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Tuesday, 16 July 1946

Mr POLLARD (Ballarat) .- Unlike the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon); I am unable to speak on this measure with the experience of a practical wheat-grower ; but at least I can speak with the experience of a primary producer who has been engaged in the production of allied products, and with the experience of one who has served for eight years in the State Parliament of Victoria, and nine years in this legislature, during which time I have been able to observe closely the wheat-grower's struggle for economic security, and impact of his troubles upon the problems of this country. If we examine the importance of wheat in Australia's economic structure, and take into consideration some of the figures that are available, we do not wonder that this industry has become a matter for intense political discussion. Australia to-day has approximately 50,000 wheat-growers. That number represents at least 75,000 farmers, and, in addition, there are approximately 25,000 permanent employees of wheat-farmers, making a total of 100,000 people directly engaged in this great industry. In a normal year, wheat covers approximately 12,500,000 acres in this country, and for the ten-year period ended 1942-43 the annual wheat yield averaged 156,000,000 bushels,valued at approximately £30,000,000. Ordinarily, 32,000,000 bushels of wheat is consumed in Australia in the form of flour and other food products. According to figures for the five-year period ended 1942-43, 13,000,000 bushels a year was required for stock feed. An impetus has been given to the use of wheat as stock feed, first by the concessional rates inaugurated by this Government, and secondly by the dire needs created by droughts-. The demand is increasing. Eventually .this new market for wheat will be of considerable value. A further 11,000,000 bushels of wheat is required for seed purposes, bringing the total of our home consumption needs to approximately 56,000,000 bushels annually. Australia occupies tenth place amongst the wheat-producing countries cf the world, and in normal years it exports 18 per cent, of the world's total exports of this commodity. For the fiveyear period ended 1938-39, we exported au average of 68,000,000 bushels of wheat, and in one year the figure was as high as 97,000,000 bushels. With a return to normal conditions and seasons, and the application of mechanical and scientific methods of farming, we can look forward .to a normal export trade of not less than 90,000,000 to 100,000,000 bushels of wheat a year. The indirect benefit of this industry to Australia cannot be overlooked. It gives to our railway services an annual revenue of £3,500,000, and, according to the wheat board's figures, administration, storage, and handling charges, &c, involved the disbursement of a like sum to the Australian community. In addition, the flour-milling industry provides employment for thousands of Australian citizens. Further employment, of course, is given by the demand for agricultural machinery, most of which is manufactured in Australia. Considerable additional sums of money are disbursed upon bags, twine and other goods, required in the wheat industry. Last, but not least, is the substantial standard of living that the industry should, and I believe, under this legislation, will provide for the wheat-grower and his family. That is the first reason for the political importance of this industry. The second reason - and it is a matter for consideration by Parliament - is the fact that, unfortunately, over a long period of years, world prices of wheat have fluctuated so greatly that the grower has come to realize that there is no alternative to political action to stabilize his means of livelihood by fixing the price of wheat at a figure sufficient to provide him with a standard of living not less than that of other Australian citizens who are rendering services to the community in their own particular spheres. The third reason for the political importance of this industry is this : Prior to the setting up of the authority which handled Australia's wheat production during the war of 1914-18 and for some after, and during the period between the wars, the wheat-growers of this country, as of most countries, realized . that only through political action could they bp saved from the operations of dealers and speculators who have waxed substantially rich and fat upon the labours of the farmers. Consciousness of the value of organized marketing first impressed itself on the minds of wheat-growers in 1920-21, the season in which the last wheat crop was handled under the marketing arrangements inaugurated during the war of 1914-18. About that time, the wheat-growers began to realize that during World War I. an authority appointed by the Government had handled the whole of their crop in a comparatively ' efficient manner, and that the proceeds had been distributed to them without any tribute being paid to wheat dealers and speculators. In- the days of open marketing, the dealers had- profited from the increased returns from the sale of wheat that had absorbed .moisture and gained weight while stored.. The growers did not fail to observe that the pool returned to them the amount of the increase. I mark that period as the time when wheatgrowers were first impressed with the value of organized marketing.

Following the decision of the Hughes Government to discontinue the operation of the pool, open market conditions were resumed and until the commencement of World War II., no effort was made by political parties other than the Labor party to introduce the acquisition or board method of handling wheat. It is true that, in 1920, wheat-growers in Victoria, conscious of the advantages of organized marketing, brought pressure to bear upon the State Paliament. The Labor party, always a believer in organized marketing, announced that it would support the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool in Victoria. The then comparatively radical Country party also declared that it would support the proposal. But in 1921, when a State election was precipitated, none of the three political parties was returned with an absolute majority, and the Country party accepted a political compromise offered by the National party, and the Government of the day inaugurated a voluntary pool. The disadvantage of a voluntary pool is that some, growers always decline to participate, and by reason of their refusal, they are able to break down the organized marketing efforts of those within the pool. Yet' that was the system of marketing which was adopted in Victoria in 1921. I admit that it would have been difficult to operate the scheme successfully without the cooperation and complementary legislation of - New South Wales, South Australia and perhaps. Western Australia. Had they so chosen, the four States could have worked their -pooling .systems in co-operation. However, from that lime until 1939, the merchants, dealers and speculators had free rein to deal in wheat and manipulate the market. But on the outbreak' of hostilities in 1939, private enterprise was not able to face the financial responsibility of buying and storing wheat, and the hazards of war. The Menzies Government then came to the rescue of the dealers and speculators, and, incidentally, the wheat-growers, by announcing that it would acquire the whole of the wheat produced in the Commonwealth.

Mr Lemmon - After some of the wheat had been sold for ls. a bushel.

Mr POLLARD - That is so. The Menzies Government appointed a board to market the wheat to the best advantage and pay the proceeds to the growers. As I stated, no effort was made between 1920 and 1939 by political parties other than the Labour party to deal with this problem. I do not exclude the Labour party . because in 1929, the Scullin Government came into office and in the following year, the price of wheat throughout the world tumbled to a disastrous level.

Mr Abbott - The right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) urged farmers to' grow more wheat.

Mr Anthony - The honorable member for Ballarat had better "skip" that episode.

Mr POLLARD - Members of the' Australian Country party are anxious to encourage me to " skip " the true story of what occurred in 1929-31. The plain facts are that the price of wheat overseas tumbled to a disastrous level, and in Australia the price collapsed to 2s. a bushel. That return was so far below the cost of production that growers were not able to meet their commitments, and maintain a reasonable standard of living.

Mr Anthony - Yet the right honorable member for Yarra urged farmers to grow more wheat !

Mr POLLARD - Every State government, whether Labour, National or Country party, encouraged farmers to grow more wheat.

Mi\ Abbott. - Rubbish !

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