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Thursday, 28 March 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) has raised a matter which is not to be mistaken as a mere criticism of one of the many acts of government administration which will call for comment, but as one of first-class consequence. I feel sure that it will not be regarded by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) nor the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully), as one which can be disregarded, but will be recognized as one of serious import, upon which some explanation is called for, if, indeed, a satisfactory one can be devised. We all know that Australia has not sufficient wheat at present to meet the demands for human .requirements. The strongest representations have 'been made to it from the headquarters of Unrra, and from various governments overseas, that we should exercise, to the most extreme degree, care in allocating wheat for stock feed, and go to the limit in making every 'bushel we can possibly spare available for export abroad for human consumption.

For many months past we have read in the daily press that in the next year or two the most critical food shortage in modern times will be experienced. One reads daily in the newspapers authoritative statements to the effect that millions of people are condemned to die of starvation within a measurable period of time. In that atmosphere, and in those circumstances, these appeals have been made to the Government to restrict, 'as far as possible, the use of wheat for stock feed and other purposes, and to make it available for human consumption. The Minister for -Commerce and Agriculture himself in the last couple of weeks has so explained the position to the House, and has capped his remarks by saying what we recognize with some pride, that, upon a close examination of the position, and as a result of these desperate appeals from overseas, another 5,000,000 bushels of wheat have been subtracted from the quantity previously set aside for stock feed in Australia, and will be exported for human use. I have not the slightest doubt that that was the cause of the warning circular sent out by the State Superintendent of the Australian Wheat Board in Sydney, pointing out- to millers that they were not permitted to supply wheat intended ' to be used for dog' biscuits. The warning was .given that if it were discovered that wheat was allocated by them for this purpose their whole . supplies might be cut off. But three weeks later another circular was addressed to the same millers by the Australian Wheat Board. The honorable member for New England read its exact terms. It stated clearly, on the authority of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, that millers were now advised that 50,000 bushels of wheat were to be set aside for the manufacture of dog biscuits. That meant that 50,000 bushels of wheat which had been hypothecated for human consumption was, on the direction of the Minister, to be .withdrawn and used for the manufacture of dog biscuits. Surely this is not something that can be lightly brushed aside. An explanation is demanded. The matter raises some interesting points. The honorable member for New England put his finger on one when he said that wheat which had been allotted for export at 10s. 43/4d a bushel would now, by direction of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, be fed to dogs in the form of biscuits and the growers would be paid only 4s. lid. a bushel for it. This, on the quantity involved, would represent a loss of £12,500.

For many years, the wheat-growers, who have had as bad a time as any other section, have been agitating for control of the" product of their labour. Governments with which I was associated were charged by the Labour party with setting up boards which were not controlled by the growers, and the Labour party gained many thousands of votes by promising that if it were returned to power it would establish boards on which growers' representatives would be in a majority. There is, in fact, now an Australian Wheat Board upon which the growers representatives are in a majority, but that board is no .longer permitted to decide how the wheat shall be disposed of. It is the. Minister for Commerce and Agriculture who decides how much shall be exported and how much held in Australia. The board cannot say how much wheat shall be allotted to power alcohol distilleries, or whether the wheat is to be sold at a low price for use in Australia or at a high price for export. The Australian Wheat Board is no more than a ghost institution. It has an office but it has no authority. The Labour party honoured its promise by appointing to the board a majority of growers'- representatives, but it destroyed the value of this concession by taking away from the board all effective authority. The board cannot determine whether wheat shall be sent to the .starving people abroad, or whether it shall be used to feed dogs, probably racing dogs. I am a man who earns his living with the valuable aid of sheep dogs, but I have never seen a working clog fed with dog biscuits. These biscuits are fed to poodles, lap dogs ' and racing dogs. This matter must be dos<.:y examined, and an explanation given to the people and to the Parliament.

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