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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (Minister for Commerce and Agriculture) . - I congratulate the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) on the temperate manner in which he approached this subject. I agree with his view that for many years the wheat-grower has experienced great hardships, but I find it interesting to note that only at this juncture does the heart of the Opposition begin to bleed for the wheat-grower. For many years, members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party had an opportunity to relieve that distress, but they omitted to do so. Never in . the history of wheat-growing in Australia have the producers experienced such a devastating period as in the few years when the Australian Country party held the balance of power in this chamber. At. that time, honorable members opposite had an excellent opportunity to relieve the plight of the wheat-grower, but they sadly neglected him. Now, when wheat-growers generally, with the exception of those in drought-stricken areas, are more prosperous than ever before, honorable members opposite are taking a keen interest in their welfare. No doubt that interest is. prompted by the approaching election.

I agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Bendigo about interest charges. I have always had my own opinion about them, and I assure the House that I shall examine the honorable member's submissions, and discuss them with Cabinet. One contention which I refuse to accept is that wheat which has been acquired and distributed at concessional prices was not paid for on just terms. The quantity of wheat .for stock ' feed used from the various pools was 32,500,000 bushels from No. 5 pool, 34,750,000 bushels from No. 6 pool, and 51,500,000 bushels from No. 7 pool. Subsidies have been paid on this wheat. From No. 5 pool, where the rise of price did not occur until towards the end of the pool, the payment was 6d. a bushel, or £S00,000.

In Nos. 6 and 7 pools the subsidy on feed wheat brought the return on this grain to the average of other sales in the same pool. Under this arrangement the subsidy for No. 6 pool was £2,200,000. No. 7 pool presented a difficulty. On the same basis, the subsidy on this pool would be over £3,000,000. However, the Government has decided to increase this by £3,500^000, making the total subsidy £6,500,000.

The drought is the real reason for the extra payment for No. 7 pool. Normally, the basis of payment was fair, but the drought created such a big demand for wheat from No. 7 pool that it was necessary to make of it a special case. During the worst year of the drought, no wheat from No. 8 pool was sold at concession prices.

Mr McEwen - Then no wheat was provided from .that pool for the manufacture of breakfast foods?

Mr SCULLY - I am glad that the honorable member has reminded me of breakfast foods. Some years' ago, a government of the United Australia and Australian Country parties introduced legislation fixing the home-consumption price of wheat. The Labour party, which was then in opposition, supported it. Some honorable members opposite have since declared that we opposed the bill, but that contention is not correct. I challenge any honorable member to show in Hansard that the Labour party divided the House on. the measure. Under that legislation, wheat for breakfast foods was not provided at the home-consumption price. In fact, wheat used for breakfast foods and the like was to be made available at the ruling price. "When the Labour Government took office, we provided wheat for the manufacture of breakfast foods at the concessional prices, and we have paid to the "Wheat Board the amount of the difference between the concessional price and the home-consumption price. Those payments totalled about £500,000. Under the legislation introduced by the administration of the non-Labour parties, wheat-growers were not entitled 10 that money.

The concessional price has been trenchantly criticized in debates in this House. "When I attended the annual conference of the "Wheat-growers Union at Gunnedah, I made my first declaration that we would take concessional feed wheats at the basic rate of 4s. a bushel and pay in respect of them a subsidy of 6d. a bushel. Then the price of wheat for export gradually rose. That of wheat for export in No. 5 pool slightly exceeded 4s. a bushel and an amount of £S00,000 was paid as a subsidy. I informed the conference of wheat-growers at Gunnedah, and the delegates there agreed, that an average would be struck on the export price and other sales, and th'at would be the concessional price. The conference regarded that decision as being quite fair and endorsed it.

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