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Friday, 13 May 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I well remember when, a few short months ago, the original Act. was before this Chamber how enthusiastic were the promoters of the scheme regarding its early success and the very large savings which would be effected to the farmers. - At that time some of us had the temerity - notwithstanding that to a large extent we rely upon the votes of the man upon the land to return us here - to doubt some of the figures which were then presented for our consideration, and to question whether the complete bulk handling of wheat, particularly in Western Australia, would not cost the farmers more than does the handling of that commodity by ordinary methods. I believe that an intense interest was taken in that debate by the Western Australian farmers, and that the effect of our discussion has been that the enthusiasts over this project have somewhat modified their original ideas, with the result that they propose to spend less of their own money, and, therefore, cannot ask the Commonwealth to subscribe as much as they asked it to spend previously. When this matter was last under consideration, figures were given in connexion with the lining of ships, and of the total cost per bushel of bulk handling, which have been completely borne out by every paragraph which has 'recently been published in Australia regarding this question. If I were a Western Australian farmer, I would not put £1 into the whole business.

SenatorCox.- The honorable senator would starve.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I acknowledge that, as a loyal supporter of the Government, I occupy a somewhat difficult position.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator has a nice way of exhibiting his loyalty. He said just now that the figures which I put before the Senate upon a former occasion were misrepresentations.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I said nothing of the kind. Had the Vice-President of the Executive Council followed my statement he would know that what I said was that the figures previously given in connexion with the bulkhandling of wheat have been proved by the evidence forthcoming in New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria to be correct.

Senator Russell - To the honorable senator's satisfaction, no doubt.

Senator Senior - There is no bulk handling in South Australia.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is only two or three weeks ago that evidence was given by a well-known shipping expert in Sydney that thecost of lining vessels to enable them to take away bulk cargoes of wheat would be somewhere in the region of the figures which were given in this Chamber during the debate upon the original Bill last session. Upon that occasion it was stated that, upon the basis of bags costing 14s. or 15s. per dozen, there would be a saving effected by bulk handling, and it was pointed out that it was unlikely that the price of jute goods would revert to pre-war figures. To-day cornsacks are worth about only one-half of what they were when that discussion took place. Since then we have had further evidence, not of a very satisfactory character, regarding the silos which have been erected in my own State. We have alsobeen told that the Victorian Government unhesitatingly declare that they will not go in for the bulk handling of wheat. Consequently, all the arguments which were advanced last session in opposition to this agreement, as an agreement which is calculated to benefit the farmers, hold good to-day. As a loyal supporter of the. Government, I find myself in somewhat of a difficulty. The original Bill was passed last session. We did not force the motion against its second reading to a division. Those of us who then thought that the measure did not represent good business either to the Government or the farmers of Western Australia should hail with satisfaction the fact that the risk which will be incurred under this measure is less than it was formerly.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator said that every paragraph which has recently appeared in the newspapers was in opposition to the scheme. I have read most of them, and I think that they are lies. One statement was that the Wheat Board had paid £2,500 for the conversion of a ship into a bulk-carrying vessel in Sydney. As a matter of fact, we have never paid a single penny to convert any vessel.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was speaking of the evidence which was given before the Select Committee in New South Wales upon agriculture, which was presided over by Sir Joseph Carruthers. One of the principal witnesses at that inquiry stated that the conversion of a ship into a bulk carrier of wheat would cost within a few pounds of the figures which I submitted in this Chamber last session. I agree with Senator Gardiner that both the original. Act and this Bill seek to perpetuate a. false principle. If the Western Australian farmers required any help to build silos for the bulk handling of wheat, the requisite money should have been loaned to the Governmentof that State, which should have Been under an obligation' to repay it to the Commonwealth Government, just as was done In New South Wales. It would be interesting to know what has actually occurred in connexion with this proposition since it was last before the Senate. I read somewhere that the Legislative Council of Western Australia had thrown out the entire proposition.

Senator Fairbairn -It had not time to finish its consideration of the Bill.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The VicePresident of the Executive Council has not told us of the peculiar circumstances under which the measure was rejected. Then, we have a right to know upon whose land these silos will be erected, and what security the Commonwealth will have in the event of their not being used. I regret the innovation which the Government have made in this direction.

Senator Earle - Is the honorable senator supporting or opposing a reduction of our commitment in regard to this enterprise?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Bill represents thelesser of two evils, and that sums up my own opinion of the matter. I do not intend to vote against the measure, because I recognise the difficulty in which the Government find themselves owing to a bargain already having been entered into. But I am not prepared to say that the observations which I have offered this afternoon will be received altogether unsympathetically by honorable senators. The Bill seeks to introduce an innovation of an exceedingly dangerous character, and to establish a precedent which we need never have created. Whilst I am sorry that this has been done-

Senator Earle - The honorable senator welcomes a partial undoing ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do. I have nothing further to say upon the measure.

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