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Thursday, 14 November 1935

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - It was not my intention to speak on this subject, because I was aware that several honorable senators who were fully acquainted with the facts were prepared to refute the statements made by Senator McLeay when moving his motion. But as the discussion proceeded other matters were referred to, and I now feel impelled to make a few observations. It is somewhat unusual to find honorable senators advocating the representation of minorities. I know that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) and his two followers frequently claim, but to my mind wrongly, that although the Opposition is a small minority in the Senate it should be heard on all matters affecting the people because it represents 46 per cent. of the electors. The question we have to decide in connexion with this motion is whether or not the Dried Fruits Export Control Board is dominated by the Australian Dried Fruits Association to the detriment of growers generally. We have to decide tins question in the interests of the great body of growers, rather than of a few growers. Senator Duncan-Hughes said that, although, in a minority, the independent growers are a fairly strong minority. There are approximately 2,200 growers of dried fruits in South Australia, and they produce about 22,000 tons of dried fruits per annum. A simple calculation will show that the average production is about 10 tons to each grower. Figures which have been presented to us show that the 1,500 independent growers produce about 3,000 tons of dried fruits. That represents about 2 tons each. It will be seen, therefore, that the unit production for the other700 growers is about 27 tons, and that the minority group, which Senator Duncan-Hughes says should be represented on the board, is a very small group indeed.

Senator McLeay - Even so, that group exports more dried fruits than are exported from New South Wales.

Senator HARDY - I do not think that Senator McLeay would apply to himself the principle which he now advocates for other minorities. For instance, if minorities are entitled to representation after a popular vote, it may he that some other person should be sitting in the place now occupied by the honorable senator in this chamber. In an ordinary company, is it not a fact that the will of the majority of shareholders rules? There is nothing wrong in that, because we must assume that the welfare of the whole is not inconsistent with the welfare of the majority.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Practically every royal commission during recent years has submitted a minority report.

Senator HARDY - Senator McLeay said that the board acted improperly in refusing to meet the independent growers in conference. He accused the board of discourtesy in not replying to those who asked for a conference and implied that the board had acted arrogantly in this matter. I remind him that the hoard meets only at intervals of six or eight weeks.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - But it has a secretary.

Senator HARDY - That is so ; but he could not authorize the holding of a conference.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Was a month's delay necessary?

Senator HARDY - It may be that the letter was received immediately following a meeting of the board.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - The suggestion contained in the letter was so important that it should have been convoyed to all members of the board.

Senator HARDY - The board probably thought, and rightly so, that, as it was a body constituted by an act of Parliament, the request for a conference to consider amendments to the act which constituted the board should be submitted to the Government. Surely that is a logical point of view. Senator McLeay, when dealing with the personnel of the board and its probable influence, stated -

It is interesting to note that one member of tlie board who was appointed by the Govern ment was Mr. J. B. Murdoch, a. prominent member of the Australian Dried Fruits Association. These mcn have done excellent work and they aru highly respected and esteemed in South Australia. But honorable senators will realize that, with six of the eight members of the Dried Fruits Export Board prominently associated with the Australian Dried Fruits Association, the existing regulations, and the power that the board has, may be . . .

I direct the attention of honorable se'nators to the words " may be ", which are used in exactly the same sense as when the Labour party attacked a previous appointment of a member to the judiciary. Because a gentleman assisted to frame laws, members of that party suggested that his sense of justice would be warped and that he must be influenced in a certain direction. Senator McLeay assails their sense of equity and justice when he avers that, although these gentlemen are esteemed in South Australia, they "may be " influenced to take certain action prejudicial to the interest of their immediate competitors. Later, in reply to my interjection, the honorable senator stated -

It is not our wish to destroy the board, but we wish to prevent it, dominated as it is by the Australian Dried Fruits Association, from doing an injustice to a large section of the. growers in the dried fruits industry.

The words " may be " occurring in the earlier part of Iris speech, when he showed an inclination to remain neutral on the point as to whether the board was dominated or not, were superseded by assurance that the board had been dominated by the Australian Dried Fruits Association. The words "dominated as it is" cannot be misinterpreted. If the board has been so dominated, that is only right and - proper, because the Australian Dried Fruits Association represents practically the whole of the growers. Where then lies the inequity? I fail to see any logical reason why the honorable senator should advocate that the extremely small' and evidently discontented minority should have representation on the board. Having regard to the fact that the members of the board are elected by ballot - the surest system of ascertaining the will of the people interested - under no rule of logic or deduction can such a claim be substantiated. The independent grower is not sufficiently interested to take advantage of an opportunity when it, occurs to change the policy of the hoard. The voting returns are proof of that. Senator Duncan-Hughes stated that the result of the election may have been due to Mr. Howie's personal popularity. I assume that the ordinary grower has sufficient intelligence to know that the policy that a candidate advocates must be taken into account as well as his popularity. Mr. Howie was elected by a, three or four to one majority, but 900 growers in South Australia failed to vote. I expect that the very men who were too lazy to vote are the persons now advocating the reform of the board.

Senator Duncan-Hughes -When I was first elected to Parliament, only 15 per cent. of the electors voted.

Senator HARDY - But that does not imply that only 15 per cent. of the electors should vote to-day. Majority rule is the surest and most satisfactory method of electing a representative. I was gratified to hear Senator McLeay inform the Senate that the statement which he made previously about Mr. Howie was incorrect. In what I am about to say I desire to be perfectly fair to the honorable gentleman. Three weeks ago he stated that we must suspend judgment until we found whether or not the utterance attributed to Mr. Howie was correct. At the commencement of the debate to-day Senator McLeay, in a personal explanation, said that his remarks were without foundation. Three weeks have passed since the honorable senator made his allegation, and I venture to assert that he could have, if he had so desired, made the explanation many days ago. Why did he wait for this period to elapse before taking action to clear Mr. Howie's name? I propose to read an excerpt from an official letter, addressed to Senator McLeay by Mr. Howie. In fairness to this gentleman, who has been, and still is, the leader of the dried fruits industry, his explanation should be placed on record. The statement completely refutes the assertion attributed to him about giving the independent packer a " crack in the neck." The letter is as follows : -

As regards thepersonal incidents in which any name is brought into prominence,I wish to state in regard to the statement alleged of me at Renmark to the effect that I saw an opportunity in the new regulations of giving the independent packer a " crack in the neck," I did not make such a statement. This meeting in Renmark was attended by a large number of growers, and Mr. W. F. McConnell, secretary of the Independent Packers and Producers Association. A full report of the meeting was made by a reporter of the Murray Pioneer, and no mention of such a statement by me is mode, but Mr. McConnell, in the next issue of the Dried Fruit Producer, quoted me as using the words in question. Immediately upon this coming before my notice I wrote to Mr. McConnell correcting him. Mr. McConnell published my letter, but endeavoured to justify my assertion that I had made this statement by saying that he had confirmed it with others who were at the meeting. I have since questioneda number of growers who attended the meeting, and not one of them recalls my utterance of such a statement.

If ever an honorable senator made amends for an incorrect utterance, Senator McLeay did so to-day, but I quote this letter in order to support the retraction by the honorable senator, and to show that the statement attributed to Mr. Howie emanated from the quarter from which one would expect it, and that is the secretary of the independent association. From this explanation honorable senators can draw their own conclusions which must react to the detriment of that association. Every aspect of the motion has been well debated, and there is no necessity for me to emphasize how essential it is to preserve these regulations. The DriedFruits Export Control Board has a definite record of benefit to every producer of dried fruits in the Commonwealth. I trust that the motion will be rejected.

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