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Thursday, 18 July 1946

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- 1 am enjoying myself immensely in spite of the suggestion of some honorable gentlemen opposite that I am losing my form. I have noticed that both the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) -and the honorable member, for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) have been squirming. They spoke most confidently the first time they addressed the committee on this subject, but they have now apologized for almost everything that they said on the second-reading, simply because I was able to point out that. the governments of which they were members placed the same safeguard in the regulations which they issued as this Government, is seeking to place in this clause. These safeguards were considered to be necessary for the implementation of government policy in those days.

Mr McEwen - That was in war-time.

Mr ROSEVEAR - The honorable member for Indi said that we were free men) dealing with free farmers, living in a free land. He also said that the farmers owned their wheat. For how long have the farmers been free men and when have they owned their own wheat? As the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) pointed out, if it had not been for legislation introduced from time to time during the last fifteen years for the assistance of the wheat industry, very few wheat-farmers would be left on the land to-day. But for such legislation, and government assistance in one way and another, the great majority of the farmers would have been forced into the bankruptcy courts.

Mr McEwen - That is good sob-stuff.

Mr ROSEVEAR - How much land is free, and how many farmers are. free of debt? Yet the honorable gentleman talks about free men, free land and farmers who own their own products. He knows that the great majority of the farmers have had to mortgage their crops practically as soon as the seed was sown. To a very large degree the wheat-farmers have been in bondage to the exploiters, the wheat merchants, and the shipping companies for so many years that they are to-day unanimously clamouring for the stabilization of the industry as the only solution of their troubles. They want a" guaranteed price for their wheat.

The honorable member for Indi has said that not a single act can be performed by the board unless with the permission of the Minister.

Mr Scully - That statement is absolutely incorrect.-

Mr McEwen - It is also a distortion of what I said.

Mr ROSEVEAR - The honorable member may misconstrue the clause, buthe cannot hope to misconstrue plain English and get away with it. I took a note of his words. He said that no single act could be performed by the board unless with the permission of the Minister. What are the facts? The clause provides that the board " may " - not "shall" or "must", but "may"- do certain things subject to direction from the Minister. There is nothing in the clause, as alleged by the honorable member, to indicate that board members must obtain the permission of the Minister before they may take a breath. A reserve of power is left in the hands of the Minister. If the board does not act in the true interests of the wheat-growers, or if it does not interpret the legislation correctly, or if it does anything which the Minister believes to be inimical to "the industry, he may issue a direction which the board must follow. It is of no use for honorable members opposite to split straws. The regulation that was issued in 193S, when the honorable member for Barker and the honorable member for Indi were pliant supporters of the Government, contained these words - on behalf of the Commonwealth, and subject to any direction of the Minister, the Board may - do certain things. The provision which the Government desires to insert in the bill is in almost precisely the same terms, and it contains the same provision for ministerial direction. If this is socialism and Communist dictatorship, it must have been been socialism and Communist dictatorship when the Menzies Government and the Lyons Government were in office, for, as I have pointed out, exactly the same provisions were enacted by the Menzies Government in regulations and by the Lyons Government in legislation. The honorable member for Indi and the honorable member for Barker were silent on the subject of socialism and Communist dictatorship in those days. This provision was good when those governments were in office, but it is said to be bad now that a Labour Government is in office. The honorable gentlemen have declared that members of the Labour party are bound by caucus decisions and dare not criticize the actions of the Government. They continually twitted Government supporters on that subject this afternoon. Yet they slavishly followed government policy in 1938 and 1940, when precisely the same thing was done.

The honorable member for Barker complained that the board was to be given power to acquire cornsacks and other jute products and said that under this power it could buy sacks for potatoes and all sorts of other primary products. He draws upon his vivid imagination in suggesting that the wheat board will bother about acquiring sacks or jute for bagging primary products other than wheat and wheat products. If the board is to he the sole authority in the Commonwealth for acquiring sacks, it is important that it should have the power to acquire at a fair price sufficient sacks to bag all the wheat harvested. If it could not acquire sacks at a reasonable price it might be forced to pay an extortionate price fixed by exploiters. Obviously, it is necessary that the board should have the power to acquire sacks at a just price. Would the honorable member for Barker suggest that the board should not be empowered to acquire sacks at a just price? Would he suggest that the exploiters should be left to fix their own prices for sacks? If they could do that, they could bleed, the wheat-growers. If they could impose their ' own prices on the Wheat Board it is obvious that in the end, either the farmers or the taxpayers would have to meet their extortionate charges. The honorable member has been playing the old game of drawing a red herring across the trail.

We have heard a great deal of talk from Opposition members about the merits of grower control. The strange thing is that the only wheat board appointed by a government supported by honorable gentlemen opposite included only two representatives of the grower* out of a total membership of nine. The board which this Government will appoint will include seven representatives of growers, . elected by the growers, one representative of the millers, and a chairman nominated by the Government. Can it be imagined that the growers will not take care to appoint reliable men to the board? Their own elected representatives will constitute an overwhelming majority of board members. The honorable member for Barker waxed indignant because provision was being made for ministerial direction to be issued to the board in certain circumstances. Let me remind the committee of a remark made by him soon after he resigned from the Country party to join the United Australia party. Speaking in this House on the 11th December, 1940, he said -

It is a pretty piece of impudence on the part of the representatives of the growers to contend that the farmers should direct the operations of the scheme.

Mr McDonald - Read the full statement of the honorable gentleman.

Mr ROSEVEAR - I shall not weary the committee with a long extract from his diatribe. The extract that I have quoted is sufficient for my purpose. This honorable gentleman now protests against some measure of ministerial control, in spite of the fact that the growers will have seven representatives on a board of nine members. The honorable member should read that speech again.

Mr Archie Cameron - I do not need to; I remember it very well.

Mr ROSEVEAR - It is strange that in the face of such a remark th.e honorable gentleman can now protest against even a measure of ministerial control. The extract I have read will take some explaining by the champions of the wheat-growers who sit opposite. The honorable member for Barker will not be able to explain it, because in 1940 his frame of mind was precisely the same as mine is to-night, but he has since drifted. I still contend that the board should consist of and be elected by growers, for the simple reason that nobody knows more than they do about the growing of wheat. The bill makes provision for such a board. No body which did not have the wisdom and knowledge of practical farmers would be a competent one. The Government is giving phenomenal powers to the board ; in fact, the' whole of the responsibility which normally would be exercised by the Minister will be exercised by the board. But the Government must not shed. itself of all responsibility in the operation of such schemes. It must not allow the board, however it may be constituted, to have a monopolistic grip which will enable it, having the sanction and authority of the law, to operate to the detriment of the community generally.

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