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Wednesday, 2 July 1941


Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) , - I commend Senator Fraser for having brought this motion forward, because the price of superphosphate is now a burning question among primary producers in Western Australia. But the best way to deal with this matter is not by appointing a parliamentary select committee to inquire into the sale and manufacture of superphosphate. We shall not be able to secure relief for the producers by following that course. Yet the farmers in Western Australia need help immediately, because the price of superphosphate in that State has been increased from £3 12s. 6d. to £4 18s. 6d. a ton with the approval of the Prices Commissioner, who has carefully scrutinized the cost of production. Had this motion been proposed a few weeks ago, I should have been very tempted to support it. However, within the last ten days the Government has appointed over 50 members of this Parliament to act on special committees, including one whose duty it will be to inquire into all matters affecting rural industries. Therefore, I hesitate to support the appointment of another parliamentary select committee to cover once again the inquiries made by the Prices Commissioner. The farmers need relief, not only because of the increase of price by 26s. a ton, but also because in Western Australia, and, I think, in the other States also, a further increase of from 35s. to £2 a ton is now forecast, owing to the difficulty of securing phosphate rock from Nauru and Ocean Island, and the scarcity of shipping. For those reasons it is said, not only will the- price be increased, but supplies will be rationed as well. Consequently, a serious outlook confronts the farmers, particularly in Western Australia and South Australia, where much settlement in light soil areas would not have been possible but for the application of phosphates. We must give relief to these farmers very soon. I think that relief will be obtained by political action. We must insist that this Government give to these farmers consideration equal to that given by the Labour Government of New Zealand to farmers in that dominion. A few days ago, I asked a question on this matter, which evoked the admission that the Government of New Zealand was carrying the whole of the increase of the price of superphosphate imposed since the outbreak of war. Thi« Government includes one section which is pledged to look after the interests of the men on the land who are the main users of superphosphate. It is up to the Country party in this Parliament, therefore, to insist that this Government should show at least the same consideration of the needs of primary producers in this matter as has been displayed by the Government of our sister dominion. I am prepared to play my part in that direction, and to join in any action that will have the result of securing this relief. Thanks to action taken by their Government, the primary producers in New Zealand are still paying only the pre-war price for this necessary commodity.

I should like to say a word about the: history of this motion. It is said that great men think alike. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) gave notice of a similar motion in the House of Representatives a day or two before Senator Fraser gave notice of the motion we are now discussing. To-day, I received a note from that honorable member, stating that he had withdrawn his motion in the House of Representatives, in view of the appointment of the numerous committees to which I have referred, and also because of the fact that the Western Australian superphosphate industry has asked the Government to grant relief in respect of the cost of the transporting certain materials, which will enable the 'price in Western Australia to be maintained at the level obtaining in the other States. I understand that the Government is being pressed on this matter, and that it is giving very sympathetic consideration to that request. Unless something more than sympathetic consideration on the part of the Government be forthcoming, the superphosphate companies in Western Australia, which are cooperative, will not be able to carry the high cost of transport from Nauru and Ocean Island and, at the same time, sell at the price obtaining in the eastern States.


Senator Leckie - The honorable senator can take it that the- Government will give that relief.


Senator E B JOHNSTON - I am glad to have that assurance from the Minister. The farmers in Western Australia need practical assistance from the Government to maintain the price at the same level as in the other States, and in seeing that it is sold to him at a pre-war price. The Government is now considering the whole matter from this aspect. However, I do not think that the appointment of a parliamentary select committee will solve the farmers' difficulties in regard to superphosphate.


Senator Cameron - What does the honorable senator suggest as a solution?


Senator E B JOHNSTON - One solution is that when the Country party, which is an integral part of the Government, is convinced as a party of the urgency for relief being given along the lines I have indicated, it has it in its power to see that such relief is given.







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