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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- I support the amendment that consideration of this measure be postponed for a sufficient period to enable the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) to give further consideration to his proposal. During the debate on this bill arguments which we have heard on many occasions recently have been emphasized,. but, unfortunately, they seem to have made little impression on the Minister. He seems determined to get his hands on the proceeds of the 1945-46 wheat crop. In other words, the Minister seems determined to take from the wheatgrowers who harvested wheat in the 1945- 46 season at least. £7,000,000, which should go into their banking accounts. The bill before us purports to be one for the stabilization of the wheat industry, but it is rather a measure providing for acquisition under a scheme which requires wheat-growers to contribute, from their own pockets, money to protect themselves. That could be done without any aid from the Government. Nothing has been said by the Minister, or any supporter of the bill, to justify the proposal that 50 per cent, of the amount received for wheat in excess of 5s. 2d. a bushel shall be paid into a stabilization f und. The only justification for the Government's proposal which the Minister has advanced is that as the price of wheat is now high this is a good time to establish such a fund. The Minister seems to have forgotten the difficult times which wheatgrowers have experienced during recent years. Every person who has any knowledge of primary production knows that life on the land, whether as a wheatgrower, a dairy-farmer, or a grower of sugar-cane or bananas, means that losses and profits over a number of years must be averaged in order to arrive at the true . position. For several years wheat-growers have had poor results; the 1945-46 crop was the first chance they had to recoup losses made during previous years. The Government would have the wheatgrowers believe that it has brought down this measure in the generosity of its heart to assist them. The bill, however, seeks to take from their pockets moneys which some of them will never sec again, and thus it constitutes the gravest injustice that could be inflicted upon them. I regret that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture had the temerity to place such a proposition before this Parliament without first giving consideration to the criticisms levelled against it during the discussion of the parent bill. Not one defence has been raised by the Minister against the charge levelled by honorable members on this side of the House that the Government proposes by this measure to perpetrate a "steal" of £7,000,000 from the pockets of the wheat-growers- in respect of the 1945-46 harvest. This proposal will take away from a wheat-grower of 3,000 bushels of wheat an amount pf approximately £300 which otherwise would have gone into his banking account this year. Offhand that. may not seem a very large sum, but it means a lot to the grower who has experienced bad seasons. Honorable members will recall that during the 1944-45 harvest many Victorian farmers were not able to recover the cost of seed used in the planting of their crops. To those unfortunate people a levy of from £100 to £300 would represent a substantial loss.

The second main objection to the bill is that it makes no provision for the wheat-grower who leaves the industry before the termination of the scheme.

Mr McEwen - Such a farmer has. been given no thought in this measure..

Mr ANTHONY - I agree. The plan submitted by the Minister is based on the mistaken belief that a wheat-grower will always remain in the industry. If however through sickness, accident or death, or for some other cause a wheat-farmer abandons wheat-growing, he will be deprived of all moneys which he had contributed to the pool. How can the Minister defend such an injustice as this? I have in mind other schemes for primary producers-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in discussing schemes . for other primary pro- ducers

Mr ANTHONY - I mention them only for the purpose of making a comparison.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If the honorable member understands the purpose of the bill he will know that it proposes to impose a levy on exported wheat.

Mr ANTHONY - I understand that the purpose of the bill is to filch from the wheat-growers of Australia this year about £7,000,000. The wheat-growers themselves clearly understand its effect. I was merely endeavouring to draw a parallel between what is proposed in this bill and what has been done in respect of other industries.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Other industries do not come within the ambit of the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - I submit that the experience of other industries may be used as a guide.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is aware that that subject may not be discussed.

Mr ANTHONY - I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, even though it deprives me of the opportunity to put my case properly. The Minister could still do justice to those who will contribute to the wheat stabilization fund by constituting that fund on what I might describe as a revolving basis, whereby those who pay into it but who, subsequently, for some reason or other, leave the industry, will be given an opportunity to withdraw their equity from the fund. Provision should be made for their names to be registered and the amounts of money credited to the fund on their behalf to be recorded so that when they leave the industry they may be paid what is their just due. I could name industries in which that has been done very successfully. The Minister should be prepared to agree to the temporary postponement of the bill in order that schemes such as that may be examined. Probably, however, the honorable gentleman has not even heard of such proposals. I remind him that in a period of five years there may he a great drift from the wheat industry, as there may he from other industries and occupations. Every honorable member knows that during the period of three years that elapses between the holding of general elections for this Parliament there are great changes in the number and occupations of the people on the electoral rolls. In some electorates these changes represent 30 per cent, of the number of people on the roll. It may be said that within a period of three years the changes in the number and occupations of persons on the electoral rolls would average 20 per cent. That represents the normal turnover of people changing from one town to another, fro'm one electorate to another, or from one occupation to another. I agree that in the wheat industry the movement may be lower than the average in other industries because a wheat-grower, having his own home on his property, is more stabilized in his occupation than are most members of the community. Nevertheless, there is a constant turnover in the wheat industry itself, and it is in respect of those wheat-growers who will not remain in the industry that the Opposition is most concerned. I support my colleagues in their efforts to safeguard the interests of such people.

Mr Spender - The honorable member may include me among, his colleagues on this matter.

Mr ANTHONY - I include the honorable member, as- 1 also do the honorable member1 for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and, of course, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) who also has given us his counsel and advice in this important matter.

Mr McEwen - Apart from the Minister, not a single Labour supporter has spoken in favour of the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - That is so. Even the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) who is usually most vociferous in his advocacy of the Government's proposals has remained strangely silent. The honorable gentleman is apparently afraid to commit himself. Thus we have the spectacle of the Government' benches being packed with silent supporters of the Government, not one of whom has been courageous enough to attempt to justify this " filch " of £7,000,000 of the wheat-growers' money this year. However, honorable members on this side of the House, though they lack numerical strength, refuse to remain silent in face of the injustice which the Government proposes to perpetrate on the- wheatgrowers.

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