the Minister for Agriculture has held, in my electorate, meetings to which he has taken some of his colleagues and has told the people there something of what is proposed. What he has said has appeared in the newspapers, and I have been asked by the farmers what the Commonwealth Government means to do. I have been obliged to reply that I have no knowledge of the proposals. One man said, " Why then are you in Parliament ? " and I could not answer that question either. Ministers are courteous to honorable members, but they are treating them with contempt by denying to them information which they give to State Ministers. I have seen no statement naming the price which the Commonwealth Government is prepared to pay for potatoes. I fear that there will be a repetition of the lamentable blue pea position. According to the State Minister for Agriculture, the statement was made on behalf of the Commonwealth last year, that the farmers would be paid 20s. 6d. or 21s. - I am not sure which - a bushel for blue peas. Commonwealth Ministers now deny that such a promise was ever made. The Minister for Supply and Development, replying by interjection to some accusations made by me, said that perhaps one or two farmers had thought that that was the case, but that there had been no contract with the British Government or a promise to pay any price. Nevertheless, that statement was made in Tasmania: There would be no charge of a breach of faith if experienced people had been allowed to handle the blue pea crop, because there would have been no danger of misunderstanding. Precisely the same situation will arise if the potato-growers are induced to grow more potatoes in the expectation of receiving a certain price when, in fact, no price has been specifically guaranteed. The potato-growers demand to know precisely what the Government will pay.Some sort of a tribunal has been set up in connexion with this matter, but I say with all modesty, I hope, that I know very much more about the growing of agricultural products than is known by either the State Minister for Agriculture or this tribunal which has been set up to advise the Government. I do not accuse Ministers of deliberately ignoring honorable members, but they have ignored us, and as the result they have suffered no less than we. If State Ministers or members of Parliament are to be told what the Commonwealth Government inintends to do, the federal members representing the electorates or States concerned should be told simultaneously.

Mr Anthony - That sort of thing is happening all over Australia.

Sir GEORGE BELL - Yes. We bitterly complain. We have not been treated fairly. We cannot help the Government if it does not allow us the opportunity to do so.

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