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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - Because of the importance of this legislation, I agree with my leader, Senator Collings, that it. should receive ample consideration, and I should be prepared to sit until Easter in order that the position of our wheat-growers may be discussed from every angle. But it is evident that honorable senators supporting the Government do not think that such a display of industry is necessary, and as this subject has been discussed on several prior occasions, possibly it would save time if instead of listening to speeches in this debate, we read the earlier remarks of honorable senators when a similar proposal was under discussion.

I commend Senator Johnston for his able criticism of the Government in respect of this bill. His remarks contained many valuable points, and certainly the speech was a credit to the honorable senator, whom I regard as a real Country party member. He is the one representative in this chamber owning allegiance to the Country party of Western Australia who really stands up for the farmers. A few years ago Senator Hardy, then spoken of as the Cromwell of the Riverina, was looked upon as the greatest champion in the Senate of primary producers, but he has since fallen from grace. There is a marked difference between the tenor of his observations now and his speeches of a few years ago. I have had placed in my hand a number of extracts from earlier efforts of the honorable gentleman, but it is not my intention to weary the Senate by reading them all. On one occasion he stated that the Government was blinded by the " dazzle of vested interests," and that it was a " monument to the people's bad judgment."

The PRESIDENT - Is it the intention of the honorable senator to connect his remarks with the subject-matter of the bill?

Senator BROWN - It is, and that will not be difficult, because Senator Hardy is supporting this bill, and as his attitude to-day differs markedly from that of a few years ago, it is only fair that I should indicate in what respect his views have changed.

Senator Hardy - This bill is the product of an entirely different government.

Senator BROWN - This Government contains the same conservative elements, and therefore it is still a tory government, and it is approving the same methods for the distribution of money for the assistance of wheat-growers. We on this side are not opposed to assistance being given to primary producers who are in need of it. With Senator Johnston, we realize that there are in this country many thousands of wheat-farmers whose position is desperate in the extreme, and we consider that it is only fair that they should receive some measure of assistance from the Commonwealth. It is also interesting to note that Senator Johnston has changed his mind with regard to the distribution of this money, and it is pertinent to inquire the reason for this change. Apparently, the wheat-growers themselves have their own opinion of the attitude of this Government. At the annual conference of the Wheat-growers Union in Western Australia, on Saturday, the loth February, certain resolutions were reached.

Many controversial topics were debated at this conference, which, I understand, represented over 140 branches of the wheat-growers in Western Australia. Many of these farmers are actually situated in the drought-stricken areas, and are among those on whose behalf Senator Johnston made a splendid plea for more assistance from this Government. I hope the Government will take notice of that plea for which I commend 'Senator Johnston. He takes his work as a Country party senator very seriously. However, I cannot commend him on the whole of his speech, because in his concluding remarks he advocated a continuance of the flour tax, to which members of the Opposition are opposed. But that was the only fault I could find with his speech. Possibly in time, we may influence him to change his views on this matter. At the conference of wheat-growers to which I have referred, Mr. W. Bagshaw, who is a member of the Country party, moved that a vote of no confidence be recorded against all Federal Parliamentary members of the Country party, except Senator E. B. Johnston, for failing to implement the whole of the recommendations of the royal commission which inquired into the wheat and associated industries. This conference accepted Senator Johnston as the only real representative of the Country party in this chamber. Of course, members of the Opposition claim to be true representatives of the farmer. Whether the Country party is in office or out of office, we stand for the f farmer all the time. We believe that he should be enabled to enjoy, to the full, the products of his toil. Senator Johnston believes that the farmers' interests should always come first and invariably he stands up for them. We must commend an honorable senator who fights so earnestly on behalf of a section of the people whose industry constitutes an important part of the economic structure of Western Australia. Senator Hardy criticized severely the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings). He asked what proposal we had to suggest. He said, " Criticism is generally destructive ; let us have something constructive." I ask him what is the use of honorable senators on this side of the chamber continually expounding the Labour party's programme, if no notice is to be taken of it by the honorable senator and others opposite. In season and out of season, wc have urged that the Government should tackle the fundamental problems confronting the wheat-growers, and that it should put an end to its present policy of expediency. We say that the Government should take cognizance of economic developments throughout the world, and deal basically with these problems. I point OUt, particularly to Senator Hardy, that although this Government has been in office for the last four and a half years, it is still carrying out its same old policy of distributing, from time to time, certain sums of money which give only temporary relief to the wheat-growers. I admit that in December last, rather belatedly, the Government introduced legislation for the establishment of a home-consumption price. So far as that is a step towards stabilizing the industry on a thorough and efficient basis, we support it, because we believe that we must constantly progress towards the goal of efficient organization and control for every industry in Australia. So far as the organization of the wheat industry is concerned, the Labour party's policy was expounded in a statement made by me on behalf of exSenator O'Halloran, when he was a member of this chamber. Ex-Senator O'Halloran, who possesses one of the keenest minds in the Labour movement, and is himself a wheat-farmer, showed in his scheme how the industry could be stabilized, and how each farmer could be guaranteed a certain price for his wheat. Whether he be a member of the real Country party, like Senator Johnston, or the camouflaged Country party, like Senator Hardy, or a dyedinthewool supporter of the United Australia party, no honorable senator can justly charge the Labour party with having failed to place before the people of Australia constructive proposals to deal fundamentally with the problems confronting the wheat industry. We submit that this Government, since it assumed office in 1931, has failed to stabilize that industry.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The people did not believe in the Labour party's proposal.

Senator BROWN - This particular matter probably was not placed before the people of Australia with as much verve as the lies of honorable senators opposite. Had we made our appeal to the people as strongly backed financially as that of honorable senators opposite was, I have no doubt that the electors would have returned a Labour government. However, in good time, the Labour party will assume office in the federal sphere. Daily facts are revealed to show that our policy is being adopted by the wheat-growers of Australia. A few years ago they would have nothing to do with a compulsory pool, but to-day the majority of them believe in a pool, and were a plebiscite taken on the issue of whether the wheat industry should be thoroughly and efficiently stabilized and a price guaranteed to the farmer for his wheat, the growers would vote overwhelmingly in favour of such a proposal.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator would not be prepared to give a chance to those who, he says, are in favour of a compulsory pool to vote on such a proposal to-morrow.

Senator BROWN - The farmers should have the right to say whether or not they are desirous of reorganizing their industry. Daily, we see evidence of the fact that they are anxious that their industry should be thoroughly organized, so that they will be enabled to receive a decent return for their work. No one can deny that to-day the farmers are not receiving a fair return for their labour; that is the reason for the introduction of this measure, the faults in which have been revealed by Senator Johnston. However, we, as an Opposition, support any proposal that will assist the farmers. Although £47,000 has already been spent by this Government on trips abroad by its members, Dr. Earle Page has just gone to the United Kingdom. No reason has been given for his trip, although I suppose, according to his lights, he will do his best on behalf of this country on his present mission. No one is better acquainted than is Dr. Earle Page with the problems confronting the farmers. Last session he brought forward a measure to appropriate £12,000,000 to rehabilitate primary industry, but up to the present only a few thousand pounds of that sum has been distributed. Senator Hardy continually speaks of what the Government intends to do for the farmers, and the Government from time to time brings forward measures of this nature which are relatively drops in the ocean. The royal commission which inquired into the wheat industry revealed that the wheatfarmers alone owe £140,000,000, and Senator Hardy has pointed out that £10,000,000 will be required to enable the growers to secure efficient machinery to enable them to carry on their industry economically. In contrast to those huge requirements we find to-day that a mere £1,600,000 is to be distributed through the States to the wheat-growers, whilst another small sum is to be apportioned for the relief of necessitous growers. "We do not oppose the granting of such assistance because we believe in giving assistance to every person who is in need of it. Because of the stupid economic system under which we live these number thousands. The Government's policy of continually tinkering with the situation will never prove effective. Although it claims that it has endeavoured to stabilize the industry, it has taken a long time to move towards that goal. Furthermore, it has only dealt superficially with the farmers' problems, because it refuses to take cognizance of economic happenings throughout the world, so far as they affect the wheat industry. Ex-Senator Elliott, who was pushed out of this chamber by the United Australia party, repeatedly pointed to events happening in other parts of the world and warned the Government of the danger of com- petition in a few years from other countries which have placed their industries on a sound economic basis. The honorable member for Macquarie in the House of Representatives (Mr. John Lawson), in addresses delivered at gatherings of United Australia party supporters, since his return from Europe has corroborated the statement of ex-Senator R. D. Elliott, and said that it is more than likely that in another ten years the Australian wheat-grower will be no longer in the export business. The Government should take notice of the remarks of these men, and not be content with a policy of expediency. There is need for planned action to solve the problems confronting our primary industries, but unfortunately, the attitude of honorable senators opposite is such that it is difficult for honorable senators on this side of the chamber to make them understand the real position. Not until the crisis arrives will they try to do something. We on this side prefer to prepare for the crisis. The statement of Senator Johnston bears out what has been said with regard to expediency. Had the Government been courageous, it would not have left the distribution of this money to the States. My understanding of clause 6 is that, under it, any State which receives a grant from the Commonwealth will be free to distribute the money as it likes so long as the Minister consents to the general basis of distribution - whether it shall be an acreage basis or a bushelage basis. I now ask the Minister to say whether or not the States will be absolutely free to distribute the money as they wish, subject to the general approval of the Minister.

Senator Brennan - Yes, subject to the Minister's approval of the scheme.

Senator BROWN - That means, I take, it, that the Commonwealth Government wipes its hands of the distribution of the money, and leaves it to the judgment of the States, once the scheme of distribution has been generally approved. In my opinion, the Commonwealth should have imposed conditions. Let us suppose that among the wheat-farmers of this country there are a few rich men. I know that, according to the Seventeenth Report of the Commissioner of Taxation, schedule 2, only 3,611 farmers pay in- come tax, their taxable income being £1,569,636. Among them are some members of this Parliament, who are said to be well endowed with this world's goods. In the distribution of this money, would it be possible for a State government to discriminate between a necessitous farmer and a wealthy farmer ? If not, why not ? There is discrimination in regard to the payment of invalid and old-age pensions ; a man with an income above a certain amount is not entitled to a pension. Moreover, a woman whose husband has a certain income is not entitled to a maternity allowance.

Senator Brennan - There is no discrimination between one recipient of an old-age pension and another.

Senator BROWN - But there is discrimination between one human being and another. The Commonwealth proposes to hand to the States the sum of £1,878,546 for distribution among the wheat-growers of this country. I should like to know whether it intends to impose any conditions, as, for instance, one which would prevent a very rich man from receiving any of the grant?

Senator Brennan - The Commonwealth docs not propose to act as a policeman. It assumes that the States are as honest as is the Commonwealth. A certain sum will be allotted to each State, but the method of distributing it will be for each State to decide.

Senator BROWN - I do not impugn the honesty of either the Commonwealth or State governments. I merely ask whether it is mandatory that, once the general basis of distribution has been decided on and approved by the Minister - whether it is to be on the basis of acreage or of bushel age - there can be no discrimination.

Senator Brennan - The States will distribute the money as they think best, subject to the general approval of the Minister.

Senator BROWN - Some time ago Senator Johnston suggested that no action by a creditor should leave a farmer with less than £50. I should like to see some provision whereby the money paid to a farmer under this legislation may be safeguarded against confiscation by his creditors.

Senator Brennan - That point is dealt with in clause 8.

Senator BROWN - That clause reads -

Subject to the last precedingsection, any amount due and payable to a wheat-grower under this act shall not be paid to any person other than the wheat-grower.

It does not meet the point that I have raised. Some farmers who pay income tax will draw money under this measure. I should like to know whether that money will be treated as income. If it is treated as income in the case of a farmer who pays income tax, it will be regarded as income in the case of a necessitous farmer also, in which event it will be subject to the predatory actions of certain creditors who have no bowels of compassion when it comes to getting back money that they have lent.

Senator Hardy - A necessitous farmer will not have any taxable income.

Senator BROWN - I am aware of that, but a rich farmer will have a taxable income, and will pay tax on the bounty because it will be part of his income. Also it will be income to the poor farmer, and his creditors will be after it.

Sena tor Hardy. - In New South Wales farmers are protected by the Farmers' Relief Act.

Senator BROWN - I should like the Minister, when replying, to clear up the points that. I have mentioned. The Opposition supports the bill, and hopes that the Government will go further and render a measure of assistance to necessitous farmers in. Western Australia and elsewhere who have suffered from drought.

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