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Thursday, 9 December 1965

Mr Whitlam m asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -

1.   When did Cabinet decide to set up a committee to consider the employment of married women.

2.   What departments are or will be represented on the committee.

Sir Robert Menzies - The answer to the honorable member's questions is as follows -

I have nothing to add to the answer I gave to a similar question on this matter asked without notice last Friday by the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison). This question and my answer may be found on page 3583 of Hansard of 3rd December 1965.

Drought Relief.

Sir Robert Menzies . - On 14th October the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said in this House that in the droughts of 1944 and 1947 the then Labour Government granted drought relief on a £1 for £1 basis, and asked what constitutional or financial changes have occurred since then that would make similar grants on the same basis by the Commonwealth Government impossible in the case of the present drought. I promised that I would look at the particular instances referred to by the honorable member.

It is true that during the war and early post-war years the Commonwealth assisted the States for the relief of cereal growers who had been affected by a succession of drought years.

In 1940-41 provision was made under the State Grants (Drought Relief) Act 1941 for a grant of £1 million to the States for the relief of wheat-growers affected by the drought. The grants actually paid to the States amounted to £985,623 and the disbursement of these moneys to wheat-growers was handled by the States. Also, the Loan (Drought and Relief) Bill 1940 empowered the Federal Treasurer to borrow moneys, not exceeding £2.8 million, for the purpose of making loans to the States to enable them to provide drought relief to primary producers. Actual loans to the States under the Act amounted to £1,867,000 and these were duly repaid.

Following the drought in 1944, and the widespread failure of cereal crops, it was agreed at the Premiers' Conference in October 1944, that the Commonwealth and States would together provide £3 million for the relief of cereal growers. The amount was subsequently raised to £3,710,000. The States participating were New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

The Premiers' Conference in January 1946 again considered the same problem, and the Commonwealth agreed to provide up to £520,000 on a £1 for £1 basis to assist the States in drought relief measures.

It will be noted that these relief schemes were confined to cereal growers. At the time, it was essential to maintain cereal production in the face of war and post-war shortages.

No doubt the Commonwealth could make specific grants or advances to finance particular forms of drought relief. As indicated in the statement I made in Parliament on 26th August, we believe it would not be appropriate for the Commonwealth to do this. If we did decide to make specific grants or advances to finance particular forms of drought relief, this would have the drawback that there may have to be various forms of drought relief, some of which might not fall within the scope of specific Commonwealth grants and would therefore be entirely for the account of the State. It seems preferable that Commonwealth assistance should be comprehensive, as it will be under the Government's approach, which is to support the budgetary position of New South Wales and Queensland by making general purpose assistance grants.

As I mentioned above, under some earlier drought relief schemes, the Commonwealth made grants to the States on a £1 for £1 basis which meant that in order to obtain £1 from the Commonwealth, the States had to find £1 from their own funds. There is no such condition under the present scheme, and that should be very much to the advantage of the States.

Drought Relief.

Sir Robert Menzies . - I told the honorable member for Lawson (Mr. Failes) on 14th October that I would look into the question of whether concessional advances to drought-affected farmers by State banks such as the Rural Bank of New South Wales and the Agricultural Bank of Queensland would be treated as expenditure which might be recouped by the Commonwealth.

Both the New South Wales and Queensland Budgets make provision for payments to their State banks to enable the latter to make advances for drought relief purposes. To the extent that these payments are a charge on the Budget of the State concerned they should, I consider, be included in the total assessment of the financial burden of the drought measures on the budgetary resources of the State. Whether any Commonwealth assistance in respect of this class of expenditure should be by way of straightout grant or a repayable advance is a question that must be deferred until after the consultations are held with each State later in the financial year.


Mr McEwen n. - On 26th November the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) directed a question to me concerning a shortage of superphosphate in Victoria last season. The question was in the following terms -

Can he tell the House what is the present position? Is it correct that one company is in the position of either not accepting further orders or of accepting them only for delivery after June next year? ls it correct that another company has now abandoned the long standing procedure of filling orders in order of their acceptance and is now putting quotas on long standing clients and agents? Has the Minister any information that he can give the House on the intentions of W. R. Grace (Aust.) Pty. Ltd. concerning a new fertiliser works at Portland, following final acceptance of its offer for Cresco Fertilisers Ltd. shares?

I am now able to supply the following information to the honorable member -

1.   Production of superphosphate in Victoria this year is expected to reach 1.5 million tons compared with production of 1.26 million tons in 1964-65. Despite this manufacturers will be unable to satisfy the high level of demand.

2.   Yes.

3.   No.

4.   I am not in a position to reply to this question and suggest that the company should be approached direct for information.

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