Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - Quite obviously, after the reception which greeted my remarks on another matter that was before this chamber yesterday, it is necessary that I should make particularly clear the attitude of lae Opposition regarding measures which come before this .Senate, in order to avoid the possibility of misrepresentation. That has been made more obvious to me this morning by the opening remarks of the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) when introducing this bill. There is a great difference between the viewpoint from which the Opposition regards all these measures and that from which the Government regards them. It should be remembered that, although the Opposition supports Government measures occasionally because members of the Labour party consider that in the main they are desirable, it does not follow that we accept every dot over every " i or every crossing through every " t ".

Senator Brennan - We appreciate that.

Senator COLLINGS - It should also be remembered that this Opposition, when it declares its attitude, speaks for approximately 46 per cent, of the electors, so far as can be ascertained from the results of the last general election. By and large, the difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we adopt all the time the Australian outlook. That, I think, should be the attitude of this chamber in all its deliberations. If the Senate does not have an Australian outlook, there can be no excuse for its continued existence on the present basis on which it is elected by the people. Each State enjoys equal representation in the Senate; therefore, I take it that we should not be merely Queenslanders, or Victorians, or Western Australians, but that at all times we should be Australians legislating for all Australia.

Senator Sampson - Hear, hear!

Senator COLLINGS - I am delighted to find that on this occasion Senator Sampson agrees with me - -surely I cannot be wrong. What is the Australian outlook, and what should be our approach to measures such as the one now under consideration? In my opinion, the Senate should conform at all times to the declared national policy of Australia, which is to give full and adequate protection to all primary and secondary industries. Such a policy, I believe, would be accepted by a great majority of the Australian people regardless of their political persuasions. Honorable senators of the Opposition advocate that the wealth producers of Australia should enjoy the full results of their toil. We stand for giving the wealth produced to the wealth producers. Of course, I realize that ito put such a scheme into practice we would require to introduce an entirely different social order.

We support measures designed to relieve the distress of primary producers, because we believe that by that means we are giving more and more the full results of their toil to the producers of wheat, wool, sugar, and the various other commodities which constitute the primary production of Australia. I realize that the Government would argue, if it considered it worth while to argue with the Opposition, that we do not believe in giving the full results of their toil to all those who produce wealth. But that is incorrect. The Government would probably also contend that we place a narrow interpretation upon the term " wealth producer " - that we believe in giving the farm labourer a fair return for his work, but do not extend the same consideration to the farm owner. In reply to such criticism, I state that in Australia there is, at any rate, one State, Queensland, which has gone as far as it has been able to go in that direction. The Labour party maintains that any industry, whether primary or secondary, or any unit contributing anything to the final result in wealth production and distribution, would get its full reward if the Labour policy were in operation. We do not believe that the coupon clippers, the interest mongers, and the men who batten on the primary and secondary industries, should participate in this reward, because they contribute nothing to the production or the satisfactory distribution of wealth. For these reasons, the Opposition to-day gives its support to this bill; but I take this opportunity to inform the Minister that we shall offer criticism of certain of the provisions of the measure which, in our opinion, ought not to be there, and we shall suggest the inclusion of provisions which should be in the bill but are not.

When introducing the bill the Minister, if he was not being ironical, was quite a comedian. By way of correcting my apparent obtuseness yesterday, he said that the Government was 'obliged to bring down this piecemeal kind of legislation foi' the relief of the primary producer because of some of the disastrous experiences through which the nation had recently passed. He alluded first to the Great War. Doubtless, I would be ruled out of order if I alluded to the attitude of the Government and of honorable senators opposite on that great issue. I shall content myself by reminding them that the war concluded eighteen years ago, and asking: Have not this Government and its predecessors, during the period since the signing of the Armistice, had ample time to realize the effects of the war? Surely governments should have been prepared to cope with the results which they must have been aware would follow on the termination of the war. It was quite obvious to some of us, even though we have not had the advantage of the better education of some other honorable senators who oppose us, that there cannot be destruction of wealth without somebody, somewhere, and at some some time, having to pay for it.

The Minister, in his capacity of either instructor or comedian, also said that we had experienced a very serious depression. I venture to assert that numbers of people outside this Parliament realize the seriousness of that depression. For a number of years this Government was satisfied to tell the people that prosperity was just around the corner, but now it is continually telling them that prosperity has arrived in Australia. Only last week I heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) assert, quite seriously, that his policy had now brought about prosperity and that his " wonderful " Government had achieved wonderful things. The Minister stated that the Government realizes that if the wheat-growing industry is not saved, the community will go to the wall with it.

Senator Hardy - I hope the honorable senator will not fail to tell the chamber how he would save the industry.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall not unduly trespass on the time at my disposal to supply Senator Hardy with the remedies envisaged by the Labour party. The Government, which he now strongly supports, although a few months ago he condemned it, is in the saddle. On it devolves the responsibility of providing remedies, and it is the task of the Opposition to indicate the weaknesses in its proposals. At least we should be given credit for not having been guilty of merely factious opposition. When we believe that a bill does not call for opposition, we allow it to pass without discussion; but when we consider that it vitally affects the interests of the nation we yield to none in our desire to state our case. I desire to ask the Minister and honorable senators who support the Government whether they consider that the wheat industry or the community will be saved by proposals such as the one contained in 'this bill. Nevertheless, the Opposition will support this measure, because it realizes that it is one extending relief to a section of the community that is in dire need of assistance.

What has been the attitude of the Government in regard to this matter? We realize how the hearts of Ministers bleed for the primary producer, particularly for the wheat-grower. But let us look at their record. I recall that a conference was held in Canberra on the 4th October of last year, the delegates to which were not altogether a happy family. It was convened by the Commonwealth Government for the wheat-growing interests throughout Australia to consider the situation. In my opinion, the Government should have been able to collect the necessary data without summoning that conference. It could have been obtained without difficulty by correspondence with the interested parties. Represented at that conference were some sections of the industry which were in favour of the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. I do not intend to read the remarks in that connexion, because I quoted extensively from them in a similar debate last year. Suffice it for me to say that the representative of the Commonwealth Government, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) refused to test the committee on a scheme for the establishment of a compulsory pool, such as has been tried with success in Queensland. Owing to the pool, wheat-growers in that State obtained higher prices for their product than did growers in other States.

Senator Hardy - But Queensland had no exportable surplus.

SenatorCOLLINGS.- Of course, but that is not the point at issue. The fact remains that legislation of the kind that Dr. Page refused to entertain because the

Commonwealth Government did not support it, put the Queensland wheat-grower in a position of not being a mendicant coming to the State for relief.

Senator Brennan - All the same they are obtaining relief.

Senator COLLINGS - Yes, even this Government does not dare to discriminate against Queensland to that extent.

Senator Brennan - It does not desire to do so.

SenatorCOLLINGS. - The Minister does extraordinary things when, at Cabinet meetings, he comes under the influence of mob psychology. Following the Canberra conference, the Government introduced legislation on the 1st November last. The second reading was not moved until the 4th December, a few days before the time when, as the Government knew perfectly well, both Houses would adjourn for the Christmas vacation. In the meantime the sufferings of the wheat-growers became intensified, but members of Parliament enjoyed their holidays, despite the calamitous conditions prevailing in the industry. Now the Leader of the Senate has secured the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable this bill to be passed through all its stages without delay.

Senator Gibson - Why does not Queensland grow sufficient wheat to meet its own requirements?

Senator COLLINGS - If the honorable senator would refer to the population figures of the States, and consider the products for which the climatic conditions of Queensland best suit it, he could answer that question for himself. The Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) said that the wheat problem would have been settled long ago, if certain States had implemented the necessary legislation ; but I ask, in all seriousness, whether he expected the States to implement a measure which had not been introduced in either branch of this Parliament. The bill was not passed until December, and sufficient time was not available to enable the States to pass complementary legislation between then and the Christmas holidays. If the contention of the Government is that this Parliament has not had sufficient time to deal with the problem, let me ask once again why we were not called together earlier last year, and kept sitting later, so that we might do the job for which the taxpayers employ and pay us.

What is the position disclosed by the report of the royal commission that inquired into the conditions in the industry? The difficulty cannot be overcome by merely tinkering with it, and granting an annual distribution of alms. Sooner or later, we must get down to bedrock, or make way for a government that understands the problems of the industry, and is prepared to set it on a proper footing. The report of the commission shows that 40 per cent. of the growers in Australia can meet their working expenses, including interest, and earn, in addition, £125 a year as their share of the wealth produced by them. Of course, the commission points out that £125 a year means more to a farmer than it would to a city worker. It is said that it is equivalent to about £200 a year, because a farmer can produce a good deal of the food required by himself and his family, and does not usually spend so much in certain directions as city dwellers. Does the Government imagine that it will solve this problem by passing piecemeal legislation? The report of the commission is most illuminating. It shows that various interests are taking a heavy toll of the industry; yet no proposal is submitted by the Government to compel predatory vested interests to disgorge some of their profits.

Senator Hardy - Does the honorable senator think that if every recommendation of the commission were adopted, the difficulties of the growers would be solved ?

Senator COLLINGS - I do not intend to be side-tracked by the Leader of the Country party. The bill provides that the bounty shall be paid to the growers irrespective of whether they have been carrying on their operations at a profit or a loss. Bounty should be given to the mast necessitous growers, but not to those who have made considerable profit, whether out of wheat-growing or by means of other occupations in which they arc engaged.

Senator Brown - Such as politicians?

Senator COLLINGS - Yes, but I do not intend to refer to individuals ; I desire to fight fairly. The Government should establish a satisfactory basis on which to decide who shall receive the bounty. The money cannot be obtained by legerdemain. Speaking from memory, about £1,200,000 was raised by the flour tax up to the end of January last. The levying of that impost showed the utter incapacity of the Government to finance the bounty on a just basis, seeing that the bulk of the tax fell on the working classes, who are the largest consumers of bread. Up to the 24th February, when the tax ceased to operate, the total sum raised by it was about £1,500,000, and, therefore, a comparatively small amount is required from the Consolidated Revenue to enable the bounty to be paid. At the committee stage, the Opposition will endeavour to see that the assistance is given to those who are most entitled to it. Whether that can best be done by making the bounty payable only to those having no taxable income, or whether some other plan should be adopted is a matter for inquiry.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - The Sessional Orders requiring the suspension of the sitting for the lunch-hour from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m. having been suspended, with the concurrence of honorable senators I shall now leave the chair until 2 p.m.

Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear !

Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2 p.m.

Suggest corrections