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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- I wish to discuss a matter that is connected principally with the Departments of Commerce and Supply and Development. I refer in particular to the food situation in Australia. This is not the first occasion on which I have directed the attention of this Parliament to the very serious developments that are occurring in the food-producing industries of this country. As long ago as last March I drew the attention of the Government to the fact that unless urgent action were taken a serious decline of the quantities of foodstuffs we had been accustomed to produce was likely. I then referred principally to the foodstuffs produced by the dairying industry, such as butter, bacon and cheese.

In connexion with food production in relation to the war, Australia has, in the main, three responsibilities: It has the responsibility of feeding its own troops at home and abroad, feeding allied troops in Australia, and helping to feed Great Britain. Each of those responsibilities must rank as a No. 1 priority, all three being of equal urgency and importance. Failure to provide sufficient food for our own use, and to assist Britain, would be as disastrous as failure to equip our troops or to provide a sufficiency of munitions of war. Food for troops, munitions workers, and civilians in Britain, is a first essential to our winning of the war. An examination of the figures reveals that we have already failed to produce and provide the foodstuffs which the United Kingdom has been accustomed to expect from us. In drawing attention to the matter, I am not suggesting that the Government has embarked upon a deliberate policy of withholding food supplies from Great Britain; but I do say that there has been grave neglect and lack of foresight in attending to the various aspects of the matter. In the immediate pre-war years and, indeed, in the first two years of the war, Australia was an important contributor to the British supplies of meat, butter, eggs, pork and cheese. The export value of those commodities was between £35,000,000 and £40,000,000 a year, and they played a considerable part in our overseas trade. Further, Australia was given a special preference in respect of those commodities on the British market. Now, however, when the United Kingdom needs our foods as it never did previously, we have substantially reduced supplies. This failure not only is damaging to the possible success of our joint cause, but also must inevitably produce an unfavorable reaction to Australian producers at the termination of the war. I shall indicate the present position of the industries I have mentioned, and compare it with the approximate position twelve months and two years ago. The average export of butter for the previous two years was approximately 93,000 tons per annum. For the year ended the 30th June last, the export of butter to the United Kingdom was only about onehalf of that quantity, namely, 46,000 tons. According to a bulletin issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, Australia was asked to supply to Great Britain 60,000 tons of butter during the last contract period. We fell down on our obligation by approximately 14,000 tons.

Mr Beasley - There is no evidence of our having fallen down.

Mr Scully - It was at the request of the United Kingdom that we changed from butter to cheese. The British Government asked us to send less butter. The honorable member should confine himself to facts.

Mr ANTHONY - We did not supply the quantity of cheese for which we were asked.

Mr Scully - We made the conversion from butter to cheese, but the British Government then refused to take the cheese.

Mr ANTHONY - We were asked to supply butter up to 60,000 tons.

Mr Beasley - The honorable member is off the target.

Mr ANTHONY - We have failed to send the quantity of cheese for which Great Britain asked.

Mr Scully - We have supplied more than the British Government wants. We have received cables asking us not to send any more.

Mr ANTHONY - We have not supplied what was asked for.

Mr Scully - The honorable member does not know anything about the matter.

Mr ANTHONY - I am relying on official statements published under the aegis of the Commonwealth Government, The Minister has told us at different times that shipping has not been available, and has made other excuses.

Mr Beasley - Shipping has not been available, and the honorable member knows it.

Mr ANTHONY - Whether it was or not, we have not the butter or other products. It is fair to assume that the British Government will not ask for any quantity of butter for which shipping cannot be provided.

Mr Beasley - That is sheer rubbish, and shows how little the honorable member knows.

Mr ANTHONY - It is not sheer rubbish. That is not an answer to the arguments I am presenting. I shall proceed to deal with other products which the Commonwealth Government definitely undertook to send but we ourselves used. For the last fortnight, I have asked the Minister for Commerce (Mir. Scully)- to furnish the production targets for the various primary industries, notably in respect of butter for the coming twelve months, and have been unable to obtain an answer. The honorable gentleman promised to furnish the information at a later stage; but I have not yet received it. Yet I have read in Queensland newspapers that he had announced the production targets that had been fixed for that State. I have learned from another source that the production targets have been fixed. The bulletin issued by the Commonwealth Statistician states that the requirement of the United Kingdom for the new contract year will be 80,000 tons of butter and 10,000 tons of dry butter-fat. Unless effective action be taken to stimulate butter production in Australia, and at the same time to distribute it equitably between our civilian and army needs and the needs of the United Kingdom, I prophesy that we shall fall down on that quantity by approximately two-thirds.

Mr Scully - That is not correct. The honorable member does not know the facts of the case. The latest advice is, 40,000 tons of butter and 10,000 tons of cheese.

Mr ANTHONY - For the last fortnight I have been asking to be supplied with this information. I consider that I was entitled to have it, in view of the importance of this industry to my district; yet I have not been able to obtain it. I have had to go to official publications. The authority that I have cited is the Commonwealth Statistician, and the figures have been issued only within the last few days. If we cannot rely on that information, there is no other source to which we can go for it. Our exports of beef tell the same story. We dropped from 1,23:2,000 cwt. in 1940-41 to 703,000 cwt. in the year just ended. The latest figures indicate that the exports of beef have now virtually ceased. For the month of June, 1941, the quantity of beef exported to the United Kingdom was 101,000 cwt. ; but for the month of June, 1942-, the quantity was less than 4,000 cwt. That is to say, our exports of beef last June were only 4 per cent, of ou}r exports for the previous June. "We shall be told, no doubt, that this was due to the shortage of shipping, but we know that, in actual fact, it was largely due to a shortage of beef in Australia.

Mr Beasley - Does the honorable member know that there is a war on?

Mr ANTHONY - Yes, and the people of Great Britain know it, too. They are blockaded, and they have been rationed to lOd. worth of beef a week, which is just about one chop. What is the Commonwealth Government doing about it?

Mr Beasley - We are looking after the people of Australia.

Mr ANTHONY - I am glad to have that admission from the Minister. That is the very answer I have been waiting for. The real policy of the 'Government is now clear. It will look after the interests of the people of Australia, and damn every body else! He does not care if Great Britain goes down in this war.

Mr Beasley - That is rubbish !

Mr ANTHONY - That is the undoubted implication in the Minister's interjection. Knowing the critical position regarding food supplies in Great Britain, knowing how desperately the people there need beef, and knowing that Australia is one of the main sources of supply, the Minister says that we have not sent more beef to Great Britain because the Government is looking after the interests of the people of Australia. 1 congratulate him upon the success of his policy.

Of pig meat we exported 648,000 cwt. in 1940-41, but in 1941-42 we exported only 287,000 ,cwt., about one-third as much. Now we have virtually ceased to export pig meat at all. In June of last year, we shipped 120,000 cwt., while in June of this year we shipped exactly 20 cwt. The Government is certainly looking after the interests of the people of

Australia. Normally, we used to send about 17,000,000 dozen eggs to the United Kingdom each year.

Mr Scully - What shipping space is available for sending eggs to the United Kingdom ?

Mr ANTHONY - There is no refrigerated space for sending eggs in shell, but the Government of which I was a member imported dehydrating plant from Shanghai, and established factories in New South Wales and Victoria for the drying of eggs for export. Last season, those factories dried 12,000,000 dozen eggs, of which the British people were greatly in need. When the egg powder was ready for export, but before it had been shipped, the Supply Department, I presume it was, took the equivalent of 2,859,000 dozen eggs from what was waiting for shipment. That was how the Government looked after the interests of the people of Australia.

Mr Scully - The honorable member knows that it was taken for the services.

Mr Beasley - The honorable member would starve the soldiers.

Mr ANTHONY - I suggested months ago to the Government that the proper way to meet the situation was, not to take what was needed from the British larder, but to increase production so that there would be sufficient foodstuffs both for ourselves and for Great Britain. It is true that the Australian consumer will not go short, because we are using the food ourselves. It is the people of Great Britain who are going without. That is a fine example of co-operation with one of our allies.

Mr Dedman - It is not likely that I, who have relatives in the Old Country, would be a party to anything of the kind. It is only a man like the honorable member who would even think it.

Mr ANTHONY - I admit that the Government probably needed the eggs for the troops, but it should have realized that the need would arise, and have taken steps to meet the situation. However, it did just nothing at all.

Mr Beasley - That is not true. The honorable member would say anything.

Mr ANTHONY - The food position is very serious, and it will become infinitely worse within the next twelve months unless immediate action be taken. According to the statistician's figures, the number of pigs in the farmers' pens has dropped from 1,800,000 in 1940-41 to 1,490,000, a decrease of 17 per cent. There will, of course, be an equivalent drop in the quantity of pork and bacon, both for home consumption and for export. Moreover, the number of breeding sows has declined by 15 per cent., so that there will be fewer young pigs next year. The Government, however, has done nothing about it except to appoint committees and hold conferences. It has appointed bodies like the Supply Council and the Production Committee, not one of which has increased production by so much as a pound of butter or a pound of bacon. At a time when there is urgent need for a greater supply of foodstuffs for ourselves and for our allies, the prospects of securing even normal production are very poor. I am not blaming the Government entirely for the decline of production. Many factors are responsible, but I am blaming the Government for not doing anything but set up committees. Between 1941 and 1942, there was a decrease of 10,000 in the number of wages men on farms in New South "Wales, the decline being from 3S,000 to 28,000. The greatest decline was in the dairying districts in the coastal areas, where 36 per cent, of farm workers left the farms. The man-power position is revealed in the general decline of butter production over the last two years. In 1940-41, production declined by 10 per cent., and in 1941-42 by 13 per cent.

Mr Scully - "Were not seasonal conditions responsible?

Mr ANTHONY - Production is always affected by seasonal conditions.

Mr Scully - It was one of the driest seasons on record.

Mr ANTHONY - I would not say that, though it was certainly a dry season. Shortage of man-power was largely responsible, and unless something be done to rectify the position, even a good season will not increase production sufficiently. The man-power authorities ought to be given more power to release labour for the farms. At present, they can make a recommendation to the commanding officer for the release of a man, but the vast majority of the applications are rejected and the men do not get back to the farm.

Mr Forde - Does the honorable member think that they all ought to be released ?

Mr ANTHONY - About 6,000 men ought to be released if the production of food is to be sufficiently increased. Thai was the recommendation of the DirectorGeneral of Man Power, but it was rejected. We have not allowed ourselves to be inconvenienced by the decline of food production. Not only have we maintained our per capita consumption, but we have actually increased it. During the last two years, the consumption of butter in Australia has increased from 30 lb. to 35 lb. a head. The butter ration in Great Britain is 2 oz. a week, or 6-i lb. a year. Our objective ought to be to increase production so that we can meet our own needs, and those of our allies also. Investigations reveal that there are still as many cows on the dairy farms as there were twelve months ago, but there are not so many people to milk them. An investigation of this matter was instituted by the Commonwealth Statistician during the present year. Returns were lodged by 46,876 representing 46 per cent, of the industry. They showed that, in 1941-42, 19,596 men left the dairy farms, and of these 11,748 went into the military, naval and air services, and 7,848 obtained other forms of employment. Therefore. the drift from the industry was not entirely due to enlistments and military call-ups. There is no need for me to say that the chief cause of this movement to other employment was economic. That is clear to anybody who knows anything about the dairying industry. The statistician's figures show that, whilst the cost of clothing increased by 53 per cent, from the beginning of the war to the end of June last, and whilst the cost of other items which the farmers have to purchase has increased considerably, the prices of foodstuffs have increased by only 11.4 per cent, over the same period. The price of butter has increased since the outbreak of war from ls. 5d. per lb. to ls. 5$d. per lb., representing an increase of 3.6 per cent. In these circumstances, how can the industry carry on economically and compete with the attractions of other industries which offer high wages and better conditions?

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