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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr LAWRENCE (Wimmera) .- It is good to have before the House a measure that has the unanimous support of honorable members. Before I decided whether to support this measure, I discussed it with V.I.P.s in the wheat industry in my electorate. They approved the bill, but they made a number of suggestions for alternative provisions, which I shall mention later. I think that the wheat-growers realize that the most significant factor affecting the sale of wheat, or of any other commodity, and particularly of primary products, is undoubtedly quality. I know that the farmers have a very deep sense of their duty to do the very best that they can on their farms, and to grow the best crops, whether it be wheat, barley, or other grains, or any other product. They have a sincere sense of their duty to the community, and they try to excel in the production of the commodities marketed from their properties. I know that any one of substance in Australia to-day tries to do his job to the best of his ability. The farmers do not spend their time looking at the clock, but try to do their best to serve the community, which depends on them so much. If they can profit materially at the same time, so much the better for them.

Until a couple of years ago, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, overseas buyers were not very fussy about the quality of the wheat that they took from us. I remember attending a wheat-growers' meeting in my electorate, at which it was pointed out by a mem ber of the Australian Wheat Board that, at that time, overseas buyers did not mind whether they obtained wheat of inferior quality or weevil-infested wheat from places with large storages, such as the Lake Marma storage, at Murtoa. He said that they could sell almost any kind of wheat, but that the time would come when overseas buyers would be fussy. That time has arrived. The buyers of all the commodities that we export are interested to-day, not in quantity, but in quality. In support of that contention, I refer to a report in yesterday's Melbourne " Herald " of the opinions of Mr. L. T. Ritchie, managing director of H. V. McKay Massey Harris Propriety Limited, who is reported to have said -

Australia's wheat marketing problem was one of quality rather than quantity. If our wheat were of higher protein content, customers would be eager to buy it.

The demand for wheat of better quality is not confined to buyers from overseas. It is shared also by local buyers. The people want better wheat so that they may have better flour from which to make better bread. The quality of Victorian wheat and flour has improved considerably during the last twenty years. Over this period, both the average yield to the acre and the total production have increased markedly. All who attended a wheat industry convention held in my electorate agreed that further progress was desirable, and should be achieved by the intensification of the activities of several sections of the industry represented on the Victorian Wheat Advisory Committee, directed towards the improvement of wheat, flour and bread. Those sections of the industry were the wheat-growers, the flour-millers, the bakers, the merchants, and the Victorian Department of Agriculture.

Research which will be made possible by this measure should be conducted in several fields, but I think that emphasis should be placed on the improvement of quality. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) outlined other fields of research in his second-reading speech, from which I should like to read three very short passages. He said -

The purpose of this bill is to set out the details of plans which will result in new research into the scientific and economic problems of the wheat industry.

Later, he said -

Recent experience in overseas markets indicates clearly that we have prospects of selling more wheat if we can produce a quality higher than our present f.a.q. There is little doubt that our market outlook would be greatly improved if we were producing more hard or medium hard high quality wheat.

The Minister said also -

It is only by the establishment of a broadly based research programme that we can maintain our position in this fiercely competitive industry, and provide Australia's wheat-growers with the " know how " to protect their competitive position against producers in overseas countries. We need to keep these changes under constant review, to assess their importance, and to be ready to use our research resources in a way designed to help the Australian wheat-growers.

Mr. W.N. Pearse, a growers' representative on the Australian Wheat Board, has spoken of the problems of the wheatgrowers, which, I believe, can be alleviated by this measure. His views are reported in the May, 1955, issue of the " Journal of the Department of Agriculture ", published in Victoria, in these terms -

After tracing the history of Victorian wheat production from early in the century when lack of protein was not a major problem until this present era of what he called " so-called prosperity " when huge crops were being grown at the expense of soil nutrients, Mr. W. N. Pearse . . pointed out that Victorian wheat-growers were endeavouring to arrest the decline in fertility by resting their paddocks and growing clovers and medics to put nitrogen back into the soil while the land was out of cultivation.

One of the farmers greatest problems was to meet the high cost structure of their industry in face of the possibility of reduced incomes. However, Mr. Pearse added, "The grower is prepared to ' do his bit ' towards the vexed question of low quality. But we do not expect to carry it all ourselves ". He added that the " go slow " policy of employees in industry, undue profits during manufacture, and inefficient business methods could also be contributing factors to the wheat industry's problems.

I believe that wheat quality is influenced by many factors mentioned in that report, including crop rotation, the planting of clover and medic pastures, fallowing and cultivation methods, and the use of fertilizers of different kinds, with or without trace elements, and other management practices, such as the use of green manures and selective weedicides. The Senior Agronomist of the Victorian Department of Agriculture has stressed that the most important aspect of wheat farming is the use of rotations to maintain soil fertility and to improve the soil, if possible, so that crops of good-quality grain may be grown. This aspect of the problems of the wheat industry is a fitting subject for research under this measure. I do not propose to speak at any length, and I do not want to repeat what has been said by other honorable members who have spoken. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), particularly, stressed all these points. However, I do want to say a word or two concerning an amount of approximately £300,000 which is held in trust by the Australian Wheat Board for the wheatgrowers.

This money has been accumulated from the fractions of a penny which have been received from the sales of wheat from the various pools, and it has been suggested that before the growers are called upon to make any contribution to this fund that is being established, the £300,000 should be used. Well, if that were done, roughly 288,000,000 bushels of wheat would need to be supplied by the growers before they would have to contribute even one penny. Another suggestion that was made was that the growers themselves should contribute only one-eighth of a penny a bushel until the £300,000 had been used. The wheatgrowers themselves do not feel particularly strongly about this matter. No mention of it is included in the bill, but I do not think that that will disappoint them, because they realize that if we start wheat research we shall have to continue it, and that if we have a drought in our major wheat growing areas at any time we shall need to have money. They realize, too, that it is good to have this reserve, because such money is often used as a part of the first payment for their wheat, and in that way they save interest charges.

I am certain that, in respect of this legislation, there will be co-operation and coordination between the State and Commonwealth departments, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in relation to its research problems. We do not want duplication, nor do we want overlapping of research measures. I believe that tremendous good can result from this legislation. The provisions are fair to the industry, to the States and to the Commonwealth. I am sure that it will receive the unanimous support of all those in the industry, and I myself support it with great enthusiasm.

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