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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Senator ASHLEY (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Information) - Honorable senators did not show much co-operation last night.

Senator UPPILL - Notwithstanding what occurred last night, the Opposition is prepared to co-operate with the Government in these difficult days. Whatever difficulty confronts the Government as a result of last night's votes is of its own making; because the Government has decided to carry on as a party. In the circumstances, the Opposition has a duty to the people. The scene in this chamber last night demonstrated clearly that the Government is not fully representative of the people, and has not the political strength to put its own policy into operation. The Opposition has a most important duty to perform in that respect. When honorable senators opposite were on this side of the chamber, they claimed a similar right. Our criticism is justified, particularly when it is obvious that, under the National Security Act, the Government is endeavouring to implement its policy of socialism. This is the fourth budget to be presented to this Parliament since the war began. Rightly, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has had no hesitation in appropriating the sums needed for war purposes. But he has failed to put forward any concrete, proposal for bridging the gap between expenditure and revenue for this year. That gap is greater than ever before. War expenditure for this year is estimated to amount to £440,000,000, compared with £319,000,000 for last year, whilst the total estimated expenditure for this year is estimated at £549,000,000 compared with £421,000,000 for last year. In view of the uncertainty arising from war conditions, the Treasurer must be very guarded in his estimates, particularly in respect of the primary industries, which, to-day, are confronted with a serious problem due to the shortage of man-power. It is estimated that revenue by way of taxes and loans will amount to £363,000,000, which leaves a gap of £18*6,000,000. The only attempt made by the Treasurer to bridge that gap is to impose extra taxes which will bring in a mere additional £14,000,000. That means that a sum of £172,000,000 must still be raised. In order to provide that amount, the public must, double its previous contributions to war loans, and increase by eight times its purchases of war savings certificates. I sincerely hope that it will do so. However, I am very doubtful on that point. To the degree that the public fails to justify the Treasurer's hopes, the Government must resort to bank credit. Last year, £80,000;000 was obtained in that way for war expenditure. The effect resulting from the stimulation of public spending is already felt. The Treasurer makes that admission in his budget, when he refers to the grave danger of further expanding hank credit. All of us are glad that he is paying some regard to the dangers of raising money by that method. Whilst the release of bank credit increases the purchasing power of the people, it is not accompanied, under present conditions, by an increase of the supply of goods and services. The Government has failed to face this problem squarely. The £34,000,000 to be raised by additional taxes will do little to curb the inflationary effect of our growing excess purchasing power. Possibly, tie austerity appeal made by the Prime Minister may help to balance up matters. It is unfair and dangerous to rely upon voluntary loans for so great a sum. I say definitely that the only safe way of meeting our war liabilities is by a graduated levy on incomes, and by the institution of a system of post-war credits. The voluntary system is unfair. For instance, one family on a comparatively small income may be contributing to all sorts of patriotic funds, and investing its available cash in government loans, whereas another family, living a few doors away, may be receiving a very much greater income, but is not investing anything in government funds, and, perhaps, is doing very little war work. Apparently, the Government, has decided, for political reasons, to refuse to call for greater contributions from those in receipt of lower incomes. The fact remains however, that the bulk of our spending power lies in that field. If the Government confiscated all incomes over £400 a year, it. would not obtain sufficient to meet the budget requirements. In the very near future, it will be compelled to make an equitable levy on the earnings of all people in the community. There is nothing wrong with that. Every one should make some contribution, according to their income, towards the cost of the war. If this system were adopted, much of the aggravation resulting from the rationing of goods would be obviated. It would also help to relieve our manpower difficulties, because the administrative work involved in such a scheme would be comparatively simple. Wrapped up in the Government's financial problems is the problem of excessive consumption of liquor. As Senator Sampson has pointed out, the Government is notfacing this problem. It is a very difficult social and economic problem. The Government must realize that excessive consumption of liquor not only saps the health of our young men and women, but also breeds immorality. It refuses to go to the root of the difficulty. In a report published in to-day's Sydney Morning Herald, the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. S. Carver, disclosed that during last year the expenditure on liquor in New South Wales alone totalled £20,970,000, or £7 Ils. 5d. per head of population in that State. That is the highest figure on record. It is an increase of £2,900,000 on the State's liquor bill for 1.940, and twice as much as the amount expended on liquor in 1932. The average expenditure on liquor increased by 19s. lid. per head of the population within the last twelve months. Mr. Carver also stated that the consumption of beer in 1941 averaged 13$ gallons per head of the population. Those facts disclose a very serious situation. The Government should approach this problem by reducing the excess spending-power of the community. The Government will not improve matters by placing a further £150,000,000 worth of spending power in the hands of the people, rationing tea, sugar and other articles, putting out of the reach of the people a quantity of non-essential goods, and at the same time doing little or nothing towards the curtailment of liquor supplies and licences. If almost everything in that regard is allowed to proceed on the usual lines, and the people are allowed their usual spending power, then more drunkenness must take place. The Government is only encouraging the difficulty by allowing the present position to remain. It should take matters in hand and control the spending power of the people, which should be used for war purposes. That policy would do much to curtail the whole difficulty. Senator J. B. Hayes dealt with the advisability of altering the alcoholic strength of beer. There may be something in that suggestion.

Senator Keane - That is not possible. It would not keep.

Senator UPPILL - Let them do the same as was done to the digger's soup- when there was not sufficient to go around the cook put another bucket of water in it. The Government has refrained from approaching the subject fairly and squarely.

Senator Keane - Does the honorable senator think we ought to reduce wine consumption?

Senator UPPILL - I am not speaking about wine. The Government ought to take hold of the whole subject and remove these difficulties out of the way of the people by means of shorter hours of trading and other methods, but up to date it has not done anything. I am pleased to note that the Government proposes to pay one penny and one-third on wheat in the No. 2 pool. I do not know what proportion that will represent of Nos. 2, 3 and 4 pools, but approximately £2,000,000 is still left in them, and I appeal to the Government to pay it as soon as possible. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and Senator James McLachlan have already made that request. I can assure the Government that the money, if it can be made available, will be very beneficial. With regard to the excess quantity of 13,000,000 bushels of wheat, Senator McLeay last week asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce whether the Government had made a decision. The attitude of the Government, I understand, all along has been that it proposes to honour the promise of the previous Government. That was the reply to Senator McLeay's question.

Senator McLeay - If it does that, it should pay for it.

Senator UPPILL - I do not know what the Minister meant by that undertaking. It is a question whether he reserves the right to put his own interpretation on the proposals of the previous Government.

Senator Fraser - We intend to honour the promise of the previous Government.

Senator UPPILL - That seems to be rather a broad expression. Various suggestions have been made, one of which is that the money should be spread over the whole crop; but I do not know exactly what that means. The Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) is reported to have said that if the realization price is less than £26,800,000, the Government, will meet the deficiency. It is possible that the receipts will be more than £26.800,000, in which case the extra money will go to the grower. That statement leaves the whole business just where it was before. It was a promise to pay something over the amount realized ; but, seeing that Japan has since come into the war, that is not likely to eventuate, and the promise is not worth anything. In a debate in the House of Representatives last week, the Minister for Commerce, as Hansard shows, again stated that he would honour the promise made by the previous Government. He read from Hansard the first part of the statement made by the right honorable member for Cowper, Sir Earle Page, when introducing the bill, but it seems to me that he rather wilfully left out the principal part in which the promise was made. He read from Hansard to show that Sir Earle Page had said -

It must be realized that any wheat grown in excess of the 140,000,000-bushel basis will not participate in the guarantee. The same must, of course, apply to surplus hay.

Sir EarlePage read the same statement but went farther, and read the words "... but facilities for its disposal will be provided ". That is the most important part of the statement. I do not know what Mr. Scully meant, but it certainly seems to me that he evaded that portion of the statement. That is a very serious thing. Sir Earle Page further stated, when introducing the bill as Minister for Commerce -

The average production figure will be maintained by certain safeguards, of which the first is the system of acreage control through the registration of wheat farms and the licensing of wheat-farmers. . . . An additional safeguard is the provision for the cutting of the crops for hay as directed by the Government. Directions to cut hay will be given in years when a heavy crop isin prospect, and arrangements will be made for some finance to be made available against such hay.

That statement is most definite, and I hope that whatever is done the Government will honour its obligations and not place its own interpretation upon the matter.

I shall refer now to the proposal to make certain drastic changes in the existing wheat plan. It has been decided that the principle of control of acreage by means of the existing machinery should be maintained. The plan for the 1942-43 crop provides that wheat-growers will receive 4s. net a bushel, bagged basis, at sidings on wheat up to 3,000 bushels. Wheat produced by growers in excess of 3,000 bushels nr-ill be placed in a pool and the farmer will receive a just price upon realization. As the marketing, of this wheat ma./ be delayed, the 'Government propose* +o make an advance upon it at the rat*> of 2s. a bushel, net, at growers' sidings. It is expected' that about £27,000,000 will be required to meet the guaranteed price for the quota wheat and the 2s. advance on the balance. The propose J basis for the distribution of this mon'.y is not only unjust, but also is wrong in principle, because it discriminates between individual farmers. If the industry requires assistance,, then it should be helped as an industry, and not on an individual basis. It has also been claimed, that the scheme is a wartime measure which could be likened to our wool purchase scheme, but that is not the case. Our wool is purchased on a flat-rate basis so far as the individual growers are concerned, and there is no discrimination as regards the quantity that each farmer may grow. Also, provision is made for a variation of price according to the value and the cost of the wool. Therefore, there can be no comparison between the two schemes, because they are on entirely different bases. It seems to me that this proposal savours more of a political scheme. The Treasurer said in his budget speech that the return to the small farmer would be substantially increased, which is a sure indication that the scheme is political. He is also reported to have said that in South Australia, figures last year showed that only 094 growers out of' 13,405 produced mort; than 3,000 bushels. I point out, however, that what applies in one year may not necessarily apply in other years. Seasonal conditions might easily reverse the Minister's figures. Under the proposed scheme, the inefficient farmer will be treated on the same basis as the efficient farmer. The Government speaks of the difficulties of small farmers, but there are many big f aimers who are wheat-growers in a small way. In South Australia at least, many farmers whose properties are near a good hey market cut a large percentage of their crops for hay. They may also engage in dairying, lamb raising, &c, and do exceedingly well. Then there are men on poor low-rainfall country where good craps cannot be depended upon. In good seasons, the yield might be 3,000 or 4!,000 bushels, whereas in bad years it might be reduced to 500 bushels. Usually, growers in these areas can expect one good season in three, and they depend upon that good season to carry them through. Such a scheme would be grossly unfair to these men. Consideration must be given also to the fact that many farmers who hold goodquality lands have heavy commitments to meet, and at present their difficulties are accentuated by labour troubles. They may have valuable plant lying idle, and I am afraid that this scheme will, in some instances, put these farmers off the land altogether. It is a most unfair proposal. It will mean that the return to the farmer will be 4s. for 3,000 bushels, 3s. 6d. for 4,000 bushels, 3s. for 6,000 bushels, 2s. 10£d. for 7,000 bushels and 2s. Sd. for 9.000 bushels. In some cases a farmer's liabilities may -be much greater than the return from 3,000 bushels. That would mean that his work would be upon a non-paying basis. I hope that the Government will review the scheme. A few days ago a farmer who has four children informed me by letter that his farm is registered in his father's name, and that he will get only 2s.. >a bushel for the whole of his wheat crop. Scores of similar cases have come to my notice. I am definitely opposed to the new scheme.

Senator Fraser - Eighty per cent, of the wheat-growers are in favour of it.

Senator UPPILL - That may be so, but they are expecting 4s. a bushel. The Government has its political ears to the ground,, but I suggest that in future it should distribute whatever money is available from the crop to the whole of the farming community on the basis of a flat rate. The Opposition is prepared to give all possible assistance to the Government, so long as it meets its obligations fairly and. squarely.

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