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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) should return to the bill before the House.

Mr RANKIN - The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lemmon) has all his troubles ahead of him, because he will not be able to man his housing propositions. Although the Government boasts of the number of houses built during its term of office, its record has not yet reached that of the Bruce-Page Government in 1925-26. Yet in 1925-26 only approximately 60,000 workers were engaged in the building industry compared with 90,000 to-day. Exservicemen are now paying £2,000 and more for a house which in 1925-26 could be built for from £600 to £700.

Mr McLeod - To-day the Government is building houses and not shacks.

Mr RANKIN - The houses built by the Bruce-Page Government were equally as good as those built by the Government to-day. By his interjection the Minister for Works and Housing has caused me to digress from the subject of communism but I shall now return to it. Honorable members opposite say that the members of the Opposition parties are the friends of the Communists. I remind them that at a meeting held in Victoria recently Mr. Galvin appeared on a platform with Mr. J. J. Browne, who is the secretary of the Victorian Railways Union and an avowed Communist.

Mr Conelan - At what meeting?

Mr RANKIN - Surely that does not matter. It is true, however, that he " got the cane " from his own party for doing so.

I propose now to say something about the wheat industry. The wheat-growers have been treated very shabbily by this Government. Honorable members opposite constantly boast of what the Labour

Government has done for the wheatgrowers of Australia. Rather they should talk about what the Labour Government has " done " the wheat-growers f ors because it has taken no less than £80,000,000 out of the pockets of the wheat-growers during its term of office. Last November, the Australian "Wheat Board, which is composed of men like Mr. Chapman, the growers' representative, and Mr. Teasdale, who is cordially hated by the Government because he knows too much about it, recommended a sale of wheat to Great Britain. By the 26th November negotiations for an agreement had almost been completed. Wheat at that time was worth 15s. 6d. a bushel at distant ports and 16s. 6d. a bushel on the adjacent seaboard, but the sale was held up for four months. Actually, 60,000,000 bushels should have been sold, but a definite instruction, was given by the Minister that the matter was to be handled on a government to government basis. That government to government basis has cost the wheat-growers of Australia approximately £1,500,000. Between the 1st May and the 31st July, it will cost them at least £750,000. Why did the Government take that action? It took it for the very same reason that it agreed to sell wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 9d. a bushel. I do not blame the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture for that. I know that he was left with the child when he assumed office. I might even say that he was seduced and left with an idiot child, because that is the only way one can describe the agreement. The reason for the transaction was to raise the prestige of the New Zealand Labour Government, which knew that it would have a tremendous struggle to survive the then forthcoming election.

Mr Pollard - When I reply, the honorable member for Bendigo will find that his statement is pregnant with possibilities.

Mr RANKIN - The Minister's administration

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the legislation under discussion.

Mr RANKIN - Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have quite a satisfactory answer to the Minister, hut perhaps it should not be broadcast. The circumstances of the New Zealand wheat agreement are as I have stated. Recently I had a discussion with a well-known New Zealander. He is not a Labour supporter. In fact, he is a very liberal chap. He said that he had voted for the Labour party on several occasions, but he added, " We have had them ". I asked him how it was that Labour had managed to escape defeat at the last election. He said, " They gave the Maoris a few doughnuts made with Australian wheat bought at 5s. 9d. a bushel. That is why they succeeded." As I have said, the Australian Government's wheat deal with Great Britain will cost the Australian wheatgrowers at least £1,500,000. The agreement was made between the Australian High Commissioner in London, Mr. Beasley, and the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps.

Mr Pollard - That is not true.

Mr RANKIN - Then it was Mr. Beasley who carried out the negotiations, although I have no doubt that he was acting on instructions received from Australia. Sir Stafford Cripps, of course, was afraid of Labour's position in the United Kingdom. He and his colleagues were worried by the anti-Labour swing at the British municipal elections. Obviously the people of Great Britain had found out that the Labour Government's much vaunted programme of socialization meant a complete loss of their economic standards.

Mr Haylen - Labour will go back.

Mr RANKIN - Yes, back to the obscurity from which it should never have been permitted to emerge. I repeat that the wheat agreement with Great Britain was made in an endeavour to bolster up the British Government in the eyes of the people. Sir Stafford Cripps wanted to be in a position to say, " We have made an agreement with Australia under which we are buying wheat for at least 4d. a bushel less than the amount the Australian Wheat Board was prepared, to accept ".

Mr Pollard - That is not true, either.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The Minister must cease interrupting.

Mr RANKIN - That was stated by members of the Australian "Wheat Board, and the Minister has never denied it. I have watched the press for any denial and there has been none. Silence means consent. Sir Stafford Cripps realized that if an agreement were made, he would be able to boast that Great Britain was purchasing wheat from Australia at less than its market value. No doubt he is now saying to himself, " The Australian Government is on our side in spite of the interests of the Australian wheat-growers, and it is prepared to give us this subsidy to lengthen the period for which we can cling to the treasury bench ".

Mr Pollard - Good old patriot.

Mr RANKIN - I have no objection to this country assisting to feed the British people.

Mr Haylen - That is very handsome of the honorable gentleman.

Mr RANKIN - "Well, no one can say that of the honorable member for Parkes. The position is as I have stated. We on this side of the chamber do not yield pride of place to any one in our desire to assist the British people who suffered so terribly during the war, and are continuing to suffer due mainly to misgovernment. However, we object most strenuously to any one section of the community such as the wheat-growers, the egg producers, or any other primary producers, being asked to bear an unfair share of the burden. After all, 64 per cent, of the population of Victoria lives within 25 miles of the Melbourne General Post Office, and in New South Wales the position is even worse. The disparity is not so great in the other States but it is still out of all proportion. Country people have not the facilities and amenities that are available to city dwellers. Even the Arbitration Court has subscribed to the principle that rural workers cannot expect the same treatment as their fellows in the cities, because whereas city residents enjoy a five-day 40-hour week - and very few work to full capacity even in that period=-the man on the land works for 56 hours, and for a lower basic wage. Apparently the Arbitration Court believes that people residing outside the cities must expect to work harder and longer to produce cheap food and clothing for the huge proportion of our population which lives in the cities. The Government is denying country people not merely luxuries, but also things that are absolutely necessary if production is to be increased. We know that the Government has no desire to increase output in the cities. If honorable members opposite believed that a 20-hour week would be an election winner, they would reduce working hours to that figure if they thought they could get away with it. We all know that several unions are now seeking a 30-hour week.

Mr Pollard - How many hours does the honorable member for Bendigo work in a week ?

Mr RANKIN - The Minister makes a lot of silly statements and asks a lot of silly questions. They are not worth answering. The fact remains that country people are expected to work extra hour* and to produce 84 per cent, of the exportable wealth of Australia. All the wool, wheat, meat, and metals that we export are produced in the country districts. When our primary industries face a serious recession of prices, the present day " golden age " of which the Prime Minister speaks so glibly will disappear, and will be replaced by a cold iron age in which people will have to work hard to save this country's economy. The day when they can walk out when any one speaks to them, will go and they will have to do their duty to Australia as the primary producers are expected to do theirs to-day. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture has asked for increased butter production. I support his request, and I hope that the dairyingindustry will fall into line; but the treatment that the dairy-farmers have received is responsible for the serious slump in the output of butter fat. Lately, production has slightly increased, but for a long time there was a steady decline. The only primary industry that has gone on steadily is the grazing industry, which is the one primary industry that the Government has not yet interfered with. But the cat's claws are outstretched as it watches the quail and hopes to grab it and bite into its fat. The Government is breaking its. neck to take over from the

Joint Organization. It is breaking its neck to interfere with the meat industry also. As the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture knows very well, it had one try to get its hands on to that industry. It had a " go " at the pig industry, failed dismally and was glad to get out of the picture. The grazing industry is the only industry that has not only held its own but has also gone ahead. The Government makes no attempt to supply the essential needs of primary producers, such as ordinary fencing wire, wire netting, cyanide and ammunition. About fifteen months ago I asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, as the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice), a question about cyanogas and ammunition, and I said that 'rabbits showed every sign of increasing to plague proportions. It was about the time of the opening of the duck season, and the Minister was so narrow minded as to say " Ob ! So you want to go duckshooting, do you?" I have not been duckshooting for about four years, and I had no- intention of going on that occasion; but I had an interest in the welfare of my country and my fellow Australians. I knew the menace of the rabbits, and the Minister ought to have known it too, because he has his satellites spread throughout Australia. But apparently they did not report the actual position to him. Recently, I again asked whether dollars would be made available for the importation of cyanogas and .22 calibre rifle ammunition. I was given a. reply by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, on behalf of the Minister for Trade and Customs, but, although my question had stressed the need for the importation of cyanogas or other fumigants, no mention was made of them. The reply furnished by the Minister for Trade and Customs read -

There is a substantial local production of 22 calibre ammunition.

I should like to know where the local production has gone. I could take 10,000 rounds into any small town in northern Victoria or southern New South "Wales and sell them at twice the proper price. It is impossible to get .22 calibre ammunition. Repeatedly, I receive letters asking me to help the writers to get some, but

Ihave to tell them that it is not possible. One can buy an odd box at hardware stores, of course, but not onehundredth of requirements is available. Fumigants are unprocurable. Primary producers cannot buy cyanogas. The shortages mean added work and a waste of time in trying to keep the rabbits at bay. The rabbit plague causes a terrific loss of forage. The rabbits not only eat the pastures but befoul them, and stock do not do well on pastures after the rabbits have been on them. That means a great loss to the country. The Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and his colleagues imagined that they had discovered a new Australian industry in the rabbits. They were sending millions of skins to the United States of America. At that time, the American soldiers were being paid colossal rates. They received about three times as much money as the Australian Government paid the men it conscripted. So much did they earn tha.t they were able to buy rabbit-fur coats for their girl friends. The market for Australian rabbit skins was tremendous. After the war. when the American troops had been demobilized and had spent their money, the Government of the United States of America restricted import licences for rabbit skins by 60 per cent. When the market was wide open and rat biters could get 3s. a skin, every man at a loose end went rabbiting and made good money out of it. To-day, however, people are not willing to do the hard work that rabbiting entails, and rabbits constitute now a national menace instead of what the Government was so misguided to regard as a flourishing industry. The reply to my question continued -

Import licences are freely issuable for 22 calibre ammunition when produced in countries whose currency in relation to sterling is considered " easy ".

Despite the fact that available supplies do not fully meet the present demand licences not at present being issued for the importation of this ammunition from the dollar area. Licences for limited quantities from the dollar area were issued last quarter, but the demand for allocation of dollars for other goods with greater priority made it impossible to continue the allocation for .22 calibre cartridges.

The Government wanted to import certain commodities to provide more amenities in the cities, especially for the wharf labourers who were too tired to unload the stuff that was imported. The wharf labourers are the people who dictate the foreign policy of Australia. They took the side of the Indonesians. That prompts me to say without hesitation that I am with the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) in connexion with the deportation of the Indonesian family that came here and was succoured in Australia during the war and then tried to work a scheme to stay here. We do not want Indonesians here. Doctor Soekarno, who was supported by the wharf labourers and who went to Japan, where he was decorated by the Emperor, gave to some friends of mine and of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) a " safe conduct " in Java. Then the Indonesians ambushed the men and shot them. Not satisfied with having shot them, they tore them to pieces as a tiger tears its prey. They are the people whom the wharf labourers stood up for. If they had the opportunity again they would add to the ill-feeling that has been caused between us and the Dutch. Those of us who know anything of the facts realize that we owe a great deal to the Dutch for the part they played when the Japanese plunged down through the islands with a view to attacking Australia but were halted. There are certain things about the Minister for Immigration with which I agree. With others I disagree.

Mr Hughes - Stick to that !

Mr RANKIN - Yes. I disagree with the unprovoked and foul attack that he made on the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) yesterday. The Minister quoted a letter the writer of which was not prepared to allow his name to be revealed. The Minister tried to make out that he had cast no aspersions on the honorable member for Maranoa, but he read a foul letter, which was devoid of truth, and which alleged vile things about the honorable member for Maranoa. The reading of that letter by the Minister was heard by the radio listeners and the letter was also made available to the readers of newspapers that published it. Forty per cent, of the listeners and the newspaper readers would believe that there was something in what had been said. They would take the attitude : " There must be something in it, or it would not have been published in the press or allowed to have been broadcast ", or they would say " the Minister would not dare to say it unless there was something in it". I regret that the Minister saw fit to make such statements.

I have personal knowledge of the fact that several British immigrants have been discouraged from settling on the land by immigration officers. This criticism does not refer to displaced persons, because I know that numbers of immigrants in that category have been made available for work in rural areas. People from the Baltic countries and neighbouring regions have been sent to work in the sugar industry in Queensland, the fruit industry in Victoria, on the hydroelectric project in Tasmania, and at various jobs in the country areas of other States. From what I have seen of those displaced persons, I consider that they are fine people and willing workers, whom we can well afford to assimilate. However, for some strange reason, the policy seems to be to discourage British, Dutch, and other European immigrants whom we should be glad to welcome to our country districts. The screening officers definitely advise such people against settling on the land. I know of two married men with families who left Great Britain with the object of becoming farmers in Australia. Before they left Great Britain they were told that they were mad to contemplate farm work, and that they ought to put it in fifth or sixth place on their list of occupational preferences. I admit that one of these men has 'been a carpenter, but he has also worked on the land for part of his life. When they arrived in Australia, both of them were advised against going on the land. I tell the Government that Australia's prosperity depends upon its rural industries. Our cities would die out very rapidly if primary production ceased. If the Government wants to increase the production of food and other primary products that the British people and the starving peoples of Europe badly need, it must provide additional labour for our farms. I believe that Queensland is growing, at present, the greatest crop of sugar that has ever been known in that State. It will not be possible to handle that crop unless we can get people to work on the land. The Government has sent displaced persons to the sugargrowing districts. Why not send our own kith and kin there if they are prepared to take up blocks and work hard on them ?

Mr Edmonds - Sugar blocks are available only to ex-servicemen.

Mr RANKIN - I assure the honorable member that there is enough fertile land in Queensland to provide blocks for all of the people we can induce to come here from Great Britain.

Mr Edmonds - But they cannot get blocks assigned to them.

Mr RANKIN - That is the fault of the Government.

Mr Pollard - The sugar producers will not let the newcomers in.

Mr RANKIN - Why not? The law provides that only a specified area of land may be used for sugar production, but the law can be altered. The fact that there was a demand for, say, 400,000 tons of sugar annually when the law was enacted does not necessarily mean that the demand is at the same level to-day. In fact, the world's need for sugar has increased considerably.

Mr Edmonds - What about the price?

Mr RANKIN - I should say that the growers are getting a good price now, and I do not believe that our economy would be endangered if sugar plantations were extended to cover a much greater area of the beautiful country that I saw recently in Queensland.

I am astounded that the Government has not included in the bills that we are now debating any provision for the expenditure of money on the development of northern Queensland, which, in my opinion, is one of the vital areas of Australia.

Mr Edmonds - Hear, hear!

Mr RANKIN - In spite of some of the people who come from there ! If we are to hold Australia for ourselves we must do: two things. First, we must settle people in northern Queensland. Secondly, we must export the. sugar, the peanuts and everything else that they grow and, if world market prices recede, we must, in the interests of our own safety, taking a selfish view, subsidize their products. We must ensure that the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company Proprietary Limited does not squash our infant tobacco industry in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. I cannot understand the actions of this Government. It is supposed to be hostile to monopolies and to believe in socialism, and co-operation, but it allows buyers for the tobacco combine to force the price of first-class tobacco to within £d. per lb. of the price of the beautiful lemon-coloured, though poorer quality, leaf that is produced in parts of Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. A good crop of the light-coloured type of tobacco averages 6 cwt. or 7 cwt. of leaf to the acre. The mahogany leaf that is grown in the more favoured areas in better climates produces possibly 16 cwt. or 17 cwt. to the acre. But the Government allowed the price of the best leaf to be reduced to within £d. per lb. of the price of poor quality leaf, and promulgated a stupid regulation providing that leaf had to be classified' in 37 different types - an utter impossibility. The result was that the buyers had the growers at Mareeba by the throat. I give the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) some credit at any r.ate for the fact that he plucked up enough courage to tell the representatives of the combine where they got off.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) protested against the cancellation of the regulations.

Mr RANKIN - That is a. matter for him.

Mr McEwen - The Minister's statement is sheer misrepresentation.

Mr RANKIN - I did not protest at any rate. I showed samples of tobacco grown in the Bendigo electorate, which I represent, to the present Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and he admitted that they were equal in quality to any tobacco that he had seen.

Mr McEwen - What had he seen?

Mr RANKIN - He had seen a lot of tobacco. Some of it was not very good. but some was high quality mahogany leaf that had been grown in good country, and it commanded a price that, in the opinion of the buyers, was too high in comparison with the price of the other leaf. I have also shown samples to the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and to people at the United States Embassy in Canberra, who said that the mahogany leaf was so good that it would have been used in the United States of America for only one purpose, the making of cigars. The leaf that I showed to the Minister was grown on Gunbower Island. I hope that the Government will take action to protect tobacco-growers and other primary producers in northern Queensland and the Northern Territory. "We must subsidize their products and keep them on the land ifwe are to hold Australia for ourselves. Those great areas in the north of Australia, with their long seaboard, must not be left open to any enemy, and God knows, there are hundreds of millions of potential enemies only a few hours' flight from our shores.

I have beenvery disappointed by the Government's attitude towards the Northern Territory. It has allowed people in that region to hold vast areas of land for years with the sole object of preventing its proper development and so keeping our beef industry from becoming dangerously competitive with the big Argentina interests that the holders of the land also represent.

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