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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr LEMMON (Forrest) .The speech delivered by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was irrelevant to the motion, but it showed clearly enough that the merchants still have among the Opposition some very strong advocates. A method for the control of wheat marketing was instituted during the two periods of crises in our history, the 1914-18 war, and the war just concluded. During both those periods it was necessary to organize wheat pools in order to give the industry stability. After the last war, the pool system was broken down by the representatives of the merchants, and the representatives of the same interests are trying to-day to destroy the system of organized wheat marketing which has been established. The honorable member for Indi interjected that the Government had to be pushed into every move in the direction of establishing a concessional price system. In order to understand the situation, it is necessary to be familiar with the background. On the 15th November, 1939, Mr. Menzies, who was then Prime Minister, said' that the Government intended to acquire the whole of the wheat crop at an average price of 2s. 9d. per bushel bagged, and 2s. 7d. a. bushel bulk, less freight. This meant ls. 8d. to ls. 9d. bagged, and ls. 5d. to ls. 7d. bulk, with the possibility of another dividend to be paid in April. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) was incorrect when he said that the Government proposed to pay only 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports. He did not add that we ,proposed to pay also to the farmers 50 per cent, of the amount by which the export price exceeded 5s. 2d. Thus, 5s. 2d. is the minimum price, but under the scheme introduced by the previous Government, the maximum price was an average of 2s. 2d. a bushel. Members of the Australian Country party are now weeping crocodile tears over the concessional price issuer but let me quote a statement by the honorable member for Indi on the 17th September, 1940 -

In these matters the Country party members took a prominent part, but they had to reconcile what they wanted to give with what was available. The first advance was 2s. lid., less rail freight, and with a subsequent advance involved the Government in £34,000.000.

That was some months after Labour representatives in the Senate had moved a motion directing attention to the - . . parlous position of the wheat industry, and need for immediate action by the Government to grant the request of the wheat-growers for an initial payment of 2s. (icl. a bushel, exclusive of railway freights and handling charges

It is clear, therefore, that if any one was pushed into making- concessions it was the then government. At that time, representatives of the Australian Country party in this House were more concerned with getting positions for themselves in the Cabinet than with protecting the interests of the wheat-growers. It was then very hard to dispose of wheat, and the wheat-growers themselves suggested that production should be reduced. *Some members of the Australian Country party even went so far as to suggest that there' should be a complete -" wheat, holiday " in some States. Thechief adviser of the honorable member for Indi, the man who was nominated to the Wheat Board by the Australian Country party, complained that the Government was piling up surplus wheat stocks.

Mr McEwen - That is a figment of the honorable.member's imagination. No Country party man ever advocated a wheat holiday.

Mr LEMMON - Tes he did.

Mr McEwen - Who did?

Mr LEMMON - My predecessor in this Parliament advocated it.

Mr McEwen - The honorable member picks on a dead man who cannot refute his charges.

Mr Scully - It was also advocated by Mr. Teasdale..

Mr McEwen - No Australian Country party member in this House ever advocated a wheat holiday.

Mr LEMMON - They were Australian Country party representatives who approached the Government on the matter. The Government refused a complete wheat holiday, but, because stocks were rising, it consented to a reduction of production for one year. Then, on the request of the wheat-growers themselves, we continued that .scheme for three years. Recently, the Australian manager of the Wheat Board, Mr. Thompson, made an important statement about wheat at a conference in Sydney. This man was appointed to hia position by a previous government at a salary of £5,000 a year. I do not complain of the size of the salary, he has shown himself to be worth it. However, it was a very high salary, and the fact that it was paid shows that the Opposition, when in power, thought i great deal of this man. [Extension of time granted.] This is what he said -

As I atn leaving the Wheat Board shortly it will be a happy thing for me to know this particular matter is cleaned up. So far J have had to put the growers case to the Minister and the Minister's case to the growers, and it is just as well I have now to toe the straight and narrow line and tell you where I do stand on this matter. Throughout my connexion with the Australian Wheat Board, at no time has any government asked the board to do something which was unfair to the growers and on the other hand I must also say at no time have requests been made from growers which were unfair. In fact, they have been most lenient to the board and overlooked such mistakes as the board has made and instead of picking on details have taken the broad results of the work done and I can assure you it is highly appreciated. On this particular matter the same good feeling will eventually find a solution which will be accepted by everybody. Now. in August. 1943, we intimated, as a Wheat Board, that the price of export wheat was now getting out of line with the price at which stock feed was being bought and asked to meet you and discuss the matter. At that meeting you readily agreed with the board and- yourself suggested the formula that the price for stock feed should be the average of the rest of the pool. That was accepted by the board ami subsequently notified tn the conference st Gunnedah and to deputations to the federation awl on several other occasions ir has been substantiated by yourself.

We cannot ignore the fact, we all three bodies agreed upon this particular move. If there is any responsibility to-day, we can share in it. On the other hand, certain things took place subsequent to that time which demanded we should reconsider it because it is not our affair but the affair of the wheat-growers. I refer to the tremendous increase in the use of stock feed which was still more aggravated by thu drought. At the time we met you in conference we were using about 15,000.000 bushels nf wheat a year for stock feed. At one stage it went up to something like fiO.000,000 bushels. Therefore, it does seem there is some justification for asking that we should have a frank talk on this subject. I am pleased at the frank way in which you put the matter before the conference this morning. I am sure if we are to speak equally frankly you will be satisfied. Tt seems because of this, change that took place we can put before the Government for their consideration. The Wheat Board has considered this on several occasions, but it is not a body that can say what price ought to be. 1 1. run say what it could have sold the wheat at, and the letter which was sent to you gave you the price which, within very narrow limits, shows what the Board could have obtained for the wheat had it been selling it on the open market. There' are some growers and members of the Wheat Board who think that no matter what else takes place that should Vie the price. On the other hand there are some growers and members of the Wheat Board who believe that the price laid down by the regulations covering the price fixing, that price should be paid because growers benefit by the holding of the price at something within a reasonable rate instead of allowing them to sky rocket, and, therefore, become onerous on the wheat-growers as well as on the rest of the community.

The formula upon which we all agreed has paid in just over £5,800,000, which is a substantial sum. We would' like your Government to realize that Canada is to be the basis of an international wheat agreement upon which all wheat prices are to revolve. The International Wheat Agreement provides prices to be fixed which will meet the reasonable costs of production and give a reasonable price to consumers and Canada's prices are those which are fixed as a basis. Canada has enjoyed prices up to quite recently which were not fixed: from which there 'was no reduction, and this Canadian growers have obtained the benefit of the high prices ruling from the war. They have been able to reduce their capital commitments, their interest, and so on, and in the post-war period will find their costs in that connexion should be materially reduced, a? they are the- basis that puts our Australian farmer in ;i difficult position because apart from the other disabilities duo to our geographical position, we have to meet those disabilities which the wheat-growers of Canada have been able to gain. I would like you to have that in mind because sometimes it has been overlooked. The pools that are particularly affected are Nos. fi and 7. So far as No. 5 is concerned, in view of the agreement made it will he recognized by everybody as reasonable at the time it was made. No. (1 pool comes into it to a slight extent but in my own view there is not any material discrepancy in No. 0 pool. No. 8 pool has had no wheat for stock feed. 1 tin not think any one here wants to try and work points on the Government, and I am sure the Government does not want to work points on the wheat-growers. No. 7 pool has not been fairly treated for reasons beyond your control and beyond our control, and I do not think there should be an adjustment there on a frank statement made. I have heard; the treasury officials have been frank, the wheatgrower is not the only man involved in this sort of thing. There is this difference. The wheat-growers went into this under regulations which were practically a bargain between the Government and the wheat-grower and provided for certain methods being carried out, and that is a little different from those of the other industries. The position of No. 7 pool in particular might be given further consideration by your Government.

That was discussed by a conference of the Australia "Wheat. Growers Federation with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, representatives of the

Department of Commerce and Agriculture., the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, the Commonwealth Treasury, and the Pi-ices Branch, and executive officers of the Australian Wheat Board. Subsequently the conference carried the following motion: -

The Australian Wheat Growers Federation accepts thu present arrangement of No. 5 and No. (i pools in respect to concessional prices on the understanding that the Minister reviews the position on No. 7 pool with the president, secretary and one other of the Federation.

A meeting was held to reconsider the case. Because of that reconsideration there has been 'an increase of the grant by £3,500,000. That, in my opinion, is a fair statement of the position. As Mr. Thompson stated, the wheatgrowers are not the only people affected by maximum prices. Nearly every one in Australia has been, caught up by the economic policy adopted by the Government to save Australia from the inflation that has overtaken other countries. As Mr. Thompson also pointed out, the wheat-growers .joined in this agreement, which has been broken by only one party, the Commonwealth Government, which broke it by giving an extra grant of nearly £10,000,000 to the wheat-growers.

The only other point made by the honorable member for Bendigo was that the 1945-46 crop, which will be, of course, sold during 1946 and 1947, should be paid for at its full value. Consideration was given to that matter also at the conference of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, and I am more inclined to accept its view than the view of a politician who will soon be on the hustings defending his seat in this Parliament. That matter was discussed in a calm atmosphere, and the following resolution was reached : -

Subject to the Government accepting (c) (guaranteed price) we raise no objection to

In)(time of plan and seasons it applies to).

The Government has met that request. The minutes of the conference show that the delegates agreed to the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop in the stabilization scheme.

Mr. TURNBULL(Wimmera) [18.18.1 . - As member for Wimmera, the greatest and best wheat-growing constituency in the Commonwealth, I say that our duty in this House, when dealing with the wheat industry, is to get down to fundamentals. The real questions are (1.) Is the industry worth saving?; (2) does the Government consider that 4s. 2d. a bushel at country sidings covers the cost of production and a fair margin of profit?; (3) should the producers be called upon to bear the brunt of the concessional prices for wheat?; (4) should not the 1945-4'6 crop he kept out of the pool and the growers be allowed the full price for that wheat on account of the years and years of drought that they have had to put up with, about which the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) has expressed sympathy to-day? Too much . time has. been taken up in this debate by honorable gentlemen opposite saying what other governments have or have not. done, but the past has nothing to do with the question of what is to be done for the wheat industry now. Wheat-growers throughout ' my constituency are protesting against the policy of the Government, which deprives them of the full price that will be paid for their wheat. Meetings of protest have been held at Culgoa, Warracknabeal, Ouyen, Hopetoun, Kerang, Swan Hill, Sea Lake, Rainbow and other centres. Protests were also made at meetings held at, Melbourne and Perth. Another has. just concluded in Perth. The producers claim that the price that they are offered is wholly inadequate. A day or so ago, one Minister admitted to me that the wheat-grower was entitled to the cost of production plus a fair profit.

Mr FULLER (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is something he never received when the Opposition parties were in office.

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