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Friday, 11 September 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON -I dislike having to raise the subject of the wheat industry at this juncture; but the conditions are so extraordinary, and the proposals of the Government are so novel that I am obliged once more to debate this subject. Two matters call for consideration. First, the absolute failure,or refusal, of the Government tohonour a promise that had been given regarding certain payments for wheat now in No. 5 pool. The undertakings which were given by the Menzies Government were guaranteed by this Parliament in an act passed in December, 1940, and related to payment for wheat delivered to the Government, under compulsion, during this year. The second matter is the failure of the Government to provide adequate compensation forthe coming harvest.

The Ministry has no justification for refusing to honour the promise of its predecessor and it has no right to disregard the law of the land. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully)' has now announced publicly an entirely new scheme for handling the coming harvest. At the outset I remind honorable members that the present crop was sown in accordance with the conditions which were prescribed in the Wheat Acquisition Act, 1940. It was not until after the crop had been sown, and the harvesting season was approaching, that the Minister made an important variation of the plan. As the result of this alteration, many wheat-growers will be hit very hard. I know that the Minister will state in reply that the action of the Government is directed against the " tall poppies ", and that the small growers will benefit. But I remind the honorable gentleman that many ofthe people who will be hit, by the present scheme are those in the marginal areas. Generally speaking, the wheat belt of Australia has experienced one of the best seasons in its history. The Government, by its own action, has decided the acreage to be sown this vear. In fact, the Minister for Commerce has recanted on everything that he has ever said regarding the limitation of acreage, and Western Australia has been singled out for the severe reduction of 331/3 per cent. Having regard to the acreage that was to be sown, the Commonwealth Government has no right to vary the terms of payment. An important variation has been made in the previous scheme, in respect of last year's harvest. An excess of 13,000,000 bushels was produced, almost wholly by New South Wales. Instead of accepting the ownership of that wheat as vesting in the growers, the Government has taken up several conflicting attitudes, according to people who have discussed the matter with the Minister. It appears that the official attitude of the Government is that the 13,000,000 bushels of wheat ceases to be the property of the grower but will be used, on realization by the Government, to help to reimburse the amount of £27,000,000 that the Commonwealth has paid for 140,000,000 bushels of wheat on a basis of 3s. l0d. a bushel. I contend that the Government has no authority, under the Wheat Acquisition Act 1940, to take that course. The intention of the previous Government, and of Parliament, was that the wheat should remain the property of the grower. Steps were to have been taken to ensure that the harvested crop did not exceed 140,000,000 bushels of marketable wheat, by compelling growers to cut hay, where it was necessary to reduce the yield.

Mr Pollard - About 2,000 officials would have been required to police that scheme.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - No doubt the honorable member could have assisted in. his spare time.

Mr Pollard - It was an utterly stupid scheme.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Perhaps we shall hear the views of the honorable member on that; and when it comes to the stupidity of the Government, I say that his long experience in association with the Administration will entitle him to speak. The intention was to reduce the harvest, but the problem did not arise in the year before last, because the marketable surplus, owing to seasonal conditions, was only 65,000,000 bushels.

Even in respect of that wheat, the present Government still owes the growers 3d. a bushel. A clear distinction must be drawn between the handling of wheat pools during the last war and what is being done during the present war. In 1915-19, there was no such thing as a guaranteed price for wheat. The grower bore the risk, but the Government took control of the wheat and, through a board, sold or otherwise disposed of it in any manner that it chose. As soon as proceeds are available they should be paid to the farmers by the Government, but since 1940 that conditionhas not been observed in Australia. There has been a guarantee in respect of all the wheat that has been grown. I say to the Government that it has no right, nor would any other government have any right, to neglect to pay the guaranteed price to the growers after it had undertaken to do so. It is most regrettable that the financial operations of certain pools, in particular, have not been completed and that the Minister should still be holding a considerable sum of money in respect of them. In relation to the 1939-40 pool, for example, I understand that l1/3d. a bushel is due to the farmers, but has not been paid to them.

Mr Scully - Arrangements have already been made for such payments.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am glad to hear the Minister make an official announcement to that effect. In respect of the 1940-41 pool, which contained only about 65,000,000 bushels of wheat, an amount of 3d. a bushel is still due to the growers under the guarantee. In respect of the 1941-42 pool, apart altogether from 13,500,000 bushels in respect of which I do not know where the growers stand, there is a large undetermined sum payable to the growers.

This subject is somewhat delicate in certain respects. There is far too great a tendency on the part of the Minister to meddle with the composition of the Australian Wheat Board. I give him advance information that if certain proposed changes be made in the composition of the board, he will provoke one of the liveliest fights that has been seen in this House. We shall lay it down from this side of the House that a conviction in a court is not a qualification for a person to handle the products of the people. I make this advance statement to the Minister so that if he makes the appointment and alters the composition of the board in the way proposed he will be aware of what is coming to him.

Mr Rankin - A trip to a receiving house is not a qualification either!

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is so.

Mr Pollard - To whom does the conviction refer?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON -We shall talk about the appointment if it is made, and the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) can have hissay on the subject.

Mr Pollard - I could say something about some one else.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - There is a proper course open for the honorablegentleman if he wishes to secure a conviction.

In respect of the wheat industry generally, the Government is acting unwisely. The actions of the Minister for Commerce in regard to wheat are as full of party politics as an egg is full of meat. In fact the honorable gentleman's conduct is super-charged with party politics. The purpose of the Government is obviously to secure the support of a majorityof wheat-growers for the political policy of the Government. The Minister nods hi.-: head, so he apparently approves of what I have said.

Mr McLeod - So do the wheatgrowers.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I shall submit one or two points for the consideration of the Minister. I shall refer first to the attitude he has adopted in respect of surplus wheat production. The honorable gentleman has said to the small growers : " If you grow up to 3,000 bushels we will pay you 4s. a bushel for your production; if you grow anything in excess of 3,000 bushels we shall pay you only 2s. a bushel for the excess portion of your crop ".

Mr Scully -That is not correct and the honorable gentleman knows it.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I shall be glad to hear the Minister's version of the proposition. The Government has not adopted this attitude towards the manufacturing industries of this country. Tt does not say to the maker of any particular article : "If you produce a certain number of these articles we shall pay you a stipulated price for them, but if you produce more than a stipulated number of them we shall pay you only half that price for them ". The Government does not say to the men on the basic wage, or to the man engaged in the munitions manufacturing industries: "If you work so many hours to produce certain goods we shall pay you a certain wage; but if you work overtime we shall reduce your pay by half ". We all know that if wage-earners work overtime they receive time and a half or double time. The Government cannot differentiate between citizens in this fashion. To do so is definitely against the provisions of the Commonwealth Constitution. The Constitution provides that if a bounty is to be paid in respect of certain commodities no distinction may be made between State and State, or between grower and grower. Yet the Government's wheat scheme definitely distinguishes between grower and grower. The Government is setting out to achieve one purpose only and that is, not to assist the wheat industry, but to win the political support of the small growers. It is attempting to tie the wheat-growers, especially those operating in a small way, to its own political chariot. This is being done with entire disregard of the inevitable result of such an act. Like my colleagues, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Duncan-Hughes), and the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman), I represent many wheat-growers who occupy what are known as marginal lands. Some of these people are to-day passing through a period of reconstruction, and others are still due to face that process. The Government is finding the money to enlarge certain holdings in marginal country. If the holdings be enlarged, clearly there must be an increase of the acreage under wheat. Yet the Government is saying to people who go on to these larger holdings : " If you produce more than 3,000 bushels of wheat this year we shall pay you only 2s. a bushel for the surplus over that quantity ". The Minister knows the statistical position as well as I know it. He is well aware that the majority of our wheatgrowers operate on relatively small farms of from 250 to 300 acres. Take the position of a man in a marginal area whose property consists of about 300 acres. If he gets a reasonably good season this year he is sure to produce more than 3,000 bushels of wheat. In many parts of Australia the season promises to be a bumper one. In fact, most people experienced in the wheat industry reckon that this season will he one of the three biggest seasons we have ever known. Under these conditions the country to which I refer is capable of producing from ten to twelve bags an acre. If a man on a property of even 250 acres has an eight-bag crop this year he will grow 6,000 bushels. In respect of half of it he is to get 4s. a bushel, provided that the Government does pay 4s., and not only 3s., and tell him to wait for the rest, and in respect of the other half he is to receive 2s., and take the risk of mice, rust, flood and all the things that threaten wheat once it is stacked. This is a thoroughly bad policy. It is a thoroughly had foundation upon which to build the wheat industry. The Government knows perfectly well that there must be some interference with the industry, because it has had to take special action this year in regard to Western Australia by reducing the acreage by one-third. That is a complete contradiction of what the Minister for Commerce said in this chamber less than two years ago.

Mr Scully - That action was taken with the full agreement, sanction and approbation of the Government of Western Australia and the Western Australian wheat-growers.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - It is all very well for the Minister to put up that excuse, but he is a responsible being and is accountable for what he argued in *hi% chamber less than two years ago.

Mr Pollard - What did the honorable member say?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I do not mind anything of what I ever said being cited. It will bear examination. When I cross to the treasury bench I do not have to go back on what I have said in opposition. Dealing with the question of restriction of acreage, the Minister said that the restrictions being imposed on the growers were intolerable, and should not be accepted. Saying that one of the most objectionable features of the plan was the proposal to restrict theacreage to be sown next season, hewent on -

I wonder whether the farmer will be supplied with a collar and ordered to wear it round his neck. This regulation reminds me of the " dog collars " a Hotted to waterside workers under the Transport Workers Act. No Soviet legislation more effectively deprives the subject of his liberty than do these regulations, which are an insult to the wheatgrowers.

No doubt, the Minister is an authority on Soviet legislation.

Mr Scully - Those regulations were introduced by the Government of which the member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was a member.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - It was done under the act. The Minister was speaking on the motion for the second reading of the Wheat Industry (Wartime Control) Bill 1940. I do not know how he brought in the matter of a regulation. That bill became an act, and is still a law of the Commonwealth. It is a law which this Parliament has not said should be repealed or amended. There is only one fair and reasonable approach to this problem. If the Minister wants to vary the conditions under which this Parliament said that the wheat industry should be carried on, the fair and honorable method is for the Minister to bring down a bill. We shall then see what sort of a reception it will get; it will have to ran the gauntlet of the Senate, where the States are on an equal footing, and are not dominated by the interests of the great State of New South Wales and certain people who speak for it. The present administration of the wheat industry should not be accepted until the Parliament has altered the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Act. The present proposals are bad. They will not bear investigation. The attitude of the Minister is inconclusive, unsatisfactory and unexplained. The Minister claims now and again to speak on behalf of the growers; in one speech he talked about the 20,000 or 30,000 bushel growers in his electorate, and I do not know how he is going to face them on the 2s. a bushel theory. But in regard to responsibility for past crops, he should say what he intends to do about the income of the growers. They have their troubles and their commitments to meet. It may be argued that in present circumstances money does not matter much, but I assure the Government that a man is in difficulties if he has none. Rates and taxes are due. Costs are on the up-grade. Reference was made to-day to the cost of cornsacks. I shall not go into the matter except to say that the man who has to pay15d. each for cornsacks for a crop for which he gets only 2s. abushel is not going to be too pleased about his prospects. I know that there are other honorable members whose interest in wheatis as great as mine is; therefore, I conclude by telling the Minister that it is time that there was a thorough review of this matter. Further, it is time , that the Government had a good look at some of the gentlemen from whom it appears to accept advice in regard to the conduct of this industry.

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