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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr MARWICK (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I have taken this action because, within the next two or three days, Parliament will go into recess for a considerable time, and I consider that the Government ought to make an announcement on these important matters before honorable members disperse. I approach this subject in the fervent hope that definite action will be taken immediately in the interests of the growers who have participated in the various wheat pools that have operated since the outbreak of war more than two and a half years ago. I shall refer to various quantities and values in approximate figures. They willbe reasonably accurate, but I shall be pleased to receive from the Minister correction of any inaccuracies.

I shall deal first with the No. 5 wheat pool for this year. I claim that the Government is confiscating 13,000,000 bushels of excess wheat, and I use the word " confiscating " after a careful perusal of the statements that have been made by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) in the last month. I shall refer to some of those statements in order to make the position clear. On the 14th May, the Minister said -

The whole matter of final payments is now under review, so far as the earlier pools are concerned. The previous Government, on an estimated crop of 140,000,000 bushels, guaranteed an initial payment of 3s. 8d. for bulk wheat and 3s.10d. for bagged wheat f.o.b.

A certain amount of money was allocated to the pool for that purpose, and was agreed to by representatives of the wheat-growers throughout Australia.

The crop amounted to 153,000,000 bushels, and the fund created was, therefore, insufficient to pay more than 3s.6d. a bushel. When costs have been subtracted, there will be little left from which to make further payments to the growers from the 1941-42 pool.

On the 19th May, he made the following statement : -

The guarantee of 3s.10d. a bushel applied to an aggregate crop of 140,000,000 bushels, whereas the wheat received has reached a total of 153,000,000 bushels. Spreading the total amount of guarantees over the 153,000,000 bushels, the approximate price payable for bagged wheat will be 3s. 6d. a bushel, less costs, which will represent about lOd. or lid. a bushel. The price for silo wheat will be 2d. a bushel less.

It will be seen from these statements that the Government now proposes to use an amount of £27,000,000, which was promised by the Menzies Government as a guarantee for 140,000,000 bushels, to pay a lower price on the crop _ of 153,000,000 bushels. In other words, the present Government proposes to acquire 13,000,000 bushels of wheat, for which it will pay nothing extra to the growers. Despite what the Minister has said about honouring the contract made by the previous Government, I maintain that, if this Government continues with its proposal, it will repudiate the contract made by the Menzies Government with the growers in 1940. In support of this contention, I refer the Minister to what the then Minister for Commerce, Sir Earle Page, said when the Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill was introduced in this House on the 29 th November, 1940. The honorable gentleman made this statement -

It must be realized that any wheat grown in excess of the 140,000,000 bushels basis will not participate in the guarantee. The same must, of course, apply to surplus hay, but facilities for its disposal will be provided. The provision for the cutting of crops for hay will not only assist to form a basis for a national conservation scheme, but by avoiding sharp fluctuations of the acreage sown, will also give the opportunity, should market conditions be favorable, for Australian wheat-growers to take the fullest advantage of a high world price. The scheme will operate in respect of the 1941-42 harvest.

It is apparent from that statement that the previous Government intended that wheat pooled in excess of 140,000,000 bushels should be paid for at realization prices, and that the fodder conservation pool should be organized throughout Australia. This is clear, also, from many references that the right honorable gentleman made to the subject in this House. The fodder conservation scheme was dropped after he left Australia for England, but had it been carried out we should not have met the difficulty that we are now facing over this 13,000,000 bushels of excess wheat. Taking these facts into consideration, I believe that it would be only fair to pay the wheatgrowers 3s, lOd. a bushel for the 153,000,000 bushels that have been pooled. Even, that price is not payable under present conditions, for production costs have risen considerably since that price was fixed.

I now propose to discuss the Government's failure to wind up the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 pools. According to the best information that I can obtain, practically the whole of the wheat in these pools has been disposed of, although I am aware that substantial quantities of it still remain in Australia awaiting shipment. The Australian Wheat Board acquired approximately 196,000,000 bushels in connexion with the 1939-40 Beason and the whole of it, with the exception of about 1,000,000 bushels which was rust-infected, was placed in No. 2 pool. The rustinfected wheat was placed in No. 3 pool. It is about two and a half years since that wheat was delivered to the board, and, on the most reliable figures that I have been able to obtain, the growers are entitled to about £1,250,000 in respect of it, assuming that the estimate made by the Department of Commerce in 1940 of 9 1/2d a bushel to put the wheat on board ship was not exceeded. If this outstanding amount of £1,250,000 were paid to the farmers they would receive about Id. a bushel extra for their wheat and, on the 4jd. a bushel freight basis, their net return would then be about 4s. Id. a bushel for bagged wheat and 3s. lid. a bushel for bulk wheat f .o.b.

In 194:0-41 Australia experienced a bad year, and the wheat harvest totalled only about 64,000,000 bushels. That wheat was placed in No. 4 pool. I am informed that an amount of about £1,200,000 is still owing to farmers in respect of that harvest. As the wheat has been disposed of, it is only right that the farmers should be paid the money that is due to them. The Australian Wheat Board is the only authority in Australia which can dispose of wheat to-day, so it must have been the intention of the Government that any excess wheat delivered to the board should be paid for at realization prices. It is about eighteen months since the wheat in No. 4 pool was acquired by the Government.

Farmers were obliged to incur expenses as far back as 1938 in connexion with the wheat delivered to the No. '2 and No. 3 pools.

Mr Duncan-Hughes - Some of those farmers may not be alive now.

Mr MARWICK (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The delay and anxiety has been sufficient to kill some of them.

Mr McEwen - And some of the others may wish that they were dead !

Mr MARWICK (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Well, I am one of them and I hope to live a little longer. Land has to be fallowed about eleven months before a crop can be sown, and it is eighteen months after fallowing begins before farmers are able to strip their grain. It will be seen therefore that some farmers incurred expenses three and a half years ago in connexion with No. 2 and No. 3 pools. Surely it is not too much to ask that they should be paid the money due to them in respect of that wheat. The business should be concluded before Parliament adjourns.

I regret that the Minister for Commerce is not able to attend the sitting of the House to-day on account of an attack of influenza, but he knows very well the deplorable condition of most of the wheatgrowers, and I consider that I am justified in requesting him to complete the accounts in relation to the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 pools without delay. I also ask that the 13,000,000 bushels of excess wheat in No. 5 pool be paid for on the same basis as the 140,000,000 bushels, for I am confident that had the previous Government's plan to establish a fodder conservation pool been carried out we should not be facing such great difficulty in connexion with the surplus yield from last harvest.

The Minister is apparently basing his present attitude in respect of excess wheat on an agreement that was supposed to have been reached in Melbourne some time ago by a conference attended by Sir Earle Page, officers of his department, and representatives of the wheatgrowers. I prefer to base my opinion on the statements recorded in Hansard when Parliament had the scheme under consideration. I ask the Minister for Commerce what his reaction would have been had the Melbourne conference to whichhe has so frequently referred requested that 4s. 6d. a bushel should be paid for wheat in the No. 5 pool.

Mr Duncan-Hughes - Was it a recognized body?

Mr MARWICK (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I believe that it was the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. I am not clear on that point, and am open to correction. When the conference met, the conditions were entirely different from what they are to-day. Experience has been gained in connexion with two previous pools, both of which promised a net realization of 4s. a bushel on board ship, and apparently were working very satisfactorily. At that time, large shipments were made to Japan, and it was probably thought that no great difficulty would be experienced in connexion with the disposal of the crop. However, various charges have had to be met during the last three years. I am not making an unreasonable request when I ask that the payment for the 13,000,000 bushels shall be on the same basis as for the 140,000,000 bushels.

Mr Curtin - Out of what resources?

Mr MARWICK -Out of the resources of the country. To acquire an additional 13,000,000 bushels of wheat for nothing is dishonest. That will be the effect. The previous government at least intended to pay for that wheat on realization.

Mr Curtin - Does the honorable gentleman say that a part of the proceeds of the realization of that wheat will not be disbursed to the wheat-growers?

Mr MARWICK - The statements made in this House by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) indicate that the £27,000,000, which it was intended should be the guaranteed total price for 140,000,000 bushels, is to be used to acquire 153,000,000 bushels. I can place no other interpretation on the statements of the honorable gentleman, and I believe that the right honorable gentleman will agree that there is no other.

Mr Curtin - The Minister for Commerce undertook to find £27,000,000 in the event of a crop of 140,000,000 bushels ?

Mr MARWICK - That is so.

Mr Curtin - Hashe found less than that sum?

Mr MARWICK - I do not know what he has found so far. I am merely basing my arguments on the statements be has made. [Extension of time granted.] It would be interesting to ascertain exactly what the benefits have been to the Commonwealth Bank and, through it, to the Treasury, since the wheat pools were established in 1939-40. I believe that substantial sums by way of interest have accrued to these two government instrumentalities. I believe further that nearly £8,000,000 has been received by State governments from rail freight charges, harbour dues, and the substantial rents which in some States have been paid for the sites on which the wheat is stored. As much of the wheat will be stored for a considerable period, the costs in that connexion might be reduced considerably if an approach were made to the State governments on whose property the wheat is stored at most of the country sidings. I appeal to the Minister to speed up the finalization of wheat pools Nos. 2, 3 and 4, and to treat the 13,000,000 bushels as I have stated.

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