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Tuesday, 16 July 1946

Mr LANGTRY (Riverina) .- I rise to speak on this most important bill, not as a politican, but as a wheat-farmer of long experience. I was surprised by the arguments advanced on this bill by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). Forty years ago I carted wheat 40 miles for ls. 7d. a bushel. From that day to this wheat has been a political football. The Labour party is the only party that has made a genuine effort to better the position of the wheatgrowers and to stabilize wheat prices. When the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) was Leader of the Opposition he urged that the Bruce-Page Government stabilize the price of wheat at 5s. a bushel for five years. Unfortunately that was not done. A few months later, when the right honorable gentleman succeeded to the Prime Ministership, one of the first legislative acts proposed by his Government and passed through this House was a measure guaranteeing a reasonable price to the wheat-farmers for one year. Although (he Labour party had a majority in this chamber, it was in the minority in the Senate, which rejected the bill' with consequent disaster to the wheat industry. I refer to that matter not- because the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) told the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) that he had not told the whole story. That may be so, but the honorable member for Barker did not tell the whole story either, because he did not tell the House that the Commonwealth Bank was willing to finance the scheme proposed under that measure. The late Sir . Robert Gibson, as chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, said that he considered that the private banks should assist in financing il>-n scheme but that if they failed to do so, the Commonwealth Bank would take the whole burden. Notwithstanding ' that, that bill was defeated by the so-called Country party members in the Senate. It was and is a country party in name only. I pass on to the depression years. The worst period of Australia's history was the decade between 1930 and 1940. During most of that period non-Labour governments were in office, and had a majority in each' House of the Parliament. These governments professed to have the interests of' the wheat-growers at heart, but they did nothing to stabilize the wheat industry. They could have done something then along the lines suggested during this. debate by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the honorable member for Barker. It is strange that honorable members opposite should criticize the present Government for not doing things which they themselves failed to do when in office. When a Labour government took over the reins of office the wheat industry was at the lowest ebb in its history, yet honorable members opposite have' the audacity to criticize the present Government, which has done much for the wheat-growers of Australia. Do honorable members opposite think that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation does not know the cost of producing wheat? Members of the federation know more about that subject than do some honorable members opposite, who scarcely know the difference between a bag of wheat and a bag of oats. When the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister farmers who had wheat in No. 1 pool received from ls. 5d. to 2s. 2d. a bushel for it. The fact is that previous governments robbed the farmers of large sums. No fair-minded man would say that 2s. 2d. a bushel was a fair price for wheat, even in those days, or that that price covered the cost of production. Those who criticize the present Government for its treatment of the wheat industry are more concerned about political propaganda than about the interests of the wheatgrowers. I regard Mr. H. K. Nock, a former member for the electorate of Riverina, as enemy No. 1 of the wheatgrowers of Australia, and I make no apologies for saying that. I remember well that during the regime of non-Labour governments the farmers of Australia fought hard in an effort to obtain 4s. a bushel for. the first 3,000 bushels of wheat produced by them. I attended many meetings of farmers at that time. There were also numerous deputations to the then government. About 80 per cent, of the wheat-growers of Australia are what are usually described as small farmers. They appealed to the then government for a price fo'r their wheat which would enable them to pay their way, but their appeal fell" on deaf ears. It remained for the present Government to give to the farmers a payable price for their wheat. Previous governments, consisting of the parties now in opposition, refused tq meet the farmers in any way, yet to-night honorable mem: bers who supported those governments say that more should be done for the wheat-growers. Could any action be more hypocritical? I remind honorable members opposite that the wheat-growers want more than talk; they want results, and they have had them from the Labour Government. The present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and I told the farmers that if a Labour government were elected it would see that 4s. a bushel was paid for the first 3,000 bushels of wheat produced by any wheat-grower. A Labour government wa§ elected, and that promise was honoured. A previous government brought in what it described as a wheat stabilization scheme, but it was not a plan at all. It did not even provide for a guaranteed price. Under it, a sum of £26,750,000 was set aside for an estimated crop of 140,000,000 bushels. I said at the time that that plan did not guarantee 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b., as was claimed- for it. Under that so-called scheme, no farmer could say what he would get for his wheat. All sorts of false statements were made regarding that scheme, both in this Parliament and in the newspapers. It was claimed that it provided for a guaranteed price for wheat, but it did not do so. Farmers were told that they would be paid for only 140,000,000 bushels, although the crop amounted to 153,000,000 bushels. . The president of the Farmers and Settlers Association told farmers at Temora that in the event of the crop exceeding 140,000,000 bushels the sum of £26,750,000 would be spread over the whole crop. It will be seen, therefore, that there was no guaranteed price for wheat at that time. Fortunately for the farmers of Australia, the non-Labour government that had not interested itself in their welfare was putout of office and a Labour government which paid the guaranteed price for the * total wop of 153,000,000 bushels took its place. The Australian Wheat Growers Federation is truly representative of the wheat-growers of Australia, because only persons who have planted at least 50 acres of wheat can be members of the organization. The Farmers and Settlers Association, on the other hand, does not confine membership to practical farmers, and the result is that any one can be a member and not have at heart the interests of the wheat-growers. At a conference held in Sydney the present Government submitted to representatives of wheatgrowers a plan which was not acceptable to the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. The Government's proposal was for 4s. 8d. a bushel f.o.b., but the federation did not think that the price was high enough. That was my view also. Representatives of the federation discussed the matter with the Government, with the result that the Government agreed to a guaranteed price of 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.b. It was also' agreed that the 1945*46 harvest should be included in the guarantee on a fifty-fifty basis. It is incorrect to say that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation is not in favour . of this bill. For the information of wheatgrowers, I place on record the names of the delegates who attended the conference held in "Sydney on the 11th December, 1945. They . were. - H. T. Chapman (South Australia), W. J. Marshman (South Australia) ; J.' E. Maycock (South Australia), C. T. Chapman (South Australia), E. Walker (Western . Australia), F. Rooke (Western Australia), K. Jones (Western Australia), J. W. Diver (Western Australia), H. K. Nock (New South Wales), H. S. Roberton (New South Wales), T. P. Gleeson (New South Wales), G. Gibbons (New South Wales)', F. H. Cullen (Victoria). T. W. Lilley (Victoria),. and T. C. Stott the general secretary. They represented the wheat-growers of Australia, and they accepted the Government's plan. Yet the honorable member for Indi and other honorable gentlemen opposite considered that those delegates were not capable of -representing the wheat-growers and did :not have authority to accept the plan. I state definitely that they were so authorized. Unfortunately, some of the gentle- * men who attended that conference have since condemned the plan. Unfortunately, some of the gentlemen who were present at the conference, which agreed to the plan by a majority vote, have since criticized the scheme. In my opinion their views are not worthy of consideration. Some opponents of the plan deliberately make untrue statements for the purpose of misleading the wheatgrowers as to the actual position.

I compliment the Government on having made a genuine effort to stabilize the wheat industry. In my experience, which extends over many years,- this is the best plan that has been devised in the interests of wheat-growers. Some honorable members opposite complained that the plan will expire after five years. That view is not correct. . The plan may continue for ten or fifteen years, but it will be reviewed after two or three years. Time brings strange changes. The price of wheat may rise to 5s. or -6s. a bushel, or fall sharply to 2s. a bushel. However, the Government has guaranteed to wheatgrowers a price of 4s". 6d. or 4s. 7d. a bushel at country stations or sidings for the next five years, irrespective of the fluctuations of price on overseas markets. If Australian wheat-growers were given an opportunity to express their views regarding this plan, they would approve it by a large majority. Of course, a few wheatgrowers arc not in favour of it, but it is impossible to obtain complete unanimity. There is always a recalcitrant minority. If the Labour Government offered them £1 a bushel for wheat and 10s. per lb. for wool they would oppose the suggestion on principle. Their attitude reminds me of the reasoning of the Irishman, whose mate said, "It is a splendid rain." " "Where is it coming from ? " asked the Irishman. From the south," replied his mate. " It will not be- any good, then," declared the Irishman. Some opponents of the Government's plan are so "one-eyed " that they do not believe that the Labour party can assist the primary producer in any way. I assert that this Government has done a great deal for the man on the land, whether he is growing wheat, wool, rice or fruit, or is raising fat lambs. Although, under this plan, the Government offers wheat-growers a guaranteed price, honorable members opposite declare that the Minister is not sincere. In turn, they have been members of the Conservative party, National party, United Australia party and Liberal party, and have supported coalition governments, but over the years there has been only one Australian Labour party. Every time we have had an opportunity to help the man on the land, we have improved his standard of living and made him happier and more content.

When, at a later date, the Minister reviews this bill, I should like him to consider the advisability of inserting a safeguard against a sharp decline of price, as has occurred in the past. Provision should be made for a guaranteed price of 4s. 3d. a bushel at country sidings for the first 3,000 bushels. If that be done, the small wheat-grower will always he able to enjoy a reasonable standard of living and meet his obligations. In advocating that view, I speak on behalf of the small wheat-grower. The large wheat-grower is able to 'make, his living in other ways. With the mechanization of industry, particularly of farming," wheat- could be overproduced in Australia in perhaps two years. Honorable members opposite have referred to the position of the wheat industry after World War I., but. I remind them that wheat farming now is vastly different from what it was 25 years ago.. Two men with a tractor can work as large an area in the same period as four eight-horse teams can do. Machinery is also more economical. I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to my request.

Honorable members opposite never inform the House what they did to improve the conditions of the wheat-grower. I shall remind the House of their tinsympathetic attitude. When the price of wheat was 2s. 3d. a bushel, the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) who was then a Minister refused the request of a deputation representing wheat-growers to submit to Cabinet a request for an increase of price, for fear that it would embarrass the Government. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), when the price of wheat was only 2s. 6d. a bushel, declared emphatically that the Government, could no.t provide any money to increase the return to the grower. Yet both honorable members to-day declared that 4s. 7d. a bushel at sidings is insufficient. I conclude that those honorable gentlemen desire only to mislead wheatgrowers at the forthcoming general elections. That is my honest opinion. If they were genuinely concerned about the condition of the wheat-growing industry, they would not have allowed it to sink to such a low ebb when they were in office. They speak, not for the wheat-grower, lui t for the great combines of the world that have robbed the farmers from the cradle to the grave. Wheat-growers have always been the slaves of the merchants; and honorable members opposite desire that they should so remain. They also complained about the representation of growers on the Australian Wheat Board. Before .the Labour Government took office, the majority of members of the hoare! were the mouth-pieces of the great combines. Now, I am pleased to say, the majority of the members are the representatives of the wheat-growers, and that alteration is due solely to the policy of the. Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. He promised the wheat-growers that if the Labour party were returned to office, he would reconstitute the board. He honoured his promise. If honorable members opposite had remained in office, the wheat-growers would, not have that representation.

I compliment the Government and the Minister on having formulated this plan. It will enable wheat-growers to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, and will place wheat stabilization on a sound footing. The bad legislation of anti-Labour administrations, which refused to guarantee to wheat-growers a fair price, caused untold misery in the industry, and drove despairing farmers to commit suicide. Speaking from memory I believe that 8,000 farmers abandoned their properties during the ten-year period of -low prices. At that time, United Australia party and United Country- party governments were in office in the Commonwealth and

New South Wales. I believe that 3,000 wheat-farmers in South Australia, and about the same number in Victoria, went off the land. Honorable members opposite say that we must stop the drift of population from the country to the cities. Who drove the farmers from the country to the cities but the so-called Australian Country party, which would not give them an opportunity to remain on the land? Every fair-minded man and woman in Australia must agree that the wheat-growers have had a very bad deal from past governments and a good deal from this Government. I have not the slightest doubt that at the next general elections the present administration will be returned to office with a large majority, not on what it has said but on what it has done, not only during the war, but also since the termination of the conflict in the rehabilitation of the people of Australia. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill. I again compliment the Minister on his honesty and sincerity in fulfilling every promise that he made when he assumed office. I hope that he will remain in his present position for a long time, and thus ensure to the wheatgrowers the just price for their product to which they are entitled.

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