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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) . - During the last two or three months, I have had an opportunity as a member of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries to hear a good deal of evidence concerning the conditions ofwheat-farmers throughout Australia. I do not wish to anticipate the report of the committee in any way, although that body has thought that certain aspects of our rural industries are so important that it has written to the Prime Minister bringing them to his notice, with a view to immediate action being taken. I wish to bring before the Senate a matter upon which the Joint Committee on Rural Industries heard a good deal of evidence, namely, the urgent necessity to give to wheatfarmers a further advance on last season's crop, and also any moneys that may be due to them from earlier pools which have operated since the beginning of the war. For last season's crop the Government guaranteed, under legislation, a price of 3s. l0d. a bushel at ports for a crop of 140,000,000 bushels for the whole of Australia. I am informed on good authority that the crop exceeds 140,000,000 bushels, so that it is doubtful whether 3s. l0d. a bushel will be paid for it under that guarantee. The amount paid so far is 3s. a bushel for bagged wheat, and 2s. l0d. a bushel for wheat in bulk, less freight in each instance. In Western Australia and New South Wales the greater part of the wheat is handled in hulk. The average freight is about 6d. a bushel, the actual charge varying according to the distance of the farm from a port. That means that farmers have received from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. a bushel advance on last year's crop, according to whether the wheat was delivered in bags or in bulk. Farmers' costs have risen in every direction. According to reliable estimates placed before the committee the cost of producing wheat varies from 4s. to 4s. 6d. a bushel. That being so, a wheat-farmer cannot carry on with an advance of only 2s. 4d. or 2s. 6d. a bushel. The cost of superphosphate has increased considerably, and even if it were available in greater quantities, it would be difficult for any farmer to obtain it unless he paid cash. The farmer has no choice in the disposal of his crop as the wheat is compulsorily acquired by the Government. Under the Constitution wheat or any other product may only he acquired on just terms. I submit that that means at least the cost of production. I have always advocated that farmers should be paid the cost of producting wheat, with a reasonable wage, as a minimum price. If theGovernment wants wheat-growing in Australia to continue, it will have to pay to farmers the cost of producing wheat, plus the basic wage at least, otherwise it will be impossible for the Government to give effect to its desire that all sections of the community shall enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Since the guaranteed price of 3s. l0d. a bushel was agreed to, war conditions have necessitated the storage of larger quantities of wheat than were expected to be held in Australia. Uncertainty as to the duration of the war make it impossible for any one to say what the storage charges will be, but I submit that the amount should be a charge on the whole community, and should not be a burden to be borne by the wheat-farmers alone. I hope that the Government will look into this matter immediately, and sec whether or not a better price cannot be assured to farmers for their wheat in the future. The minimum payment to them should be the cost of production, plus the basic wage.I urge the Government to pay immediately another 6d. a bushel on last season's crop, and also to wind up the earlier pools by giving to the producers the small amounts that arc still due to them. In these times primary producers cannot carry on without cash, but they have little or no cash. An advance of 2s. 4d. or 2s. 6d. a bushel for their wheal is a paltry payment which is altogether insufficient to cover their expenses.I know that the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) is sympathetic to the claims of the farmers. The granting of my request may involve a considerable sum of money, but it is a payment which should be made immediately.

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