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Thursday, 4 June 1970

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - Mr Deputy Speaker,the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1970, which is now before the House, is designed to serve 2 main purposes. It will complement legislative action by the States, firstly, to implement a quota scheme for wheat deliveries and, secondly, to give discretionary authority to the Australian Wheat Board to sell wheat in Australia for purposes other than human consumption at prices lower than the price for human consumption. I wish to refer to some of the remarks made by previous speakers. Firstly, I offer my very warm congratulations to the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) on his maiden speech. It showed that he had made a very keen study of the wheat situation. I am sure that his speech represents only the beginning of many very valuable contributions to debates in this. House.

I wish to touch on a few comments made by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). He criticised the quota system. He, above all people, should know that the implementation of the quota system, which was recommended by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation and which was accepted by this Government, was a matter for the States. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) in answering a question in this House recently said that he was sick and tired of constantly explaining this to the people. Yet, the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) came back with the same old story about the quotas and what this Government should have done about them. He said that the quotas were initiated here and were implemented by the States. The quotas were given the legality that only this Government could give them. But the detailed implementation of them was a matter for the States.

If the honourable member does not know that now, all I can say is that it is nearly time that he did. His speech did not indicate that he does understand fully even at this time that this is the case. Whether or not the honourable member intended to convey a misleading interpretation, I do not know. What he did say was that it was one administration. How can anyone possible claim that in all reasonable fairness? The fact that the governments concerned are all of the same political colour does not make them one administration. Each government has separate responsibilities. This has been demonstrated constantly and clearly to be the case with regard to the wheat quota and the legislation that had to be brought down by the States to implement the quota in detail.

Mr Turnbull - There is a different constitution.

Mr CORBETT - What the honourable member for Mallee said is quite right. I wish to reply to one or two points made by the honourable member for Riverina. He referred to the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture. He said that if 12 months had been available in which to plan the quotas a better job would have been done. But what would have happened to the wheat industry in the 12 months that would be taken to do something about the quotas? What would have happened in the interim? What amount of wheat would have been lying around this country? What would have been the cost to the wheat growers to provide storage Ibr that wheat? While it would probably have been easier for all if this quota system could have been implemented earlier, I point out that it was implemented at the time that was suggested by the growers themselves through their own Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. That was the key to this situation. 1 say that had an attempt been made to try to implement the quota system earlier than it was introduced tremendous resistance would have come from Australian wheat growers.

If anyone who thinks that it is an easy matter to try to predict the future - and anyone who makes a study of world markets should know that it is tremendously difficult to do so - let me quote a few figures to indicate how difficult it is. We have a responsibility not only to control production so as to maintain a reasonable price but also to ensure that the amount of wheat that can be produced and sold in Australia and at a reasonable price overseas is produced here. We cannot cut production ad lib just because we feel that it would protect some wheat growers. We have to try to find a happy medium or a sound balance. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation has aimed at this objective.

Let me return to the difficulty of trying to forecast world wheat markets. The volume of world wheat trade in 1958-59 was 36 million tons, or 1,320 mill on bushels. Seven years later, in 1965-66, it was 62 million tons. Three years later it was back to 45 million tons. Does anyone suggest that any person was capable of forecasting this change, or that the movements would have been along those lines? Let me give another example to show the difficulty involved in forecasting. End of season stocks in the 5 major exporting countries - the United States of America, Australia, Canada, the European Economic Community and Argentina - fell from 60 million tons in 1958-59 to about 33 n, 11ion tons in 1965-66, but they were back to 62 million Ions in 1968-69. Surely there is no need for any further evidence to indicate the tremendous difficulty of anticipating future wheat stocks, or, for that matter, any other world market stocks. They have a record of very quick changes, very distinct changes and very large changes.

The honourable member for Dawson referred to a minimum quota. 1 realise that there are benefits in a minimum quota but 1 assure honourable members that there is no doubt at all that the States, before implementing quotas, would have given very full consideration to this matter, as would the members of the wheat growers associations throughout Australia. I know that in Queensland meeting after meeting was called to discuss quotas and to get (he opinions of the growers in that State. The honourable member for Dawson referred to a drought plan. Again I can see some merit in this but T suggest that it is not as simple as he suggests. We have to look at a cost benefit analysis. We have heard a great deal about this recently. I believe it is necessary to have a cost benefit analysis because we have to look at the benefits - and there are benefits to be had in such a plan - and we also have to look at the cost involved and at who will pay that cost, lt could mean a pretty heavy charge and someone will have to pay it. Of course we have been told that the wheat industry is regarded to be in credit. The honourable member for Dawson quoted a figure of about $400m and the honourable member for Riverina said about $300m. There is a slight difference between the honourable members but they are closer than they often are in their views on rural matters.

Another point i would like to make about the speech of the honourable member for Riverina-

Mr Pettitt - He ha.* left the chamber.

Mr CORBETT - J cannot be worried about thai. He said that Mr Ridd had stated that dishonest growers received the biggest quotas. What on earth does he think this Government can do about that? It is true that if a person puts in incorrect figures, he will get a quota according to those figures, unless of course he is found out. If you put wrong figures in for taxation purposes you will nol be taxed as much until of course you are caught. I do hope that those people who put in dishonest figures are found out and brought to book. But this has nothing al all to do with the Government or this Bill. The honourable member reiterated his concern for the wheat growers. I assure lbc House that I will take second place to no-one, the honourable member for Riverina or anyone else in this House, in my concern for the wheat growers, and I do not have to say this every time I stand up' in this place and speak about wheat because actions speak louder than words and the Government has done a great deal towards trying to cope with the tremendous difficulties confronting wheat growers in Australia today.

With regard to hardship. I do point out that wheat growers are .suffering hardship. ] do not underestimate this hardship. It is faced by wheat growers in any part of Australia. But if there is one section of the wheal growing community in this country that is suffering grave hardship as a result of the position in which I hey are placed today, it is the people . in the drought striken areas of my State. The people with a problem of over-supply have a problem which is not nearly as great as the people suffering from under-supply. The honourable member for Riverina made the suggestion of paying $1.10 a bushel for all wheat produced. This is a good vote catching proposition. No doubt people who are looking for all the benefits they can get would be inclined to grab at such a plan. But in my opinion this is an irresponsible suggestion and if such a proposal- were implemented it would be to the detriment of the wheat growers of this nation. How would we be able to implement quotas if we were to continue to pay SI. 10 on all wheat produced? If such a plan were introduced it would certainly be very disadvantageous to the wheat growers.

With regard to what the Australian Labor Party can do in this matter ( want to refer to a leading article in the 'Australian Financial Review' of Tuesday 26tb May 1970. The article is headed: 'Lucky Escape from ALP', ft reads:

Australian taxpayer:, should be grateful lim I the Australian Labor Pty has been denied the opportunity over the past two decades to devise notional rural ' policies.

That .statement is quite correct. This publication is nol one which is partial to the Australian Country Party. I have not sufficient time lo quote the whole of the article but it is available for anyone who wishes to read it. lt also states:

Some nf the new Labor MP's, openly concerned at the amount of time their Party devotes to rural matters both in the House and iti Caucus, staged a show of strength last Friday when they forced Dr Rex Patterson, Labor's shadow Minister for Primary Industry, lo defer putting hiĀ« new wool programme to a Caucus vote until he produced a detailed report on its costs and benefits. lt went on to say:

The rebels have received quite encouragement from the ALP Federal Executive where there have been reported gripes thai the Parliamentary brunch was spending too much lime on rural issues and neglecting the urban sector where the future strength of the Parly lies.

I said quite recently, and 1 repeal, that the Labor Parly's shadow Minister for Primary Industry would, if ever he became the Minister, have the utmost difficulty in implementing the programme he has proposed here, because priority would be given to urban areas. There is no question about that and 1 have quoted the article in the 'Austraiian Financial Review' in support of that argument. Let me go a little further and say something about the success of stabilisation in overcoming the problems that are existing at the moment. The present scheme is the last of 5 successive stabilisation schemes of 5 years each, lt has met the problem of unprecedented production in Australia and overseas. There has been an explosion of production in Australia. That is admitted. It has been caused in part by low wool prices, ls this Government responsible for the world price of wool? Nobody could possibly suggest that that is likely. Yet honourable members opposite blame the Government They say that the expansion was encouraged by the Government. If I remember rightly the honourable member for Riverina said that this expansion took place in conjunction with the banks. If that is so - and for the sake of argument we will take his word for it - then the banks evidently did not think that the present situation was going to develop. They did not think it or they certainly would not have gone on with this expansion in production. I have mentioned before, and I do not want to repeat it, the difficulty of trying to assess that. But the industry in Australia has been faced with unprecedented problems of disposal and storage and the future policy was not easy to settle. I give great credit to the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation for the courage it showed in bringing down this policy of quotas to restrict production. An endeavour was made to implement these quotas as fairly as possible. There are anomalies, and they will be ironed out. I know that anomalies exist, but they would exist whoever was trying to handle this matter. This was an honest attempt by the Federation to deal with the situation as fairly and reasonably as possible.

I want also to congratulate the Government and the Minister for Primary Industry on showing the same courage in taking what were no doubt in some quarters - and this has been proved - unpopular decisions, but they were the right decisions for the welfare of the Australian wheat grower and the Australian community. It takes courage to do this and the Australian wheat growers showed that courage, which was matched by the Ministers and the Government in accepting the advice that they got from them.

We have been told that there was a lack of warning. The Minister for Primary Industry as far back as March 1968 gave some warning when talking to the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers Association, which is now the Victorian Farmers Union. He warned the organisation that the Australian Wheat Board's marketing success did not provide anyone with grounds for complacency. He said - and this is worth repeating:

World markets were neither adequately remunerative nor unlimited in capacity. Those who had taken a view that there were ready markets should have been brought back to earth by the decline in the world prices in the preceding 8 or 9 months.

Did anyone take any notice of that warning? No-one took notice of the warning. Growers kept on producing until a quota system was implemented.

I want to refer now to the criticism of quotas. I want to say to those who have made the criticism that I have never yet heard of a reasonable alternative to the quota system. They criticise the system but offer nothing in its place. Another angle that I think should be noted is that one of the great needs of the wheat industry and the future of the wheat industry is that world stocks have to be controlled. We would have no hope of getting any sort of agreement on this vital matter for the future of the Australian wheat growing industry unless we were prepared to participate in a reduction of stocks. The Minister for Trade and Industry has done a grand job in endeavouring to get a worthwhile system, through the International Grains Arrangement, for the control of world production. Despite the tremendous strain and stress that have been placed on the system it is still operating and in it lies the hope of a sane and sound reasonable world wheat policy. We have not been able to get as many people as we would like to come into such an arrangement. Nevertheless it is there that it lies. Australia must work in conjunction with other countriesin placing restrictions on production to have a chance of getting a reasonable acceptance of a world quota, if one likes to call it that, or a world production of wheat.

I do not want to take all the time that is available to me because there are other very competent and very experienced wheat growers in my Party who will have something to say about this subject. But I want to say something about the stockpile of wheat that has been mentioned. I want to commend the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation again because this body realised that there was a shortfall in the amount of prime hard wheat which might have been able to be exported this year. As a result of that, there is an increased stockpile of that type of what. I believe that this is the type of wheat which should in the main be stockpiled more than wheat which is not so saleable. I am referring to prime hard high protein quality wheat which is grown in

Queensland. While Queensland has seasonal disadvantages it has the advantage of being able to grow this type of wheal and it is necessary that we should be able to fulfill the orders that come for this wheat. There has been some criticism of this position, but it was a very reasonable dec sion to try to improve the amount of wheat that was held under stockpiling.

While we have had some problems. I for one - and I am sure there are very many other people with me - am very grateful that we have at this lime, and this will be in retrospect without the slightest shadow of doubt, a Government and a Minister who that have an understanding of and sympathy for primary producers and that encouraged them 10 go on in spite of the criticism received. I have great sympathy for the Minister for Primary Industry who has suffered criticisms and constant hammerings over the years he has been in office. He has come through with flying colours. He handled one of the most difficult jobs that ever a Minister has had to handle in this Parliament. He has done so with great credit to himself and to the Government. This is acknowledged noi only in the Austral ail Country Party but across the broad spectrum of the Australian community. It was a good thing also that we had in the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation men of similar calibre. I am very proud that the President of the Federation, Mr Les Price, is a fellow Queenslander. As Senior Vice-Pres dent he contributed very considerably to the sound policy that was recommended lo the Government by the Federation.

Mr Speaker,I have left unsaid so much that would be so worthy of mention on this occasion, but if what I have said has served to convey to this House and to the people of Australia something of the problems and something of the very courageous and effective way in which they have been handled by this Government and by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, these remarks will have served their purpose as well perhaps as a longer oration might have done.

MrDALY (Grayndler) J.4.27J - I join in this debate for sentimental reasons because with due respect to the Australian Country

Part) I suppose my background in the wheat industry is more outstanding - this is quite evident from the speeches that have been made - than the background of those sitting in the Country Party corner. I was horn in Currabubula and that, as honourable members know, is the centre of a great wheat growing area. I lived there in a time of Country Party governments when wheat was ls lOd a bushel, yet the Country Party talks of those days as the good old days. So I am stirred to rise in this debate because of the crisis in the wheat industry caused by the extraordinary, strange and outrageous policies of the present Liberal-Country Party Government. Mr E. J. Donath, Senior Lecturer in Economic Geography at the Melbourne University, writing in the 'Australian' of 10th April, had this lo say on the wheal industry:

The world when! situation has never looked as grim for Australia as it does now.

For the first time in history, Canada, wilh 960 million bushels has a higher carry-over than the United States which itself, with 916 million bushels, holds the largest stocks for inure than a decade.

The slocks of the main wheat exporting countries are large enough to satisfy dIe world's wheat importing countries for at least 18 months.

If no wheat v.ns grown at all in Austraia in 1971. we could satisfy all our local and overseas requirements, and there would still be a carry-over of 100 million bushels al the end of 1972.

Without any reservations whatever 1 can well understand how sensitive Country Party members, particularly the last speaker, are at this slate of affairs, because this situation has been brought about in Australia as a result of the policies that they have followed. Why. Mr Deputy Speaker. I remember seeing advertisements urging the farmers to grow more wheat. They were urged to do so even by slogans on postage stamps. They were asked: 'Please grow more wheat'. This was urging them to go along their way to bankruptcy. Now Government supporters - particularly Country Party members - arc extremely sensitive on this question. When we put a cat amongst the pigeons wc get a reaction and we are getting it today on this issue. It is no wonder the Country Party members are very sensitive to the criticisms of the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby).

No wonder members of the Country Party are sensitive to the penetrating accusations of shortcomings made by the honourable member for Dawson and the honourable member for Riverina, who continually remind members of the Country Party of these things. I do not worry about members of the Liberal Party. They have no rural' policy. They leave rural matters to those who sit in the corner of this chamber. That is why the Government is in such a hell of a mess with wheat today.

Those 2 notable representatives of the primary producers.the honorable member for Riverina and the honourable member for Dawson, have got under the skin of honourable members opposite. There is no doubt that the policies expounded by the honourable member for Dawson on behalf of the Opposition are endorsed by the vast majority of wheat growers. Let me remind honourable members opposite that it was a Labor government which introduced the first wheat stabilisation scheme in Australia. It was a Labor government, after the Liberal-Country Party Government which was in office until the early war years, which first stabilised the wheat industry and gave a guaranteed price. It was not until Labor come to office in 1941 that primary producers were able to get out of bankruptcy. Instead of owing the banks money they were then in a position to lend money to the banks. This Government has completely destroyed that stability in the industry with wildcat schemes to encourage primary profiteers to grow products for which not only the Australian producer but producers in other countries cannot find markets.

Do not think I am talking idly. To get farmers to march in their thousands must be a most difficult task, yet in Melbourne 10,000 farmers marched. They refused to accept assurances given by a couple of Country Party Ministers. It was a rebellion against the policies of the Liberal-Country Party Government and its destruction of the security that should be the right of all wheat growers in Australia. If they had been 10,000 unionists marching they would have been branded as Communists. They were farmers fighting for justice and decent representation by honourable members opposite. At a Country Party conference held in Warrnambool recently blame was laid at the door of the Liberals. This was an easy way out. It was suggested that the Country Party should withdraw from the coalition. The conference also told Country Party members in this place: 'Stand up and do your job for the wheat growers and other primary producers because we are not satisfied with our rural representation in the national Parliament.' So when honourable members opposite seek to criticise the policies put forward by the honourable member for Riverina and the honourable member for Dawson let them remember that their own organisations have condemned members of the Government Parties for their incompetence and their inability to save farmers from bankruptcy.

I noticed that the farmers marched even in Perth. They were led by a woman. She had a good deal to say about rural matters and her remarks are worth reading. I know that what I say hurts members of the Country Party. They say that only trade unionists demonstrate and that they are Communists. Those farmers who marched are not Communists. They were fighting for justice; fighting to save themselves from bankruptcy; fighting to save their families - all because of the policies adopted by this Government. Do not take my word alone for all this. The honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey) said that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) and State Ministers for Agriculture were responsible for the present plight of rural industries. I hope that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) reads the speech made some time ago by his colleague from Moore, because of all members of the Country Party the honourable member for Moore is most knowledgeable about wheat. He understands the subject. It was he who, when chairman of the Wheat Board, sold our first consignment of wheat to Red China. That sale saved the Country Party, notwithstanding that it did not like China's policies.

The lady who led the march of the farmers in Western Australia said:

We sell sheep for the price you pay for liver. We get 2c per lb. What do you pay?

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