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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER (Hon J S Rosevear (DALLEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not in order. I hope that, the right honorable member will not attempt to debate the amount of the price remaining in the hands of the farmers. That is not related to the bill. The only amount dealt with in the bill is the excess price.

Sir EARLE PAGE - I am merely putting the question in an inverse way. Sub-clause 3 of clause 4 expressly states that the amount to remain in the hands of the grower will be 5s. 2d. a bushel. It states -

Subject to a lower rate being prescribed by the regulations, the rate of the charge per bushel on wheat for any season exported by the Board shall be fifty per centum of the amount by which the average price per bushel free on rail at the ports of export for fair average quality bagged wheat of all the wheat of that season exported by the Board, or such lower price as is prescribed, exceeds Five shillings and two pence.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! That reference to the amount that will remain in the hands of the farmers is only for the purpose of determining what the balance shall be.

Sir EARLE PAGE - That is so. The point I wish to make is that the balance left in the hands of the farmer should be equitable, having regard to the full price.

Mr SPEAKER - I think that the right honorable gentleman misunderstands me. I said that the amount of 5s. 2d. a bushel referred to is merely the amount above which a levy will bc struck. The right honorable member may refer only to the levy.

Sir EARLE PAGE - Very well, Mr. Speaker. My third question is: "For what length of time will this charge operate?" These three questions apply the test that will determine the fairness and, ultimately, the practicability of the scheme. The answers will show whether or not the scheme, will have the desired effects of increasing production and of stabilizing the position of the farmers.

Dealing first with the retrospective "effect, I point out that similar legislation introduced by me in this House in 1940 expressly provided that the crop being harvested at that time should not be subject to any stabilization charge^ The first crop to be included in that scheme was to be the 1941-42 crop. Sow- ing for that crop started in March or April, .1941, some months after the bill had been passed by Parliament. By thismeans, the farmers were given a fair deal. Those who wished to participate in the scheme were able to do so, and those who did not wish to participate were able to refrain from planting wheat. They were given the opportunity to decide the matter for themselves. But this bill is retrospective, and we should consider first the effect that it will have on the farmers themselves. If we are to have successful stabilization of the industry, the farmers must be able to show a definite profit in the first year of the operations of the scheme. Otherwise they will not continue to participate in it. Let me com-' pare the position of the wheat industry to-day with its position during World War II., and even during World War I. In 1914-15, the total value of the wheat crop was over £7,000,000. In 1918-19, the value of the crop was £20,000,000, nearly three times as great as in the first year of that war. In the first year of World War II., the total amount received by the wheat-farmers was over £31.000,000. In 1944-45, the total was £7,583,000, representing about one-fourth of the value of the crop in the first year of the war. In fact, the returns from wheat in the last three years of World War II. totalled £13,000,000 less than returns in the first three years. Furthermore, cost* were rising during the war.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The' right honorable member is not entitled to deal with the receipts of farmers or costs of production.

Sir EARLE PAGE - I am debating whether the 1945-46 crop, which is referred to in sub-clause 1 of clause 4, should be included in the scheme.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The right honorable gentleman is making a speech which he should have made last week od the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill.- I hope that he will not continue further along those lines. If he does so, I must ask him to resume his seat.

Sir EARLE PAGE - It is intolerably unjust to prevent the wheat-farmers, who experienced extraordinarily bad times during World War II. as compared with World War I., largely on account of. seasonal conditions, from recouping some of their losses and preparing for greater production under the new stabilization scheme. The injustice is particularly irksome in view of the fact that the total amount involved is well over £20,000,000. The second point I wish to discuss is whether the amount of 'the total price to bc placed in the stabilization fund represents a fair charge. That is a reasonable question' to ask. This subject was discussed in this House in 1938, when the home consumption price of wheat wasdebated.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! What the farmer should receive was argued last week. The right honorable gentleman is now entitled to debate only whether receipts in excess of 5s. 2d. a bushel, from the sales of wheat exported, should be paid into a fund.

Sir EARLE PAGE - The amount that the farmer is to receive is closely connected with the next point that I intend to make, namely, whether the duration of the scheme should be for five years or ten years. Obviously, if during the next five years the price of wheat is so high that the amount to the credit of the stabilization fund exceeds what is required to pay 5s. 2d. a bushel, it will he an equalization and not a stabilization scheme, and the Treasury will be the only beneficiary under it. What was the position in the ten years that followed the termination of World War I?

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The right honorable gentleman has clearly indicated his intention to try to circumvent the ruling of the Chair.

Sir EARLE PAGE - No, sir.

Mr SPEAKER - The right honorable member will not be permitted to do so. The speech that he is now making would have been quite in order last week on the Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill. It is not in order on this bill. The" right honorable gentleman must deal exclusively with the terms of the resolution from the Committee of Ways and Means. That resolution deals with the imposition of a levy on wheat exported from the Commonwealth, and the disposition of the receipts from that levy. I hope that the right honorable gentleman will not again transgress.

Sir EARLE PAGE - In the ten years to which I have referred, the price of wheat was 6s. 2d. a bushel, or ls. a bushel more than the amount proposed by the bill.

Mr SPEAKER - I have already ruled that the right honorable gentleman may not discuss that matter.

Sir EARLE PAGE - I was proceeding to point out-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If the right honorable gentleman does not deal strictly with the bill, I shall ask him to resume his seat.

Sir EARLE PAGE - I was trying to point out that because of the starvation that exists in the world, the demand for wheat in the next ten years must be tremendous, and consequently the price must be higher than is provided for in the bill. Therefore, the amount paid into the stabilization fund will remain with the Treasury, and will not be disbursed among the wheat-growers. My objection to the bill would not be nearly so great if the proposed charge were not to be limited to five years, but were to be made for fifteen or twenty years. Surely if the wheatgrower is to derive any benefit from the - stabilization scheme the period of its operation must be longer than five years. On that point, this measure completely breaks down. Because of the fundamental defects that I have mentioned, the bill should be withdrawn and further examined. Every honorable member desires the establishment of a fund that will ensure the permanent solvency of the wheat industry.

Mr Fuller - It is a wonder that the right, honorable gentleman did not attempt to adopt that principle when he had the opportunity to do so.

Sir EARLE PAGE - Mr. Speakerwould not permit me to enlarge upon the stabilization scheme for which I responsible.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Hume should not tempt the right honorable gentleman to stray from the subject-matter of the debate.

Sir EARLE PAGE - Unfortunately, I was very ill last week; consequently, I was not able to attend to my duties in this House. That should not prevent me from making the House fully acquainted with the facts. I wa3 making the point that' the proposed term of five years is not satisfactory. A3 the stabilization scheme is to start with the 1945-46 crop, there is not the slightest likelihood of a withdrawal having to be made from the stabilization fund. If the Treasury is to have in its possession £15,000,000, £20,000,000, or even £40,000,000, the property of the wheat-growers, how will that money be disbursed at the expiration of the period during which the scheme is to operate? If the period were so lengthy that those who had contributed to the fund in the early years would be assured of benefiting in' later years, there would be some justification for this proposal. Simultaneously with the presentation of a bill to impose a tax, there should be some notification of the manner in which the resultant revenue is to be disbursed to the farmers. The omission of such a provision is a serious defect, which we hope to correct when the bill is in committee. These relevant points have not been answered ; consequently, I thoroughly endorse the proposal of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), and the principle of the amendment of the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), which was ruled out of order by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) while acting as Deputy Speaker, a ruling that was subsequently confirmed by Mr. Speaker. I hope that when the bill is in committee the Minister (Mr. Scully) will recognize the justice of the point that I have made. That point is germane to the argument of the honorable member for War-' ringah (Mr. Spender), which was that the Constitution provides that, no commodity may be acquired except on just terms. If the amount to be retained by the Commonwealth from the proceeds of the sales of wheat is to be considerably greater than we consider should be withheld, means for disbursing it should be provided. If the Government will not amend the bill in that way, I hope that it will make the duration of the scheme ten. fifteen or twenty years.

Mr SPEAKER - I should like to make it clear that neither the Opposition nor the Government may amend this bill, except within the resolution of the Committee of Ways and Means. A fresh resolution of that committee would be necessary.

Sir EARLE PAGE - The bill is so inequitable that I should welcome the adoption of that course. It would not bo the first occasion on which a government had brought down a special appropriation to enable legislation to1 be amended. The Standing Orders' provide means for placing the matter on an absolutely sound footing. It is not yet too late for the Government to ensure equity to the wheat-growers. The flour tax was imposed, not for a term of years but in perpetuity; it does not need periodical reimposition. The wheatgrowers should not have to suffer because of faulty drafting, or failure to include necessary provisions in the bill. Even" at this late hour, the Government should mount the penitent's stool and. bring down another appropriation motion.

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