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Wednesday, 17 July 1946

Mr BOWDEN (Gippsland) .- This debate has been looked upon by honorable members as an opportunity tospeak of many things. I join in it not with the idea that I have anything new to propose, because I believe the statistics of the wheat story have been fairly well covered by many honorable members, but because the stabilization of primary industries is part and parcel of the policy of the Australian Country party and is therefore a matter of the highest importance. By stabilization we mean something which will ensure to the primary producer a reward from the nation commensurate with the service he renders to .it. For too many years the primary producer has been looked upon in the industrial field as the hewer of wood and the drawer of water. Because his industry is primary he has never been able to translate costs into prices - a privilege enjoyed by other producers - and consequently he has always been placed at a disadvantage. The deterioration of the economic position of the primary producers had its genesis in the unfair and excessively high tariff policy adopted by Australian governments in the past in an effort to protect secondary industries. Under that, policy manufacturers have been able to cover Australian costs by the fixation of an Australian price. Let us consider the position of the worker by comparison with that of the primary producer. The basic-wage worker has his wage adjusted periodically to conform to commodity prices, whereas the farmer, on the other hand, having been obliged for many veil rs to take world parity prices, has had to carry a disproportionate share of the hurdon of the tariff. This stupidly unfair condition of affairs could only result in bankruptcy, with its corollary of debt adjustment boards, moratoriums and other devices to encourage him to continue pouring out his energy to feed a nation which condemns him as a failure because he cannot meet one pound's worth of costs with ten shillings' worth of prices. That factor has been studiously avoided by honorable members opposite during the debate on this bill. To prevent the continuance of that very unfair condition of affairs, groups of farmers in several industries banded together in recent years and demanded recognition of their indisputable right to a place in the Australian economy, commensurate with their contribution to the national wealth. It is well known to everybody that that contribution represents approximately 90 per cent, in the exporting -field. Despite the claims of honorable members opposite that no attempts have ever been made by the parties sitting on this side of the House to stabilize the wheat industry, everybody recognizes that a great deal ofsuccess attended these efforts at organization in the past. Those engaged in the production of butter, dried fruits, preserved fruits, maize, peanuts, and many other primary products have benefited greatly by the impact of producers' opinions on the various control boards. Now we come to consider the plight of the wheat-grower, who since the inception of a tariff policy which obliges him to pay £620 for a tractor which costs but £80 in the country of manufacture, has never had a chance. The wheat-grower is now -determined to demand some security in the future, for himself 'and his family. The protagonists of- high tariffs, traditionally the members of the Australian Labour party, have deliberately avoided any reference to the important fact that the farmer on a low wheat price overseas pays £80 worth of wheat for a tractor, but if a similar tractor is sent to Australia the Australian wheat-farmer has to pay an additional £520 to some authority in order to obtain possession of it.

Mr Lazzarini - Does the honorable member contend that the tariff policy is responsible for that?

Mr BOWDEN - That policy has undoubtedly brought about the ruin of the primary producers of this country. Some honorable members opposite in interesting addresses dealt ably and well with the proposal embodied in this bill; but there were two honorable gentlemen in particular who did not do so. One of them was the honorable member foi Wannon (Mr. McLeod), whose remarks before dinner invited a rebuke. However, I shall say no more now than that in the course of his speech the honorable gentleman made many offensive remarks and false accusations. The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), with many gesticulations last night treated his listeners to an interesting address. I might describe, it as a sermon in which he took as his text the Australian Country party. After many unfair and grossly untrue references to that distinguished body, of which he was obviously jealous, the honorable member suggested a rope and the nearest tree. We know that in recent history several other people have got rid of their most formidable opponents by that simple method, but it may not be so easy to get rid of the Australian Country party. The electors whom he addressed will not find it more difficult than did honorable members of this House to. interpret the purport of his speech. It indicated a wholesome fear of the clan McDonald, and consequently lost much of ' its value.

I support the amendment for the exclusion of the 1945-46 crop from the scheme, because the producers of wheat over a number of years have suffered from low prices and high costs, and they are entitled at least to the full -value of that crop in order to recoup some of their losses. Another point mentioned in the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) relates to the cost of production, a subject which was very ably dealt with last night by the honorable, member for Warringah (Mr. Spender)-. The amendment provides for a guarantee to the wheat-grower of cost of production, plus a margin of profit. '.No static price was fixed in the amendment to cover the cost of production. An amount of 3s. lOd. may have represented the cost of producing a- bushel of wheat in 1939, plus a margin of profit, but costs have now risen to 5s. 2d. a bushel, and who can say they will not rise to 7s. 2d. a bushel before the five-year period has expired?- The amendment makes provision' for fluctuations of that kind, and ensures that the wheatgrower will not lose. It will be remembered that after the first world war wheat prices maintained an average payable level for at least ten years. There was not nearly the devastation in that war that has been experienced in the war just ended, and I believe it is a reasonable proposition for the Government tq accede to the growers' request for a guaranteed price -for ten years.

I propose now to refer to the very worthy gesture made by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) when he suggested that as many people in Europe were starving they would not be in a position to pay a high price for wheat, and, accordingly, we should not hold- out for a high price over the next few years.

Mr Pollard - I neither made nor supported, such a suggestion. That statement is entirely incorrect and constitutes grave misrepresentation. .

Mr BOWDEN - If the Hansard report of the honorable member's speech does not bear out what I have said I shall gladly withdraw the statement.

Mr Pollard - On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I object to. the honorable member's statement. I made no such suggestion.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member has not made a point of order.

Mr BOWDEN - I am satisfied that what I have said correctly interprets the honorable member's remarks. Whilst I approve of the sentiment, I do- .not agree that it is the prerogative of the Australian wheat-grower to make such a gesture. The rehabilitation of the nations devastated by the war is a world responsibility. An obligation rests upon this Government to exploit every field for the establishment of markets all over the world in competition with other countries. If it does not -do that we shall be left without markets altogether. I echo the worthy sentiments of the honorable member, and I am prepared to do what I can towards helping the distressed peoples of the world over their difficulties. It has been interesting to listen to honorable members opposite preening themselves about the different conditions that exist in primary industries to-day as compared with those that prevailed under a form or administration, and drawing comparisons between the stabilization 'bill brought down in 1939 and the" bill now before us. We find, however, that that comparison upon analysis proves to be as odious as all other comparisons. In order to arrive at a fair comparison a reiteration of the problems which faced the two administrations is worth while. In the 1939 proposals 3s. lOd. a bushel, based on the growers' estimate of costs, plus a reasonable margin of profit, was above the world parity price, and it was well known when the arrangement was made that the scheme could not be financed from the sale of the wheat and had necessarily to be financed by contributions from the Treasury. At least such a proposal has been the merit of sincerity. Contrast that, with the conditions under which the Government proposes to establish its stabilization plan to-day. The guaranteed price to-day is much below the realizable value of the wheat. The Treasury will not need to finance it, at least as regards the 1945-46 crop, and I think there are bright prospects of that condition continuing throughout the currency of the scheme. So, instead of having to make contributions from the Treasury the Government adopts the simple process of taking a part of the realizable value of the wheat and placing it in .a fund against the day when the realizable value of the wheat is below the guaranteed price. It will then go to the farmer and say, " We will supplement the price you have obtained with some of your own money, and, understand, old boy, that this munificent gesture could come only from a Labour government ". When one considers the safeguards against the possibility of the Treasury making contributions after the five-year period one comes to the conclusion that it will be not a stabilization- fund but compulsory saving, and the same end could be reached within the five years by the farmers themselves placing the money in the bank. The Government proposes to give them some of their own money and to take no risk at all, because for five years at least there will be no fear of its having to subvent the fund from the Treasury. So it is not a stabilization fund in that sense.

I refer again to the. speech of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard-). I am not condemning it, because it was the most temperate that he has ever delivered in this House, but he referred unfortunately to 1929-31, and the Scullin Administration, and he tried to use that depressing period to jibe at some other party or institution. No fair-minded man will condemn that government for any of the measures it took to get out of the extremely difficult position it found itself in. I am fair enough to recognize that, but I am not so simple as to allow that to be turned against myself for the benefit of my political opponents. The then Prime Minister, finding the nation insolvent, started the " Grow more wheat " campaign in order to meet the nation's debts overseas, and, of course, the honorable member for Ballarat said that he promised the farmers 4s. a bushel but discovered that the Senate or the banks would not allow that amount to be paid, ft would be a reasonable thing for any administration to discover that obstacle before asking the farmers to incur the cost, but that was not done. The farmers loyally responded to the call to solve the nation's financial difficulties, and the net result to them of their patriotic effort was another £50,000,000 of debt, which has never been removed from them.

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