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Thursday, 18 July 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- I suppose I should feel complimented that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has descended from the Olympian heights to join in this debate and attempt to put . me in my place. If he had made any substantial references to the points that I made when I spoke earlier on this clause and had substantiated his own points, I should have been grateful for "his intervention. But this skilled debater entered the lists with the one purpose of endeavouring to save the Government by diverting the debate from the issues that I raised to a cockshy of his own. The issue is clear. The bill is designed to establish a board to organize the marketing of a commodity grown in this free land by free men a product that until now had been regarded as the private, property of the grower. The Labour party claims that organized marketing of primary products is its policy. Soon it will be going on the hustings to proclaim that policy. How the Government will reconcile an appeal to the- people for power to organize the marketing of primary products with this bill, which, by the time the referendum takes place, will have become an Act of Parliament, under which it will be organizing the marketing of wheat, 3 do not know. T should not like to try to reconcile the two, but no doubt the Government will attempt to do so. The bill purports to deal with the organized marketing of the wheat-growers' own wheat. What I object to is the lastminute afterthought of the Government. It intends to insert in the operative clause that sets out the powers of this vaunted growers' board a few words that mean that the board shall do nothing except with the consent of the Minister,

Mr Pollard - The same provision was made in the wheat regulations made by the Menzies Government.

Mr McEWEN - So everything that I have said in describing this as a completely, authoritarian set-up is to be destroyed by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) and the speech of the honorable member for Dalley, both of whom claim that this legislation is substantially the same as the national security regulations that were introduced by the Government of which I was a member.

Mr Rosevear - It is the same.

Mr McEWEN - Well, substantially the same. We will not argue about, fine distinctions. The circumstances ins which this legislation is to operate and! the occasion on which it is initiated are not the same as when our regulations were made. The honorable member for Dalley read the regulations that Were made by the Menzies Government on the 9th September, 1939. On that date .the most terrific world-shaking war in history had just broken out. Honorable members opposite did not know that the war was on, because, within a few days, their then leader, the late Mr. Curtin, submitted a motion which can never be expunged from the records of the Parliament, that no Australians should participate in the war outside Australia. It is very unpleasant for honorable members opposite to be reminded of that. The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) muttered something about New Guinea. I remind him that his party moved against the inclusion of New Guinea in the scope of the Defence Act.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! I ask the honorable member to deal with the clause and the amendment.

Mr McEWEN - If honorable gentlemen opposite interject they will be repaid with interest.

The CHAIRMAN - I ask the honorable member to deal with the clause and the amendment, and other honorable gentlemen to cease interjecting.

Mr McEWEN - Thank you, Mr. Chairman ; but I get a good deal of pleasure from dealing with honorable members opposite. On the 9th September, 1939, a terrific war had just broken out. We knew that all the shipping that could possibly be available for the transport of Australian wheat had come under governmental control, that no wheat could be moved other than by the consent of the controlling governments, that all free trading in wheat had ceased, and that if the wheat-growers were to be able to meet -.their .commitments and arrange for future operations, the Commonwealth Government had to take the wheat over and pay for it.

Mr Scully - Yes, and payments from the first pool were " two bob " a bushel.

Mr McEWEN - Every interjection helps me. The Minister said that the growers received only " two bob " a bushel from the first pool. True! The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon), in his second-reading speech oh this bill, said that at the time wheat was being sold for ls. a bushel.

Mr Lemmon - That is true. " Mr. McEWEN. - So the Government paid twice what the wheat was worth on the open market. Has the present Government ever done that ? No prospect existed- at that time of any free trading in "wheat. There was no prospect of this' great industry continuing to live unless the Government took over and paid for all existing wheat and all future production. That was done. The Minister did- not arbitrarily and autocratically set himself up as the sole authority. Instead a.' wheat board, with fair representation of the growers, was established. It is true that the growers were not in a majority.

Mr Lemmon - There were seven merchants and two growers on it.

Mr McEWEN - That, of course, is untrue. That board was set up to advise the Ministry because it had assumed complete financial responsibility for all wheat in existence or in* prospect, and it would have been stupid for the then Minister or anyone else in a responsible position to say that in circumstances like that the entire control of the wheat should be handed over !o someone outside the Government, when no one but the Government could pay for it and ship it. So the circumstances then are not comparable with those to-day.

Not even a skilled debater like ti j honorable member for Dalley can trick us by pointing out that certain words in the National Security Regulations are the same as those contained in this bill, because this bill is intended to embody conditions which will decide the fate of the wheat industry for the nexfive years, and the Labour party, which has made a million speeches vaunting the policy of grower-control, has the incredible temerity to come into this chamber with a bill which stipulates that the board to be established shall be mainly composed of growers, and then seeks to slip into it a provision that completely abrogates the authority of the board and leaves it as nothing but a facade behind which the Minister will exercise complete control. What kind of directions will he give? History aids our imagination. In the course of a few weeks we have seen the Minister sell from the same silo wheat for bread at 5s. 2d. a bushel, wheat f or a power alcohol distillery at 8s. lid. a bushel, wheat for export to the United Kingdom or to some port east of Suez at 5s. 6d. a bushel, wheat to go to a gin distiller at 3s. 11¼d. a bushel, and wheat for a pig farmer at 3s. lOd. a bushel. That indicates the kind of directions that a Minister in the present Government will give. What more than that do we need to aid our imagination? I received in answer to a question a table setting out that wheat owned by the wheat-growers had been sold from the one silo at prices ranging from 3s. lOd. to over 7s. a bushel at the Minister'sdirection. All the sales took place at practically the same time at prices which I declared in this chamber would involve the growers in the loss of £10,000,000. The Minister laughed in scorn. But later, under the pressure of public opinion and. owing to the indisputable correctness of my charge the Government was compelled to pay more than £9,000,000 in partial compensation:

Mr Scully - That is ' absolutely incorrect.

Mr McEWEN - That is the kind of loss that can be imposed upon the wheatgrowers by a ministerial direction. Honorable members on this side and the people outside will not have their attention distracted from this provision that the Minister is endeavouring to sneak into the bill, by a comparison between it and the regulations that were issued under the National Security Act to control the wheat industry in time of war. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if the Government argues that a regulation applied to wheat in 1939, in time of war, is a good regulation to apply to wheat in time of peace, it must stomach the proposition that the regulations that were applied to labour in time of war ought to be applied to labour in time of peace, and the controls over prices for war-time purposes ought to be perpetuated in peace-time. They would be bold men who would stand in their places and attempt to justify that. No ! I gather that it is sufficient for the party opposite to take charge of wheat. Its attitude is, " Never mind anything else ! " because it is not a wheat-grower's government, but a consumers' government.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable .member's time has expired.

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