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Thursday, 25 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! This discussion has no relation to the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - the whole matter has been thoroughly discussed by other honorable members in your absence, Mr. Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER - Certainly not in my presence; it can be discussed no further.

Mr ANTHONY - The matter has every relation to the bill, if I might argue the point-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I rule otherwise.

Mr ANTHONY - Very well, I shall resume my seat because I am absolutely throttled and prevented from discussing a matter which has been discussed by every honorable member-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! . Is that intended to be a reflection on the Chair ?

Mr ANTHONY - It is intended as a protest against my being prevented from replying to the remarks of the honorable member for Calare, who dealt extensively with this matter before I commenced my speech.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I was not present when this discussion was initiated. Had I been, I would have prevented it. Having now allowed both sides of the House to participate in it, I rule that the matter shall not be discussed further.

Mr McEwen - May I state a point of order ?

Mr SPEAKER - What is the honorable member's point of order?

Mr McEwen -It is related to the purpose of thebill before the House, and therefore to the matters that may be discussed under the measure. I direct your attention, sir, to the title of the bill. It is this -

A bill for an act to provide for the transfer of the powers, authorities and functions conferred upon and exercised by the Controller of Meat Supplies ... to the Australian Meat Board . . .

My point of order is that it is impossible usefully to discuss the legislative proposal that the functions now exercised by the Controller of Meat Supplies shall be transferred to another authority unless honorable members are permitted to examine the administrative acts of the Controller of Meat Supplies, and thereby consider intelligently whether they desire that those functions shall continue to repose where they now reside or shall be transferred, as the hill proposes, to some other authority.

Mr SPEAKER - That line of discussion will be entirely in order. I regret to say that, had the honorable gentleman so confined his remarks, there would be very little left of the speech that he made earlier in the day. The Chair now insists that the debate shall proceed along the lines he has indicated, and may not be related to the activities of the honorable member for Ballarat.

Mr McEwen - I rise to a different point of order. It is this: Earlier in the day I made a speech upon which you, sir, have now reflected, by saying that, had it been confined to the .matters I have just mentioned, it would have been greatly curtailed. Yet a few minutes earlier you said that you were not present when the discussion in relation to the honorable member for Ballarat was initiated. I ask whether the occupant of the chair, having admitted that he was not present when I made my speech, is now competent to cast a reflection on that speech.

Mr SPEAKER - I was not absent during the whole of the speech of the honorable gentleman, but I was absent when he initiated the discussion regarding the honorable member for Ballarat that I have now ruled out of order. I make that clear. That discussion was totally irrelevant to the bill. But the matter having been raised, I regarded it as fair that a reply should be permitted. I am now occupying the chair, and if the honorable gentleman wishes to derive assistance from the Standing Orders he will soon learn how strictly they can be applied.

Mr McEwen - Threats should not be voiced by one side or the other.

Mr SPEAKER - I intend to adhere strictly to the Standing Orders.

Mr Barnard - During your absence, Mr. Speaker, I was occupying the chair. The records of this House will reveal that I ruled ov.t of order the discussion in relation to the honorable member for Ballarat. I agreed that passing reference could be made to the activities of certain pig-producing interests, which matter had been raised by the honorable member for Indi. I endeavoured to confine the debate in that way, and to prevent a general dis cussion, which I considered would be out of order.

Mr SPEAKER - Upon my return to the chair, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker (Mr. Barnard) reported in those terms. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) will be in order in discussing whether the Australian Meat Board shall be reconstituted in the manner proposed by the bill. Personal references which bear no relation to the board will be out of order.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not wish to come into conflict with the Chair or the Standing Orders. I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the difference between the bill which the House is now considering, and that on which a ruling was given yesterday. There is likely to be some conflict of opinion as to what each bill means. Yesterday, the House debated a bill to amend the Meat Export Control Act. I agree that the remarks that I have been making would be out of order were I debating that measure. But this hill proposes to transfer the powers, authorities and functions conferred upon and exercised by the Controller of Meat Supplies to a board that has yet to be constituted. I am endeavouring to criticize certain of the activities of the Controller of Meat Supplies, and to refer to what might be done by the new board as well as by the Government acting under similar authority. I hope that I shall be in order if. I keep to that line of argument.

Mr SPEAKER - Unquestionably; I am not disputing that. But the bill has no relation to the honorable member for Ballarat or his political activities.

Mr ANTHONY - I shall endeavour to avoid conflict with your ruling, and to keep my remarks in order. In criticizing the administration of the Controller of Meat Supplies, and particularly of the Minister - who, in fact, is the Controller, because .that officer must take his authority and his orders from the Minister - it is necessary to refer to certain of the activities of the Minister through his appointed representatives: first, the Controller of Meat Supplies; secondly, the Deputy Controller in Victoria; and thirdly, the honorable member for Ballarat; who has acted for the Minister on numerous occasions.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will be quite entitled to criticize an administration with which the bill is concerned.

Mr ANTHONY - The criticism that I propose to level is in support of that voiced by the honorable member for Indi, namely, that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, through his officers - upon whom I cast no reflection; indeed, I am, not casting any reflection on the Minister personally-

Mr Scully - That is what the honorable member is trying to do.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not casting a reflection on the Minister personally, but am criticizing his administration of the Meat Control Regulations, and the injustice that was done to many thousands of primary producers throughout Australia because of the way in which they were administered. The honorable member for Indi has shown conclusively that the result of the Minister having sent his personal representative to a. meeting of buyers and bacon curers in Victoria was a reduction of the price of pigs.

Mr Scully - That is a deliberate misstatement. The honorable member knows that I did not send a personal representative to that meeting.

Mr ANTHONY - Let me say this-

Mr Scully - Why persist with such low-down political propaganda? Why not be a little decent?

Mr ANTHONY - I must take exception to the Minister's statement that certain of my remarks are " low-down ".

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member having taken exception, I ask the Minister to withdraw the statement.

Mr Scully - I withdraw.

Mr ANTHONY - I am extremely limited in the exemplification of my point by the ruling that has been given by Mr. Speaker. As a result of what was said at this meeting in Victoria of purchasersof pigs, by a gentleman who shall be nameless but who was believed by the meeting to be acting as assistant to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the, price of pigs was reduced overnight by 30s. a head. That is revealed by a letter that was sent gratuitously to the honorable member for Indi by Mr.

S.   W. Johnston, secretary of the Victorian Ham and Bacon Curers Association.

Mr Scully - Can the honorable member assign any reason why it was sent?

Mr ANTHONY - The only reason that I can suggest is that certain denials had been made in this House of allegations by the honorable member for Indi, and that certain people thought that the denials conflicted with what they knew to be the truth of the matter. So, without prompting or request, they sent this letter to the honorable member. I shall read the relevant portion in connexion with the action taken by the Minister, through the Deputy Controller of Meat Supplies in Victoria, to. force down the prices which the farmer was getting for his produce. This is what was said in the letter -

That, in view of the statement reported in the Argus of the 5th July, 1946, to have been made by Mr. Pollard, M.P., denying having attended a meeting which decided on a reduction of pig-meat prices, the secretary of this association forward to Mr. McEwen, deputy Country party leader in the Federal Parliament, a full report of the meeting of curers, exporters and canners held on Thursday, the Kith May, 1946. which was called at the suggestion of the Deputy Controller of Meat Supplies, and at which Mr. Pollard, who was present as Assistant Minister of Commerce, advised members that unless prices being paid for pigs were reduced to the pigpian price, action would be taken by the Prices Branch to reduce bacon prices.

Mr Scully - Who signed that?

Mr ANTHONY - It is signed, " S. W. Johnston, secretary of the Victorian Ham and Bacon Curers Association ", and it is dated the 16th July. If the honorable member for Ballarat did not appear at the meeting with the authority of the Minister, according to the letter I have read, he conveyed that impression to the members at the meeting. Mr. Duffy, Deputy Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, and Mr. Dawson, Deputy Controller of Meat Supplies, were also present at the meeting, and Mr. Dawson presided. There is a direct link with the Minister and the Deputy Controller of Meat Supplies, and there can be no escape by the Minister from his responsibilities in respect of the action taken at the meeting.

The honorable member for Indi has shown conclusively that, as the result of the pressure applied to the producers, a buyer's representative was appointed by the Government, or by somebody in authority, to be the arbiter of the price at which the farmer was to sell his produce - a maximum price to be decided by a closed coterie of buyers, acting under powers vested in them by the Minister himself, or through his delegates. The honorable member for Indi has pointed out that this state of affairs continued for six weeks in the first place and for three weeks in another instance, and that during that period the loss of the farmers amounted to £1 10s. on each of thousands of pigs. Then, for some reason or other, the regulation was no longer applied. The buyers' representative disappeared, and a reversion to the old system of marketing took place. But during the period of weeks to which I have referred this little game went on. Some person, or persons, or organizations, made thousands of pounds. The consumer did not get the benefit of the reduction of prices. The prices of bacon and pig-meats in Victoria did not drop by one-eighth of a penny per lb. in that period. A legitimate question has been posed by the honorable member for Indi as to where that profit went. Into whose hands did it fall? I do notsuggest that there has been any malpractice on the part of the Minister. I hold him in toohigh esteem for that.

Mr Scully - Does the honorable member suggest wrong-doing on the part of any officers?

Mr ANTHONY - I attributed the position to maladministration or laxity in handing certain power to a buyers' organization, with the result that certain individuals or organizations were enabled to collect many thousands of pounds which should have gone to the farmers.

Mr Scully - The honorable member does not suggest black marketing?

Mr ANTHONY - Not at all. In the course of his reply the Minister will be able to state" his views on that point, but the circumstances of these happenings call for an inquiry by a selectcommittee to determine who was responsible, and more particularly into whose pockets went thedifference between the price the far mer would have normally received and that obtained under the Minister's authority.

Many aspects of the bill could be discussed, particularly the Minister's powers under it. He will have practically the same powers under this measure as under the complementary bill passed yesterday. This measure relates to the same board, with the addition of representatives of the Commonwealth Prices Commission and the Director of Rationing. The industry will still be under the direction of the Minister. The honorable member for Indi has raised a matter which affects all primary producers. How far may any government go in giving authority to a buyers' organization to prevent farmers from getting the returns to which they are entitled ?

Mr Holloway - The person who signed the letter read by the honorable member is a buyer.

Mr ANTHONY - Yes. But he contradicted the report in the press that a certain honorable member of this House had not attended the meeting to which reference has been made. The letter states that the meeting was presided over by a representative of the Minister or, in other words, the Deputy Controller of Meat Supplies in Victoria. The letter further states that the meeting was addressed by Mr. Pollard, in what was believed to be his capacity as assistant to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and that he advised the meeting that, unless it followed a certain course, the Government would be compelled to take stringent action. The whole issue is so clouded that the only way to arrive at. the truth is to appoint a select committee of this House to investigate it. Let the Minister himself, or the Prime Minister, appoint a committee to investigate the charges which have been made by no less a person than the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party, who spoke with a full sense of responsibility. Charges coming from such a source cannot be brushed aside with a simple denial. That issue might be shirked by the Minister and his. supporters, but the country people who supply the meat want the truth. They want to know who was responsible, and who profited out of the incident. I hope, that during the committee stage of the loll, an amendment will be moved to provide for the appointment of a select committee to investigate the matter.

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