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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! It will suit the Chair if the- honorable member for Barker will return to the bill.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Next to be mentioned are sickness and hospital benefits, and accompanying them are medical and dental services. The Attorney-General is not seeking two separate powers. He is asking for one power divided under two heads, and the objective of the present Government, if it were stated clearly and openly, would be to nationalize the medical and health services of Australia. I have no objection to the Labour party adopting that as a political plank and as a goal that it desires to attain, but if that be its aim, the proper course for the Government to adopt is to take the country into its confidence and announce frankly what it proposes to do under this provision. The real reason why maternity allowances, widow's pensions, child endowment and unemployment benefits, have been included in the Government's referendum proposals is to give to the pill a coating of sugar - medical and dental services and hospital' benefits - because some doubt exists as to whether this will be acceptable to the community. If the Prime Minister desires this Parliament to have power over medical and dental services and hospital benefits, there, is no need to include in the bill any reference to the other items, but he desires to . create in the minds of the people the belief that, if they do not endorse the. Government's proposals, they will lose maternity allowances, widow's pensions and child endowment. In my opinion, that, is not the proper approach to these matters. It would be better, in what is reputed to be a democratic community, if the objectives of the Government were stated openly and clearly, and without equivocation and any attempt at camouflage. In addition, the bill provides for "benefits to students". I do not know what that expression means. The Attorney-General did not define it. Therefore, the electorate is asked to vote for something which has not been explained and which may not be clarified later. Again, that is so much window dressing. Family allowances have not been defined. I do not know of any family allowance which is paid at present. It cannot be child endowment, because that is specifically mentioned in the headings, so if some other family allowance is contemplated the Attorney-General should inform the House what it is. I do not know whetherhe proposes to pay a wage to married women, as someone suggested a couple of years ago, but whatever it is, we should be told what the Government has in mind and what will be the cost to the community. Not one of those conditions has been complied with, and, therefore, I contend that the electorate will need to be extremely careful about accepting the provisions of the bill.

I come now to the second bill, which provides for the alteration of the Constitution by empowering the Parliament to make laws providing for the organized marketing of primary products, unrestricted by section 92 of the Constitution. I do not wish to repeat the comments which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) uttered this afternoon, but I desire to examine closely the Attorney-General's speech. He said, first -

The object of this bill is to alter the Consitution so that this National Parliament can deal effectively with what has become one of Australia's most urgent national problems - the organized marketing of primary products. The Commonwealth has done so during the war.

My comment on that is that during the war, there has been a lot of disorganized marketing of primary products. That was, inevitable. It began with the outbreak of war, because Australia's export markets were cut off. I was Minister for Commerce for a few months in 1940-

Mr Conelan - What a shocking reflection on the country.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I fail to see how that was a shocking reflection on the country, but I say, as a statement of fact, that we were not able to export certain surplus primary products, including apples. That compelled the Government to establish a board to handle the apple surplus. That board, however it was constituted, must have offended some interests, because we had several million bushels of fresh apples which no other country could acquire from us, not because it did not want them, but because it could not provide the requisite shipping. Our inability to export our surplus primary products gave rise to serious problems. The AttorneyGeneral, in his speech also said -

Many primary producers are apprehensive of the future if the Parliament cannot continue to do so during the years of peace, and particularly during the difficult years that lie immediately ahead. In particular I instance organizations of growers of wheat, barley and potatoes.

One of the primary industries in my electorate is potato-growing: Last year, under Commonwealth control, a potatogrower was compelled to enter into a contract with the Commonwealth before he was permitted to grow potatoes for marketing. One grower was told to prepare a certain acreage for seeding, and was notified in writing what the acreage was to be. The preparation of the land for a potato crop is not completed when it has been ploughed once with a team or tractor . The operation requires five or six workings of the soil, according to the district in which the grower has his property. After he had prepared the land, the producer received a circular instructing him to reduce the acreage by 25 per cent. Other operations of that, board were equally fantastic and foolish. Producers were not permitted to harvest and market their crops when they were ready. Many were told to leave their potatoes in the ground until an officer of the Potato Control Board telephoned them or notified them in writing how many tons of potatoes they should dig, and when they should market them. The price, of course, was fixed by the Commonwealth Government. In my opinion, the producers of Australia do not want a continuation of that kind of control. In his speech the Attorney-General instanced in particular the organizations of wheat, barley, and potato-growers. To begin with, potatoes are never exported from Australia. I put it to the right honorable gentleman that there is a vital distinction between the orderly marketing of export commodities like wheat and barley, and the marketing of potatoes and onions, which are not export commodities.

Mr Lemmon - We are exporting potatoes to Ceylon.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Odd consignments have been exported to Ceylon and New Zealand. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) knows as well as I do that the quantity of potatoes exported in peace-time is negligible. Year after year, not one bag of potatoes is sent outside the limits of the Commonwealth. So I emphasize to the Attorney-General that the position regarding potatoes is entirely different from that of wheat. Barley stands midway between the two. In some years, large quantities of barley are exported; in other years, none is sent overseas. If the Attorney-General wants the power that he claims in this bill he must require it for one specific purpose, namely, to circumvent that section of 'the Constitution which provides that the Commonwealth shall not differentiate between States and parts of States.

The next matter which I desire to raise is the definition of " primary product ". I asked by interjection this afternoon whether butter and margarine are primary products. I was a member of the Parliament of South Australia before I became a member of the House of Representatives, and I remember this point being thrashed out more than once. According to the law of South Australia and, I am informed on very good authority, of New South Wales, " primary product " does not include butter, cheese and the like. In South Australia, it does not include wine.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member is a merchant's man.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am no more a merchant's man than the honorable member is a grower's man. Tl'ie position of wine affects South Australia in particular. According to all standards, wine is a secondary produet, and according to my reading of this bill, one would expect wine to be classed as a primary product. I want to know exactly what we- are to think. I put two cases to the Attorney-General, and ask him to examine them. Under Commonwealth income tax law - I had occasion to fight this out when the right honorable gentleman was abroad last year - a mau, who, in the- Northern Territory, shoots buffaloes for their hides, is not classed as a primary producer. The income tax law states that, to be a primary producer he must keep and breed the animals and birds which he is selling. If that rule is to be applied, it stands to reason that a man who shoots dingoes or kangaroos is not a primary producer. Right at our own doorstep, in Sydney, this point has -been illustrated in the fishing industry. It has been held there that fishermen are not primary producers because they do not breed the fish they catch. These matters should be carefully thought out. It is of no use for the Attorney-General to say, as he did in one speech, that this is a matter for the courts to determine. The first thing that any Parliament should do is to express its legislation in terms so clear that they will be understanda'ble hy ordinary people and will not need legal interpretation. Nothing in these bills gives us justification for believing that the ideas they are said to express have been expressed clearly. Clarity of expression is not to be found in these measures.

Let us look at the mining industry for another example. As the AttorneyGeneral is well aware,- certain standards have been laid down by the Commonwealth Government in .relation to ore concentrates. The price of wolfram has been fixed, but the concentrate must be 65 per cent, wolfram-oxide free, whatever that may mean. The raw product from the mine does not reach that standard. Itlias to be processed into a concentrate of that standard before the fixed price becomes payable. I wish to know how this measure would affect wolfram concentrates. As we all know, ore which is mined at Broken Hill is shipped to Port Pirie, where Lt is concentrated. Ore mined elsewhere has also to be converted into concentrates. Are we to consider the ore as a primary product and is it still a. primary product after it has been converted into concentrates? These points are important in our consideration of this measure, .particularly insofar as they relate to the mining industry, but nothing in the bill clarifies the position.

Mr Pollard - Potatoes are potatoes wherever they are produced.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Of course potatoes are potatoes whether they are baked, mashed or boiled. Some people like them one way and some people like them another way. I do not know of many people who like them raw, but some people will get a raw deal under this bill.

Mr Beazley - The assumption that must be drawn from The speech of the honorable member is that the High Court judges ore half-wits.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I have not said or suggested anything of the sort. The job of the judges is to interpret the law. It is not their job to put their thoughts into the minds of legislators. If {he Government desires to use the term " primary products " it should define it. Unless the term be defined there will be many disagreements on the High Court Bench as there are in this House about the meaning of the term. W e should not ;take. that risk. We must remember, too, that some of the members of the High Court Bench have been members of this House, and it may be that in the not distant future their number will be increased.

The Attorney-General said, in his speech -

The general object has always been to bring about price stability in the primary industries, to assist them to bear the heavy burdens of climatic uncertainty and world competition, and to ensure for primary producers a reasonable standard of living and adequate economic security. The methods used have included ".pooling'', compulsory or voluntary; "orderly marketing " by means of zoning, quotas and the like; and arrangements to ensure better grading, packing, advertising and so forth.

I contend that the Government already has the power referred to by the right honorable gentleman. It lias exercised such power when the country has been at peace and when it has been, at war. I have administered certain legislation as a Minister of the Crown, and I know what has been done in this regard. Action has been taken already by Commonwealth Governments to grade, pack and advertise our primary products.

The Attorney-General cannot expect to be able to sustain in this House the argument that if , the Government be given the powers which are being sought in these bills it will be able to influence the prices at. which Australian produce will be sold in overseas markets; yet unless he can do that very thing the case he has stated must fall to the ground. I do not know much about overseas trading conditions at present, but, I have a strong suspicion that when peace finally arrives - and it looks like being much delayed - there will be less trading between merchant and merchant and very much more trading between government and government. Some honorable gentlemen opposite are indicating by interjections their approval of that state of affairs, but I do not approve of it. May I point out that, recently the United Kingdom Government, which honorable gentlemen opposite no doubt are happy to follow, appointed a cotton purchasing board which was charged with the responsibility of purchasing all the cotton requirements of the United Kingdom. There is to be only one purchasing authority for the United Kingdom, and it is to be a government authority. The cotton organization may be enlarged, and if it be ' enlarged it may also cover wool. Anyway, an agreement with a currency of fourteen years has recently been made between this Government and the United Kingdom Government for the pur- chase of Australian- wool. That procedure may be followed in regard to wheat and other commodities. If that kind of dealing is to go on what will be our position if our Constitution be altered? Undoubtedly some kind of a bargaining agreement will be made between the Commonwealth of Australia and the United Kingdom. What could be the effect of such an agreement? This Government already has power, which was used without hesitation even before the war, under which certain prices and standards were fixed. If the local price of an article involved in such an arrangement did -not, appear to be satisfactory, the Government exercised constitutional power which it already possesses to provide bounties to enhance the local price. There is an important provision in relation tobounties, however, to the effect that they must be distributed equally ' among all producers in all States. If the constitution amendment which the Government is now proposing be accepted bounties may not be payable on an equal basis.

The Attorney-General is also suggesting that section 92 should be overridden. I do not know what the positionwould be if such an alteration occurred.

Mr Pollard - The Government which provided the bounties and fixed the conditions would be answerable to the people.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON -I admit that that would be so, but in this democratic community the people have the opportunity only once in three years to express their view, and the damage would be done before a government could be brought to book. The people could protest as much as they liked about certain administrative acts, but they could not do anything else about them. They have the opportunity to express their minds only at the triennial elections. No doubt they will do so later this year, and justice will overtake honorable gentlemen opposite.

Mr Falstein - Section 92 has nothing whatever to do with bounties.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I did not say anything about that. I said that the Attorney-General is seeking authority to override section 92. In that respect these proposals are very different from the Constitution alteration proposals of 1944, which were rejected by the people, and also those of 1937. I shall not go further into that aspect of the subject except to say that the whole purpose of the Government in office in 1937 was to secure a sufficient amendment of the Constitution to enable the Commonwealth to maintain in operation certain legislation then on the statute-book which it was feared might become inoperative under certain circumstances. It has been proved beyond question since then that those fears were unjustified. My friends opposite have declared time and time again that they believe in Australia being one and indivisible, without distinction between State and State; yet they seem to be eager to secure the amendments of the Constitution now proposed which, in my opinion, amount to a negation of arguments which they have propounded again and again in this chamber.

I shall bring to the notice of honorable members another subject which some honorable members of the Labour party, including the honorable member for

Ballarat (Mr. Pollard), have argued effectively, relating to the payment of differential rates between producer and producer. I know perfectly well, as does the honorable member for Ballarat, that it costs more to grow an apple in, say, Stanthorpe, Queensland, than in Tasmania. If this proposed amendment of the Constitution be accepted, does the Labour party intend to provide differential rates for produce in different States of Australia?

Mr Pollard - Definitely yes, if differential rates are justified.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is the answer I wanted. That brings us to the question as to who is to be the judge in regard to differential rates. Is the Government in power for the time being to determine the matter?

Mr Pollard - What better judge could there be?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That is a matter of opinion. I might have very great confidence in the honorable member for Ballarat. In fact I have expressed confidence in him on certain occasions.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member has admitted that it costs more to grow an apple in Stanthorpe than in Tasmania.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am sure it does.

Mr Pollard - Then what better judge could there be on that matter than the honorable gentleman?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The remarks of the honorable member have certainly resolved some of my doubts. The apple is a relatively unimportant product, but let us consider wheat for a few moments. It is well known that it costs more to grow wheat in some parts of Australia than it does in other parts. Does the Labour party propose that differential rates shall be paid for wheat?

Mr Pollard - If it is demonstrated that it costs more to grow the wheat differential rates should be paid.

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I do not know what sort of an administration we shall obtain from an authority which seeks to apply a policy of differential rates for the same product as between producer and producer and State and State.

Mr Pollard - A merchant applies that policy.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - But a merchant is not the Commonwealth Government. He is a buyer and seller in the market. Sometimes the market is open, and sometimes it is hedged round by Government restrictions.

Mr Pollard Mr. Pollard interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I shall name the honorable member for Ballarat if he continues to interject.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - What I wish to know is how the producers of Australia will stand if this proposed amendment of the Constitution be accepted. The honorable member for Ballarat, can speak with a certain amount of immediate experience on this matter, and I have been extremely interested in his comments. I shall also be interested to hear him speak on these bills. The producers of Australia do not desire an alteration of the Constitution under which any Government may fix conditions. I do not believe that the producers desire discriminatory variations in payments for the same commodity in various parts of Australia. The producers have become sick of Government controls during the war. They do not desire war-time controls to be carried into peace-time. They remember some of the objectionable things that have been done during the war. In Western Australia, for example, wheatgrowers at one stage were paid 12s. 6d. an acre not to grow wheat. Nevertheless wheat stocks accumulated there.In the Wimmera district a distillery was constructed to turn wheat into power alcohol, and when the factory was ready wheat was not available for the purpose. Another huge distillery was erected at Wallaroo, in the electorate of Grey. I believe there is one in New South Wales, and maybe there is also one in Western Australia. Wherever one looks at industry to-day, one finds that there is dissatisfaction with the existing controls. That applies in respect of the production of apples, wheat, barley, potatoes and onions. Wherever one goes among primary producers, the continuing exercise of authority under war-time regulations is questioned. What the Labour party asks to-day is that there shall be carried into a time of peace the authority to do those things that havebeen done under the stress of war. I do not believe that the producers will agree to that. Let us consider for a moment the production of wheat, which may become a political issue before long. There is no necessity for an alteration of the Constitution to enable the Government to do what it is doing under the present wheat plan. It proposes to carry on that plan for a period of five years, and under it to pay a guaranteed price. It does not ask for an alteration of the Constitution in order that it. may do that. The AttorneyGeneral appeared in a somewhat new role recently when he argued this matter in the wheat-growing areas. He did not tell the wheat-growers that the Constitution had to be altered in order that they might receive a guaranteed payment of 5s. 2d. a bushel for five years. I ask the right honorable gentleman, when replying to the debate, to say whether it is necessary to alter the Constitution in order to give effect to the payment of a guaranteed price of 5s. 2d. a bushel. I do not think that he will say that it is. He has been rather vocal lately in regard to the producers being so much better off than they were under certain other conditions. A table has been produced to show the increases of their incomes. The income of any farmer has a direct relationship to two factors, seasons and prices. Given reasonableseasons, and good prices, whether those prices happen to be the normal prices obtainable for a product in the markets of the world or prices fixed by the Government under war-time conditions, or otherwise, the conditions are not altogether normal. From 1 942 to 1946 there have been acts of the Commonwealth Parliament which have fixed prices for certain primary products. In some instances, these have been record prices. There have been record prices in the dairying industry, for a period of years in the potato industry, for onions, and in some instances for fruits. I have never known stone fruits to be dearer than they have been this year. A record price was paid for apples in South Australia last year. I had to pay11s. a case for " Statesman ". I could not buy a " Democrat " for any price; that variety just would not grow. While such prices exist, it stands to reason that a table such as that produced by the Attorney-General will reflect the conditions of the industry. .But those increases of average incomes have been brought about, not by reason of any particular political virtue in the 'Government, but because the Go_vernment decided, as an act of policy, that it would make certain bounty payments, or fixed price payments, for commodities. So long as it is prepared to continue along those lines it will be able to produce a table of the type cited by the A t torn ey-Gen er al.

The other point which the right honorable gentleman made was in regard to the way in which mortgages had been paid off. It stands to reason that if you have conditions operating such as have operated during the last few years, under which men received record money incomes but were not able to spend very much on replacements, repairs, new buildings, machinery, top-dressing and that sort of thing, there should be heavy reductions of the indebtedness of the farming community. But I put it to the AttorneyGeneral that as soon as certain controls have- been lifted and the farming community can purchase machinery, wire netting, piping, galvanized iron, and everything else that is required for repairs and construction, the reverse side of the picture will be revealed, and, whatever my be the income, a much higher proportion of it will be used, not to reduce mortgages, but to overtake the very great leeway which occurred in primary production during the war years. Therefore, from my point of view these tables do not mean very much.

I come now to the third bill, which deals with industrial control. The important feature of it is that it refers to "industrial conscription". I do not know what party the . Attorney-General had in mind when he mentioned the possibility of industrial conscription in time of peace. [Extension of time granted.} The conditions which ought to produce industrial peace in any community are constant work, good wages, and opportunities for a man to improve his position. Those conditions cannot prevail under the present control, and I do not see how they are going to improve - in prospect, at any rate - by the alteration of the Constitution proposed by the right honorable gentleman. What he is really aiming at is to put into effect the generation-old policy of the Labour party, that all control of industry in regard to rates of wages, hours of work, conditions of labour and everything else shall be determined by statute, or by some other means in this Parliament.

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