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Friday, 26 July 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- I ask the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) to inform me, when he replies to this debate, whether' an agreement has been reached between Australia and the United States of America regarding the use of Honolulu and other American islands in the Pacific for a reciprocal service between America and 4his country. Before the war, the United States of America was not willing to allow Australia to use Honolulu. If we were permitted to utilize that base, we should bo able to' establish a very " satisfactory trans-Pacific service.

I direct the attention of the Government to the very serious condition of affairs in the dairying industry as I found them to exist during the last fortnight from Gympie, in Queensland, to Newcastle, in New South "Wales, especially from Kempsey north. I wa's informed that the conditions which I saw were general along the whole north coast of Queensland. This area is affected by . one of the worst droughts on record. Last February and March, heavy floods occurred throughout the area, with the result that the entire fodder crop was destroyed, and the pastures for this year were ruined. Since then, no rain has fallen. All the feed is so dry that, according to the managers of butter factories, the quantity of butter produced in their establishments in May and June of this year was only one-third of the output in the corresponding months of last year; and last year's production in those months was the lowest for twenty years. In addition, the dairy-farmers and their organization have informed me that they have submitted to the Government, as the result of the Dairy Advisory Committee's inquiry which extended over a year, a closely reasoned set of costs for the industry. This calculation shows that they must receive at least ls. Hid. per lb. for butter to enable them to meet their costs in normal times. At present, they are receiving about ls. 7.3d. per lb. If this amount could be increased immediately as the result of an investigation which, I understand, the Prices Branch has been undertaking, the dairy-farmers would be given new heart, and could establish credit to enable them to buy the fodder which is essential if their stock is to be saved.

Earlier this week, I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) about the relative number of dairy cattle and calves in Australia. He replied that since the outbreak of war, the number of dairy milking cattle had diminished by about 250,000, and, at present, there were 120,000 fewer heifer calves under- one-year old than at the corresponding period last year. From what I saw, I consider that between 200,000 and* 300,000 dairy cows will die during the next . few months unless immediate relief is given. Last February, because of drought conditions in New South Wales, especially around Sydney, the Prices Commissioner examined the "costs of the dairying industry supplying whole milk in that area and the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), on behalf of the Government, made a grant of a special subsidy of 3d. a gallon during January, and also certain payments to those who were compelled to purchase feed. I emphasize that the plight . of those dairy-farmers who are supplying the butter factories is really much more desperate than that of those who market their milk. Undoubtedly, the producers of milk require assistance, but the needs of those who supply the butter factories is even more urgent. I hope that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser), the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and the Prices Commissioner will examine this matter, and that the Government will announce an immediate increase of price so that dairy-farmers shall be able to pay for fodder the high prices now ruling because of the shortage of feed caused by the drought.

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