Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 13 November 1936


Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - The members of the Opposition in this chamber wholeheartedly support this measure, because they believe that an alteration of the Constitution is absolutely necessary to the well-being of the great primary producers of Queensland, both now and in the future. I agree with them. Every member of the Opposition who has spoken has offered to travel throughout Queensland in an endeavour to convince the people of that State of the need for an alteration of the Constitution in order to allow marketing to be regulated inthe interests of the people engaged in primary industries.


Senator Collings - In the interests of Australia.


Senator ARKINS - I ask honorable senators of the Opposition to enlarge their vision, and become Commonwealthminded. There is no need for them to convince the electors of Queensland, because the three political parties in that State are united in a common desire for an amendment of the Constitution. The honorable senators should go further afield, as apostles of a new evangel. I suggest that they visit New South Wales, because, so far as I am aware, not one member of the Labour party in that State is prepared to. tell the people that an alteration of the Constitution is necessary. Indeed, they need not go even so far as New South Wales, for even in this building there is an opportunity for them to do good work. In the councils of their own party let themrise and say that it is essential that the Constitution be altered.


Senator Collings - Why should we do the job of honorable senators representing New South Wales?


Senator ARKINS - There is no need for the honorable senator and his colleagues to convince the electors of Queensland, for he has told us that they will be overwhelmingly in favour of the Government's proposal. The honorable senator spoke of his bravery. 0*n his own showing, no courage is required to advocate in Queensland the carrying of the Government's proposal. But let him take his courage in hie hands and enter hostile territory in New South Wales.


Senator Brown - The honorable senator would have us be Daniels in the lion's den?


Senator ARKINS - I suggest that members of the Opposition, instead of being small provincial Queenslanders, should become brave Australians, and, discarding all humbug and camouflage, advocate the carrying of the Government's proposal. If this bc a subject which affects Australia as a whole, it is big enough to be preached by them beyond the borders of their own State. Honorable senators have been urged to treat the Government's proposal as being above party; I suggest that it should be treated as above the interests of any State, and as of Commonwealth-wide importance. I ask Honorable senators of the Opposition to do the big thing, the Australian thing, and on public platforms in New South Wales, Victoria and the other States advocate the carrying of the Government's proposal. I shall now leave that aspect of the subject.


Senator Collings - Hear, hear ! It is the honorable senator's job to address the electors in New South Wales.


Senator ARKINS - It is not a job for honorable senators from New South Wales alone, but for all big Australians. In regard to State rights, I shall not say more than that, in his lucid explanation, the Leader of the Senate said the first and the last words. He is the last of the active public men who were in the heat of the con troversy in connexion with the struggle for federation. His explanation is acceptable to me and to: all Australians.


Senator Grant - To all Australians?


Senator ARKINS - I said Australians, not Tasmanians; there is a distinction in that while the Tasmanian is of Australia, he is not always a big Australian. Since the Great War practically every country of the world has formulated constructive plans for the control of the marketing of primary products. I have in my possession a book, World Trade Barriers withRelationto American Agriculture, issued by the Government of the United States of America at the request of the Senate of that country. The information was obtained after a world-wide survey of postwar international conditions which affected American agriculture. Upon studying it, one realizes many things that otherwise might remain unknown to him. It states -

International trade, including that in agricultural products, is under the influence of more widespread governmental intervention than ever before in modern times. The measures by which this influence is exerted upon agriculture apply either directly as agricultural measures or indirectly through other branches of economic life.

In its present extreme form, such intervention is a recent development. Indeed, in several countries restrictions on international trade and other forms of intervention affecting farm products were either non-existent or relatively unimportant until the last few years. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Denmark, were practically on a free-trade basis. Others, such as Argentina and Canada, Were so predominantly on an export basis for agricultural products that tariffs and other import restrictions would have been largely ineffective. Apart from the ordinary scientific and technical aids, government assistance in such countries was primarily directed toward developing, new producing areas and securing cheaper access to outside markets.

Since the beginning of the world economic depression, however, governmental intervention has been particularly marked in agriculture, owing to the special severity of the agrarian crisis. Not only have those countries that had previously given government support to home agriculture , greatly intensified their activities in this direction, but other countries also have adopted similar policies. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Irish Free State, and Belgium have abandoned, at least temporarily, their free-trade or low-tariff policies, and are now definitely endeavouring to aid their farmers either by means of import restrictions or, in the case of products on an export basis, by bounties or other means.

Honorable senators will, therefore, realize that practically every country of the world made some attempt to control the marketing and production of various primary products; those which have by definite legisla tive enactment attempted to control prices of various commodities are : Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chili, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, Esthonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Poland, Roumania, Southern Rhodesia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Union of South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. In those circumstances, do honorable senators expect that Australia, which is one of the outstanding primary producing and exporting countries, can afford not to take similar action and compete on the open markets of the world without exercising some control over the marketing of its exportable produce ?


Senator Herbert Hays - Control has not been successful in many of the countries cited by the honorable senator.


Senator ARKINS - No; but it has been successful in some of them. On no occasion, to my knowledge, have expert authorities suggested that any of those countries did wrong in adopting such measures of control.


Senator Herbert Hays - Does the honorable senator contend that the United States of America was successful in controlling the production of wheat? That is an outstanding example of the failure of control.


Senator ARKINS - It is not an example of failure of control of marketing and prices. In spite of the set backs which have been experienced in this connexion in various countries, they are unable to-day to refrain from making an effort to fix prices or to control the marketing of primary products.


Senator Herbert Hays - I agree with that.


Senator ARKINS - I am gratified to have the honorable senator's support in that connexion. Much of the legislation to control prices and marketing has had to be recast because in its initial stages it was purely experimental. In the United States of America, control of marketing and prices became a major problem, because wheat was practically unsaleable. The same position arose in Canada. After the pooling system had been successful for a year or two in that dominion, control of it was taken over by the Government, and failure followed.


Senator Herbert Hays - Seasonal conditions provided a corrective.


Senator ARKINS - Yes, but even if the seasonal conditions had not done so, it is likely that the methods of control would have been altered. The principal difficulty in respect of control which confronts the United States of America, Canada and Australia relates to external, not interna], conditions. Practically every country has erected rigid trade barriers against the importation of primary products from other States, and this restriction of trade has created a major problem. Germany, Italy, and nearly all of the Middle European States will not allow primary products from the new world to enter their markets, lest their own producers be ruined. This restriction creates a serious problem which must be overcome. I commend to the notice of honorable senators a publication. Markets and Men. by Mr. J. W. F. Rowe, M.A., of Cambridge University. In conjunction with other authorities about two years ago, this gentleman delivered a series of talks over the British broadcasting system on the subject of markets. According to this writer, this practice of trade restriction is a definite phenomenon which has grown up in recent years in respect of, not only agricultural, but also many other products. Honorable senators must not overlook the fact that primary products other than agricultural - for instance, silk, rubber, tin, copper and aluminium - are subject to forms of control. Strangely enough, control in respect of rubber and tin was wisely exercised at the direct instigation of the "British Government. It was recognized that unless such action were taken, Great Britain's interests in the rubber market would entirely collapse. Control was immediately exercised over the rubber plantations, with the result that ultimately Great Britain controlled the rubber market of .the world against the United States of America, and the price has been more equitable than at any time in the history of rubber marketing.


Senator Grant - That was not governmental control.


Senator ARKINS - The honorable senator cannot dispute the fact that in Malaya the control was imposed at the direct instigation of the British Government; ultimately it resulted in great benefit, not alone to the British Empire, but to the whole world, by lowering the price of this commodity. Much the same position obtained in respect of tin. At one stage tin became a drug on the market of the world. It had no value, and the vast resources of tin in the islands to the north of Australia consequently presented a serious economic difficulty. At the prices which then prevailed, it was not worth while to mine the tin for the purpose of marketing it. As in the case of rubber the British Government again appealed to the Malayan authorities and recommended that some form of control should be instituted. At the same time an appeal was made to the Dutch Goverment and this was finally acceded to.


Senator Grant - That was an international arrangement; there was no statutory authority.


Senator ARKINS - But it was made at the instigation of the British Government. The outstanding fact in connexion with the control of tin was that this mineral was kept off the market until, ultimately, the demand for it grew, and the price consequently increased. At the present time the control of production of tin in Malaya is regarded as being one of the major triumphs of British policy in relation to the economics of the colonies and dominions. There again, we are unable to get away from the fact that all the primary industries are in such a position that they must have some form of protection. I do not for one moment believe that all the difficulties of the primary producer will be solved by the intervention of governments, and the institution of orderly marketing. In my opinion, a number of the difficulties of the agriculturists can be solved only on their own holdings by a better manipulation of their lands, the improvement of their stock, and the utilization of the most efficient implements.


Senator Guthrie - Mildura is producing the best dried fruits in the world at the present time. ;


Senator ARKINS - I do not place all primary products in such a category, but, to instance one, I am told by qualified men that, in connexion with the marketing of our meat, we should begin our reforms at home by aiming to improve the quality of die stock. I quite agree with that. Australia cannot hope to stand aloof from world, developments.


Senator Grant - We have our tin quota.


Senator ARKINS - That is so. In the exporting of our primary products, we must unquestionably have in mind the world situation and exercise some form of control over exports.


Senator Grant - Such control could be exercised without government interference.


Senator ARKINS - The . tin quota was arranged at the instigation of a government.


Senator GRANT - I noticed a report in to-day's press about the International Tin Committee.


Senator ARKINS - But government initiative set the movement on foot which resulted in the arrangement of tin quotas for various countries. Australia must provide some me:ins by which its products may be exported in an orderly fashion. It is desirable, also, that an unquestioned authority should be set up to fix standards of quality and determine the volume of exports to overseas markets from time to time. The judgment which resulted in the dislocation of our overseas marketing arrangements was obtained at the instance of a very few persons who had in mind their own interests. These persons were quite ready to infringe the rights of other people at any time so long as their own interests were advanced. The whole community needs protection against such individuals. We all know what . has happened on various occasions in the past when the people of one State have endeavoured to organize their marketing to the advantage of the producers. They have almost invariably been subjected to the piratical action of persona engaged in similar industries, in other States. Apparently, nothing that the Commonwealth Government can do under its present legislative authority can prevent such action


Senator Grant - The Commonwealth has full power over export marketing.


Senator ARKINS - Surely the honorable senator realizes that under existing world conditions it is almost impossible to regard separately the home and export markets. A measure of control must be exercised over both if equilibrium is to be maintained. Senator Grant must be aware that -the effective control of the marketing of dried fruits, butter, wheat, and, in fact, almost every primary commodity requires the supervision of both the home and the overseas markets. In the present unfortunate state of world affairs, our home price is nearly always better than the export price, and it is essential that something shall be done to control marketing so that an equitable price shall be made possible to all consumers for all their products. The time may come when even Tasmania will require some assistance in the marketing of its potatoes, but without an effective amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution, intervention by the Federal Government will be impossible. The same may be true to some extent of the apple and pear industries.

One essential of any effective marketing arrangement is the maintenance of standards. Certain individuals with a high sense of honour do their utmost to maintain a high standard of production, but other individuals whose outlook is limited to the few extra shillings that they may bo able to gain by some sharp practice, pay very little regard to quality. Senator Grant seems to think that the introduction of this bill indicates an overbearing attitude on the part of the larger States towards the smaller States. I cannot understand how he has formed that opinion. If I imagined for a moment that anything in this bill could be construed as a. threat to the smaller States, I should resist it with all my power. Rut the reverse is actually true. If this proposed alteration of the Constitution be endorsed, the people of the smaller States will actually reap more benefit from it than will the people in the larger States, for usually the people in the larger States have a better home market; an examination would reveal that they obtain better prices for their commodities than do the people of the smaller States, because of the larger proportion they are able to sell locally. For this reason, it is of little use for certain honorable senators to wax indignant about the attitude adopted by the larger States in certain directions. It is generally recognized that organized action is necessary to protect our secondary industries and also the workers of this country. Abuses occur, of course, and until human nature changes they are likely to occur. But no one would deny that the protection of secondary industries and also the protection of the workers are absolutely necessary to our national wellbeing. Surely it is not to be assumed that a majority of madmen will be elected to Parliament who will run riot in their legislative policy. No one desires to upset the equilibrium of the community.


Senator Grant - We had an illustration of that sort of thing in New South Wales a few years ago.


Senator ARKINS - That is so; but when the democracy was outraged it expressed itself at the ballot-box- and dismissed those who had outraged it. The democracy still survives. If the proposed amendment of the Constitution be endorsed by the electors, and at some time in the 'future foolish use is made of the added power vested in the Commonwealth Parliament, the people may be trusted to right, at the first opportunity, any wrong tha t is done. It is not likely that we shall allow irrational communists or socialists to wreck out national prosperity. Our own forbears in Great Britain have no written constitution, but the people of' the United Kingdom have worked out their own destiny with common sense and wisdom, and no attempt has been made to fetter them. Our Constitution was modelled on the Constitution of the United States of America, but the people of that republic have not 'found it impossible to devise properly-organized marketing schemes. Some of the States of America afford the finest examples in the world of orderly marketing arrangements. The attempts that have been made through the appropriate judicial channels of America to destroy those schemes have in some instances at least, failed to achieve their objective. Surely no honorable gentleman of this chamber would deny to the people of Australia the necessary legislative power to enable them properly to organize their affairs. Great Britain has in the last few years been facing some of the most difficult economic problems of its history in relation to primary industry, but it has- done so with courage and determination. Markets have been organized, quotas fixed and trade treaties made with Empire countries and ako with other countries, with definite advantage to the -general community - That is essential, because we are now living in an age of rapid transport, not only within the Commonwealth, but also to countries overseas. I am satisfied that progressive people such as we have in Australia are willing to give the Commonwealth Parliament sufficient power to help those in need. I am fully convinced that the primary producers in Australia have benefited under a system of orderly marketing, and that an overwhelming majority wish the method previously in operation to be continued. Those who have had any experience of the system under which primary produce has been handled and marketed under governmental or semigovernmental control, know that it has not interfered with private enterprise, nor infringed the rights of organizations or individuals. Under a system of cooperation producers are prepared to work in the interests of the industries with which they are associated, and of the country generally. No valid objection can be offered to the proposal, which the Government proposes to submit to the people by means of a referendum, to protect the rights of primary producers in the Commonwealth. The value of primary production cannot be over-estimated, more particularly when we remember that the returns from the commodities which we export provide the Commonwealth with overseas funds, so essential in governmental finance. As other countries have erected trade barriers in respect of wheat, meat, rice, cotton, wool, sugar and coffee, we are justified in protecting those engaged in producing primary commodities in Australia.


Senator Guthrie - What countries have erected trade barriers?


Senator ARKINS - Germany and Italy in endeavouring to become selfcontained are prohibiting the imports of commodities which we produce. Great Britain once opened its doors to the products of all countries, but it has now altered its policy, and has appointed a Minister for Marketing, with a separate portfolio, to work in the interests of the primary producers; in that country. In these circumstances, the Commonwealth Government is justified in asking the people to agree to an alteration of the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth, in co-operation with the States, to conduct a system of orderly marketing, to enable the primary producers to obtain a fair return for their labour. Believing that we had the power to control marketing, the system has been carried on for years without any objection from some of those now opposing the Government's proposal. Indeed, some of them have taken advantage of the subsidies and bounties paid without offering the slightest objection to the system under which they were granted. The Government is now only asking for the power to continue that form of protection which has been afforded in the past. The Commonwealth and the States should assist those engaged in the important work of primary production. The Constitution should therefore be so altered as to allow that assistance to be given by the passing of legislation which would facilitate the organizing and arranging of marketing requirements, and would in that way preserve to Australian primary producers privileges which are enjoyed by primary producers in almost every other country in the world.







Suggest corrections