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Wednesday, 17 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER - Order! .

Mr ABBOTT - Should we have" had the enormous development of the 'wheat industry of Australia if this policy of restriction had been imposed from the beginning? In 1860-61, Australian wheat acreage was 600,000 and the production 30,200,000 bushels, compared with ar acreage of 14,200,000 and a production of 210,000,000 bushels in 1939-40. Would the sturdy farmers of Australia have developed their heritage if they had had production restrictions imposed upon them ? It is grim humour on the part of the Government to encourage the sons of farmers to join " young farmers' " organizations when many of them can never become young farmers. The Government has erected " Trespassers Beware " notices in the wheat industry. Its policy is directed to make the wheatgrowing industry a monopoly. In New South Wales alone, approximately 7,000 certificates have been issued to exservicemen. Many of them, while they were serving in the forces, hoped that, on their discharge, they would be able to engage in wheat farming.. This bill will not assist them to do so. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made only a brief reference to this subject. He said -

Our normal pre-war basis of production can be maintained and it will be practicable to include in the industry soldier settlers and farmers' sons.

It may be practicable or it may not, but the Minister has not indicated whether the State legislation contains any provision to ensure that ex-servicemen shall, without limitation, be granted licences to grow wheat.

Mr Scully - Does not the honorable member consider that the State governments have as much sense of responsibility to ex-servicemen as he has ?

Mr ABBOTT - Has no arrangement been made between the Commonwealth and the States to safeguard the interests of ex-servicemen who desire to. grow wheat? Doesthe Minister imply, by his' interjection, that the Commonwealth has not yet arranged with the States to assist ex-servicemen to become wheat-growers? Is the Minister's plan so half-baked that he has not considered those aspects?

Mr Scully - All those matters received consideration.

Mr ABBOTT - I propose now to refer to the position of men who owned land when they joined the forces in 1939. When they were demobilized, they were notgranted a licence to grow wheat. To prove my statements, I quote from a report contained in the Northern Daily Leader of the 8th May last. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture met a deputation of the Land Settlement Subcommitee of the Inverell Branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, which is inhis electorate. The first resolution to which his attention was directed was -

That permanent wheat-farm registrations should be granted to all ex-servicemen wheatgrowers.

The report states -

One case that had come under notice was that of a man who had land at North Star. He had killed the timber, cleared the land, and was about to plant wheat, but enlisted and went overseas. He was now back, but the only permission he could get was to grow wheat for one year; a permanent registration would not be granted. He had arranged to sell the property to a returned ex-serviceman of this war, but the sale was subject to it being a permanently registered wheat farm. As he could not get this registration, the sale could not go on. The only reason why it was not a permanently registered farm, was that the . owner was fighting for his country. If he had stayed at home the farm would have been a registered wheat farm. There were more than 25 similar cases in New South Wales, and the deputation felt that something should be done, and done very promptly, to overcome such injustice. The intending purchaser 'of a property would have to purchase plant costing over £2,000, as it would be necessary to crop large areas in the North Star district, and no man could entertain the proposition when he could obtain a wheat licence for only oneyear.

The Minister, in replying, said that he was very glad that they had come along to bring these points under notice. When he took over he had to amend the wheat stabilization regulations under the National Security Act to the end of the year so far as the present registration was concerned.Whatever might happen afterwards would be a matter for the party that would be handling it after the elections. He appreciated that anomalies did exist in the present scheme, and he would further amend it so as to give authority to issue licences for at least the duration of the act. Queensland was definitely tied up by that act, but he lifted the restrictions, and told them to go ahead and grow all the wheat they could. Owing to transport difficulties, there was not enough wheat in Queensland to meet requirements, and the more wheat they grew the better it was for the Commonwealth.

In such cases as that mentioned, he wanted them to understand definitely that a wheat licence would be granted immediately. It was the height of stupidity, and absolutely wrong, to refuse licences in such cases.

Yet by interjection a few minutes ago the Minister implied that the Commonwealth had not entered into any agreement with the States for the purpose of ensuring that ex-servicemen shall be granted licences to grow wheat. He misled the deputation, because he did not speak the truth. The cases to' which the deputation referred are not covered in Commonwealth or State legislation. The report continued-

Another point that he particularly wanted to emphasize was that returned soldiers would definitely be given permanent wheat licences.

The responsibility for issuing the licences lias been transferred from the Commonwealth to the States, but the Minister has not made any binding arrangement for protecting the interests of ex-servicemen who desire to grow wheat. So far as he is concerned, those ex-servicemen simply do not exist. He declared that "there may be room " in the development of the wheat industry in the future to enable provision to be made for them; but such provision is not made in the Commonwealth or State legislation.

Mr Scully - That is not true.

Mr ABBOTT - Eight times in his speech the Minister emphasized the necessity to regulate production.- He adopted ;t curious attitude. Early in his secondreading speech, he stated - lt provides growers with a guaranteed minimum price for wheat for five years, and has the machinery to maintain minimum price guarantees as a permanent feature. The effect will he to remove the feature which disturbed the industry most in the past; that is. the i in pact of unduly low prices.

Then he declared -

The States control production, and production must be regulated to the markets avail- ii bie for our wheat.

Production must be regulated according to the markets available for our wheat ! If the markets of the world are heavily supplied with wheat during the five-year period, the farmers, although f.hey are guaranteed a price, are not guaranteed the right to grow so much wheat as they produced in the base period. The whole plan is an attempt to fool wheat-growers. The Government ha3 misled them. Later in his speech, the Minister stated -

Production will be regulated in accordance with the markets available.

Subsequently, he said -

It is not proposed,, nor intended, that returns shall be permanently out of line with the export price, nor that the industry will lie continually subsidized. Two-thirds of our wheat goes onto the export market, and we must compete with' other countries for our markets.

What a poorly-conceived stabilization scheme ! It does not guarantee that the farmer will get the full advantage of high prices, but he will suffer all the disadvantages of low prices, because the quantity of wheat that he will be licensed to produce will be curtailed. The Minister asserted that the wheat-grower is guaranteed a price of 5s. 2d. a bushel. I remind him that if the quantity that he is permitted to grow is reduced by 10 per cent, or 20 per cent., the effect is . to reduce the price to 4s. 8d. a bushel. In 1940, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture stated in criticism of the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill-

The plan outlined by the Government completely' disregards the interest of small growers.

Large growers,' can produce wheat profitably when the price is a little over 2s. per bushel; : the small farmer reaping not more than 400 acres of wheat finds his production costs much higher. The scheme submitted by the Government will strike the death knell of the small growers. The result of these regulations will be a calamity to the small growers.

Every word that the Minister uttered on that occasion applies to this bill. No protection is provided for the small growers. If growers are instructed to reduce their crops by 10 per cent.,' the small growers will " get it in the neck " just as severely as will the large producers. But whereas the large producer' will be able to bear the blow, the small grower will not. As the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) pointed out, many of the larger growers engage in mixed, farming and have sources of income other than the sale of their wheat. The small wheat-grower depends wholly upon the returns from his harvest. As the report of the Royal Commission on the Wheat Industry showed, the costs of the small grower are always substantially higher than are the costs of the large grower. In the four principal wheat-producing States in 1935-36, the classification of wheat holdings was - 36,570 produced 3,070 bushels or . less, and 14,955 holdings produced over 3,070 bushels. The 36,570 holdings, which represented 70 per cent, of the total number, produced 47 per cent, of the Australian wheat crop, whilst the remaining 14,955 holdings, which represented 30 per cent, of the total, produced 53 per cent, of the crop. Those are the larger holdings. When we examine the position in. New South Wales,- the figures are even more impressive. According to the New South Wales Official Year-Book for 1938-39, that State, for the ten seasons from 1933-34 . to 1943-44, had an average production of 51,634,000 bushels of wheat, or 32 per cent, of the total Australian harvest. Consequently, New South Wales is an important State in wheat. production. Of the 14,272 hold- ings in that State, 10,484, or 60 per cent, of .the total number, produced 22 per cent, of the wheat, and each of them grew less than 3,000 bushels. The remaining 40 per cent, of the holdings were responsible for 78 per cent, of the wheat grown. The Commonwealth Year-Book for 1940 showed that in 1935-36, 24 per cent, of the wheat-farms had no sheep. They were probably the holdings of the ? mall wheat-growers, who are' wholly dependent upon the returns from the sale of their grain. The principle of applying ;i. general curtailment of the production of wheat to all farmers is entirely wrong. The previous scheme did not function on that basis. The small wheat-grower should not be compelled to suffer as severe a reduction as the large wheatgrower. As I have shown, the big majority of farmers produce less than 3,070 bushels. In 1940, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that the application of the guaranteed price to the first 3,000 bushels, and the spread of prices over the next 2,000 bushels, wouk embrace about 90 per cent, of the wheatgrowers of Australia. Why should the large growers who produce 78 per cent, of the New South Wales harvest, not bear the burden of any reduction of production before any restriction is imposed on small growers? It would have been more acceptable if the Minister had adhered to his previous plan, with some alterations, and been content to withdraw the licensing system, allow the unrestricted production of wheat, and grant a guaranteed price for the first 3,000 bushels of each producer's harvest.. The adoption of that plan would have obviated the necessity to restrict production. The larger growers would Iia ve curtailed production, -and all the growers would have known ,that They had a haven of shelter from the economic blizzards of the world. If it were necessary to impose a levy in order to preserve that position, a contributory

Ifr.Abbott. charge could, have been imposed on every bushel of wheat produced in Australia, except that intended for human consumption, and all the fanners would have derived the benefit.

Last night, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) pointed out in an admirable speech that under this scheme the wheat-growers stood to lose at least £57,000,000 during the next five years, and that the amount could easily total £70,0005000. Mr. J. S. Teasdale, of Western Australia, has also directed attention to this possibility. With the proposal to regulate production, it is doubtful whether "the Government will over be called upon to assist to finance the scheme. The Government may so regulate and curtail production that it can retain the growers' money and gradually distribute it until the wheat position has corrected itself.

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