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Friday, 19 July 1946

Mr BARNARD - "Nonsense !

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The honorable member is an authority on nonsense, but not on wheat. I repeat that retrospective legislation is always hard to justify; it is bad legislation. Whenever a government asks the Parliament to pass retrospective legislation, I become suspicious.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member has a suspicious mind.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - A member of His Majesty's Opposition needs to be suspicious. It is the duty of an opposition to turn the spotlight of research and inquiry upon a measure which the government of the day proposes to place on the statute-book. That is what an opposition is for. I think that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who has just entered the chamber, would be the last' man to refute that statement; and I have no doubt that when he was in opposition he acted in accordance with that rule. I repeat that retrospective legislation is always hard to justify, but when a bill is placed before the House without any second-reading speech by the Minister to explain it, there, are good reasons for honorable members becoming suspicious. The circumstances associated with this measure are particularly suspicious and call for more than an ordinary explanation by the Government. Just as everything must have a beginning, so everything must have an ending, unless it is to continue interminably. This bill provides for an ending as' well as for a- beginning. Clause 6 declares that this legislation shall continue in operation until a date, not being earlier than the 30th day of September, 1950, to be fixed by proclamation as the date upon which it shall cease to be in operation. That means that this legislation shall not cease to operate earlier than that date, but there is nothing in the clause to say that it shall, in fact, cease on that date. It 'may continue in operation after the 30th day of September, 1950, although it cannot cease to operate earlier. All that the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) asks is that the Government will consider the necessity for lengthening the period for which this legislation shall remain in operation. He suggests a period of ten years. There may be cogent reasons why the period should be extended to ten years, and when the bill reaches the committee stage 1 predict that there will be a thoroughgoing discussion on that aspect.

The next important matter to which I wish to' refer is the effect of this legislation on individual contributors to the fund which it will set up. As a wheatgrower, I have had some experience of wheat pools. I know that for every grower contributing to a pool there is a separate account showing his transactions with the pool. At any time, he can be told by those in charge of the pool how many bushels of wheat he has contributed, the amount credited to him in respect of that wheat, how many pounds have been deducted from his account for freight and other charges, and for corn sacks, &c. If he has delivered any inferior wheat they can say how much, and by what amount he has been docked. Seeing that all those particulars are available, surely the honorable member for Bendigo is not out of order in criticizing the Government for failing to provide for the keeping of a separate account for each grower who contributes to the fund. It is clear that no growers' contribution to the fund will be the same in any two successive years, and this applies in particular to those in the less-favored areas. Those who are farming in better class country will tend to crop more or less the same acreage each year, and to deliver more or less the same quantity of wheat.

Mr SPEAKER - All this has nothing to do with wheat charges.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - With great respect, I submit that it has. The amount to be levied will depend on the amount of wheat grown, on the number of acres sown, the yield per acre, and the condition in which the wheat is delivered to the pool. This bill provides for a charge to he levied on all wheat harvested after a stipulated date. It will not be possible to harvest any wheat on or after any stipulated date unless somebody prepares the land for growing it, sows it, reaps the .crop and delivers the wheat to the pool. The amount of money standing to the credit of a contributor under the scheme will vary considerably, and the variation will be much greater in the case of those in less favoured areas. A man may have a very good crop this year and a very poor one next year. Therefore, there will be a considerable variation in the amount he contributes to the fund. The request qf the honorable member for Bendigo is very reasonable, namely, that an individual account should be kept in the name of each grower. An actuarial calculation should be made in order to arrive at a. basis upon which a grower's diminishing interest in the fund may be determined from time to time. There is no defensible reason, in equity, politics or economics, why this cannot be done. The board must keep a register. Every grower must be licensed before he can grow wheat and every farm must be registered before wheat can be grown on it. Therefore, it is not too much to ask that records of the kind I have mentioned should be kept.

The reason for men going out of wheatgrowing are many and varied. Some people say that a man should not bc allowed to go out of the industry just to suit himself, and to demand the money which he has contributed to the fund. However, sooner or later, every one must go out of wheatgrowing, if only for the reason that every one must die. A man's successor may not want to grow wheat. He may have no interest in it, and is it, therefore, to be held that the money which the deceased person contributed to the fund shall he forfeited to the Crown. On the other hand, it may be that a grower will go out of the industry for perfectly sound reasons. It will be argued that, under a licensing system, growers should not be allowed to go out of the industry at all. As against this it can be pointed out that there is nothing to compel a man to grow wheat on land even after that land has been registered for wheat-growing. I maintain that every one who contributes to the fund should retain a personal interest in it. The purpose of the plan is to divide the money in the fund among the growers in any crop year in which the price falls below 5s. 2d. a bushel. It, may happen - indeed, it certainly will happen - that in that crop year some growers will have a very poor crop, although in previous years they had contributed substantially to the fund. I realize that there cannot be any such thing as absolute equity in the distribution of the money, but there ought to be some provision by which the individual grower will be able to reclaim at least part of his equity in the event of his going out of the industry for good reasons, or by which that equity may go to his heirs in the event of his death.

We come now to the amount which is to be deducted from the export price. This has been set down as 50 per cent, of- the difference between the export price and 5s. 2d. a bushel. I should like to know how the Government arrived at the figure of 5s. 2d. We are entitled to some explanation, and also to know why the distribution is to be on a fifty-fifty basis. Why is not the proportion 60 to 40, or 66$ to 33-J? However, no Minister has offered to explain why the Government did these things. We have a right to demand that explanation, and I hope that in due course it will be forthcoming.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.

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