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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) . - The Western Australian farmers, for whom we, as their representatives, are endeavouring to obtain a little more assistance, are not mere sowers of wheat. They are bona fide farmers, some of whom have held championships for crop production over a series of years. They are men who are farming in a safe rainfall area, and many of them are returned soldiers who have been on the land ever since the war. They are not the mere sowers of wheat to whom Senator James McLachlan referred. I assure honorable senators that the men who are most sadly stricken as a result of the drought in Western Australia are those to whom I have referred. In my mind no doubt exists that they are deserving of every assistance. It is admitted that in these proposals the Government has increased the- allowance to meet the requirements of those distressed men in Western Australia. Last year the amount allocated for drought relief and for the relief of other necessitous cases amounted to £137,000, and I am very happy indeed that the Government this year has seen fit to increase that grant to £161,600. That is only a slight increase, but definitely, as I interjected when Senator E. B. Johnston was speaking, it is not a decrease. The whole tenor of the remarks of the honorable senator was that everything, including the amount of Commonwealth grants, was reduced. That is true, and we have the sole consolation that we are in company with the other States, whose grants also have been reduced ; but with regard to the distributions to necessitous farmers, Western Australia is certainly receiving an increased grant this year. However, the increase I contend, is insufficient to meet those conditions which have operated this season to the detriment of our farmers in the northeast province. I am not alone in holding that opinion because the President (Senator Lynch), Senator Collett and I, accompanied by members of the House of Representatives, waited upon the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) when we received from the president of the Wheat-growers "Union of Western Australia, an urgent request to endeavour to persuade the Government to increase the grant to that State. At the interview the Acting Minister for Commerce (Mr. Thorby) explained fully the process of allocating this sum, including the extra amount given for necessitous cases. There is no doubt in my mind that every factor was taken into consideration by the Minister when those allocations were made. The arithmetic of Senator E. B. Johnston is quite correct in regard to the distribution on an acreage basis, omitting the amount for necessitous cases. With him, I would have liked to have seen that amount distributed on that basis, plus an extra sum for the relief of the necessitous grower. But unfortunately, the Prime Minister and Mr. Thorby could not see their way clear to increase thi grant for needy cases. I regret that the Government adopted this attitude; I can only join with Senator E. B. Johnston in hoping that a complementary measure to increase the amount of the grant will be introduced.

With regard to the bill itself, I draw attention to clause 2 which defines a wheat-grower. I would like the Minister to explain whether by any chance that definition includes a corporate body such as a farmer and his sons who have formed themselves into a limited liability company and are, in fact, wheat-growers. I understand that on the distribution of the allocation last year for necessitous cases, a registered company in Western Australia was held to be not entitled to receive a portion of this grant. I pricked up my ears when I heard the Minister remark that the Commonwealth Government, having to find the money, should have some say in its distribution. I hope that the Minister will elucidate that point when he replies to the debate. In that regard I endorse the contention of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) that every man shall be paid according to the extent of his labour. These producers, although they are a registered company, and are excluded from the grant, are bona fide wheat-farmers and all such, whose crops suffered disaster, whether they be corporate bodies or individual growers, should receive assistance.

Senator Brennan - Is the honorable senator sure that they did not participate in the distribution?

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Yes. The other point to which I desire to refer arises in clause 6, which states -

Any amount granted to a State in accordance with the provisions of section four of this act shall bc paid on condition that it is applied by the State in providing relief to wheatgrowers in such manner as is approved by the Minister after recommendation by the prescribed authority of that State.

I should like to know whether that clause will have the same relative effect as the previous year's distribution of this grant to necessitous growers. I ask this because in Western Australia, unlike South Australia, where, according to Senator James McLachlan, everything appears to be proceeding smoothly, a difference of opinion exists as to the method of distribution adopted by the prescribed authority. Indeed, a select committee of the Legislative Council, prior to the last Christmas adjournment, inquired into acts and methods of the distributing authority in Western Australia.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Who was the distributing authority?

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The Agricultural Bank, under the direction, of course, of (the Minister for Lands. I regret that Senator Johnston did not obtain an extension of time, because he had just entered upon an interesting phase of his speech. He stated that his sympathies were wholly with the State Labour Government-

Senator E B Johnston - That is not correct. The honorable senator has misunderstood me.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - If I understand plain English, the honorable senator had got to the stage where

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he said that his sympathies were wholly with the State Government.

Senator E B Johnston - My sympathies are with any government which, in connexion with the distribution of this money, has to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I regret that I was not given an opportunity to hear the honorable senator's reasons for making that statement.

Senator Sir George Pearce - I certainly did not hear any criticism of the State Government.

Senator E B Johnston - The Leader of the Senate gagged me.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Only after the honorable senator had perorated for an hour.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The select committee examined a number of witnesses in regard to the distribution of this grant. I shall not weary honorable senators with lengthy references to the evidence taken by that committee, but I quote its finding -

Your committee suggests that the Commonwealth representative in this State charged with the duty of distributing the Commonwealth super bonus should distribute all moneys provided by the Commonwealth Government to assist wheat-growers.

The committee gave various reasons for arriving at that decision. The distributing authority in Western Australia - the Agricultural Bank - has clients who produced approximately 11,000,000 bushels of wheat last year, whereas the clients of the Associated Banks and other institutions produced 12,000,000 bushels. Therefore, the clients of the Agricultural Bank produced nearly half of the total of the Western Australian harvest, but those clients, numbering 2,361, received approximately £S4,000, and the clients of the other institutions, numbering 764, received only £23,800. This suggests that a certain degree of bias has been exhibited by the State authority in distributing this money.

Senator Arkins - Is this the Government for which Senator Johnston is holding a brief?

Senator ALLANMacDONALD.Senator Johnston and that Government are not of the same political colour; but I have noticed that he never uses a word of criticism of the Labour Government, whereas I contend that it is deserving of severe censure.

Senator E B Johnston - I criticized the Labour Government most vigorously during the State elections.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The Honorable J. J. Holmes, M.L.C., chairman of the select committee, had occasion to write to the press pointing out that in the Country party centre of Katanning, 74 bank clients were assisted to the amount of £1,749, while in the Labour constituency of Northam,, 309 bank clients received assistance amounting to £9,645. The Minister for Lands subsequently replied through the press pointing out that the Northam lands .office was larger than that at Katanning, but the discrepancy is so great as to make one think that there is substance in the charge made by Mr. Holmes. In the evidence before that select committee, the secretary of the Wheatgrowers Union, Mr. E. G. Sier replied as follows to a question put by the chairman: -

The Agricultural Bank has taken the money in certain cases where it leased properties. With regard to the bushel bounty, where the lease has set out that the farmer shall pay to the hank, say, 3 bushels to the acre, the bank has appropriated the bounty on the 3 bushels to which it was entitled, and has also taken the acreage bounty to the same proportional c.\.ten t.

A member of the select committee put the following question to Mr. Sier : -

I take it von mean that if the bank would normally allow the farmer £100 to enable him to pary on, in view of the fact that the farmer had already received the bounty amounting to £50, the bank would only advance £50 to him?

Mr. Sierreplied, "Yes." With regard to farmers other than clients of the Agricultural Bank, Mr. Sier said -

Wo have had quite a number of complaints from clients of Associated Banks that they have not received the same consideration as Agricultural Bank clients; in fact, we considered the position so bad that we made representations to the Federal Government that, if a similar bounty is .to 'be paid this year, it should be distributed by the Department of Commerce, as was the first bounty of 44d. per bushel, so as to obviate any possibility of bias being exercised by the Agricultural Bank.

He went on to say -

Many farmers felt that in those cases where the Agricultural Bank was not receiving interest, it was more generous with the payments.

The president of the Wheat-growers Union also made a lengthy and interesting statement, and evidence along similar lines was given by Mr. Teasdale, the president of the Primary Producers Association. In view of the statements made, the Minister should have taken cognizance of what has been the experience in Western Australia.

Senator Collings - Unlike the honorable senator, he does not suspect that the Government of Western Australia will be guilty of misdeeds.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I am not voicing suspicion. I am merely quoting evidence of an authoritative nature submitted to the select committee of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, indicating clearly that there is room for questioning the state of mind of the prescribed authority in that State in connexion with the distribution of money provided by the Commonwealth, and I suggest that, as the Commonwealth finds the money, it should have some oversight of its distribution. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take what steps he may deem desirable to prevent any display of bias in this matter. The Leader of the Opposition will, I am sure, readily agree that if there is the slightest tinge of doubt about the distribution of Commonwealth money in any State, that doubt should be investigated, because it is highly desirable that there should be no suspicion of bias on the part of a distributing authority.

The Leader of the Opposition has so often asserted that his party in the Senate represents 46 per cent, of the people of Australia, that I have no doubt he really believes it is true. No one knows better than the honorable gentleman that, under the existing electoral system, voters at an election must indicate their order of preference for all candidates on their ballot-papers, otherwise their votes will be informal. This being so, they are compelled, in many cases, to vote for candidates whom they do not desire to see elected. Naturally, they place them last in the order of preference.

Senator Collings - I think they must have made that mistake in Western Australia at the last election.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Not at all. At the last election, out of thirteen candidates for the Senate, the first preference votes secured by the official Labour candidates did not represent 46 per cent. of the total votes cast, but only 27 per cent. I feel sure that a similar position would, on examination, be disclosed in other States; so it is useless for the Leader of the Opposition to continue repeating his inaccurate and tiresome statement. I heartily commend the bill.

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