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Wednesday, 18 March 1936

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) . - Senator Hardy was rather severe in saying that the Labour party has no economic plan to deal with the wheat industry. Most decidedly it has. In fact, if there is anything from which the Labour party suffers, it is a superabundance of constructive ideas. I do not agree with some of these proposals, but the party is certainly not barren of ideas. It has advanced quite a number of plans by which the wheat industry could be helped a little further along the road to prosperity than the Government or even Senator Hardy and Senator Johnston can help it. The Labour party believes in the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool which, I hold, would be of more benefit than a home-consumption price, although a home-consumption price would effectively meet many of the needs of the industry as the Labour party sees them. As a representative of Queensland, I have every reason to discuss such proposals, because Queensland taxpayers contribute much money for the benefit of the wheat-growing States. We contend that the Government should take definite steps to deal with the farmers' costs, including rates of interest on mortgages and loans. It could investigate, also, transport and handling charges, as they affect the industry in this country and overseas. Mr. J. P. Abbott, who was recently elected president of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as having said in an address to a conference of graziers and wool-growers -

During the last five or six years the woolgrowers' major problem has been one of costs and prices. During the next decade I believe it will be one of markets. The association has tackled the problem of costs with vigour and success. Unfortunately, it has not been able to prevail upon the overseas shipping companies to reduce their exorbitant and unjustifiable wool freights.

When he was Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. W. M. Hughes established a Commonwealth shipping line to minimize transport difficulties, similar to those described by Mr. Abbott, whose speech proves that the Labour party and Mr. Hughes, in his time, were quite right in establishing that line. The Government could profitably direct its attention to these matters, which have everything to do with this measure, because we cannot for ever bear the heavy costs involved in maintaining the wheat industry by the methods at present in use. For instance, we could not operate a homeconsumption price for ever if we applied that principle to every industry. Yet, it is quite possible that we may have to extend it, even to the wool industry. The Labour party has advanced practical plans in regard to these problems. The wool industry has complained of exorbitant freights, and it is probable that the wheat industry also has reason to complain of transport charges. This matter should be completely overhauled. Whenever the sugar industry comes under the consideration of this chamber, every item of cost is examined and the relevant figures are supplied, but, despite the extensive assistance given to the wheat industry, it escapes this inquisition, although Ave could justly demand such information. The Labour party has every sympathy with necessitous farmers and supports this measure. However, we have to remember that, bad as is the lot of the wheat-farmer, he has at least a settled home and can produce the wherewithal to live. To this extent, he is not so badly off as practically one-third of the potential workers of this country, who cannot find a job to-day. Even if some of them find employment they receive very little for it. Forty per cent. of the bread-winners in Australia to-day have no income, or are earning less than £1 a week. Thus, bad as the lot of the wheat-grower is, a very large percentage of workers are in an even worse position. We should consider this fact when dealing with recurring requests for assistance, not only to wheat-farmers, but also to other primary producers. The royal commissionwhich inquired into the wheat industry showed that out of the 2s. 9d. a bushel which the farmer received for his wheat, fully 1s. was absorbed in handling and transport charges. It is obvious that the Government should closely investigate the costs of production in the industry, particularly those of handling and transport. It could then ask with more confidence than it can to-day for support from honorable senators to assist the wheat-growers of Australia.

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