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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Senator ARTHUR - Was it not from the farm to the ship?

Senator McBRIDE - No. The arrangement was that the farmer should deliver his wheat to a siding, and that the Government would take control of it there. Already, charges exceeding lOd. a bushel have been incurred in respect of the wheat in No. 5 pool. The farmers should not be asked to carry charges, which are mounting up all the time. No one can hazard a guess as to what they might eventually amount to, particularly as we shall have to take into account the deterioration, and even the destruction, of considerable quantities of wheat by weevils and other pests should it be found necessary to store the wheat for many years. In my opinion, it is reasonable that the Government should pay promptly 3s. lOd. a bushel on 140,000,000 bushels, and that the deductions from the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel should remain at 9id. a bushel, so that in respect of 140,"000,0O0 bushels, the farmers, would receive 3s. 0£d. a bushel. That is the least that the farmers might ask the

Government to do. I go further, however, and support the request that 3s.10d. a bushel be paid in respect of the whole yield of 153,000,000 bushels from the 1941-42 harvest. I do not make that request on the ground that it is a legal obligation resting on the Government. I admit that no such obligation exists; but I suggest that the Government should recognize increasing costs of production since the agreement was entered into. Those increased costs are reflected in almost every purchase. Taking these things into consideration, I suggest that the present Government would not be doing any more than any other government placed in a similar position might reasonably be expected to do. Had the Government which entered into the agreement in respect of a guaranteed price remained in office, I do not think that it would have insisted on the exact terms of the guarantee being adhered to; it Would have been prepared to review the agreement inthe light of changed circumstances.

Senator Fraser - I am pleasedthat the honorable senator has been honest about the interpretation of the agreement.

Senator McBRIDE - I do not think that we have questioned the correctness of the Government's interpretation of its obligations, excepting the policy of averaging the guaranteed price over the 153.000,000 bushels instead of paying 3s.10d. a bushel on 140,000,000 bushels. I have not done so; and I believe that my interpretation is correct.

Senator Fraser - Would the honorable senatorsay that this Government has repudiated the policy of its predecessor?

Senator McBRIDE - No.

Senator Fraser - I think that all honorable senators realize the plight of the wheat-grower.

Senator McBRIDE -I recall the anxiety expressed by the Minister (Senator Fraser) when he was on this side of the chamber. Now that he is in a position to do something for the growers, we are entitled to ask him to act along the lines he then so frequently advocated.

Senator Fraser - That will be done.

Senator McBRIDE - I am glad to hear that; hut I point out that this delay is most embarrassing to the wheat- farmers. It is useless to talk about what the Government is going to do in the future. Unfortunately, the farmers' costs have already been incurred. The cost of producing the crop of 153,000,000 bushels has, in the case of most individual farmers, already been paid. In other cases, the farmers are paying interest on the debts they have incurred in respect of their costs. Consequently, it is useless to talk about what the Government will do in the future. The farmers want it to act. During the last three years, they have not had a good"spin". The 1939-40 season was a record, and the realization was satisfactory. In that year, the farmers received £40,000,000, less the charges which I have already mentioned.

Senator Fraser - I notice that the honorable senator does not attack the interest rates which tend to keep the farmer poor.

Senator McBRIDE - Actually, the Government is charging the farmers interest on approximately £18,000,000. My point is that I do not want the farmers to be saddled with that interest indefinitely. However, in 1940-41, the wheat crop realized only £14,000,000, compared with £40,000,000 for the previous season, although in the latter year the price per bushel was higher than that in the previous year. Under the Government's scheme the farmers this year will receive approximately £26,000,000, less charges, which are substantial, unless the Government be prepared to pay the guaranteed price in respect of the extra production of13,000,000 bushels. If that be done, they will receive £30,000,000 which, I think, is the minimum income upon which the industry, on the basis of present charges, can manage to survive. In view of the importance of the industry to Australia, and of the fact that its importance will increase in the future, the Government should bear in mind the experience of other primary industries resulting from lack of foresight, and take early action to stabilize the industry in the light of present difficulties. It should realize that wheat production must inevitably be reduced as the result of the shortage of raw materials, such as fertilizers, &c, and, therefore, should ensure to the farmer sufficient to enable him. to remain on his land, maintain has plant, and to live comfortably, in order that he will be in a position to increase his production substantially when we require him to do so. The requests embodied in the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition are fair. I hope that the Government will give them early consideration.

Question put -

That the motion(xide p. 1632) be agreed to.

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