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Tuesday, 16 July 1946


Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- This measure is not only of vital importance to those engaged in the wheat industry, but also, because of the value of wheat in the Australian economy, the bill is of prime importance to all our people. It may be considered that the continuance of the industry is a matter of concern only to those engaged in it, but, of course, that is not so. This industry provides the staple food of the people, and in that respect it affects all. of the people, and provides, second only to wool, the volume of credit overseas upon which this country depends in importing some of the necessaries of every-day life. We are unable to produce rubber, petroleum, oil, drugs, tea and many other commodities, and we could not import them unless we were first able to establish credits overseas. Therefore, any course of events which resulted in diminishing our production of wheat to such an extent that nothing was left for export would adversely affect the whole economy and way of life of the Australian people. From every aspect from which the matter can be examined, this bill is one of national importance. At the outset I can only say that I am profoundly disappointed at the manner in which the measure attacks the problem of the industry.

It will be interesting to traverse the history of wheat growing during the last decade or so, because all the suffering that those engaged in it could have endured has been centred in their experiences since the disastrous fall of world prices of primary products in about 1930-31. That fall threw the industry into the arena of party politics, and it has been an issue in party politics ever since. The party with which I am associated has endeavoured strenuously, in office and out of office, to do those things which are designed to remove the industry from the political arena, and stabilize it on a basis of permanency fair alike to those engaged in wheat production and those indirectly affected by it. We have seen this Parliament called upon to vote many millions of pounds for the insistance of the wheat-growers. These producers have been obliged to grow ;it a loss many millions of bushels of wheat to feed the people of Australia. I shall leave that experience, and refer, merely in passing, to Two things done on the initiative of the Australian Country party which were of first-class importance to the wheat industry. In 1938, a. home consumption price for wheat was established for the first time in Australia, upon the initiative of this party. Up to that time the people of Australia had been supplied with wheat sold to' them at a price which had nothing to do with its production costs, or the price at which it could be sold on the other side of the world, less the co t of transporting it to the people. We all know of the constitutional difficulties which had been regarded by all concerned as an insuperable barrier to the establishment of a home consumption 'price; yet, by a tortuous process, the constitutional difficulties were overcome, by the device of the flour tax and the' arrangement under which the governments of the six States should pass, for the first time, concurrent and similar legislation.


Mr McLeod - Who brought that about?


Mr McEWEN - It was introduced for the first time by the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully), and simultaneously the Minister took from the Australian Wheat Board every atom of authority that it possessed. The board has since functioned as a mere appendage of the Department - of Commerce and Agriculture. If ever the wheat-growers were sold a gold brick, they were when the board was reconstituted concurrently with the subtraction from it of- every vestige of authority. In order to examine this proposal on its merits it is necessary first to decide one's attitude towards a great principle, upon which this Parliament should not. seek to avoid a decision, namely, whether wheat grown by a private individual on his own land and on his own initiative should be regarded as his own property until sold; or whether wheat, alone of all products, is to be regarded as the property of the nation, to he disposed of in accordance with political policy.

If it is legally and ethically correct to sell a grower's wheat to" a pig feeder for half the price that an export flour miller would be prepared to give, then by the same logic, a dairyman's milk ought to be taken and sold to a nursery kindergarten at half the price that an icecream manufacturer would pay; or boots or shirts should be taken by the Government for old-age pensioners at half the price for which they could be sold to wageearners. On this point, my party stands clearly for the principle that wheat grown in this allegedly free country should be sold to bring the best returns to iti 1'jrodiicers. Prom this we make one exception. Wheat sold for human consumption in Australia should be charged for, not at the highest price obtainable as a result of external competition, but at a' price which is related to the cast of production, allowing a fair margin of profit.

This involves a willingness to feed the Australian people to-day with wheat at least 5s. a bushel lower in price than could be obtained by export, and such a concession by the producers is made out of a remembrance that, in the past, the Australian people have been taxed to pay relief to wheat growers, and out of a belief that, should the export value of wheat in the future fall below cost of production, the Australian people would again be willing to make some contribution to the maintenance of this basic industry. To-day, the balance of financial obligation is very much more by the ' Australian people to the wheat industry than by the wheat industry to the Australian people. From 1931 to 1941, a total of £21,202,144 was voted by this Parliament for the relief of wheat growers, and this amount is increased to £30,000,000 if three-quarters of the £12,000,000 vote for rural debt adjustment is accepted as having gone to the relief of wheat growers, and their creditors. But, during almost the whole. qf this time, until the advent of the Hour tax legislation, wheat was sold at much less than the cost of production - for long periods at shillings a bushel less than the cost of production.

Since the advent of the Labour Government, not one penny has been voted from Consolidated Revenue to supplement the realizations of the wheat growers; but during the Labour Administration, wheat has been supplied for stock feed purposesprincipally to permit the production of cheaper bacon and eggs and dairy produce - at £15,024,000 less than the same wheat could have been sold for to other buyers.

When, about three years ago, I said in this Parliament that a continuance for another eighteen months of the Government's policy of selling the farmers' wheat at concessional prices would be tantamount to stealing from the growers £10,000,000- which additional amount they could get from alternative buyers - I was laughed to scorn by the Minister and. his satellites in this Parliament. As immediate as an echo, came the same derisive denials from those elected leaders of the wheatgrowers' organizations whom the Minister had cunningly enmeshed by putting them on his pay-roll. To-day, it is, of course, history that I underestimated the amount by which the Minister had mulct the wheat-growers.

Fighting a dogged, rearguard battle, lie lias since paid in partial compensation £9,095,000 to the growers, and it is a matter of simple arithmetic to calculate that, on the basis of what used to pass for justice in this country, another £6,000,000 is still owing to them. That fight will be continued, although not in connexion with this bill. It is, however, very important to ensure that this bill shall not be passed in a form which would enable this or any subsequent Minister similarly to rob wheat-growers.

For five years after the last war, the average export value of wheat, as shown in the Tear-Book, was 6s. 2d. a bushel, and for ten years after the last war the average value was a decimal point below 6s. Every fact which has a bearing upon world wheat values indicates a high level of prices for a number of years ahead; the absence of world stocks, the disorganized state of important producing countries, the heightened human consciousness that masses of people must not be hungry, and the war-inflated currencies, all point to a continuance for years of high prices for wheat. In short, a .guarantee of 5s. 2d. a bushel for five years literally is worth nothing.

Therefore, this legislation means that, in exchange for a five-year guarantee which is completely worthless, the grower in this young country is to submit himself to an arbitrary and autocratic regulation of the acreage he may sow, and there is to be compiled a comprehensive set of regulations designed to prevent other persons from engaging in the industry. Growers must submit to the seizing of perhaps one-third of their whole crop in one year, and its sale to" persons in other industries for many millions of pounds less than they could obtain by private realization; to the retention from the proceeds of export sales of many millions of pounds of their money to be, at best, held for years against the day when some other growers may need assistance. To paraphrase Mr. Churchill - never before in the history of this great industry has so much been taken from so many for so illusory an advantage. The vendor . of gold bricks and the rich uncle from Fiji should slink away in shame in the presence of their master, the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.

Mr. J'.S. Teasdale, chairman of the Wheat Pool of Western Australia, and one of the growers' representatives on the Australian Wheat Board, is recognized, as if- not the foremost, one of the foremost, authorities in Australia on wheat marketing. He has made certain simple calculations which reveal "results of the most startling character which would attend the operation of this plan. Quoting the present export price of wheat at 10s. a bushel f.o.b., and allowing that, by the end of five years, the price may have fallen by half, he points .out that the mean average for the period would be 7s. 6d. a bushel, f.o.b., bulk basis. Then, taking last year's very modest crop of 123,000,000.bushels as an example, Mr. Teasdale points out that, on such a crop, 32,000,000 bushels would be used for home-consumption flour; and 28,000,000 bushels for consumption in Australia as stock feed, breakfast food, malting, &c; leaving 63,000,000 bushels for export as flour and wheat. Multiplying these figures by five, to cover a fiveyear period, he points out that 160,000,000 bushels would be sold at 5s. a bushel, bulk basis, being £20,000,000 less than export parity ; 140,000,000 bushels would be sold at the same price for stock feed, &c, providing a return of £17,500,000 below export parity; and 315,000,000 bushels would be exported, subject to an average tax of1s. 3d. a bushel for the Stabilization Fund, thereby withholding £19,787,500 from the growers ; showing a total of £57,287,500 withheld from the industry in five years under this plan. Those calculations are clearly set out in a simple table prepared by Mr. Teasdale -

 

Proceeding, Mr. Teasdale points out that should the average annual marketable crop exceed 123,000,000 bushels and the average export price be 8s. f.o.b. - as he says it may well be - then the amount withheld from growers will be from £68,000,000 to £70,000,000. And this is stabilization !

I have no need to say that the Australian Country party agrees with the principle of wheat stabilization. That party introduced the principle, which would be still operating but for the unforgivable action of the present Minister in terminating it. My party is again prepared to support the establishment of stabilization on a fair basis, but I emphasize that "fair" is the key word of its attitude. We will resist any plan, or parts of a plan, which are stupid or unjust, or which do not recognize the principle that the grower has full property rights in his product until realization. My guiding points in examining the bill are - that the disposal of the growers' product must really be under the control of his own chosen representatives; and that any concession which a government may wish to make in providing lower prices for wheat for certain sections must be made good by the Government to the wheat industry. I have said that the Australian Country party stands for stabilization. That declaration immediately infers, first, that the period of price guarantee must be long enough to cover' and equalize a cycle of price variations; and secondly, that the guaranteed basic stabilization price should be adequate to cover the cost of production and provide a reasonable profit. I find myself in conflict with the bill on both points. In the first place, the bill provides for a fiveyear period only. The most elementary examination of the world statistical position in respect of. wheat makes it quite clear that no glut of wheat which could result in low prices could possibly occur within five years.

Mr. Teasdalerecently made a statement setting out the grounds upon which he concluded that wheat prices would remain at a high level for some years. I accept his judgment on this matter, and repeat some of his conclusions: -

To-day, there are practically no world stocks of wheat, and there is also a world shortage of alternative grains, particularly rice.

The unstable political structure in both Europe and Asia weighs heavily against the quick re-organization of full production in those continents.

The destruction and obsolescence of machinery, both for production and transport, is an important factor.

Reduction in land fertility due to war-time fertilizer shortages; the world craving for animal fats for the production of which there must be a great consumption of grains; the increased population of India and other Asiatic countries, demanding increased imports; the elimination of Danubian countries from the list of exporters while under . Russian control; the determination of the Great Powers to see that there is no widespread shortage of food, irrespective of capacity to pay; and the recognized necessity to rebuild reserve stocks which calls for approximately 600,000,000 bushels.

These are powerful factors which make it certain that there cannot be a serious fall of wheat prices within five years. Therefore wheat-growers do not need a live-year plan. Most growers believe that they would be very much better off without a five-year plan, when, with high prices and free realization, they could mend their own broken fortunes. What they do fully endorse, however, is the need for real stabilization of the industry, and that cannot usefully be attempted in any plan for less than ten years.

I therefore disagree with the Government's proposal on the first point, and urge the necessity for a ten-year stabilization plan.


Mr Frost - At a lower rate?


Mr McEWEN - The second fundamental in a real stabilization plan is that the minimum guaranteed price shall cover the cost of production and provide a reasonable profit. The Government's proposal of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports does not cover the present cost of production, and no one can say whether it will be more or less than cost of production in five .years' time. An adequate plan must cover the cost of production to-day, and also provide for covering the cost of production for the whole period of the plan. No one will deny that there can be no true stabilization in disregard of cost of production; yet although, the present Government has talked of stabilization for years, it has either failed to conduct an inquiry into cost of production or has deliberately refrained from doing so. That brands the Government's administration as either incompetent or insincere. However, growers' organizations in every State have conducted such an inquiry and, in the absence of an' official investigation, the results arrived at by the organizations remain the only guide. They show that the cost of production averages 5s. 2d. a bushel at country sidings, bagged basis. On that basis, and bearing in mind the ' undiminished upward tendency of all costs, the Australian Country party considers that os. 2d. a bushel at growers' sidings is a fair basic minimum guarantee for the forthcoming harvest. Obviously such a guarantee involves no possible Treasury liability in face of the insatiable demand for wheat at its present export value of 10s. 6d. a bushel at ports. Our inability to name a guaranteed price for this year based on an' official examination of costs is entirely due to the Government's negligence, notwithstanding constant demands for an inquiry to ascertain the cost of production.

In regard to the guaranteed minimum price for subsequent years, the Government's plan provides for 5s. 2d. a bushel at ports for the four following harvests. The wheat-growers want only a fair guarantee. How impossible it is to predict for several years ahead what would be an adequate price is shown by the fact that although only five ' years ago the Wheat Growers Federation demanded stabilization at a guaranteed price of 3s. 10½d. a bushel at country sidings, costs had so risen within a year that that rate was quite inadequate. A year earlier the growers had asked for 3s< lOd. a bushel at ports as a basis for stabilizing the industry. In both cases within a year these prices were shown to be completely out of relation to the then existing state of affairs. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has reminded us that while he was Prime Minister the growers had asked for 3s. lOd. a bushel at ports, but that later they asked for that price at sidings. The honorable member for Wakefield- (Mr. Smith) also reminded us that within the last year this Government offered 4s. 8d. a bushel at ports and later raised the " ante " to 5s. 2d. a bushel at ports. All of this goes to show that in a world in which values and costs are changing rapidly there is no possibility at any point of saying that any price is a fair and adequate price to stand for five years. Therefore, the Australian Country party's proposal is that there should be established a statutory tribunal which, upon investigation and evidence, would ascertain the fair cost of production and devise a formula to enable that cost to be kept up to date. Upon the decision of such a statutory body, the annual minimum guaranteed price should be fixed, and provision should be made in the legislation for such a system to function and such a guarantee to operate for at least ten years, a3 no less a period than that can be regarded as sufficient to bring about the true stabilization of an industry such as wheat-growing, in which such substantial capital investment is involved. The Australian Country party, however, believes that whilst the guarantee should be proclaimed as covering a minimum period of ten years, the arrangement should be of a permanent and continuous character. Furthermore, it believes this to be the system upon which all the major primary industries .should be stabilized, and that the price-determining authority ought to be of a character competent through its specialized sections to ascertain and keep under continuous review costs of production in all such major primary industries. It is a truism that an industry cannot continue indefinitely unless it receives cost of production; yet the Government brightly claims to be giving stabilization to the wheat industry by guaranteeing a price which, as far as I can see, might have been arrived at by consulting the stars or by pulling a number out of a hat. Wheat may be said to be worth what it costs to produce, or, what some one is prepared to give for it. On the latter basis, it is to-day worth 10 s. 6d. a bushel at ports ; as to the former, there is no official evidence whatever. An amount of 5s. 2d. a bushel at ports was decided upon in 1938 by the Lyons Government as being the fair value for wheat for home consumption in order to enable a 4-lb. loaf of bread to be sold for ls., and. that amount was therefore fixed as the basis for the calculation of the flour tax. Tt will be remembered that all of the members of the Australian Labour party then sitting in opposition voted against that proposal.


Mr Scully - They did nothing of the kind'. That is a completely untrue statement. '


Mr McEWEN - The division lists which are to be found in the records of the Parliament will prove the accuracy of what I have said. To-day, that figure still stands for that purpose, but it was never chosen as a figure related either to cost of production or export parity. How the present Government came to adopt it as the minimum guaranteed price I cannot imagine, and the Minister has, not attempted to explain. This brings me to the point that a figure chosen in 1938 because it would produce a 4 lb. loaf of bread for ls. is to-day completely out of date, and every loaf of bread consumed in Australia is made from wheat provided by wheat-growers at less than its cost of production. I challenge the Government to prove the contrary. No other industry in Australia is expected, let alone forced, to provide ;the Australian people with food to eat or clothes to wear at less than cost of production, and this figure must now be reviewed. I mentioned earlier that, during the life of the Lyons and Menzies Governments, £21,000,000 had been paid in direct assistance to the wheat-growers, and in addition approximately £9,000,000 had been provided as rural debt relief. T desire to draw the attention of the Government and the Australian taxpayers to the other side of the picture. Out of ' last year's harvest, 34,000,000 bushels will be used for human consumption in Australia and will be provided at 5s. a bushel less than the growers could realize by exporting it. In short, in this one year, the Australian wheatgrowers will, out of their own pockets, subsidize Australian consumers of bread to the value of £8,500,000. On the previous crop this reverse subsidy was worth not less than £5,000,000 to Australian consumers, and even if the export value of wheat is no higher next year than it is at present, growers will again subsidize consumers to the amount of £8,500,000. Therefore, on these three crops alone, wheat-growers will have subsidized Australian consumers to the amount of £22,000,000, and over the same period under . the Government's proposals growers will have provided wheat as feed to produce eggs, bacon, &c, for £20,000,000 less than they would have realized by export. There can be no disputing these figures. The calculations are based on simple arithmetic, and show clearly that it is intended to compel wheat-growers by law to pay back to the Australian public - plus interest at usurer's rates - all of the assistance they ever received "in the depression years, and very much more in -addition. This is a consumer's government dominated by members representing metropolitan constituents who are concerned only with costs to consumers. Yet it has attempted to masquerade as one which concerns itself with the problems of producers. It is an extraordinarily difficult ' feat to satisfy, consumers that they can have the cheapest possible foodstuffs and at the same time satisfy producers by giving them the value of their products at a time when such value happens to be high. That feat this Government has not attempted to perform. Its acts have revealed it as a consumers government. Australian consumers were- quite willing for about a decade in the " thirties " to have their bread made from wheat priced at its export value, and cheap merely because impoverished people overseas could not pay a fair price. Wheat-growers would, therefore, have logic on their side if to-day they asked that Australian consumers should have dearer bread, because the overseas value is now high. To their great credit, however, Australian wheatgrowers do not ask this. What they do ask is that their fellow Australians pay them, for the bread they eat, cost of production of their wheat, plus a fair profit. If the Government believes that the price of bread should not be raised - and in that I willingly concur as that is the definite policy 'of my party - the Government should pay to the Australian Wheat Board whatever is necessary to meet the difference between the present home consumption price for wheat and its ascertained costs of production. The Australian wheat-grower's willingness to provide bread at cost to his fellow Australians is hot a gesture of liberality which he extends to Australian pigs. The principle here is quite clear, and surely unarguable. It is that government authority should not be invoked to take the product of one industry from its owners at a lower price than they could realize, and make it available to those engaged in another industry. The Australian wheat-farmer is willing to produce wheat at cost of production for his fellow Australians to eat bread. But he is not willing to produce his wheat at bare cost' of production to help the man in the pig or poultry or dairy industry to produce his product more cheaply, or to help consumers get their eggs, bacon or milk more cheaply, regardless of the. value of wheat to an alternative buyer.

He wants the wheat which he produces surplus to our human requirements to be realized at its market value. If any government wishes to aid a live-stock industry which uses wheat as a feed, and that really means if any government wishes to keep the cost of eggs and baconand dairy products low to consumers, then the wheat-farmer claims that the Government must pay into the funds of the Australian Wheat Board the difference between market value and any concessional price determined upon. This principle the Australian Country party vigorously upholds.

How grave an injustice can otherwise be- done to Australian wheat-growers under the terms of this present plan can clearly be seen by picturing 'a recurrence of a drought such as that which ended a year ago. This would produce a condition under which there would be n low production of wheat and a stimulated demand for stock feed, in which case all the wheat surplus to human requirements would be needed for stock feed and would be sold at bare cost of production, notwithstanding that a very high level of export values prevailed. So, the wheat industry, while suffering grave loss through drought, would be obliged to provide Australian bread consumers with wheat at less than cost of production, and. Australian stock feeders with wheat at less than cost of production, and at the same time, wheat-growers would have to draw upon their own accumulated moneys in the stabilization fund to bring their return up to the guaranteed price, notwithstanding the existence of high export values.

The plan proposes to make wheat for stock feed purposes available for five years at a price' of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports; but neither the plan nor the Minister's speech reveals where authority is to repose to decide whether, or how much, wheat is to be sold for stock feed purposes. Either the Minister retains the power to direct the provision and determine the quantity of wheat set aside for stock feed purposes or the board must' make this decision. If the board is to possess the authority of decision, then it, comprising a majority of wheat-growers, acting virtually as trustees for their fellow growers, will be confronted with, the extremely difficult problem of deciding to allocate wheat for sale for local feed purposes at 5s. 2d. a bushel at a time when if, could realize perhaps 10s., or more, a bushel by deciding to export. Is the Australian Wheat Board or the Minister to have the authority? Or is the board obliged under the bill to supply all the wheat demanded for stock feed purposes at 5s. 2d. .a bushel ? That seems to me to be the only conclusion that can be drawn from the measure. The bill will oblige the Australian Wheat Board for so long as this legislation remains in force to provide all wheat demanded for any local purpose at 5s. 2d. a bushel. That requirement can result in a very serious loss to the growers. [Extension of time granted.]

When the pig and poultry and dairying industries are at a profitable level there will be a high demand for feed wheat, and when a drought occurs this demand will be added to by sheep feed requirements.. The same seasonal conditions would produce a small crop, so I can easily ' envisage- a state of affairs under which all the wheat surplus to human requirements in Australia would be demanded for stock feed requirements at the proposed prescribed price. Such a state of affairs actually occurred only a year ago-. In these circumstances, wheatgrowers would not be able to take any advantage of high export values, and the position could be aggravated by other government policies designed to stimulate the pig, poultry and dairying industries. In short, a simple calculation will reveal that until such time as the export value falls below the guaranteed price, this plan will produce a result under which the smaller the crop the less price per bushel growers will receive. That statement is unchallengeable: and that result brands the plan as both stupid and unjust. The recurrence of drought in this country is so certain that that state of affairs is absolutely certain to obtain under this plan.

I sincerely hope that the Government will recognize this fault in the general legislation and remove it now; otherwise grave injustice is certain to be done to wheat-growers in a drought year. In the circumstances, drought, which would cause growers loss in their operations, would at -the same time stimulate the local feed demand and automatically deprive them of the compensating factor of export sales at a profitable level. These are important principles, all of them founded wholly on equity, which the Australian Country party claims to be fundamental to a fair wheat stabilization plan.

But there is one other point of first importance. It is that the administration of the plan, and particularly the "disposal of wheat, should be in the hands of a grower-controlled wheat board, possessing real authority. If ever the wheat-growers were sold a gold brick it was when the Minister made good his promise to give the growers majority representation on the Australian Wheat Board, and, at the same moment, took from the board almost every vestige of power of any value. The growers would have, been infinitely better off had the Minister abolished it, for then he would at least have been recognized as the real centre of decision. As it is, the wheat board, powerless though it is, has proved an invaluable stalking horse for the Minister for Commerce and- Agriculture (Mr. Scully).


Mr Scully - That is a reflection on the Australian Wheat Board.


Mr McEWEN - It is a compliment to the Minister's political acumen. There is in this plan one principle which I hope all will recognize as a fundamental departure from every previously accepted principle of just public administration in this country. It is, that a portion of a grower's production is to be taken and set aside to be held as a reserve, without any suggestion or pretence of recording or recognizing that he retains any property right in it. Unless we are to abandon our traditional conception of the rights of the individual to the product of his labour, provision ought to be made in the plan for an equity register of all growers, so that, if circumstances permit, it shall be possible to repay some of the contribution on a basis that has regard to the total contribution of each grower. If the Government takes the view that growers have no right to their wheat once they have grown it, it should say so, and growers would know where they stand. But it is plain that if growers still have full property rights in their wheat under this scheme, their representatives should be permitted to sell it. That is organized marketing, of which the Government proclaims itself in favour in the referendum season. Anything less is not organized marketing, and it will be futile for the Government to proclaim itself from the referendum hustings as in favour of organized marketing of primary products if it is not prepared to permit the Australian Wheat Board to have authority to organize the marketing of wheat. That would not preclude the Government from, as a matter of policy, deciding that a certain quantity of wheat should be reserved for a particular purpose or a particular customer, but it would have to become responsible to the Australian Wheat Board for the current prevailing value of the wheat.

This legislation establishes an Australian Wheat Board with a majority of growers' representatives, and is therefore calculated to persuade growers to believe that their elected representatives 'will be in charge of their own industry. I point out, however, that the two most vital points affecting a wheat-grower are the price which he receives for his -product and his opportunity to engage in production. This legislation has mandatory provisions concerning price, and to that extent it removes that issue from the authority of the Australian Wheat Board. I point out to growers that there is to be a wheat stabilization committee which will have complete authority to decide their opportunity to produce in terms of acres, but it will be nominated by the Minister and will be subject entirely to ministerial direction. Therefore, on the second vital point the Australian Wheat Board, with 'all its growers' representatives, is stripped of authority to decide or even advise upon the extent to which growers are to be entitled to engage in their own industry. That is completely contrary to the interests of the growers, and I propose that the Australian Wheat Board shall be the authority to advise the Minister and act for him in the regulation of production.

There are many other points of important detail which can more appropriately be discussed in the committee stage of the bill. Points I have mentioned are fundamentals, and so important to the formulation of a fair stabilization plan that I now* propose an amendment to the second reading which covers these points, and one other point of vital consequence dealing with a matter which is involved in the present plan, but certainly should have no place in it. I refer to the inclusion, of the 1945-46 crop in the Government's plan. The Government needs no reminding by me of the disastrous experiences of the wheat industry over the last fifteen years, and of the tremendous losses involved, and it is, I am sure, well aware of the resulting parlous financial position of a vast number of wheat-growers. Last year's harvest, following the most disastrous drought, was of quite modest proportions, and growers are desperately in need of the benefits of full realization at the present high level of values. Therefore, common sense ought to have induced the Government to allow the grower to benefit by these high prices and to gain some financial alleviation. As a matter of just treatment of citizens, there is an. unanswerable case for the Government not to attempt to include the last- harvest in the plan. Wheat-growers' official representatives are vehement in declaring that the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, assured them that in respect of the war-time pools, they would receive full realization. Does the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture deny that? But this wheat was compulsorily acquired from the growers by proclamation in November last year, and their ownership was converted into an entitlement to compensation by the Government. It would be a remarkable decision of law if it were decided that their entitlement to compensation could be satisfied by placing a substantial proportion of the realization on their crop in the fund designed to benefit wheatgrowers five years hence, many of whom would not be the growers who had built up the fund. The following table sets out how growers will fare under this proposal : -

Amount withheld from individual growers under proposal in bill in respect to 1945-46 crop, of growers who delivered various quantities to pool.

Amount proposed to be withheld for Stabilization Fund, 2s. 2d. per bushel, being 50 per cent. of difference between 5s. 2d. and9s.6d. Calculations on basis of 50 per cent. of pool being exported -

 

It is an outrageous act of repudiation, and an action ofvery questionable legality, to include last year's harvest in the stabilization plan, and an action which most callously disregards the acute financial needs of thousands of wheatgrowers. My amendment is designed to correct this injustice and enable the introduction of an adequate, workable and fair stabilization plan. I therefore move -

That all the words after " That " be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - " the bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for stabilization of the wheat industry for a period of not less than ten years excluding the 1945-46 harvest, and, in particular, to provide -

(a)   a guaranteed price basis of not less than 5s. 2d. per bushel, bagged, at growers' sidings, for the next crop ;

(b)   thereafter, an annual guaranteed minimum price related to cost of production, allowing a margin of profit;

(c)   the entitlement of growers to the full net realization of each annual pool less a contribution to a stabilization fund of not more than 50 per centum of realization in excess of the guaranteed price;

(d)   payment by the Government to the Australian Wheat Board of the difference between the prevailing export parity and the price at which any wheatis sold by Government direction for export or consumption within Australia, other than human consumption within Australia;

(e)   the establishment of an authority to ascertain current costs of production to enable the operation of the foregoing provisions; and

(f)   that, subject to the foregoing, the Australian Wheat Board shall have full authority in negotiating export sales, and shall be the authority to advise the Minister and act for the Minister in respect to any regulation of production."

I say, with the full authority of the Australian Country party, that this amendment represents the policy of my party and, if the Government does not. accept this amendment, my party, if in power after the next election, will amend the wheat legislation in accordance with the principles of this amendment.







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