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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Mr GUY (Wilmot) .- I associate myself with the remarks of the honorable member for Darwin (Sir George Bell). It is a fact that State Ministers in Tasmania have announced certain Federal Cabinet decisions whilst federal members have been left in ignorance of the subject. Members of the Commonwealth Parliament should be taken into the confidence of federal Ministers to a greater degree than has been done in the past. Recently a State Minister announced that a flax-retting mill was to be established in Tasmania and that a Pea Board was to be constituted. I am satisfied that the confusion and misunderstanding concerning blue peas was caused largely by the failure of the Department of Commerce to keep federal members fully informed on the subject, although the information was supplied to State Ministers. Recently, a member of the Tasmanian Parliament was appointed to administer a federal office in that State. Such appointments savour of partisan administration, because most of the appointees belong to the same political party as the Government.

Mr Frost - Has there not been a controversy in the press recently between the Premier of Tasmania, the honorable member, and the State Minister of Agriculture ?

Mr GUY - There has been a controversy with the Premier of Tasmania,

Mr. Cosgrove,about another subject altogether, namely, the appointment of a State Minister to the mainland.

Mr Frost - The honorable member came off second best, and he is now attempting to continue the controversy in this House, where the Premier of Tasmania cannot reply.

Mr GUY - Federal members in Tasmania who were present at a conference held in Launceston can bear out the correctness of my statement that Mr. Cosgrove informed us that his Minister would have access to theCommonwealth Cabinet. In order that the public might be in a position to ascertain whether the expense involved is commensurate with any doubtful advantages to be obtained, I challenged Mr. Cosgrove to publish the total expenses directly and indirectly involved in the visit of the Minister for Agriculture to Canberra with a retinue of officers who recently travelled between Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Hobart. I wanted to know what aeroplane, railway and steamer fares were paid for the visiting officials, but, so far, the challenge has not been accepted. The Minister for Repatriation has alleged that I came off second best in the argument.

Mr Frost - The honorable member did come off second best, and that is why he is now speaking on the subject in this House.

Mr GUY - The people of Tasmania definitely say that Mr. Cosgrove is in the wrong. He misled the people in that State when he said that the Prime Minister had requested the appointment of a Tasmanian Minister to come to Canberra. The right honorable gentleman has denied that statement, both in this House and in a letter to me. The Minister for Repatriation cannot have it both ways. Does he accept the statement of the Premier of Tasmania or that of the Prime Minister? The blue pea position in Tasmania is most unsatisfactory. Rightly or wrongly, the Commonwealth Government has been accused of repudiating an implied contract alleged to have been referred to by the Department of Commerce when it wrote to the Tasmanian Government indicating that growers of blue peas would receive approximately £11s. a bushel fortheir product. Instead of honoring that promise the Commonwealth Government referred the whole matter to the Prices Commissioner. In doing so it made a serious mistake. The promise undoubtedly implied a contract for this year.

Mr Conelan - How much have the growers received this year?

Mr GUY - They have received 12s. a bushel to date. Price (fixation is a commendable practice in relation to secondary industries, because production costs are ascertainable almost to a fraction; but that is not the case in rural industries. In many classes of primary production it is impossible to ascertain exact costs, and very difficult to ascertain even approximate costs. It is impossible accurately to assess costs on any two farms because of wide divergences of climatic conditions, soil fertility, labour availability, and even land contours. Unpredictable emergencies in relation to seasons, bush fires, floods, pest infestation, and other things affect costs. The underlying principle of price fixation in secondary industries, namely, the ascertainment of production costs, cannot be applied to primary industries. The cost of production of peas has increased greatly. Of the ascertainable costs, wages have increased twice since the beginning of the war, threshing costs have increased from ls. 3d. to ls. 5d. a bushel, and seed now costs 30s. a bushel. If insufficient supplies of superphosphate are available production costs increase enormously, because it becomes necessary to cultivate twice as much land in order to obtain the same yield of peas, and this involves double charges.

The Government is asking primary producers to increase their production of vegetables, including potatoes and peas, and also of flax, but it will be impossible to secure even last year's volume of production without additional manpower. Many men who were engaged in primary production in Tasmania last year have been called up for military service. Unless something he done quickly to meet the man-power shortage, numbers of farmers will have to leave their farms, and the land will revert to its natural condition. The production of vegetables requires a great deal of labour, and, obviously, vegetable production will not increase unless men become available to do the work. Increased production costs, and the raw deal that the primary producers are receiving, militate greatly against progress. This is so in Tasmania, and 1 have no doubt that it is so in other States.

Many blue-pea producers contracted to sell their crop this year to private merchants at £1 ls. a bushel, but the Government, by its compulsory acquisition scheme, not only compelled the growers to break their contracts, but also involved them in a loss of 6s. a bushel for it paid only 15s. a bushel. It is reported, whether accurately I cannot say, that 8,000 bags of blue peas have been landed in Australia recently from New Zealand and are being sold privately at 28s. 6d. a bushel.

The position of the potato-growing industry also requires consideration. A few years ago, because of big yields in the potato-growing districts, a glut of potatoes occurred in the market. Prices fell and the growers lost heavily. No suggestion was made at that time that the Prices Commissioner should fix a minimum price for potatoes in order to preserve the interests of the growers. The industry was allowed to drift towards bankruptcy. In the following season a shortage of supplies occurred and high prices ruled. In that period, when the growers might have expected to recoup their losses, the services of the Prices Commissioner were invoked and maximum prices were fixed for potatoes. If a maximum price may be fixed when supplies are short, why may not a minimum price be fixed when supplies are abundant? The one procedure is surely the natural corollary of the other. The Government is now rightly urging growers to increase their area under potatoes, and, as an inducement, has offered to fix a guaranteed price for potatoes. The growers wish to know whether the Prices Commissioner will be invited to fix the price, and whether the amount fixed will be reasonable in view of all the circumstances of the case. Remembering the failure of the Government to honour itf implied agreement to pay £1 ls. a bushel for blue peas this year, the potato-growers are naturally chary about accepting an undertaking that a satisfactory price will be fixed for potatoes. It is surely not too much to ask, at the beginning of the season, that a definite price shall be assured to the growers. As the blue-pea growers and primary producers generally have had such a raw deal, a general desire has been expressed for a definite agreement in respect of potatoes.

Reverting to the blue-pea position, I point out that although the crop was acquired at 15s. a bushel and certain growers delivered their peas to government stores as early as last February, they had not received payment up to the end of last week. I wish to be fair to the Minister for Commerce. He promised me last week that payment would be expedited. Therefore I hope that the growers will receive their cheques within a few hours. However, when the cheques are paid they will be on the basis of only 12s. a bushel, and not 15s. a bushel as promised.

Mr Scully - The honorable member must realize that the 12s. is a first advance.

Mr GUY - That may be so, but it is contrary to all business practice to pay 12s. as a first advance and to withhold the remaining 3s. Why is that amount being withheld? The payment on delivery and grading at the stores is 12s. a bushel for first-grade peas, and 10s. a bushel for f.a.q. The final payment of 3s. a bushel is not to be made until after a second inspection. What does that imply? The peas may remain in the stores for months awaiting shipment. During that period they may deteriorate because of dampness, rat infestation, and other causes. On the second inspection first-grade peas may be regraded as f.a.q. Who will bear the loss in such a case?

Mr Scully - The peas have been acquired by the Government, so naturally the growers will not lose.

Mr GUY - I am glad to hear the Minister make that statement, but the growers will be relieved if the Minister will indicate in specific terms that they will not suffer through any deterioration of quality after the peas have been delivered to the pool. Why is the second inspection necessary beforethe growers may be paid the final 3s. a bushel due to them? [Extension of time granted.]

Once the peas are delivered at an authorized government store the Government should surely be responsible for them.

Mr Scully - That is so.

Mr GUY - We often hear government enterprise praised in this House, but if private enterprise conducted its business as this Government has conducted the blue pea acquisition scheme, there would be a public uproar. The farmers desire to know exactly where they stand, and they also desire some assurances in relation to next season's crop. Does the Government intend to acquire the whole of next season's crop? If so, does it intend to pay 15s. a bushel for the peas? If there should be a surplus, what will be paid for the surplus?

I should like the Minister for Commerce to inform me whether the following statement, which was attributed to Senator Aylett in the Tasmanian press on the 1st April last, is correct: -

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