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Tuesday, 16 July 1946


Mr FULLER (Hume) .- In expressing support of this measure I believe that I am voicing the opinion of 95 per cent, of Australian wheat-growers. The passage of this legislation by .the Commonwealth and State parliaments, if successfully accomplished, will mark the end of a long fight by wheat-growers for the stabilization of the wheat industry. The fight started when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), whilst Prime Minister of this country, applied the political axe to the wheat industry at the end of World War I. His expressed view at that time was that trade should revert to its normal channels. What he meant, of course, was that the wheat speculators of Sydney, Melbourne and other capital cities should be permitted once again to fix the return that Australian wheat-growers were to receive for their year's labour. He omitted to say that no matter to what degree the price of wheat decreased, the merchants would receive preferential treatment. The belief of governments that have held office in this country for the greater part of the 45 years since Federation has been that so long as wheat merchants and other speculators in foodstuffs are happy and contented, in their suburban, mansions, all is well with the country. The attitude of the Nationalist party, later the United Australia party, and now the Liberal party, is traditional, and accounts for its rejection by country people, particularly primary producers. We deplore the attitude of the Liberal party towards primary industries. Obviously it renders service to the food speculators and other city interests that support it. Members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament are an unhappy and ungrateful body. They are supposed to favour organized marketing of wheat and other farm products ; but in practice the Australian Country party fights harder for portfolios than for organized marketing schemes. The first composite ministry in which the Australian Country party participated was formed in 1923. but the bargain did not include the passage of legislation for the organized marketing of wheat. Why? It included the allocation to the Australian Country party of a certain number of portfolios over which the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was the Leader of the Australian Country party at that time haggled ; but there was no talk of wheat. Again I ask why ? The Bruce-Page Government remained in office until the end of 1929, but no wheat marketing scheme was introduced. In 1930 the Scullin Government introduced legislation for a compulsory wheat pool and guaranteed a payment of 4s. a bushel at sidings. That proposal was killed and by whom? It was not killed by the Labour party. We supported- it to a man. It was not killed by the Trades Hall, the coal miners, the wharf labourers, the shearers or the * farm workers, all of ' whom had been used from time to time by the Opposition as political bogeys. The cold truth is that certain representatives of the Australian Country party in the Senate joined forces with representatives of the United Australia party - now the Liberal party - in defeating the measure. It was the Australian Country party that killed the measure just as that party to-day is doing its utmost to kill the measure now before us. Iri the history of Australian polities there has never been a more gross betrayal than the betrayal of the wheat-growers by the Australian Country party. Its leaders have sent out organizers in motor cars metaphorically to run the farmer down and badger a subscription from him. It obtained money ostensibly for election purposes, but used its power to bargain for portfolios. The wheat-growers should have been given organized marketing at, the conclusion of the first world war. There would then have been no necessity for a royal commission to investigate the insolvent position of the industry; there would then have been no need to disgrace Australia by placing on- the statute-book . the Loan (Farmers' Debt Adjustment) Acts. We would not have witnessed the sorry spectacle of wheat-growers beating a track to the Bankruptcy Court. Country towns would not have lost their populations. All of this, however, happened because members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament were more interested in portfolios than in measures designed to uplift the wheat-growers. When a royal commissioner investigated the wheat' industry he found it in debt to an amount of £151,000,000. "When war broke out it was even still deeper in debt. If there had not been war, or if the Labour party had. not found its way to the treasury bench, the wheat-growers, undoubtedly, would still be lamenting. When war broke out wheat merchants were unable to finance the industry, so they gave the United Australia party the " all clear ". The United Australia party Government then established the Australian Wheat Board, which, in the first place, was a wheat merchants' hoard. I do not know whether they told the Government to " weigh in light " on the finances of the wheat-growers, but whether they did so or not the Menzies Government certainly treated the wheat-growers shockingly in that respect. The Australian Country party asked the Menzies Government to provide 2s. 6d. a bushel as a first advance. The right honorable mem-' ber for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) said that that was a lot of money, but that he would stretch a point. Then the honorable members for Indi (Mr. McEwen) and Bendigo (Mr.- Rankin) and other members of the Australian Country party paraded before their electors and told the wheatgrowers how fortunate it was that there were representatives of the powerful Australian Country party in the Commonwealth Parliament. The growers, they said, were being treated liberally by the Government. For the last harvest the present Labour Administration advanced the farmers 4s; 4d. a bushel at sidings. That was ls. lOd. a bushel more on delivery than the previous Administration had given them. Members of the Australian Country party now, however, say that 4s. 4d. a bushel is too little as a first advance. Their words and actions obviously lack sincerity. The real test of a party's sincerity is what it does when it has power and not what it promises to do when it is in opposition. Measured by these standards, members of the Australian Country party should walk out of this chamber and look for a rope and the nearest tree. The right honorable member for Cowper, who presented the wartime wheat plan of the Menzies Government in ; this House, was quite proud of the measure. It provided a guaranteed, price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. and also provided that when the price of wheat for export exceeded that figure one-half of the proceeds should go to an equalization fund. The present Government suspended the operation of the equalization fund, shortly after it took office, a matter in respect, of which the right honorable gentleman took a doleful view. He expressed his disappointment in this chamber with accompanying "Hear, hears" from his colleagues. The facts are, however, that if the Government had not suspended the operations of the equalization fund wheat-growers would have made contributions from the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 pools. The returns from those pools are much lower than those which growers will receive from No. 9 pool. In their attempts to stimulate an agitation for the exclusion of No. 9 pool from the present five-year plan, members of the Australian Country party are again exploiting the wheat-growers for party political gain. After making contributions to the equalization plan from the 1945-46 crop, No. 9 pool, the grower will receive approximately 6s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. for his wheat. Surely if there was a. case for deducting 50 per cent, of the excess price over 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. (here is a case for deducting an equivalent percentage over 5s. 2d. f.o.r. The fact that the grower will receive 6s. 5d. a bushel f.o.b. from No. 9 pool strengthens the case. Growers like this plan because it is to operate for five years and not merely for one year. They appreciate also the fact that provision is made for the extension of the scheme beyond five years if desired. The working farmer who has no political axe to grind is not being misled by high prices ruling in the export market at the moment. He has been through bad times and does not want to experience them again. There are a few farmers who object to sharing the excess over the 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. with a stabilization fund. It will be returned with interest when prices recede, as they will all too soon. I believe that every Labour member in the Commonwealth and State Parliaments will support the bill. The Labour party believes in the organized marketing of -primary products. To members of the Australian 1 Country party I say that the days when they could pull the wool over the eyes of the farmer are ended. Their frantic efforts to stimulate opposition to the measure will influence only a handful of growers. Members of the Australian Country party realize how , barren is their record in this House; and the farmers of Australia are also well aware of that fact. I am not alone in supporting the bill. I have already said that 95 percent. of wheat-growers support it. After contacting wheat farmers in my electorate I am convinced, as any one who visits the wheat-belt and sees the acreage being sown will be convinced, that the great majority of growers support the Government's plan. The following, which I quote from The Wh eatgrower of the 21st June, 1946, does not make very pleasant reading for honorable members opposite : -

" SAVE STABILISATION FROM POLITICAL WRECKERS "

PRESIDENT ON UNION POLICY.

"Are we to have stabilisation or are wo going to allow it to be wrecked because it is being made into a political football?" asked Mr. Col will, W.G.U. General President, at the W.G.U. meeting at Forbes on Saturday, May S.

Our Lifelong Object."We have talked stabilisation ever since we came into existence, and I feel that we are now on the verge of accomplishing if," said Mr. Colwill. "If we can get it on the Statute Book we can congratulate ourselves that we have achieved what we have been fighting for. We can, of course, set to and amend it once it is on the Statute Book," he said, " but once it is there no Government would dare to take it off."

A.W.F.Responsibility

Mr. Colwillinsisted" that the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation must take responsibility for the Plan in its present form. " Neither the W.G.U. nor the Federal Governmentcan be blamed for the present plan," he said, "but definitely the A.W.F. The minutes of the A.W.F. meeting on 10th and llth December," (a copy of which was shown to those present) "show that the Government has given, after makingalterations demanded by the A.W.F. practically exactly what the A.W.F. asked for. Then, the A.W.F. at its Perth meeting - a much less representative one than that held on December 10th and 1 1th - bring out a totally different plan.

Mr. Colwillfurther pointed out that there is a mistaken idea abroad about the 50 per cent. which goes into the equalization fund. " That money remains our money," he said. "It goes into a trust account and sooner or later we receive it." "A Political Football"

At the Forbes meeting Mr. Colwill finished his remarks on the stabilization plan by pointing out that there was never a better time for the institution of a stabilization plan, when prices are so high; and with a further plea that we do not allow it to become a political football.

Mr. Colwillhas asked that the following be reproduced from the Victorian " Wheatgrower" (30/5/46). It is part of a statement by Mr. G. C. Marshman, of the Victorian V.W. and W.G.A., a growers' representative on the Wheat Quality Committee (and apparently a member of the Country Party).

Mr. Marshmansaid:

A Political Move" The regrettable feature of the whole opposition is that it is a political move more than anything else.

At the last Country Party conference I listened to the debate on the wheat stabilisation plan when the resolution was carried asking for 5s. 2d. per bushel at growers' sidings, and heard Mr. McEwen's eloquent speech in favor of this motion.. As I listened my mind went back a very few years and I reflected on a visit that I had to Canberra with a deputation from the Victorian Wheat and Wool Growers' Association, when we requested the Menzies-Country Party Government to make a payment of 3d, per bushel to growers on wheat that had been delivered to the 1939-40 Pool. During that visit, we interviewed Mr. Cameron, the then Minister for Commerce, and were in no way encouraged by his attitude towards us.

Met Mr. McEwen

Whilst on this visit we met Mr. McEwen in the corridors of Parliament House and made known to him the purpose of our deputation, and requested his support. The reply we received was: " I refuse to embarrass the Government on such a matter at this time."

It so happened that a short time previous to this visit to Canberra, the Association had written to all Victorian members of the Federal House requesting that each should declare his attitude towards the Association's effort for just treatment for the growers, pointing out in this circular that, if support was not offered, we would be compelled to pledge our support to a candidate who would foster our claim.

Mr. McEwendid not send a reply, but, while members of the deputation were in his room at Parliament House, Canberra, he referred to this circular, which was on his table, and angrily remarked that he resented such an approach to him and would ignore the circular and the body that sent it.

Now he poses as the growers' champion.

Another Country Party member interviewed on this occasion was SirEarle Page and. when he learned the nature of our mission, calmly and deliberately told us that we would need to decrease our wheat production, and, to augment our returns from wheat-growing turn to dairying.

He instanced several eases from his electorate of Grafton, where men had gone in extensively for dairying on river frontages and made good.

A Political football.

I am citing these cases in order that growers may see very clearly that the guaranteed price as set out in the present scheme is being used as a political football. The Government of the day when our wheat pool was brought into operation, and a Wheat Board appointed, did not seek the assistance of growers, but made the appointments from firms and trading companies who had long been making money out of the growers.

The explanation given was that it was desired that the ordinary channels of trade should not be disturbed more than was absolutely necessary.

I find it particularly difficult to reconcile the men that were and the men that are, and would warn growers to be most cautious about taking action to destroy a substance whilst they go out to chase a shadow.

In reply to a question at the Country Party conference as to whether there was a limit to the quantity of wheat on which the Federal Country Party would guarantee 5s. 2d. per bushel Mr. McEwen replied : " No Treasury would sign a blank cheque." Now supposing the total crop to come under the guaranteed price, which as far as Mr. McEwen is concerned, is 100,000,000 bushels. What is to be paid for the balance?

It has been whispered that the amount for which the Federal Liberal-Country Party would be prepared to make a guarantee would be 150,000,000 bushels.

This is a further point to which growers should give attention before accepting the lead now being offered to them by some loudly spoken politicians.

It is easy for those members of Parliament, whoseparty is not in power, to criticise the action of the Government of the day, but when we sought financial aid for the wheat industry by way of a guaranteed price from the Liberal-Country Party administration,we were told that the money was not available.

Now we hear members of these parties declare that the grower is entitled to receive 5s. 2d. per bushel f.o.r. at country sidings for a 10-year period.

I hope that growers will remember these statements, and, if a Liberal-Country Party Administration should be brought back to power before 1956, see to it that these promises arc fulfilled."

How honorable gentlemen opposite squirm when they feel the lash. The arguments of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) like a tub with a hole in it, will not hold water. When he spoke on this bill last week, he did not promise the wheat-growers anything. The poisonous propaganda of the honorable member for Indi will not be accepted bythe wheat-growers. The honorable member has been pushing the poison cart through my electorate. It will avail him nothing. I know the wheat-growers. I have been among them, not only in my electorate, but in the electorate of the honorable member forRiverina (Mr.

Langtry), and I know that not, only will all Labour members representing country constituencies retain their seats but also that their numbers will be added to at the forthcoming general elections. The people know that the members of the Labour party are honest, sincere men. We are here not to play politics, but for the good of the nation. But our opponents play political football with every measure brought before this chamber. Their one fear is that they will not hold a seat in the next parliament. I am convinced that at the next general elections the peoplewill deal with them even more effectively than they did in 1943.







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