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Wednesday, 18 November 1936

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - This bill contains a proposal to amend the Constitution Act in order to empower the Commonwealth Parliament, in cooperation with the States, to provide for the conduct of marketing schemes on a national basis. It has been rendered necessary by the recent decision of the Privy Council in the James ease that the Commonwealth has not the power which most people thought it possessed, and under which presumption regulations for the marketing of many of Australia's most important primary products were promulgated. The State Parliaments had passed legislation to control such marketing schemes and the Commonwealth Parliament had enacted complementary legislation, which, it was thought, gave validity to such schemes, but the Privy Council has declared that legislationto be invalid. No question as to the right of the States to control trade within their respective borders arises, but as the decision of the Privy Council means that no authority has the power to control interstate trade, the stability of many of our greatest primary industries, such as dairying and dried fruits, is jeopardized, and the welfare of the Commonwealth, as a whole, is endangered. The people of Australia generally surely are agreed that the primary producers are as much entitled to protection as are clerks, shop assistants, and workers in secondary industries whose wages and conditions are fixed by arbitration courts and wages boards. So far as our present position is concerned, 1. am afraid that unless we can legislate to provide a home-consumption price, many of our primary industries will bc very badly hit. Some people may say that these primary industries can be assisted by levying an excise duty and providing from that revenue a bounty, but I suggest that this is a clumsy and insecure method of providing assistance to industries, and one which might, under certain circumstances, tend to encourage governments, and those seeking seats in Parliament to look for votes, by promising increased bounties to wheat-growers and other producers. I suggest that a more sensible way in which to stabilize, or assist primary industry to-day, is to enact legislation, both Federal and State, to provide for a home-consumption price.

I come now to the great butter industry. There is no greater slavery in the world than the work of the average dairyfarmer. He has to work abnormally long hours, day after day, week after week, and year after year. Cows have to be milked, twice daily, regardless of funerals, weddings, or any other function. Surely the dairy-farmer is entitled to the equivalent of the basic wage for himself, and greater remuneration to enable bim to provide more decent conditions for the members of his family than they have en- joyed in the past. The dairy industry is a great producer of wealth, but it is not a very profitable industry for the individual farmer and his family. To emphasize the value of the industry, I mention that last year butter exports from Australia totalled 262,518,906 lb., valued in Australian currency at £9,586,776. .It may be said that under the protection afforded to the butter producers in the past, and under the marketing schemes, the consumers of butter in Australia have been exploited. That is erroneous. Any honorable senator who takes the trouble to study the relevant figures will find that for two and a half years the wholesale price in Australia of choice butter was ls. 3d. per lb., or lsper lb. sterling; in other words, the price was actually lower, under the systems of marketing then carried on in Australia, than it was in Great Britain, which takes practically all of our surplus. The butter industry is. perhaps, more important to Victoria than to any other State; Victoria is also a large exporter of dried fruits and canned fruits. These industries are exposed to competition overseas. In passing, I submit that the dried fruits industry offers one of the best forms of closer settlement, and honorable senators should bear that fact in mind in relation to the competition which our exports have to meet from the products of such countries as Smyrna, Turkey, Greece, Persia, and Crete, in which the wages paid are not more than from ls. to ls. 6d. a day. Surely we cannot expect our fruit producers to come down to the standard of living which that wage connotes, and I feel sure that no honorable senator desires to see our comparatively high standard of living reduced one iota. That standard has been built up mainly through legislative action, and all of us are proud of it.

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