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Thursday, 8 March 1928

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - It is admitted by everyone with a knowledge of the dairying industry of Australia that if there is any worker in Australia who deserves the fullest consideration it is the dairyman. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) is concerned about the price Australian consumers have to pay for their butter; but the inevitable effect of higher duties on foodstuffs is to increase the price. Unless the dairymen get the increased price they will continue to be the slaves of the community. Does Senator Needham expect the dairymen of Australia, with their wives and families, to work for less than a living wage?

Senator Needham - No.

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator is clear on that point at all events. He is not prepared to allow the dairymen of Australia to work for less than a living wage. I can assure him that if Parliament grant this proposal the dairymen will even then not be earning a living wage. I know, because I have had experience in the industry. Senator Needham is also concerned about the possibility of the speculators reaping the benefit intended to be given to the dairymen. If I had the slightest doubt on the matter, that is to say, if I thought the speculators would reap any benefit from the item, and that the dairymen would not, I should not vote for it. I know, however, that the dairymen will get the full benefit of the Government's proposal. For reasons which I think must appeal to Senator Needham, the dairymen of the Commonwealth have, in recent years, followed the lead given by trade unionists. They have come together in what must be regarded as the closest combination that it is possible to imagine. I can remember very well how they fared about 30 years- ago when there was no cohesion on their part. In those days the butter industry was entirely in the hands of speculators. I delivered milk to a butter factory at Kyneton for the magnificent payment of If d. a gallon. All that has been altered in recent years. The dairymen, as I have said, are now in the closest combination, and the industry is entirely controlled by co-operative societies. I do not suggest, of course, that there is no proprietary interest now in the industry. There is, but its influence is so slight that the proprietary companies have to do what the co-operative societies tell them to do. The cooperative companies are of two classes. One controls the manufacturing side of the industry, and the other the distributing side; but the shares in the distributing companies are, in almost every instance, held by the manufacturing companies, which, therefore, control the policy of the distributing concerns. Every increase in the price of butter is reflected in the monthly cheques received by the dairy-farmers. It is impossible for the few proprietary companies that are still in competition with the co-operative societies to do other than follow the lead set by the latter. If they attempted to do otherwise they would soon lose their entire business. There is no doubt that the consumer will pay more for the dairyfarmer's products, but there is no doubt also that the dairy-farmer willstill be receiving less than a living wage, though thanks to the influence of the co-operative societies, he will get the full benefit of every increase in the market price. Senator Needham also expressed grave fears oh the subject of butter ' storage. That is always a difficult problem for the reason that the butter producing areas of Australia stretch from away north of Cairns, in Queensland, to Adelaide, in South Australia.

Senator Sir George Pearce - There are butter producers in the southwestern portion of Western Australia now.

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was about to say that from Adelaide there is a gap across the Great Australan Bight, until we reach the south-western district of Western Australia, where butter production is now carried on. Practically the whole of those coastal districts of the Commonwealth are engaged in the dairying industry. Reference is .made .frequently to the immense value of the wheat and wool industry to Australia. While I say nothing in derogation of those important industries, I think I am right in stating that few people realize the extent of the dairying industry in the Commonwealth. It does not contribute to our export figures as much as either of the other two industries I have mentioned, but .the total value of dairy products in Australia amounts to well over £40,000,000 a year. Because the industry is spread over such a large area and because also of the variation in seasons in the different States, it is extremely difficult for those who are controlling it to determine, as they must do months- in advance, how much butter to put into cold storage. It is absolutely necessary, in order to meet the winter trade of Australia, to make adequate provision for cold storage; but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned, it is. difficult to say how much should be put into storage. As honorable senators know, storage costs money. The co-operative societies have to pay their share-holding farmers every month for the butter they produce and in addition have to meet interest and cold storage charges as well as face the risks' of deterioration. Then if, as sometimes happens, there is a mild winter in Queensland and New South Wales, or an early season in Victoria, or both, calculations as to the amount that should be stored may be upset to the extent of thousands of cases. However, I can say from my knowledge of the industry that those who are controlling it have for a long time past recognized their obligations to the people and accordingly they make full provision for winter storage so as to avoid any undue increase in price during the winter months. In this way the co-operative societies have served Australia well. There is a temptation, of c urse, not to put any butter into cold store at all and to allow the winter supply to take care of itself. If that policy were adopted, winter prices for butter would soar sky high. I know personally the people who have been controlling the industry in Australia for a number of years. I have met them on many occasions in conference and I know that they realize to the full their obligations to the consumers of Australia. If honorable senators have followed the market quotations for butter over a number of years they will have noticed that prices are steady within certain limits, and that the winter quotations advance only sufficiently to cover the actual costs of storage. I hope that I have removed from Senator Needham's mind any misgivings he may have had as to the possibility of the speculator coming into the picture. I can assure him that there is no danger of that. As the industry is entirely in the hands of the co-operative organizations, every penny that it is possible to get out of it by cold storage or otherwise, goes directly into the pockets of the primary producers.

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