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Friday, 6 December 1935

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) . - The wording of this bill answers a number of Senator Johnston's inquiries, but I have yet to hear from my colleague from Western Australia one of the true reasons why this bill is necessary. Early this morning I interjected while Senator Johnston was speaking on a similar measure in an endeavour to induce the honorable senator to reveal the actual reasons which compel the re-imposition of the flour tax. Senator Johnston went to great pains to answer my question in his own way, but he did not answer yes or no when I asked him if a great deal of the blame for the delay in implementing the Commonwealth plan for a homeconsumption price for wheat was due to inaction by State governments. Had it not been for dilatoriness on the. part of the Governments of Western Australia and South Australia, this bill would not have been necessary. Senator Johnston is very fond of placing on the Commonwealth Government the blame for the postponement of legislation to secure to the farmers a home-consumption ' price, but for this he has no justification. No one knows better than we, who come from a State of which wheat is the lifeblood, that it may not have been necessary to re-impose the flour tax if the Western Australian Government had toed the line as it agreed to do at the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council.

It is very easy for Senator Johnston, in apportioning the blame, to debit the Commonwealth Government with most of it, but it is, nevertheless, unjust. The Commonwealth Government sometimes should be given credit for doing rightIt cannot always be wrong or verging on dishonesty, as is sometimes insinuated. I suggest to Senator Johnston that at least to his own State colleagues he should indicate whether or not he is trying to shelter the State Government of Western Australia. It would appear from the fact that he refrained from answering interjections dealing with the State Government's part, or, as is the truth, its failure to take a part, in the programme for the' assistance of the wheat industry that he holds a brief for that Government. I have no hesitation in saying that, in this instance, the Commonwealth Government has. acted to the best of its ability within the bounds imposed uon it by circumstances, but that it could have done better, not only for the States, but also for the individual fanners, had all the States carried out their part of the legislative contract.

The rc-imposition of the flour tax must affect every wheat-grower in the Commonwealth. Senator Badman computed that they would lose £500,000, that being the difference between what they will receive from the flour tax this season and what would have been available had the plan for a-home-consumption price been adopted in sufficient time by the parties to the agreement for it . to operate this season. I should like to know from the Government what actual loss will be incurred by the wheat-growers. Will it be as great as Senator Badman has suggested?

Senator SirGEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [10.50]. - in reply-It is obvious that the Government at this stage cannot indicate the basis upon which the' proceeds of the flour tax will be distributed to the wheat industry. If honorable senators will think for a moment, they will realize why this is so. First, there are no reliable estimates as to the amount of money that will be available. It is all very well for Senator Johnston to ask questions and offer criticism; he has no responsibility and, of course, can make it appear that he could settle this question offhand in one minute. Any honorable senator who troubles to think, however, knows that the distribution of a wheat bounty is always governed by certain factors, one of which is the quantity of the Australian crop. If the crop be heavy, and the sum available limited, the distribution must be at a rate less than if the crop be small. -Can Senator Johnston tell the Senate what is the acreage of the crops which have failed? I venture the opinion that neither he nor any other honorable senator can supply that information. It is easy to get up and earn a. great deal of popularity by making rash statements that the Commonwealth Government must come to the rescue of those farmers who have failed.

Senator Hardy - In New South Wales, it would be impossible at present to calculate the acreage covered by crops which have failed.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - The Commonwealth Government is the only genuine friend of the wheatgrowers. It has shown itself so in the past, and I suggest to Senator Johnston that he should take a little more generous view of the attitude of the Commonwealth Government, instead of assuming, as he always does, ungenerosity on its part. The honorable senator cannot indicate one action by the Commonwealth Government that displays an unfriendly spirit towards the farmers. How can the Commonwealth Government commit itself at this stage, if it is not aware of the extent of the harvest and more particularly the acreage of the crops which have failed ?

I consulted the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), who said that it was totally impossible to say now on what basis the distribution of relief will be made for the current wheat harvest. It is the intention of the Government, before deciding on the distribution, to consult with the representatives of the wheatgrowers themselves as to the basis and method of distribution. I can say no more than that. I cannot say how the money is to be distributed or what amount, if any, is to be made available in respect of crops which have, failed. I repeat that this Government has shown itself not to be unfriendly towards the farmers, and, if Senator Johnston is not prepared to trust the Government to act in the interests of the farmers, I venture the opinion that the farmers themselves are prepared to do so.

Senator E B Johnston - I sought this information, and the Minister said that he could not give it, hut now he has given it.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - I have not given the information which the honorable senator sought. I have repeated my earlier statements that I could not give it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.

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