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Thursday, 8 March 1928

Senator CRAWFORD (QueenslandHonorary Minister) . - There are, perhaps, more persons engaged in the butter-producing industry than in any other rural occupation in Australia. Its ramifications were thoroughly investigated by the Tariff Board, and I presume that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) and other honorable senators are familiar with the conclusions at which it arrived, and the recommendations which it made. At present we are producing butter in Australia far in excess of our requirements, and consequently 40 per cent, of our total production has to be exported. Some of the conditions under which butter is produced in Australia are set out on page 8 of the Tariff Board's report, to which I invite the close attention of the committee. The whole of the evidence submitted to the board showed the dairying industry to be in a stagnant and unpayable condition, and witness after witness, without exception, described the lot of the dairy-farmer as a constant struggle to make ends meet. The report goes on to show that it is possible to make the industry a payable one only by utilizing the labour of the dairyman's family, and by the dairyman himself working unduly long hours. Even under the best conditions the dairy farmer can hardly pay his way. The industry, the board states, does not give anything like a fair and adequate return to the butter producer. With a view to improving the dairying industry those engaged in it adopted what is known as the "Paterson scheme," under which a levy of lid. per lb. is collected on all butter sold_ in Australia, and a bounty of 3d. a lb. is paid on all butter exported. This scheme has been of material advantage to the industry, and has placed the dairy farmers in a better position than they ever previously occupied. The Leader of the Opposition seems to be under the impression that only a small quantity of New Zealand butter is imported from New Zealand, whereas the quantity received during 1926-27 totalled over 7,000,000 lb., valued at £526,000. For every pound of New Zealand butter imported and consumed in Australia an additional pound of Australian butter had to be exported, and 3d. on each pound taken out of the butter pool. Any one can see that if such a state of affairs continued for any time it would have the effect of completely destroying the Paterson scheme, which would be detrimental not only to those engaged in the dairying industry, but would have a most disastrous effect upon Australian prosperity. In the circumstances I am sure honorable senators will admit that the Tariff Board has made out an unanswerable -case in support of a substantial increase in the duty.

Senator Needham - Is the Paterson scheme to. continue in operation if the additional duty is imposed?

Senator CRAWFORD - Yes. I do not think it is the intention to advance the price of butter in Australia ; but the butter producers are anxious that the pooling system shall be continued. It is necessary that the butter market shall be protected from the competition of another country which has a greater surplus than we have, and in which a similar pool is not in operation. A levy is not imposed on New Zealand butter, and it is therefore possible for New Zealand producers to undersell the Australian producers. It pays them better to export to Australia rather than to the overseas markets. I think the Leader of the Opposition will admit that the payment of a bounty on butter exports would involve the expenditure of a large sum of money, and as the producers have a scheme which they are conducting very effectively, 1 cannot see that there is any justification for the Government assuming control over a business with which the dairymen are immediately concerned, and are quite capable of managing.

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