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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Primary Industry) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

It is not often that a section of the community asks the Government to tax it; but that rare event is the reason for the bill now being considered. The Wheat Tax Bill is a bill to place a tax of a farthing a bushel on wheat delivered by growers to the Australian Wheat Board. With it goes the Wheat Research Bill, and that bill will provide that the tax receipts are to be used for research; and specifically for research that will benefit the wheat industry. As the general purpose of the proposals is dealt with in the complementary bill, I will, at this stage, simply describe the purpose of the Wheat Tax Bill.

The wheat-growers, through their organization, the Australian Wheat Growers Federation, have endorsed proposals for a tax on the wheat they produce. Growers throughout Australia deliver their wheat to the Australian Wheat Board for marketing, and they are paid for it through the board. It is convenient therefore to tax the Wheat Board; and so to collect the total amount due in one sum, without troubling some 60,000 wheat-growers for individual payments of small amounts. The board will make an adjustment when it pays to growers the amounts received by the wheat pool concerned from the sale of the growers' wheat. The growers then will get the normal pool return, less this tax. In practice, from the growers' viewpoint, there will be a deduction of a farthing from the first advance in each pool.

The tax is to be a farthing a bushel. The grower who delivers 3,000 bushels of wheat is often taken as a representative grower. On 3,000 bushels the tax will be £3 2s. 6d. Reckoning from crop deliveries we have just under 120,000,000 bushels delivered in the present season. From that 1956-57 crop in the No. 20 wheat pool the receipts will be nearly £125,000. In a normal season with deliveries of 160,000,000 bushels or a little more the tax will bring in about £170,000. This is roughly £1,000 income from every 1,000,000 bushels of wheat. Our wheat crops vary so much that the amounts received must be expected to fluctuate greatly from year to year; but the figures given show that the wheatgrowers will be making a notable addition to the funds for wheat research.

The tax is made retrospective so that it will include the 1956-57 wheat crop; and deliveries of that crop have been completed before this. Nobody likes retrospective legislation, especially retrospective taxation, but the alternative is to postpone the operation of the scheme for a year. The growers' organizations, and the Australian Agricultural Council, endorse the scheme. They want it to be brought into operation as soon as is practicable so that the funds for more research will be assured. In this case retrospective action is meeting the expressed wishes of the growers who will meet the tax.

One notable feature of the bill requires explanation. Voluntary contributions, made through the Wheat Board for the purpose of wheat research are offset against the tax now imposed. The provision applies to donations made this season before the operation of the tax. This provision is to meet the position in Western Australia. That State has led the way with many notable innovations so far as wheat is concerned; and it has led the way with research. In the west 80 per cent, of the wheat-growers are making voluntary contributions of a farthing a bushel for research, and the money is deducted by the Wheat Board, which pays it to the research institute. The contributions in Western Australia this year were £23,000. Naturally, no one wants to penalize these growers by making them pay double; and as that would be the effect of adding the tax to the voluntary payment it has been agreed that the voluntary payment will, in effect, be treated as tax paid in advance.

A point worth mentioning is that the Western Australian figures show how much wheat-growers appreciate the need for wheat research. There 80 per cent, of them are voluntary contributors of funds, and I think that the figure shows how much the wheat-growers there and in other States support the proposals; and the proposals come as much from the wheat-growers as they do from all the Australian governments represented on the Australian Agricultural Council. This is a bill with a worthy object, and as such I commend it.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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