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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3715


Mr MAISEY (Moore) - Mr Speaker,the 2 Bills now under discussion are complementary and provide plenty of food for thought. They and the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) leave a number of vital questions unanswered, questions which should be answered by the Minister before these Bills pass through this chamber and questions to which the growers of the wheat are entitled to have answers. I hope the Minister will note them and when he replies to this debate will furnish concise and detailed information. I refer of course to the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1973 and the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973. Before proceeding further in discussion of these Bills, may I point out that I represent one of the biggest, if not the biggest, wheat growing electorates in Australia. The division of Moore produces on average about half of the wheat production of Western Australia. It produces a quantity of wheat on average approximately twice the average production of the State of Queensland. Approximately 95 per cent of this production goes for export. The ports of Fremantle and Geraldton, which have a natural and undeniable freight advantage to all the major markets for Australian wheat, are the outlets for the wheat of the Moore division. In all the contracts which have been made with the People's Republic of China, it has been found necessary to include a clause strictly limiting the tonnages which the Chinese may nominate for loading at these ports.

The Minister has stated that the extension of the wheat industry stabilisation plan for one year has the support of the wheat industry. My first question to the Minister is: What authority has he for this statement? To my knowledge, and it is quite extensive, the growers, up until Wednesday, 10 October, had no knowledge at all of this proposal to extend the existing arrangements for another year. The growers were aware that the plan which covered the delivery and marketing of the 1972-73 harvest had in effect expired on the eve of a Federal election. They had given the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation authority to negotiate a new 5-year stabilisation and marketing plan with the new and incoming Government. I have completely failed to find, on the basis of the most extensive inquiries and investigations, evidence of any discussions at the branch levels of any of the industrial organisations of any proposition that wheat marketing and stabilisation arrangements should be negotiated on a single year basis. I have completely failed to find any evidence that any industrial organisation has held a conference of growers in any State to discuss such a proposition, or that they have been given any opportunity to direct the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation on this all-important matter. In this situation, how can it be claimed that the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation had any mandate from the growers to accept this one year proposition on their behalf? If the Minister is leaning on an acceptance by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, how then does this constitute his right to claim that these Bills have the support of the industry, that is, the growers?

This proposed one-year plan raises allimportant issues. Let it be clearly understood that there is absolutely no provision, or even an indication, that existing principles obtaining in this proposal or any of the previous plans are to be continued beyond the marketing of the 1973-74 harvest. On the contrary, the Minister has stated that the Government is deferring this extension pending the outcome of a thoroughgoing review of the operation of the wheat industry stabilisation plan. He states further 'that the Government will be moving to negotiations with the wheat industry and the States for stabilisation arrangements to apply for the period beyond 1973-74'. Surely this can only mean that the Government is providing for some departures from the principles of stabilisation which have prevailed in previous plans and likewise that there is no guarantee that these proposals will be acceptable to the States and most importantly to the growers. I repeat that there is no guarantee anywhere in these Bills that stabilisation will continue after the marketing of the incoming crop.

Wheat stabilisation plans are, in essence, contracts between 3 parties - the Australian Government, the State governments, and the growers. The States have a fairly simple role to play. Briefly, they acquire the wheat and issue to the growers a claim for payment. They arrange for the receival, handling and storage of the wheat through the various State handling organisations, and, most importantly, they fix the price of wheat for home consumption. The growers produce the wheat, harvest it, deliver it to the licensed receiver, receive a first advance payment of 120c per bushel less rail freight and some other statutory charges, and ultimately receive payments from the sale proceeds of the pool. The Australian Government for its part sets up the Australian Wheat Board, lays down the terms and conditions on which it shall operate, and at all times has it under complete ministerial direction. The Australian Government also arranges an overdraft with the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank from which the Board pays the first advance to growers, and collects from, or conversely pays to, the Board the funds necessary to meet the commitment of the stabilisation sections of the wheat marketing and stabilisation plan.

Having outlined the basic procedures of what these Bills set out to establish, let me now trace through what actually happens to a grower's wheat when he delivers it to the licensed receiver, and what will happen to the proceeds of the sale of that wheat under this one-year marketing and stabilisation plan - this one-year contract between the Australian Government, the State governments, and the growers. On delivery of his wheat, the grower will receive his claim for payment, which he will forward to the Australian Wheat Board in the State in which he has delivered the wheat. He will receive through his nominated bank from the Australian Wheat Board a credit representing the total number of bushels delivered multiplied by 120c, less freight, dockages - if any - and the levy proposed under the Wheat Tax Bill 1973. These moneys will be provided by the Board from the overdraft created with the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank. In the meantime the Board will have commenced shipments of the wheat delivered to the 1973-74 pool and as payments are received will progressively discharge the overdraft with the Rural Credits Department. This process will continue until the overdraft has been paid off and until such time as sufficient funds are accumulated in the pool account to enable a further dividend to be paid to growers. This dividend process will continue until the time is reached when growers have received payment equal to the amount of the first advance of 120c per bushel, plus an additional 40c per bushel, making a total of 160c per bushel- the guaranteed price.

Just how long it will take to sell, ship and receive payment for a sufficient quantity of wheat to reach this situation is anybody's guess. But it can confidently be predicted that the next harvest will already be in the process of being received and another new plan will already have been placed on the statute book. The important point is that the Government guarantee will already have been satisfied from the growers' own funds and this most important aspect of the Government's guarantee been discharged. Payments to growers will continue beyond the guaranteed price of 160c per bushel to 165c per bushel when all realisations after that amount and up to another 15c per bushel will go into the stabilisation fund, estimated by the Minister to reach an amount of $46m. From this point onwards pool realisations, if any, again revert to growers until the pool is finally wound up. The provision for all realisations after the growers have received 165c per bushel and up to 180c per bushel being paid into the stabilisiation fund is the proposition contained in the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973.

This brings me to the most important question of all to be answered by the Minister. The question is: Why do we need the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973 at all? Even if the pool did not realise 160c per bushel f.o.r. natural terminal port, there still would not be any need for this Bill because, quite obviously, as I have already shown, it does not commence to operate until growers have received the guaranteed return plus 5c per bushel. If the pool failed to realise this amount, their guarantee would be met by Treasury subvention. As this is only a one-year contract, with no life beyond the incoming harvest, then quite obviously there is no continuing Government liability in respect of future harvests contained in these Bills. In respect of future harvests, all the Minister has said is:

The Government is providing for this extension-

The Wheat Industry Stabilisiation Bill 1973 - pending the outcome of a thorough-going review of the operation of the wheat industry stabilisation plan. Under the direction of the Government a review group in the Department of Primary Industry will in the fairly near future be presenting its report for our consideration. We will then be moving to consideration of our position in relation to negotiations with the wheat industry and the States for stabilisiation arrangements to apply for the period beyond 1973-74.

It must surely be quite obvious by now that the desire of the Government to enact legislation under which it will, without any safeguards to the growers and without any justification whatsoever, withhold $46m of their proceeds from the incoming harvest can only be associated with 'the thorough-going review being conducted by a group within the Department of Primary Industry'.

Is this the same group of academics who conceived the disastrous wheat quota delivery plan and sold it to the then Secretary of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation on the understanding that he would then sell it back to the Government, through the Federation, as the Federation's own courageous plan? Is this $46m being withheld from the proceeds of the incoming harvest to be used as a weapon with which to blackmail the industry into accepting some equally stupid and disastrous plan for future stabilisation - the work again of a group of impractical academic theorists entrenched in the Department of Primary Industry? Whilst being prepared to support the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1973 and the Wheat Tax Bill 1973, I am utterly opposed at this stage to the passage of the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973. I believe that all consideration of this Bill should be deferred until the negotiations have been completed between the 3 principals - the Australian Government, the State governments and the growers - for another long-term marketing and stabilisation plan. There is presently no justification for this Bill.

As I have demonstrated earlier in my discussion of these Bills, if the 1974-75 harvest is to be sold through the Australian Wheat Board and is to be covered by stabilisation arrangements, there must be on the statute book by this time next year legislation similar to the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1973 presently before us. Subject to agreement with the growers, made freely and without coercion, there will still be ample time to negotiate another long-term marketing and stabilisation plan long before the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973 becomes operative. This Bill can well form part of any proposed legislation for such longterm plan and would need little other than its title to be changed to 'Wheat Export Charge Bill 1974*. There will be ample time to deal with this Bill next year when we are considering the legislation necessary to cover the 1974-75 harvest and, hopefully, an extended period of succeeding harvests. No moneys will be collected under this Bill until the Australian Wheat Board has sold, shipped and received payment for an amount of wheat equal to 165c per bushel multiplied by the number of bushels delivered to the 1973-74 pool. There is not the slightest possibility of this happening before this time next year.

The Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973 stands exposed as a thoroughly unnecessary piece of proposed legislation. The Minister's second reading speech on this Bill stands exposed as a thoroughly misleading document, completely unnecessary as to its alleged purpose, completely unnecessary as a complement to its parent Bill, and under the gravest suspicion as to its real purpose. It certainly can never play any part in the marketing and stabilisation of the 1973-74 harvest and should be deferred at least until its part in any future marketing and stabilisation scheme is revealed.

This now brings me to the final point which time will permit me to make in respect of these Bills. The Minister, in his second reading speech on the Wheat Stabilisation Bill 1973, stated:

The 1973-74 season be denned as a quota season.

Why is it necessary to make this one of the basic provisions of this Bill? The crop has already been planted under quota delivery provisions, the Australian quota has been determined and each State has been given a quota entitlement. Admittedly we apparently have the extraordinary situation where one State abandoned individual quotas for the growing crop and now faces, because it may have available for delivery a quantity of wheat in excess of that State's quota, the seemingly impossible task of trying to ration deliveries from growers against the background of having given them an open go at seeding time, or alternatively of abandoning quotas altogether.

Is the provision referred to by the Minister necessary in order to throw a cloak of legality over the scandalous waste of growers funds in the administration of this unnecessary and ridiculous plan? I have repeatedly endeavoured to obtain from the Minister the detailed costs of the quota delivery plan. I have been singularly unsuccessful in these attempts. However, the following facts seem to have emerged: Firstly, that the cost of the plan is being met by the Australian Wheat Board as a charge on growers' proceeds; secondly, that the administration costs of the Australian Wheat Board have increased by approximately Sim a year since the inception of the quota delivery plan; and thirdly, because Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd in Western Australia declined to accept any responsibility for the plan at all, that State's costs stand separate from the cost of reimbursement paid to the handling company and are approximately $136,000 for the past year. Other States are disguising the very much higher cost of administering the quota delivery plan in their States by absorbing a substantia) part of the cost into the costs of the handling organisation in that State and still charging them to the Australian Wheat Board through this indirect channel.

To substantiate my claims concerning the greatly increased costs of the Australian Wheat Board, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the following schedule of administration costs of the Board taken from the 1971-72 annual report of the Board which shows these costs have increased from $1.812m in 1968-69 - the last year prior to the introduction of the quota delivery plan- to $2.8m in 1971-72.


Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

 


Mr MAISEY - May I respectfully suggest to the House that the time has probably arrived when it would not be unreasonable to call for a full inquiry at the highest level into the whole operating costs of the Australian Wheat Board. Finally, may I place on record my implacable opposition to the action of the Minister for Primary Industry in directing the Australian Wheat Board to conclude a sales contract with Egypt against the considered judgment of the Board. This problem could never have arisen were it not for the fact that the Minister has the power of positive direction over the Board. As proof of the sincerity of my opposition to this objectionable innovation, I desire to place before the House the following extract from my presidential report to the Farmers' Union of Western Australia at its 1955 Annual Conference. This extract contains my submission to the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, the right honourable John McEwen, submitted in my capacity as President of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. I seek leave to incorporate the extract in Hansard.


Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

STABILISATION: After the General Elections last year the Federal and State Governments finally reached agreement on the details of a five-year Stabilisation Plan and a date for the conduct of growers' ballots was fixed.

Prior to the ballots being held a special meeting of the Executive was called to determine Union Policy. The Executive decided that as there was only one growers' organisation in this State, The Farmers' Union, and as the Farmers' Union embraced virtually 100 per cent of the growers, then the ballot was in effect a ballot of members of the Farmers' Union. It would have been presumptuous on the part of the Executive to determine policy on this question in these circumstances. The Executive did, however, feel a responsibility to ensure that every grower had a proper appreciation and understanding of what the plan meant and how it would work, and to this end arranged for the publication of a series of articles explaining, the details of the Plan as presented to the growers, and arranged for the President to address a series of meetings throughout the wheat belt.

The result of the Ballot is now history, a majority of growers voting in favour of the Plan.

When the Bills were introduced into the Federal and State Parliaments to give legislative effect to the Plan, growers were dismayed to learn that the clauses in the 1946 legislation which gave the Minister a power of veto over the Australian Wheat Board, were to be amended to extend this power of veto to a positive power of direction and bring the Board under complete Ministerial control.

At no time during the lengthy negotiations for the Stabilisation Plan did the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture give the Australian Wheatgrowers' . Federation any reason to believe that the Governments required the power of direction over the Australian Wheat Board. The Federation had requested that the clauses already contained in the Legislation and giving the Minister power to veto action of the Board should be deleted, and the Board should be relieved completely of the possibility of Ministerial interference. To be fair we must admit that at no time did the Minister give the Federation any reason to believe that he was prepared to delete these clauses. It is equally true that at no time was the slightest indication given that these clauses were to be amended in such a drastic manner.

Had the Minister advised growers of the Government's intention in this regard, prior to the conduct of the ballots and had growers accepted the Stabilisation Plan with a full knowledge of all its implications, then there could have been no cause for complaint. To allow the ballots to proceed and at the same time keep growers in ignorance of this vital alteration in a fundamental principle of the Plan must surely represent one of the greatest confidence tricks of all time.

In an attempt to secure some variation or deletion of these new clauses, or alternatively to provide some safeguards, I submitted, in my capacity as President of the A.W.F., the following case to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Rt Hon. John McEwen at Melbourne on the 28 February last:

The Federation views with most serious concern and disappointment, the action of the Commonwealth Government in making what we consider to be a fundamental change in the measure of control assumed by the Crown over the marketing of wheat, as compared with that applying when the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Act 1946 had application, and because the change holds much menace to the principle of private ownership of the produce of the land, and the principle of the farmers' right to market their own produce. It is this thought which has been the motivating power behind this written statement, in order that a permanent record may exist of the very strong objections of this Federal Body.

I propose firstly to point out that the original Stabilisation Act created an Australian Wheat Board, and clothed it with certain fairly wide powers which it might use in marketing wheat to the best advantage of growers, acting as a bona-fide trustee.

These powers set out in the old Act were permissive powers, qualified only by any direction which the Minister might give to the Board. No great exception can be taken to a clause of that kind, which obviously permitted the Minister to veto any act, or proposed act, by the Board which might conflict with public interest. Such a safeguard is necessary when a monopoly is granted. It may be frankly admitted at this juncture, the financial responsibilities of the Government arising from a guarantee of say 12/7d per bushel are greater than they were in 1947, when the cost of production figure was say 6/ 3d per bushel. But the privilege of a Minister to give general directions to the Board, which must be obeyed, may go far beyond financial considerations. Such directions may have a social or economic objective, quite outside the finances of the Wheat Pool, and quite conceivably have a political objective.

For instance, take the infamous New Zealand wheat deal when Mr Scully sold 18 million bushels of wheat to New Zealand at 5/9d per bushel, one of the objectives was to fix the landed price of the purchases made in Australia, to coincide with the price which the New Zealand Government was prepared to guarantee wheat production in that country. My recollection of the calculation was Australian F.O.B. price 5/9d shipping freight l/9d- Total 7/6d. Guaranteed price to New Zealand farmers - 7/6d.

At a later stage the Wheat Board was subjected to considerable pressure from Canberra to make the Board pay freight on wheat to Tasmania. Indeed there was more than one Government behind that move.

Had the Minister been clothed at those times with powers 'which must be obeyed', then the Board would have been compelled to act according to Ministerial wishes. The demand made upon the Board in respect to that matter was quite clearly in conflict with the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Act, and was also in conflict with the principles underlying that last bulwark of freedom, Clause 92 of the Australian Constitution.

The Board resisted the pressure, but the matter did not end there. At a later stage a series of amending Acts were introduced into the Federal and State Parliaments calculated to achieve the same results by a circumvention of Clause 92. Certainly these amending Acts had to secure passage through States Parliaments, but if there had been powers of direction in the Act similar to those now inserted, the farmers would have been left with the alternative of accepting an admittedly unfair price for stockfeed, or meeting the bill of costs for sea freight to Tasmania on the whole of the wheat used there, presently about 3/6d per bushel, or almost as much as freight to the United Kingdom. This demand undoubtedly originated in the political arena of Tasmania, and was not confined to one political party.

The New South Wales Minister for Agriculture also made a demand for wheat to be sent to New South Wales from Victoria, which would normally go for export at a much higher figure. The Board successfully resisted that pressure too.

Then on another occasion, a Minister for Commerce intervened in negotiations between the Australian Wheat Board and Britain, selling a very large quantity of wheat at a priceless than that the Board was holding out for.

Your Government provided proof that the political drive to make the Australian Wheat Board pay freights to Tasmania was wrong in principle by bringing down new legislation dealing with the matter.

This seems to be the point, Sir, to request you to state specifically whether, in your opinion, the Australian Wheat Board has ever been unfaithful to its trust, or lacking in recognition on its duty to the Nation. If the Board, in your opinion, has not erred in this important aspect, then do you consider that any State Minister has at any time had reason to saythat the Board has failed to act in strict accordance to the governing Acts.

This Federation believes that it is essential to the future conduct of the Board, that the Board must be fully protected from what may be termed " back door pressures."

The above matters are, however, relatively small when measured against the fact that a grant of powers, qualified only by a power of veto exercisable by a Minister only when the Board offends against public interest, constituted a clear and very valuable Trusteeship which has beneficial psychological effects on producers and Board alike. There can be no doubt whatever, that the knowledge amongst farmers that their wheat was received by, and handled by men with that sense of responsibility which pertains to Trusteeship was a source of satisfaction to growers, and a moral strength permeating the whole concept of organised marketing on a Commonwealth basis.

That satisfaction went a long way towards securing an affirmative vote at the recent ballots. If the principle of Trusteeship was to be destroyed, then growers should have been advised prior to the taking of the ballot. This Federation learned with utter dismay, that whilst ballots were being taken on the amended plan, no mention was made that such a sweeping change was contemplated over the marketing of the produce of our land. The instinct of the farmer leads him to assume, that wheat produced by his own hand and brain, and his own materials, applied to his own land, is his own property. The control clause in the new Act will disabuse his mind of that conception, but it is doubtful if anything of equal value is being substituted.

It is extremely difficult to believe that the Menzies Government, or yourself, are responsible for this gigantic stride in the direction of complete socialisation. Nevertheless, we know that uniform legislation of the kind passed by the States is usually drafted in Canberra, and moreover the Commonwealth Act is couched in similar terms. The Commonwealth and the States Governments must all have been consenting parties.

The Acts now constitute the law of the land, but I desire to request your Government to seek an amendment at the next session of Parliament to restore the position set out in the old Act. If it is claimed that the new clause means the same thing as the old, then there should be no objection to granting this reasonable request, the work involved would be amply rewarded by a restoration of confidence and faith in the integrity of Governments.

Alternatively, I believe it is absolutely essential that the following assurances be given:

(i)   That no direction be given to the Board except above the personal signature of the Minister administering the Act for the time being.

(ii)   That neither Board members, nor the staff of the Board, shall be deemed to be public servants.

(iii)   That no direction will . be given to the Board which will of itself limit the right of free speech by individual members of the Board, unless such freedom of speech is deemed to be prejudicial to the proper conduct of the marketing of wheat.

(iv)   That no direction shall be given to any member of the Board or its staff which compels him to frustrate lawful resolution of the Board properly recorded in the Minutes.

(v)   That it shall be assumed that unless the Board has received a written direction signed by the Minister on any given subject, then the Board is free to act upon its own unfettered judgment.'

The Minister's reaction to this written submission has been most disappointing.

The Minister told the Federation that the clauses were inserted in the legislation with his full knowledge and he would accept full responsibility for them. He offered the Federation no hope that the clauses would be deleted and gave no indication that the alternative assurances requested would be granted. The Minister said he would rely on the record of the Government.


Mr MAISEY - Although it has taken nearly 20 years to completely vindicate the need for that submission made to the then

Minister in my capacity as President of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, and nearly 20 years for the proof to emerge as to the real need to ensure that the Australian Wheat Board is free to act on the basis of trusteeship for the growers free from Ministerial interference of any sort, my stand has not changed one iota. Whether the Australian Wheat Board should or should not have concluded the sale to Egypt - the subject of this present controversy - is relatively unimportant compared to the wider issue - whether the Board is in fact a trustee, for the growers charged with the responsibility of marketing the growers wheat to the best possible advantage and returning to the growers the net proceeds after meeting marketing costs.

The proposition contained in the present ministerial direction to the Board to conclude the sale to Egypt on terms unacceptable to the Board is a complete violation of this vital principle. It highlights the danger of writing into the Acts supporting the Board the power of ministerial direction and control and cuts right across the vital principle that the produce of the land belongs to the producers subject only to the payment of his just debts. It is socialisation in its crudest and rudest form. It is a matter of deep regret to me that this power of socialisation was written into these Acts by a former leader of the Party to which I belong. It does not and never shall change my attitude to such an infamous proposition.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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