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Thursday, 8 March 1928

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I agree that 3d. a lb. is a substantial increase in the duty on butter, and I have my doubts whether the people who are supposed to benefit from this extra protection will reap any advantage from it. I am under the impression that a bounty would be of far greater assistance to the dairy farmers than the duty now imposed, and that while the dairymen will not benefit by the increased duty, the consumer will pay more for his butter. Good butter is essential in every home. From what I have gathered by a study of the Government s proposals I believe that, instead of protecting the dairy-farmer, the increased duty will benefit the speculator. The higher duty may also increase the difference in the price between New Zealand and Australian butter by 8d. a lb. In 1925-26 60,000 boxes of New Zealand butter were imported into Australia, and during the same period 93,000 boxes of Australian butter were shipped overseas, where it was sold at 6d. per lb. less than Australian consumers were paying for New Zealand butter. This is a phase of the question which the committee ought to take into consideration, particularly when we are asked to support an increase of 50 per cent, in the duty upon a commodity which is a necessity in every home. The duty will not assist the dairy-farmer, who receives only the overseas parity for his product, and who in exporting butter does not benefit as he should, owing to the importations from New Zealand. Butter from that dominion can be brought in to fix a standard for the butter held in the cool stores in Australia. I am also informed that the Dairy Export Control Board, which was the largest importer of New Zealand butter, was also the largest exporter of Australian butter. When the late Honorable Frank Tudor was Minister for Trade and Customs in the Fisher Ministry, he refused to lift the embargo upon the export of butter until the local requirements had been met at a reasonable price. If the increased duty is imposed the butter dealers will place a certain quantity in cool storage when supplies are plentiful, perhaps to the extent of 300,000 boxes, in preparation for a winter shortage. That quantity could be obtained at 172s. a cwt., and on the approach of winter' arrangements could be made for a judicious clearance. This opens the way for market rigging. New Zealand butter is imported and a standard price fixed on its landed cost, which benefits the speculator. If the Government's proposals are adopted I cannot see how the butter producer will benefit. I have every desire to assist the dairy-farmer; but, as I said during the second-reading debate, I do not want that assistance to be given at the expense of the consumer. In this instance I can see the possibility of butter consumers being exploited in the interests of the speculators. Those who have had a considerable experience in the butter trade are of the same opinion.

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