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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - As a representative of one of the major wheat-growing States, and also having had considerable experience of the wheat industry, although not now financially interested in it, I desire to address the Senate on this bill. Despite what Senator Johnston has said of the injustice done to South Australia, I am of the opinion that the farmers of that State are grateful to the Commonwealth Government for the assistance which will be rendered to them under this legislation. In his opening remarks the Acting Attorney-General (Senator Brennan) said that there was nothing new in the bill. That is true; but I find consolation in the belief that it is the last measure of its kind that will come before the Senate. This Parliament enacted legislation last year which should make the introduction of similar bills unnecessary in the future. The Minister said that the shrinkage of wheat prices was the biggest factor in making this legislation necessary. "While agreeing with that statement in the main, I point out that there are other factors and circumstances which have placed the wheat-growing industry in its present unsatisfactory condition. Fortunately the prices received by wheat-growers some years ago enabled their operations to be remunerative. In fact, wheatgrowers were urged by the various Governments, particularly the Commonwealth Government, to produce more wheat. These and other factors had the effect of inducing large numbers to undertake wheat-growing on land totally unsuitable for the purpose. One of the main difficulties to-day is that many wheat-growers who are in necessitous circumstances have been endeavouring to produce wheat on land quite incapable of growing a remunerative crop. Some time ago wheat-growing appeared to be so easy and so profitable that some overlooked the fact that years of training were necessary. Some thought that ail that they had to do was to take up a block of land, purchase a team of horses, scatter the seed and sit on the fence and watch the crop grow. Difficulties occasioned in that way cannot be removed by the Commonwealth authorities, but they can me rectified by State Parliaments. These and other matters must be faced quickly and in a determined manner, because it is useless to endeavour to keep men on marginal land when they must necessarily always be a burden on the State. It is a responsibility of governments in wheat-growing States to reorganize the wheat-growing industry, so that some land now used for wheatgrowing may revert to grazing areas.

There has been a good deal of discussion this afternoon in connexion with the allocation of grants to the various States, but I contend that it is wise to leave the allocation to the State Parliaments, which are quite capable of making the distribution on an equitable basis. I should like to inform Senator Brown, who said that the Federal Government should be responsible for the distribution of the grant, that the members of State Parliaments are quite as capable as are the members of this Parliament. There are certain provisions of the bill of which I do not approve, particularly in respect of the allocation of the grant. The measure provides that the State Governments shall have the power to deal with necessitous farmers, and to pay a bounty on an acreage basis. I am opposed to both these features, but I am not unmindful of the position of many necessitous wheat-growers. Abnormal conditions prevail in all States at different times, when some farmers owing to their crops being destroyed cannot pay their way, and it is only fair that those who suffer in that way should receive financial assistance from the Government , but if a bounty is to be paid on an acreage basis, the Commonwealth Government will be disposing of large sums of money to persons who merely sow wheat instead of those who are actually endeavouring to grow it profitably. In South Australia, and probably in some of the other States, men are being assisted by governments merely to sow wheat. They are provided with seed wheat, fertilizers and horse feed and if they receive a bounty on an acreage basis, what is to prevent some sowing seed wheat in such a way that a profitable crop cannot be reaped?

Senator Foll - But surely there is some form of inspection to ensure that the crop is properly sown.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.There is no adequate check so far as I know. I am not saying that such things actually occur, but it is quite possible for unscrupulous persons to act in the way I have mentioned. If an inspector has to visit 250 farms some of which are many miles away, he cannot possibly ascertain whether the superphosphate and seed wheat are being used effectively.

Senator Foll - On a production basis, the man with the heavy crop gets everything.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I agree with Senator Brown that there should be some discrimination. Possibly,

Senator Follmay have the idea that a grower who reaps 20 bushels an acre should not receive a bounty and that the one who reaps 10 bushels an acre is entitled to it. Perhaps the honorable senator is unaware of the fact that some wheat-growers on land producing 12 bushels an acre may be better off financially than those producing 24 bushels an acre. Those producing the smaller yield may be working poorer land, and do not have to pay either Federal or Commonwealth land tax, but those on land producing 24 bushels to the acre, may have to contribute substantially. A man producing 24 bushels an acre may be working land assessed by the Taxation department at £10 an acre, and I maintain that those in that position have to expend more in producing a bushel of wheat than those who do not have to pay any land tax at all.

Senator Foll - As a practical man, the honorable senator would prefer to be growing wheat on good land.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Of course, I should, but a good deal of discrimination is necessary. Under the legislation passed at the end of last year, which provided for the payment of a home-consumption price, the grower who produces 40 bushels an acre will derive the greater benefit. I trust that it will not be necessary to introduce further legislation of this kind, and therefore I am not particularly disturbed concerning the future.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) -Why should that be so?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The legislation passed by this Parliament providing for the payment of a homeconsumption price should enable the wheat-growers to carry on without further assistance from the federal authorities.

During the debate reference has been made to the work of the royal commission on the wheat industry. I regard that commission as the most expensive and useless ever appointed by a Federal government. Its work cost the country £45,000, and very few of its recommendations have been adopted by the Government. The commission devoted a good deal of its time to tabulating sets of figures which could have been obtained at a much lower cost. I am still in favour of the imposition of a flour tax, because the difference between that tax and a home-consumption price is in name only. The same persons pay the tax in each case. Politically, a homeconsumption price sounds better than a flour tax, but at the same time I point out that a homeconsumption price will cost the country a good deal more than a flour tax. It would have been preferable to assist the farmers by the retention of the flour tax than to incur the heavy expenditure associated with the fixing and administration of a home-consumption price. Senator Johnston complained bitterly because the grants to the States have been reduced, but it is only right that those reductions should be made. The grants provided in the bill are to assist necessitous farmers, but no one can deny truthfully that to-day the wheat-growers are in a much better position than they have been in for the last four or five years. They are now receiving nearly1s. a bushel more for their wheat than they received in previous years.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -But some growers have not produced a crop at all.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Are we to assist the industry or to spend Commonwealth money in helping those who have been unable to produce any crop? Money appropriated in this way should be used to assist those who produce wheat, and not those who merely sow it. Unfortunately, the seasonal conditions in Western Australia have been unsatisfactory, but we should legislate to assist the industry and not only individuals.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The persons to whom I referred were bona fide wheat-growers.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.That may be so. They may have met with adversity owing to abnormal conditions. Legislation should not be passed to assist every person who attempts to grow wheat. An increase of1s. a bushel on a production of 140,000,000 bushels amounts to about £7,000,000. Moreover, land values have risen, representing a capital increase to the farmers of some millions of pounds. Senator Johnston, who said that because the "Western Australian wheat-growers are in a particularly unfortunate position they should receive special treatment, should remember that legislation such as this is designed to assist the whole of Australia, and that there can be no discrimination between States. The honorable senator should also remember that for a time Western Australia, which produces gold in large quantities, received a gold bounty, which was of great benefit to that State. This should be the last measure of this kind for the relief of the wheat industry, because owing to higher prices, the conditions of primary producers generally should improve.

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