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Wednesday, 4 May 1921

Senator PLAIN (Victoria) .- I desire to say a word or two on the question before the Senate. I have to confess that after listening to many eloquent speeches I . see little more daylight than I did when the discussion started. I realize that the small farmer is going to be crushed in an/ circumstances. That is a most serious matter. In the last two orthree years hundreds of farmers have gone on to land of high value, based on prices received for the products of the land during the last three or four years. Many hundreds of these farmers are returned soldiers who fought in the war,. which, was responsible to some extent for the conditions with which we are now faced. I am not satisfied with the. proposed allotment of two bales of Bawra and one bale of this season's clip.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - No, two of Bawra and four of this season's clip.

Senator PLAIN - That is very much better. I misunderstood ' the proposal. The whole position is most intricate. I feel at present that I should support Senator Guthrie'.* proposal that the price fixed should be 9d. per lb. I am not quite satisfied that the position will be improved by fixing the price at 9d. rather than at 8d. per lb. as proposed by tho Government, because as Senator Guthrie pointed out, other countries will have an advantage over us in being able to produce wool for 3d. per lb. less than we can produce it here.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I never made any such statement. What I said was that if our competitors in the Argentine wish to undersell us in the production of crossbred wool they would have to sell at under 3d. I did not say that they could produce the wool more cheaply than we can.

Senator PLAIN - I understood the honorable senator to say that wool could be produced more cheaply in the Argentine than in Australia. Even though it should cost as much to produce wool there as here the Argentine growers will still be in a better position than growers in Australia because they are nearer the market. What is proposed really is that we should fix a standard price for them, and we fix a minimum price which will pay them in all circumstances to put their wool on the market. If it costs them less to produce and market 4heir wool than it costs us and we fix a flat rate at which it will pay them to produce wool, they can undercut us by id. per lb. at any time.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It will not pay them. We aim only at preventing the total collapse of the industry. It is not suggested that the price proposed to be fixed will pay for the production of crossbred wool. It will not pay the cost of shearing a Lincoln fleece.

Senator PLAIN - They will be in a better position to rig the market than we are in. I acknowledge that Senators Guthrie and Fairbairn have given considerable study to this particular question, and as no other scheme likely to benefit the wool-growers is submitted, I feel that

I shall be justified in supporting the proposal those honorable senators have made. I feel that if I failed to do so when the interests of so many of the small men who are the backbone of the country are at stake I should be doing ah injury to Victoria and to Australia as a whole. I am therefore prepared to take all the risks of supporting their proposal and to break all precedents to secure the safety of the yeomen of this country upon whom the prosperity of the Commonwealth depends.

Senator Elliott - Oan the honorable senator guarantee that this proposal will save them?

Senator PLAIN - I cannot, and if any honorable senator can put forward a better scheme, I shall be ready to support it. I cannot myself suggest a better scheme. I feel sure that the keenest brains, not only in Australia, but in the world, have been concentrated upon this question, and inadequate as it may ap- i pear to be, this seems to be the only proposal made for the salvation of the wool industry.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Just as many representative pastoralists advocate the holding up of Bawra stocks as are advocating this proposal.

Senator PLAIN - I have every sympathy with those to whom Senator Pratten refers. But we have to legislate immediately to meet the conditions with which we are- confronted. I am chiefly concerned to protect the interests of the small grower.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We differ only with regard to the method of protecting those interests.

Senator PLAIN - I do not believe that the people to whom Senator Pratten refers are out to cut the ground from under the feet of the wool -growers of the country. I believe that they are quite sincere in the proposal they make.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are others besides wool-buyers who approve of the scheme of holding up Bawra stocks.

Senator PLAIN - I agree that there are, and if what they propose could be carried out it might be the best course to adopt. If it were possible to hold up Bawra wool for two years until the devastated countries of Europe had time to recover financially, we should certainly be in a better position to deal with the whole matter. We cannot, however, afford to wait, and Bawra is controlled to some extent by the British Government.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would it not be a question of negotiations between this Government and the British Government?

Senator PLAIN - It would; but I think that time will not permit of such negotiations. The people of the devastated countries of Europe have been brought face to face with a cold realization of the fact that it is for them either to work or to die. When people of the stamina of Italians, Germans, Belgians, and Russians, are face to face with such a fact, we can be assured that they will recover their normal condition more quickly than perhaps we at present anticipate. If we could wait, perhaps the best possible way in which to deal with the question would be to hold up the Bawra wool, if at the same time the Government guaranteed' to the wool-growers of the country a reasonable amount to carry them on. That, if it were possible, would bridge the difficulty and meet, the views, not only of buyers', but of small men engaged in growing wool. It would be the salvation of the small men. I realize that under the scheme now proposed the small men must go under. That cannot be avoided. It is a question of the survival of the fittest. . If what Senator Pratten suggests could be brought about, it would be well ; but I cannot see how it is to be brought about in the time at our disposal. With a resurrected Europe we would have nothing to fear.

Senator Fairbairn - Mr. Hughes might be able to arrange something of the kind.

Senator PLAIN - It is possible that that is one of the things which the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) may be capable of doing. He may strike the psychological moment, and may get into touch with the right minds to solve the difficulty.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that if the combination of the two ideas could be brought about, it would probably be completely successful in coping with the position.

Senator PLAIN - In the circumstances with which we are confronted, I intend to support the Government's proposal.

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