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Friday, 2 August 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- I join with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) in expressing my best wishes, and those of other members of the Australian Country party, to the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) on the occasion of his departure for the United States of America to take up the position of Australia's first Ambassador. He came into this Parliament at the same time as I did. 27 years ago, and since then he has occupied some very distinguished positions. Although he and I have differed greatly in politics, I have never doubted that he always sought to do what he believed was the 'best for his country. I am confident that his activities in the United States of America will be of benefit, not only to Australia and to the United States of America, but through their co-operation to the whole world. When a man is appointed to so important a position, he ceases to represent any party but becomes the representative of all Australians ; and we shall regard him as such.

I take this opportunity to explain my reason for addressing a question this morning to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) when I asked why the price of Australian butter in our contract with the United Kingdom was lower than the price at which Great Britain has contracted to buy butter from Denmark. I asked the question in a friendly way, because I hoped that the Minister would set out the facts with regard to Great Britain's needs of that, commodity, and also its treatment of Australian producers of butter. I thought that the Minister would have made it clear that at this particular time Australia should not try to get the last penny out of Great Britain, because; as I shall show, the Government is receiving from Great Britain a substantial amount which it refuses to pass on to the butter producers. I take this opportunity to recapitulate the history of this matter during the war years. In 1938, the year before the war, when I was in London as Minister for Commerce I arranged with Sir Henry French, the British Controller of Food, to sell to Great Britain the whole of our butter exports. At that time all arrangements were completed, except tie price, which was about to be fixed when war broke out. The- committee to handle the transaction was appointed. That price was fixed, not in any haphazard fashion, but on the basis of an offer from the British Government which was submitted to the Dairy Products Export Control Board which asked for a conference of all bodies interested in -the production of butter in this country. That conference decided that the British offer was reasonable and should be accepted. Subject to other conditions, one of which was that Great Britain should guarantee to provide the necessary shipping, and agree to pay for any butter which was stored in Australia while awaiting shipment, Great Britain accepted that arrangement; and the agreement was implemented. No pressure whatever was brought to bear upon Great Britain to pay a higher price until 1944 when this Government raised the aspect of the increased cost of production. In 1942' the Prices Commissioner had increased the price to the producer by Id. per lb., and in order to prevent further costs being passed on to the consumer the Government subsidized the industry, first, to the amount of £2,000,000, and, subsequently, to the amount of £6,500,000. But in 1944 negotiations were entered into direct with the British Government by representatives of the industry in Australia who had arranged the original contract; and, finally, in 1945 an arrangement was made whereby the British Government agreed to increase its payments by 42s. a cwt. So generously did Great Britain act in the matter that the Auditor-General in his report for the year ended the 30th June, 3945, pointed out that Great Britain agreed not' only to increase' the price from 134s. a cwt. to 18Os. Sid. a cwt. but also to pay an additional subsidy of 16s. 8d. a cwt. in order to help the Australian producer. In addition, Great Britain agreed to pay that subsidy retrospectively as from the 1st April, 1943. It has actually paid to the Commonwealth that subsidy totalling £3,000,000 up to the 30th June, 1945, whilst £300,000 is still outstanding - on that account. The subsidy for 1945-46 is additional. That payment was something over and above the price at which Great Britain .contracted to buy Australian butter. Therefore, there is not the least justification for saying that Great Britain has been hard to deal with in this matter. Our objection has always been that the Government has paid the British subsidy into the Treasury and refused to pass it on to the butter producers of this country. Consequently, the producers are receiving 16s. 8d. a cwt. less than export parity on the whole of their butter. I also point out that a new agreement is now being negotiated. How are those negotiations being carried on? They are not being conducted by a member of the Government who would necessarily have to go abroad for that purpose, but by the representatives of the butter industry, including Mr. Sheehy, Mr. Gibson and Major King, who are negotiating for an agreement on a basis which will enable the industry to earnon. You, Mr. Speaker, called a Minister to order when he interjected " You old humbug-" when I was asking my question. I hoped that the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture would put on record the generosity with which Great Britain has always been prepared to meet Australia with respect to the purchase of not only our butter, but also wool and other primary products. In 1942 Great Britain, without any direct request having been made to it, agreed to pay ' an' additional 2d. per lb. for Australian wool. It is the Minister's duty to make these facts known instead of implying that we. are obliged to bludgeon Great Britain into paying reasonable prices for our products. Great Britain, displays this generosity at a time when it is more in need of money and food than at any other time in its history. The Government has failed badly to supply greater quantities of butter than it originally contracted to. supply to Great Britain. When we are not able to- supply the whole of Britain's butter requirements we should be the last to criticize Great- Britain because it is buying butter from Denmark.

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