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Wednesday, 2 July 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - I hope that this motion will be agreed to. The inquiry suggested by Senator Fraser would cover a very wide field. The honorable senator is in practically a similar position to that in which I found myself yesterday with regard to the flax industry. Certain information has been given to him in confidence, and he cannot disclose it. He has told us that the price of superphosphate has been raised several times since the Prices Commissioner has taken a hand in this matter, but the Minister (Senator Leckie) did not refer to the profits made in the manufacture and sale of superphosphate.

Senator Gibson - There is no profit.

Senator AYLETT - If there were no profit, there would be no superphosphate.

Senator Gibson - Then the honorable senator does not buy it.

Senator AYLETT - I have bought it, and at prices representing increases of 5s., 10s., and 15s. a ton respectively. If this commodity could be sold at a profit when the price was increased by 5s. a ton, was not profit made when the price was further increased by 10s., and later by 15s. a ton? "What will be the position of the rural producers if these increases continue, in view of the fact that they have already experienced several reductions of the prices of their products. The Minister dealt extensively with the increasing cost of commodities that had brought about the increase of the cost of superphosphate, but has the Prices Co]n.missioner gone carefully into rises and falls of the cost of the commodities used in the production of superphosphate? Senator Fraser desires a committee appointed to make an inquiry into the whole matter, in order to ascertain whether superphosphate could be delivered to the primary producers at a cheaper rate than that now paid by them. I do not doubt that Senator Fraser had in mind certain information which an inquiry by a committee would bring to light. The Minister said that Senator Fraser had not proved that the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner had been wrong in fixing the price of any commodity. It is not necessary to prove that I know Professor Copland, and I regard him as a man who would not intentionally do anything wrong; but that is not to say that he has explored every possible avenue, or is incapable of making a mistake. First, he permitted an increase of 10s. a ton, and later, a further increase of £1 a ton. Still later, he reduced the price by 4s. a ton, but he offered no explanation of his action. It is possible that he made a mistake on one or more of those occasions. Certainly, there are grounds for doubt as to whether all of the information on which he acted was authentic. If the Government cannot see its way clear to appoint a committee to undertake a thorough investigation, I suggest that it should follow the method which has been adopted by the Government of New Zealand, and pay to the farmers the difference between the pre-war price of superphosphate and the present price.

Senator Leckie - What would it cost to do that?

Senator AYLETT - I shall not discuss that point now, but I ask the Minister what it will cost the country if two-thirds of its wheat-growers are driven off their holdings ?

Senator Leckie - Don't talk nonsense!

Senator AYLETT - The Minister knows that the price of superphosphate has increased and that wages are rising. It may be that he has in mind the employment of members of the Girls Land Army at 7s. 6d. a week.

Senator Leckie - The honorable senator will probably suggest the appointment of a parliamentary committee to investigate the rates paid to those girls.

Senator AYLETT - I do not ask that that be done, because, at a meeting of the Tasmanian Producers Association, in reply to a question as to whether members of the Girls Land Army would be paid at rates comparable with those paid to girls in munition factories or in domestic service, the lady who is in charge of the Girls Land Army in Tasmania answered : " No ; they will be paid 7s. 6d. lor the first week, and after a month their wages may rise to a maximum of £1 a week, plus their keep ". If the Minister proposes to supply farmers with that kind of cheap labour, and assuming that a woman on a farm can do the work of a man, the farmers may be able to carry on, despite the increased cost of superphosphate. I assure the Minister, however, that he will not get that cheap labour.

Senator Leckie - I do not want that assurance.

Senator AYLETT - The cost of labour, as well as the cost of superphosphate, bags, machinery, and other farm requisites, has risen, whereas the price received for farm produce has fallen.

Senator Leckie - Is the honorable senator unaware that the country is at war?

Senator AYLETT - I am aware of that. When the Minister talks of equality of sacrifice, he does not appear to know that there is a war on. Senator Fraser objects to a heavier burden being placed on that section of the community which is already suffering great hardships as a result of the war. He claims that the appointment of a select committee may reveal ways by which the burden on the primary producer can be lightened. I hope that the Senate will agree to the motion, because an investigation may lead to a reduction of the price of this very necessary commodity.

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