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Thursday, 4 August 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - I am afraid that my earlier remarks have been misunderstood. T resented Senator Lynch talking about doles, and I pointed out that the Wheat Board for five years was an honorary body-

Senator Lynch - Mr. McGibbon, from Western Australia, was well paid for his attendance: £600 for four meetings.

Senator RUSSELL - At the end of four years the farmers demanded representation on the Board, and it was granted. If a man is required to leave his farm in order to attend a meeting of the Board, I think he is fairly entitled to claim his expenses.

Senator de Largie - Does not the honorable senator think that £600 for attending four meetings is a rather stiff payment ?

Senator RUSSELL - I do.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - I must ask the Minister not to discfuss the general question of the Wheat Board, but to confine his attention to the item immediately before the Chair.

Senator RUSSELL - I felt constrained to reply to the statement made by Senator Lynch that the farmers were not whining for a duty. We have never required them to whine for anything. We have never exercised patronage so far as they are concerned. We have struggled to make payments to the farmers in respect of their wheat at the earliest possible moment. We went into debt to the extent of £20,000,000 in order to help them at a time when the weevil and mice were destroying their wheat. Senator Lynch has said that we are behind to-day in our payments. That is not so. The Wheat Board has never been behind in any of its payments. As a matter of fact, we have paid £7,000,000 more than we have received from the sale of wheat up to' date, and have a bank overdraft to that extent. In such circumstances how can it be claimed that we are behind in our payments? In 1915-16 we had to buy large quantities of galvanized iron to keep the mice and the weevil out of thewheat stacks. We paid for that iron an average price of about £55 per ton, and to-day it is worth some hundreds of thousands of pounds At the present moment there is probably £750,000 worth of iron and timber surrounding the wheat stacks, but no one can tell what it will Bring when we submit it to public auction. There is still a fraction owing in respect of the 1915-16 Pool, but as against it we have this splendid asset of iron and timber. The accounts of the Wheat Pool are audited by public accountants, and published from time to time. I do not believe in wheat scrip, and have always declined to express an opinion as to its value, since I object to gambling in foodstuffs. Day after day I am asked what wheat scrip is likely to bring, and the only answer I give is that the people should hold their scrip, because, as I have, just- said, I object to gambling in connexion with foodstuffs. The system of issuing scrip was started not by the Commonwealth, but by the States. Returning to the item under consideration, I would remind the Committee that the duty is an old one, and I believe it will be useful to us when we are negotiating for reciprocal Tariffs with other parts of the Empire. It might be of advantage to us when arranging a reciprocal Tariff with Canada. If, owing to serious drought, Ave had to import wheat we could make an arrangement with Canada to supply us, or arrange to supply Canada in time of need. No revenue is collected under this item, and the chances are that in the ©vent of a serious drought the duty would be suspended. I ask the Committee to allow it to stand. In this Tariff there are many items which will assist us in making reciprocal arrangements with other countries? New Zealand, for instance, does not produce sufficient wheat to meet her requirements, and we might be able to make a reciprocal arrangement with that Dominion in regard to wheat and timber. At one time I found it impossible to get in Australia suitable timber for the making of butter boxes. Large quantities of New Zealand timber are used for that purpose, and we might offer to give New Zealand certain privileges in regard to our wheat in return for preferential treatment in respect of timber f.r butter boxes. Queensland pine is an excellent timber, superior to all others for certain purposes, but I have known Queensland butter to be tainted by the Queensland butter boxes.

Senator Lynch - Does the honorable senator think that such an item as this would be of any advantage in arranging for reciprocal trade relations with New Zealand. The New Zealand Government would ask what such a duty was worth, and the honorable senator has just said that in time of drought it would probably be suspended.

Senator RUSSELL - New '-'Zealand cannot dictate to us what we shall do with our wheat. She has purchased from time to time considerable quantities of Australian wheat at very reasonable prices. When New South Wales some time ago had practically not a bushel of wheat for local consumption, we arranged to supply her with wheat from other States, not at the price we were charging the people overseas, but at the price ruling for it in the State of production plus freight.

Senator de LARGIE - And Western Australia had to accept less than the world's . parity for its wheat.

Senator RUSSELL - But it had a larger proportion for export. I hope that we shall not become parochial. Wheat produced in Australia should be available first of all for local consumption, and any surplus should be sold in the best available market I am sorry that the question of the Wheat Board has been raised, but I felt constrained to reply to the statement made by 'Senator Lynch that the farmers did not come whining to the Government for a duty. I have never battled for any one so hard as I did to get an extra 6d. per bushel for the wheatgrowers of the Commonwealth. I hope we shall retain this duty, since, it will strengthen the' hands of the Government" in negotiating for reciprocal trade arrangements with other parts of the Empire.

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