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Thursday, 18 October 1956

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- I have listened to this debate with great interest because I was in the House when the International Wheat Agreement was debated on two previous occasions. One occasion was referred to by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. .Pollard), who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture at the time. I listened with interest to the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) this morning because he has spoken on a similar bill on a previous occasion. He said one or two things on which I should like to make some comment. He said that the honorable member for Lalor brought the agreement into being. Of course, the honorable member for Lalor brought the agreement into being only so far as Australia was concerned, and I believe the honorable member for Wilmot meant to say that. The honorable member for Lalor introduced the bill which ratified the agreement in 1949. Of course, the International Wheat Agreement would have gone on whether Australia had ratified it or not; at least, that is my considered opinion, and I think members generally will agree with me.

The honorable member for Wilmot made one remark with which I cannot agree. He said that, before the International Wheat Agreement was introduced, prices were low and that when he was on a farm with his father in the West Wimmera they received ls. 6d. a bushel one year and 2s. 9d. a bushel the next year. I do not doubt his figures for one moment. They will be accurate, and I am prepared to accept them. But I am not prepared to accept the implication that when the International Wheat Agreement was ratified and Australia became a member, prices rose as a consequence and everything was right for the wheat-growers. If Australia had not joined the International Wheat Agreement, it would have received higher prices than it ever received under this agreement. On 9th October of this year, the chairman of the wheat section of the Australian Primary Producers Union, as reported in a country newspaper, said -

Since World War II. wheat-growers have had thrust upon them by governments, supported by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, a quota of the harvest to the International Wheat Agreement, for which the price has varied from 3s. 10 5s. below world parity.

I do not think any honorable member will dispute that statement. Australia could have received a lot more money had the wheat-growers been able to sell in what is known as the free market, instead of in the market in which signatories to the International _ Wheat Agreement buy and sell their wheat. Of course, a certain amount of our wheat is sold in that free market, because only the fixed quota need go into the pool established under the International Wheat Agreement. I do not contend that such high prices would have prevailed in the free market had there been no International Wheat Agreement. 1 am not offering complete condemnation of the agreement. After all, it is not necessary for us in this House always to condemn or praise, although we must take a strong line on occasions. We need to consider seriously what has happened and what might happen in the future in connexion with this agreement, lt would appear - and I say thai advisedly - that Australia has, so far, lost money through being a party to the agreement. But if this country had not been a party to the agreement, could it have gained the advantage of the prices that have been available for what I may call free wheat?

Mr Duthie - Perhaps it could have, on a short-term basis.

Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member for Wilmot says that it may have done so on a short-term basis. Let us look into the future. The Government now intends to ratify a new agreement, and, quite candidly, I believe that Australia must be a party to the agreement. It is not a question of whether Australia should enter into it or not, as the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) suggested. The question is whether Australia would be better off if there were no International Wheat Agreement at all. When the honorable member for Lalor was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the Labour government and this matter was being debated, members of the Australian Country party pointed out that if any of the purchasing countries under the International Wheat Agreement decided to buy their wheat on the free market, there was nothing to prevent them from doing so. The honorable member for Lalor said at that time, " What do you suggest we should do? Should we train machine guns on them to make them buy the wheat under the terms of the agreement? " I believe I have quoted the honorable member's remarks fairly accurately. The point is that many of the signatories to this agreement will buy their wheat in the cheapest market, and they cannot be forced to buy it from countries which supply wheat under the agreement at the price laid down in the agreement. When the price of wheat was as high as 22s. a bushel on the free market, and only about 18s. under the International Wheat Agreement, the purchasing countries, in some of which I have not much confidence, naturally bought their wheat under the terms of the agreement. As the price of wheat is falling, however, can they be depended upon to continue to buy at the price laid down in the agreement, particularly if the price of wheat on the free market falls below the agreement price by 2s. or 3s. a bushel? That is the question that honorable members must ask themselves.

Mr Duthie - What country would sell it to them?

Mr TURNBULL - Russia would sell it, for one. That is the perfect answer to the honorable member's question. As the quotas of the various countries have been reduced, more free wheat is becoming available, and any country that has a surplus of wheat over and above the quota laid down in the agreement will be eager to sell that surplus. A country that has a large surplus of wheat over and above its quota may sell that surplus to one of the smaller purchasing countries listed in the agreement, and that smaller country may not purchase any wheat at all in the terms of the agreement.

Mr Whitlam - Which are the smaller countries that the honorable member refers to?

Mr TURNBULL - 1 have a spare copy of the document that contains a list of these countries, and I am only too happy to hand it to the honorable member for his information. I cannot do more, however, than give the honorable member the figures and the facts; 1 cannot give him the power of comprehension.

Of course, all three parties in this House support this bill, because we really must be a party to the agreement now. that a worldwide organization has been established. 1 have crossed swords on a previous occasion with the honorable member for Lalor regarding the failure of the United Kingdom Government to enter into this agreement. On that occasion the honorable member said that the Australian delegate was responsible for the failure of the United Kingdom Government to become a signatory.

Mr Pollard - lt was the fault of the Minister.

Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member made his strongest attack on the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the present Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen). and other members of the Aus tralian delegation, b_:(, as I said this morning by way of interjection, if Australia had taken no part at all in the discussions, or had not even been a party to the agreement,, exactly the same action would have beentaken by the United Kingdom Government. Australia is a relatively small wheatproducing country. The table headed "Guaranteed sales for each crop-year" contained in the document entitled "International Wheat Agreement 1956 ", shows an. amount for Australia of 30,257,380 bushels,, whereas the amount for Canada is- 102,896,902 bushels, and that for the United States of America is 132,098,561 bushels. Those larger countries would naturally dominate the conference. The honorable member for Lalor can adopt a liberal outlook at times, and I think he will agree thai Australia was not wholly responsible for the failure of the United Kingdom Government to ratify the agreement. Australia was forced to accept the views of the larger wheat-selling countries, but we have played only a very small part in bringing about what I believe is a catastrophic result in the field of wheat marketing.

I have given the House the facts, generally. I do not intend to go into aD the details. We often hear honorable members, in this chamber, giving us the full history of the International Wheat Agreement, and the stabilization policy and all other matters connected with it. The honorable member for Lalor was quite correct when he said that we must have orderly marketing. The honorable member for Wilmot has said that, in earlier times, when he was connected with the wheat-growing industry in the West Wimmera district, the wheat-growers were in the hands of the traders. That is very true. However, 1 would suggest that orderly marketing is achieved by means of the Australian Wheat Board, and whether or not we have an international wheat agreement, or even a wheat stabilization act, we can still have orderly marketing. I wish to make it clear that I do not suggest that we should not have stabilization. I have to be very careful in what I say in this House, lest it be suggested that I am opposed to stabilization. We have our Australian Wheat Board, and that body will ensure that we have orderly marketing. Let me pay a tribute to the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, who was appointed by the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the right honorable member for Murray (Mr. McEwen), who has been condemned for his activities in connexion with the International Wheat Agreement by the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the honorable member for Lalor.

Mr Edmonds - And a very good one the latter was!

Mr TURNBULL - I am not saying anything against him. I am merely saying that he, like the right honorable member tor Murray, was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture.

Mr Edmonds - The honorable member should agree that the honorable member for Lalor was a capable Minister.

Mr TURNBULL - If I choose to bring politics into it, I might say that the present Minister has shown greater ability than the honorable member for Lalor showed when he was Minister. But that kind of statement does not get us anywhere, and I merely suggest that both those gentlemen have been capable Ministers, although they have pursued different politics. The policy of the present Minister is one of noninterference through what 1 may call the veto provisions of the act. The policy of the honorable member for Lalor, and, more particularly, of his ministerial predecessor, resulted in action being taken of which the Australian Wheat Board was not aware until the matter had been brought up in this chamber and made known to members of this Parliament, the Australian Wheat Board, and to Australians generally. There is no need for me to mention what that action was. It has been mentioned so often in this House that 1 think I should probably be called to order for tedious repetition if I were to mention it again.

Mr Hulme - What was it?

Mr- TURNBULL.- If the honorable member asks any one who was a member of this House at the time he can find out. In the meantime, let it remain a secret.

Sir JohnTeasdale, who is now chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, was subjected to some criticism when the Labour government went out of office in 1949 and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the new Government appointed him ^chairman in place of the Labour appointee.

Mr Pollard - The new Minister was a member of the Australian Country party.

Mr TURNBULL - As the honorable member should know, I am not talking politics. I want to make the point that the chairman of the board is the direct representative of the Minister and of the Federal Parliament, which, one might say, controls the destinies of the wheat-growers and other producers through the Australian Wheat Board. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who was a member of the Australian Country party, said that he was not satisfied to have as his representative on the board the man appointed by the Australian Labour party. The former chairman of the board said at a meeting at Ouyen-

Mr Pollard - Who was that?

Mr TURNBULL - Mr. Cullen.He said that the. Minister was quite in order in making the change, and his only objection was that it should have been made in a less hasty manner that would not have caused him any embarrassment and this is probably so. The- point is that the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture appointed Sir John Teasdale as chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, and many objections to the appointment of this gentleman, who was an outstanding authority on wheat, were immediately made in this House and elsewhere. I want to tell the House what the honorable member for Lalor said about Sir John Teasdale on 8th June, 1948, not knowing at the time that he would have to criticize him later.

Mr Pollard - Read what Sir John Teasdale said about me.

Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member will have to listen to this. It is unavoidable. He said, referring to a committee appointed to inquire into wheat-growing and stabilization -

The members of the committee were John Smith Teasdale -

A dash follows to show that the honorable member paused for emphasis - he is one of the most knowledgeable men in the Australian wheat industry and a respected member of the Australian Wheat Board . . .

I ask Opposition members: What better man could we have as chairman of the board? He has been spoken of as one of the most respected and most knowledgeable men in the wheat industry in Australia. Yet members of the Australian Labour party are always grumbling because he was appointed chairman of the board by the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture after Labour went out of office in 1949! Apparently the honorable member for Lalor and his colleagues did not take the long-term view in 1948 and did not think about what might happen in the future. Their expressed views about this great authority on the wheat industry and the changed opinions that they have voiced in this House on other occasions are on record.

The wheat industry stabilization legislation is closely linked with the International Wheat Agreement. The two go together. It has recently been said that the wheat-growers are doing remarkably well, but I agree with honorable members who addressed the House earlier that handling costs and rail freight charges are excessively high. The guaranteed price based on the cost of production is paid on wheat at the port and not at the point of delivery to the silo. The average cost varies to some extent. In the far north of my electorate the freight for the transport of wheat to the port is almost 2s. a bushel. On a rough estimate, 1 should say that freight and other charges average approximately 2s. 6d. a bushel. So, the return to the wheat-grower is 2s. 6d. a bushel less than the cost of production if wheat returns on overseas markets an amount equal to the cost of production.

It may seem irrelevant to some city people, but it is quite true that the price of sheep illustrates the dissatisfaction of the wheat-growers with the condition of the wheat market and the present returns from wheat after costs have been deducted. Sheep chat were bought about ten weeks or two months ago in wool are being sold after shearing at about the same price as that at which they were bought. The sheep market throughout Victoria, especially in the Wimmera and the Mallee, is at a record high level. Wheat-growers are buying mixed-sex lots of weaners and lambs in competition with fat stock buyers. This indicates that many wheat-growers are turning to sheep. It is partly the result of the very bad season we have had recently, with heavy rains which have prevented the sowing of wheat. As a result wheat-growers are buying sheep to run on pasture. But generally speaking they are turning to sheep because of the high freight charges on wheat, and other factors associated with the stability of the wheat industry. I am not prepared to say whether they will derive financial advantage from turning to sheep, because I am somewhat doubtful about the outcome.

I should like to mention one other matter. If honorable members read the text of the new wheat industry stabilization measure they will see that the Government Wil guarantee for five years a return equivalent to the cost of production for 100,000,000 bushels of export wheat provided it is f.a.q.

Mr Pollard - It must be exported.

Mr TURNBULL - I am talking about export wheat. When wheat is received into the silos most of it is f.a.q., but owing to the slow sales overseas deterioration results from infestation by weevils, and from other causes, and much of it will be below f.a.q. when it is shipped for sale in the markets of the world. As- a result the wheat-grower may receive a return of 2s. or 3s. or more a bushel below the price of f.a.q. wheal. Under the agreement entered into by the honorable member for Lalor when he was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, which was renewed by this Government, the wheat-grower had to suffer the loss of that 2s. or 3s. a bushel. I know that the legislation provides that they shall do so, but the wheat-growers may not have known that when they voted for the stabilization scheme. I did not hear any mention of it in the debates on the stabilization measures in this Parliament, and I do not think honorable members were at the time aware of the possible repercussions. We were clearing our surplus stocks then and no one foresaw circumstances in which deterioration of the quality of wheat would occur. However, serious deterioration of quality is taking place at the present time, and the wheatgrowers in some districts, and the wheatgrowers' organizations, are anxious that the Government give consideration to paying the f.a.q. price when wheat that has been accepted into silos as f.a.q. is exported. That is the point.

I know that I can turn to any wheatgrower and say, " This is the legislation that you voted for ". But the point is that we want to foster production. We do not want too many people to raise sheep on wheat country. We need to continue to grow wheat. Although wool is our great asset, we must also have wheat, because exports must be varied if we are to get the best advantage of world markets. So I suggest to the Minister that he should look at this proposal and find out what it will cost the Government. Even if it were to cost many millions of pounds he should find out whether it would be of advantage to Australia generally because, after all. the wheatgrower is a large taxpayer. 1 would be prepared to support in this House legislation that would guarantee the wheat-grower the f.a.q. standard that he was given when he delivered his wheat to the silos. When the wheat is handed over to the silo some wheat-growers say, " I have delivered my wheat and my troubles are over ". But, of course, it has not been sold! lt has only been handed over to a vast selling organization known as the Australian Wheat Board. The proof of that is that wheat-growers have representatives on that board. If the wheat still did not belong to the wheat-growers under the legislation in accordance with which the board operates, the wheat-growers would not have a representative on the board. That is certain. But, in spite of all these things, I ask the Minister to give this matter consideration, because I am of the opinion (hat it would do much to foster this industry. Vast sums of money have been spent to keep the dairying industry and other industries solvent and to foster them, and the wheat industry wants the same treatment so that it may continue at the highest possible point of productivity.

The Wheat Stabilization Act has been operating for a number of years. Of course, the wheat-growers have not received any financial benefit from it. However, I know of members in this House who have been insuring their motor cars and houses for many years and who have not got any definite advantage from it. However, they feel that if a. fire did damage their houses or motor cars, they would have some protection. But the difference between the two things is that if one pays money to insure a motor car or a house, that money has gone altogether. One never sees it again. But when the wheat-grower pays into a revolving fund for the stabilization of prices he gets the money back again if it is noi required, plus interest; so nothing could be fairer and nothing could be more to the advantage of this industry.

I always believe that the Australian Country party, because its members come from primary producing areas, is in a position to put forward in this House the opinions of the man on the land. I know that we must build up our exports in order to combat the problem of our balance of payments. We in this Parliament can aci most effectively by fostering primary production so as to bring greater wealth and prosperity to Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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