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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr ' Barnard (BASS, TASMANIA) - 'Order! What is donĀ« by honorable members on the Government side of the chamber has nothing to do with the amendment.

Mr McEWEN - Their vote will have a great deal of bearing on it. I should have thought that on such an issue the representative of Hume (Mr. Fuller) would hold an opinion, because it will affect many of the growers in his electorate.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The Chair has ruled that the honorable member . must discuss the amendment.

Mr McEWEN - The amendment is concerned with the question whether all wheat-growers are to be deprived of what they reasonably anticipated would be their complete returns from the last harvest. There are wheat-growers in the electorates of Riverina and Wannon who might have expected their representatives to have an opinion on the matter. The honorable member for Calare has pointed out that the farming community as a whole is not so well organized industrially as are trade unionists. It appeared to me that he is moving towards the conclusion that their organizations are not yet competent to be consulted by the Government.- That, of course, is beyond doubt. The honorable member, for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has mentioned a book recently produced by the University of Melbourne, with the assistance of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction, in which it is stated that in Victoria, one of the highly organized wheat-growing States, fewer than 50 per cent, of the wheat-growers are members of a wheat-growing organization. What the percentage is in the electorates of the honorable members for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon) and Swan (Mr. Mountjoy), who have not spoken on this measure) I do not know, but probably it is less than in the electorates that I have mentioned in New South Wales and Victoria. If the Minister is to be guided by the speech of the honorable member for Calare, who argued that the. wheat-growers' organizations are not so fully representative of the industry as to justify their views being regarded as decisive, the only sensible and fair thing is for him to consult all the wheat-growers. As the result of war-time pools, all of them are registered. It would be the simplest thing to abstract from the records of the Australian Wheat Board the names of all the registered. wheat-growers, and to take a poll of them at short notice. Mention is frequently made of democracy in this country. The Labour party poses as . its champion. Surely the essence of democracy is that the mass of the people concerned shall be consulted, and that their decision shall be the determining factor !

Mr Drakeford - Have a referendum on everything.

Mr McEWEN - The honorable member for Barker has proposed that there shall be a referendum of the wheatgrowers on a subject which touches their own industry. The Ministry regards a referendum of the people of Australia as a good thing when it wishes to obtain a decision to its own political advantage. This matter is not touched by politics. If it were put to the growers they could decide, free from all party affiliations, whether they want their assets to be " grabbed ", virtually stolen ; to be possessed retrospectively. What could be fairer than the proposal that they, shall be allowed to decide the matter? What is the use of the Minister saying,-" I have conferred with the members of the Australian Wheat Growers. Federation " - having in the room with him half a dozen men, some of whom were simultaneously executive members of the federation and on his own pay-roll, and would give advice calculated to favour the view that he holds? What is the use of his claiming that to be a democratic way of ascertaining the wishes of the wheat industry? The Opposition submitted the much fairer proposal that the whole stabilization scheme shall be- submitted to a poll of the growers. There is no urgency in the matter. It is not as though the proposal had implicit in it a payment by the Treasury to the wheatgrowers at short notice. All that is proposed is that something shall not be taken from the wheat-growers. What could be fairer than that?

Mr Scully - Wheat merchants would defeat the poll.

Mr McEWEN - That is a typical Labour party statement. The wheat merchants could almost be numbered on one's fingers. Does the Minister fear that a dozen or twenty of them would be able to persuade 60,000 or 70,000 wheat-growers to vote against, their own interests? I have never heard a more puerile argument advanced than that. It shows that the Minister has no good argument at all in favour of his proposal.

Mr Lazzarini - He said the merchants w.ould furnish funds with which to finance the Australian Country party.

Mr McEWEN - He did not say that. I have not seen the Australian Country party soliciting funds, but I have noticed great advertisements inserted on behalf of the Labour party asking that donations be sent to Ministers of the Crown at their public offices. I should have thought that Labour members would have had* little to say about party funds on this occasion. Had they any sense of f fairness, they would blush with shame; but anyred herring is good enough for the Minister to draw across the track of this measure. If there was ever a simple and clear-cut proposal which should be accepted by the Government, this is it. If there was ever a plan on which members of the wheat-growing constituencies such as the honorable member for Forrest, the honorable member for Swan, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Smith) should be heard, it is that now before the committee. Not one of those honorable members has risen to say whether he is in favour of, or against,, it. How can they explain to their supporters among the wheat-growers why they have expressed no opinion at all on this matter? 1

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