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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Senator CLOTHIER (Western Australia) . - Yesterday when I asked leave to continue my remarks I was about to deal with the position of our wool-growers. Last May when I asked a question in this chamber regarding the price of wool I was informed that either party to the existing agreement between the Commonwealth and the

British Government may seek a review of the agreement in May of each year. The existing price does not give a fair return to the growers. I have received correspondence from growers in every part of the Commonwealth pointing out that the minimum economic price should be 15½d. per lb. I hope that when the present contract is reviewed in May our representatives will endeavour to obtain that price for our growers. Whilst our wool-growers have put up with the present price for a long period, I have no doubt that the gentlemen in Bradford who are reaping the bulk of the profit from the sale of our wool are in exceptionally comfortable circumstances.

Senator Allan MacDonald - They are having a thin time.

Senator CLOTHIER - They are making a "good thing" out of our wool. When the existing contract is reviewed I hope that a minimum price of 15½d. per lb. will be secured. That price was paid during the last war and was based on the cost of production, and no good reason exists Why that method should not be followed on this occasion.

Senator Sampson - What prices are our growers receiving now?

Senator CLOTHIER - Prices range from 7½d. to10½d. per lb., according to quality. The price realized by the British Australian Wool Realization Association in 1916 averaged £22 10s. a bale, whereas under the present scheme the average price is £17 15s. a bale. In the meantime, our costs of production have increased substantially. On this subject I quote the following press extract: -

Increases of costs since the present war began are important in a consideration of this matter.

The increase of retail prices from September, 1939, to September, 1941, was 10.2 per cent. The index of wholesale prices increased during the same period by 23 per cent.; the imports section by 42 percent., and the home section by only 13 per cent. The export index showsthat the price of Australia's exports increased from 'September, 1939, to September, 1941, by11¼ per cent. whereas the imports index shows that the prices of imports have risen 44 per cent., or that imports to Australia for the war period have risen in price 33 per cent. more than our exports. Now these figures show that theprices of imports over the price of wool increased from 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. and the cost of living by 10.2 per cent. Therefore, the price paid in Australian currency for our wool should be in keeping with the increase of the prices of our imports and with the increase of the cost of living which graziers and all others associated with the wool industry have to pay. The return to the grazier for his wool should be 15½d. per lb.

That isa fair proposition. The present cost of production of wool is much higher than it has been for many years. The wool-grower has as much right as the wage-earner to a fair return for his labour.Our wool and wheat growers should be guaranteed a fair return for their product based on costs of production. Some people have an idea that because a man is on the land he is well off. That is not so. Personally, I think that it would be wise to devise a specific farming policy in respect of the wheat and wool industries. Wheat is an essential foodstuff, and therefore it must be regarded as indispensable in time of war. Many say that it is unnecessary for Australia to produce the large quantity of wheat at present being grown, but I venture to suggest that the time may soon come when all our wheat will be required to feed the peoples overseas. Unfortunately, shipping space is not available at present.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Senator Courtice suggested that our wheat should be sent to Russia.

Senator CLOTHIER - That, too, has much to commend it.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Senator Courtice also said that probably the Russian soldiers would fight better if they were fed on Australian wheat.

Senator CLOTHIER - I believe that they would. Thank God that the Russian soldiers are doing such a magnificent job to-day. Owing to enlistments for service overseas and in our Militia Forces, our man-power resources have been greatly depleted, and great difficulty will be encountered in harvesting this season's crops of primary products. I suggest that men undergoing military training who possess a knowledge of farming in its various forms should be released from camps to assist with the harvesting. That is my idea, and naturally I regard it as a good one. A year ago the late " Texas " Green and I approached the then Government with that suggestion, and we were successful in securing the release of a number of militiamen to undertake seasonal works in rural areas. There is no reason why that should not be done this season. I also suggest that if conveyances be unprocurable to transport the wheat when it is harvested, military trucks should be made available for that work. There are many hundreds of such vehicles which could be used. I am anxious to assist the farmer in every way possible.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Why not make the internees do some work on the farms?

Senator CLOTHIER - That is a matter which is governed by international convention. The suggestion which I have made would overcome the difficulty.

SenatorFoll. - Some of the honorable senator's colleagues claim that there are still some unemployed. Why not enlist the services of such men for harvesting?

Senator CLOTHIER - There are not many unemployed.

I am pleased that the Government intends to establish a mortgage bank.

Senator McBride - When?

Senator CLOTHIER - It will be established at the first possible opportunity. Successive governments supported by honorable senators opposite had not the courage to provide such a bank. The establishment of such a bank is long overdue.

Senator Allan MacDonald - There is a mortgage bank in Western Australia at present.

Senator CLOTHIER - Yes, but it would be better with the support of a Commonwealth-wide mortgage bank. Moreover, even though the people of Western Australia are provided for in that respect, the need exists in the other States. Farmers want greater security of tenure than they have had hitherto. Honorable senators who know something of farming conditions realize the difficulties which exist to-day.

Considerable criticism has been voiced by honorable senators opposite concerning the Government's proposal in regard to soldiers' pay. My view is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. With an increase of active service pay, more money will be in circulation instead of being tied up in the banks as it would be bad the previous Government's proposals been accepted. Why should not the wives and families of soldiers serving overseas have an opportunity to spend at least some of the money which their men folk are earning? If they wish to save it, they can. It is much better for the people generally to have additional purchasing power. Women are just as good money -savers as are men.

Senator McBride - The Prime Minister has been advocating a reduction of spending.

Senator CLOTHIER - I agree that expenditure on certain goods must be curtailed, but people must eat to live. That is why we should assist farmers to get their foodstuffs on to the market.

Senator Foll - Apparently there has been a rift in the Caucus.

Senator CLOTHIER - No. I am fully in accord with the Government's decision to increase soldiers' active service pay. I am also pleased to know that invalid and old-age pensions have been increased. Unfortunately, it is still insufficient, but some day I may want an oldage pension myself, and 23s. 6d. will be very acceptable. It: cannot be denied that the work done by men and women who to-day are in receipt of the old-age pension, has been responsible for honorable senators being where they are to-day. These old people deserve some credit for their efforts, and they should be paid as much as the country can afford to give them.

Yesterday I spoke of the expansion of war industries in Western Australia and I am pleased to know that the assurance given to me by Senator Collett is quite in accordance with the facts. The newspapers report that a considerable volume of work is proceeding.

Yesterday, I dealt also with the shortage of steel in Australia. As a member of the Joint Committee on War Expenditure, I visited many munitions establishments, including foundries, and the general complaint was that output was restricted owing to a shortage of steel. That state of affairs should not exist while vast iron ore deposits such as those at Yampi Sound are lying idle. The following article was published in the Round Table Club, of the 1st July, 1941, dealing with the production of steel in China : -

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