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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Barnard) - This bill deals only with thu export of wheat. The honorable member would not be in order in discussing whether or not the 1945-46 crop should be included.

Mr McEWEN - The primary purpose of the bill is to provide for a levy on wheat. I am discussing now whether a register should be 'kept showing the amount paid by each grower to the fund so provided. I submit that my remarks come within the ambit of the bill, and are, therefore, in order. The honorable member for Bendigo went on to say that an- actuarially sound scheme, designed to permit an equitable distribution to be made to each participating grower, or his executors or assigns, in the event of certain contingencies arising, such as the termination of the scheme or the existence in the fund of credits beyond those thought necessary for its solvency, should be substituted for the present, plan. The objective of the honorable member for Bendigo is clearly understood by wheatgrowers, but I regret that it does not appear to be understood by the Government. I hope that this debate will convince the Government that Australia is not a country in which funds belonging to one section of the people can be transferred to others without a strong protest being made. In the event of certain contingencies arising, the right of a grower, or his executors or assigns, to the whole or a part of the amount standing to his credit in the fund, is unchallengable. The amount of such payment is a matter for determination by the actuaries. The proposal of the Government as contained in this bill is that, in respect of last season's crop, .a sum of approximately £7,000,000 shall be placed in the stabilization fund, and that a similar sum shall be placed to the credit of the fund in each succeeding year in which a crop of«the same yield is reaped.

Mr Lemmon - Provided that the pricealso is the same.

Mr McEWEN - I shall be surprised if wheat prices do not maintain their present level, or become higher, for at least the next harvest.

Mr Lemmon - That is problematical.

Mr McEWEN - On that assumption, this bill means that a sum of approximately £14,000,000 will be taken from wheat-growers within a few months, and placed to the credit of a fund, and that the same process will continue until the end of the scheme. In the event of the scheme being terminated at the end of five years, what i3 to happen to any funds then standing to the credit of the stabilization fund ? It may be that legislation will then be introduced to continue the scheme. I hope that the scheme will be continued in a fairer form, but it would be wrong for this Parliament to pass legislation which is unjust in the expectation that a later Parliament would remove the injustice. No provision has been made in the bill that when the plan comes to an end the money that stands to the credit - of the. fund will be repaid to the people from whom it was originally taken- because no arrangement is included in the measure by which records are to be kept of the names of those upon whom, levies are made.'

Mr ARCHIE Cameron - We have just had an example of that before us in connexion with the disposal of the assets of the Central Wool Committee.

Mr McEWEN - That is so. Only this afternoon we had the classic example of the Prime Minister discussing in another measure what should be done with £7,000,000 which has come into the possession "of the Government as the result of realization of the product of another group of primary producers. And there again it is not proposed that the money shall be returned to the people from whom it was collected, although records still exist of those, who contributed to those' assets. If the Govern: ment proposes to force this bill through the Parliament it should at least incorporate in it a provision which will enable justice to be done to the producers of wheat by ensuring that they shall receive some of the money taken from them. It is proposed in this measure to divert to the stabilization fund 50 per cent, of realizations in excess of 5s. 2d. a bushel.

Mr Scully - On exports.

Mr McEWEN - It could only be on exports because the price of all other wheat is pegged at 5s. 2d. a bushel. .By simple arithmetic we can ascertain that about £7,000,000 will be diverted to the stabilization fund in respect of the 1945-46 harvest. There is every prospect that, if the 50 per cent. levy is maintained for the next crop, an equal amount will again be diverted into the stabilization fund. The skilled advisors of the Government will then calculate on the basis of the prospects of the market and the intended volume of production, what total contributions will be necessary to enable the fund, to reach stability. It may be £20,000,000 or £25,000,000; I would not hazard a guess. Under this legislation, however, when a sufficient amount has been placed in the stabilization fund it will be competent for the Government to cease making levies. I have no doubt that that is what the Government intends to do. Thus, we may witness the spectacle of wheat-growers in after years continuing operations without being subject to a levy of any kind because growers in the earlier years had contributed sufficient to establish a stable fund. If the stabilization fund reaches adequate proportions in the course of two, three, or four harvests, no call may be made upon wheat-growers for a period of ten years.

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