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Friday, 25 June 1915

Senator SENIOR (South Australia) . - I desire to embrace this opportunity to direct attention to a matter of very urgent importance. We know that, since the beginning of the war, very many enemy vessels have been interned, and that many British as well as enemy ships have been destroyed. This is a serious matter for the Commonwealth, situated as it is, far from the markets of the world. It means that we are face to face with a difficulty of which we should take early cognisance. In other words, we should at once begin to make the necessary preparation for the transport of the surplus products of Australia to the markets of the world. Unfortunately, the last harvest was a comparative failure; but we are hopeful that, as the result of the recent bounteous rainfall, the forthcoming harvest will be a record one. I observe from the Tear-Book for 1912-13 that the area then under cultivation aggregated nearly 10,000,000 acres, and that the re turn from it totalled 103,000,000 bushels. Deducting the amount that we require for seed and food purposes, it is likely, therefore, that there will be a large quantity of cereals available for export this year. That is the fact to which I desire to call attention. The probability is that one State alone will have a surplus of something like 20,000,000 bushels for export. Prior to the outbreak of war, the oversea freightage represented a. charge of about 7d. per bushel, or £583,000. The f freight to-day is just double that amount, so that, on the smallest estimate, the amount which will be paid by the producers on an export of 20,000,000 bushels will be over £1,000,000. It may be argued that this question is not so important as that which has been so exhaustively discussed during this debate; but I would point out that it is just as necessary that Australia should do her share in feeding those who are engaged in fighting our battles as it is that she should supply them with the necessary munitions of war. I think it was Napoleon who observed that an army progresses on its stomach, and the food supplies of our Forces in the field are just as important as are adequate supplies of shells. The increased taxation on a 20,000,000- bushel export of wheat will approximate £2 per acre. That is the amount which the farmer will have to pay for the carriage of his products overseas. It is & very heavy tax, and consequently it behoves us to make the necessary provision for carrying our surplus cereals to the Old World. It may be urged that there is ample time to do that yet. But I believe that the chartering of vessels in connexion with the harvest usually begins in September. It is now nearly the end of J une, so that not very much time is available within which to make the necessary provision. I wish now to quote a few figures, with a view to showing the quantity of cereals which England has to import. During 1912-13 Great Britain imported from Canada 51,750,000 bushels of wheat; from the United States of America, more than 80,000,000 bushels; and from Russia, 12,750,000 bushels. From Roumania, Russia, Turkey, and Germany, England imported over 24,000,000 bushels of barley; and from Canada close on 6,000,000 bushels. She also imported 22,500,000 bushels of oats, principally from Germany, Russia, and Roumania. These figures evidence/ the necessity -which exists - especially if the Russian crops are to be barred from 'admission to the markets of the world for any length of time - for making provision for the transport of our surplus cereals to the Mother Country. I notice that between 1st August, 1912, and 31st July, 1913, Great Britain imported 185,000,000 bushels of wheat and 54,250^000 bushels of oats. In this connexion I would point out that we are faced with another difficulty in regard to our fruit yields. As Senator O'Loghlin has already pointed out, our last fruit crop was a very poor one indeed. But, scant as it was, we were unable - owing to war conditions - to export much of it to the Old Land. The markets for the fruits of Australia are principally France, Germany, and Great Britain. Germany will, of course, be closed entirely to us. A crop producing a surplus which cannot be disposed of is no more satisfactory to the producer than is a poor crop. Those who have been engaged in the fruit business know how difficult it is to obtain the necessary refrigerated space for the export of their products. Almost before the tree blossoms it is necessary to secure space for the carriage of the crop to oversea countries.

Senator Russell - I have already given an assurance, in the name of the Government, that the matter to which the honorable senator is referring is being attended to now.

Senator SENIOR - I was not aware of that, but I am glad to emphasize the importance of its consideration and the necessity for immediate action.

Senator Lynch - We cannot take action until we have some guarantee as to what the season will be.

Senator SENIOR - The honorable senator will agree that, in view of the bountiful rains with which we have been blessed, a good harvest is in all probability assured. In many parts of South Australia, to which State I refer because I know it best, the rain we have already had has been sufficient to warrant us in expecting a reasonable crop; and should rain fall later, in September or early in October, we shall be justified in expecting a very heavy crop indeed. I am glad to learn from the Assistant Minister that the matter of providing freight for our export of grain is receiving the attention of the Government, and I shall be pleased! to learn that they will look into the matter of freight for our export of fruit as well.

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