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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- The amendment of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) narrows this discussion down to one of the most impor tant and controversial issues. While many other amendments have been moved and many speeches have been made, this is the first time a clearly recognizable specific issue has been brought before the committee in a manner that it is impossible to evade. It is the issue on which we intend to divide the committee in order to see who stands for stealing from the wheat-growers and who is opposed to it.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order ! The honorable member must not use unparliamentary language.

Mr McEWEN - I bow to your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, but that is the language that the wheat-growers recognize.

Mr Dedman - I rise to order. The term used by the honorable member for Indi is offensive to me, and I ask that it be withdrawn.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -The Minister for Post war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) says that the term used by the honorable member for Indi is offensive to him and asks that it be withdrawn.

Mr McEWEN - I take it, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that you direct me to withdraw the words to which exception has been taken.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I ask that the words be withdrawn.

Mr McEWEN - In deference to your request I withdraw, but it seems to me that the Minister has readily identified himself as one of those who engage in that objectionable-

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable gentleman may not proceed along those lines.

Mr McEWEN - It appears that I might have chosen my language more discreetly and said that we would divide the committee to discover those in favour of taking money from the wheat-growers in a manner which I am sure the wheatgrowers believe to be both illegal and improper. The issue is simple. It is whether the levy is to apply retrospectively or not. The wheat-growing industry is subject to periodic vicissitudes and is committed to the disadvantage of periodic droughts.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The Chair will not permit a discussion along those lines. The honorable member will not be permitted to make a second-reading speech at this stage of the bill.

Mr McEWEN - Having passed that point, I was about to mention that the product of this industry has both high and low overseas prices. Those who are engaged in it can maintain themselves in it only by averaging their income. When the bulk of the wheat-growers planted the 1945-46 crop they had been through a series of adverse seasons and prices, but a year ago they had moved into a period when they knew from answers to questions given by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture that the export value of their wheat had reached 9s. a bushel. They were sustained by the knowledge that they could recoup some of. their losses from the high overseas prices. Upon that assumption, which was founded upon the whole of their experience and their conviction of their rights under the Australian Constitution, they budgeted for the next year, as every one engaged in rural industries is bound to budget in advance. They now are to be obliged, as the result of this legislation, to re-assess their incomes from a crop that they have harvested. Here is what they find in simple figures. If the amendment be rejected and the bill be passed in its present form, every farmer who delivered 1,000 bushels of wheat will receive £54 less than he expected. But, of course, 1,000 bushels' is not a normal delivery. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon) said that in twelve days he had sown 500 acres of wheat.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member will not be permitted to indulge in a wide discussion of the industry on this clause.

Mr McEWEN - It is clear that a man who sowed 500 acres of wheat would expect, on an average yield, to harvest from 7,000 to 8,000 bushels. A man who harvested 7,000 bushels will have his income reduced by £379 if this bill be passed in its present form. If he delivers 8,000 bushels his income, under this pernicious measure, will be decreased by £433. There has not been an occa sion previously in the history of this country when men have produced a product and have had it compulsorily acquired by the Government under terms which were explicit at the time of the acquisition, but which has been subjectlater to a decision by caucus to introduce legislation the effect of which will be to take from £300 to £500 from individual growers. The industry cannot bear such an impost upon the incomes of those engaged in it. This is not an abstract argument; every wheat-grower, with pencil and paper, will work out how much he is having stolen, or improperly taken, from him. With the permission of the committee I incorporate the following table in Hansard: -

Amount proposed to be withheld for stabilization fund 2s. 2d. per bushel, being 50 per cent, of difference between 5s. 2d. and 9s. 6d. (calculations on basis of 50 per cent, of poo) being exported) -

My final point is that the legality of the inclusion of the 1945-46 harvest in this scheme has been challenged by two eminent King's Counsel in this chamber, namely, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender).

Mr Scully - The Leader of the Opposition did not challenge its legality.

Mr McEWEN - Apparently the Minister has some difficulty in interpreting the language of the Leader of the Opposition. I listened carefully to the right honorable gentleman, and' I have no doubt on that point. The Minister knows that the legality of this measure has been challenged, not only in this chamber, but also in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, where wheat-farmers are banding together and voluntarily subscribing funds with which to fight the Government in the courts.

Mr Scully - The honorable member knows that the Australian Country party is responsible for that agitation.

Mr McEWEN - The Minister cannot shout me down. He cannot shout down the High Court. The point I make is that if an appeal to the High Court be successful, and this provision is proved to be ultra vires the Constitution the measure as a whole will be invalidated. The Government is jeopardizing the whole scheme by obstinately proceeding with this pernicious proposal. Every grower has -raised his voice in protest against - I nearly said " steal " - this expropriation. I appeal to the Government on the ground of equity and fair play. If it has any regard for our customary system of fair play it may still see the light and exclude the 1945-46 crop from the scheme. Secondly, I put the very powerful view to the Government that if its persistence with its proposal results in an adverse decision by the High Court, the scheme as. a whole will be invalidated, and everything the Minister is trying to achieve will be lost.

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