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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES (Wakefield) . - I offer my congratulations to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick), who submitted this motion. He stated his case so clearly that I see no need to traverse in detail the ground that he covered. The chief point arising out of this discussion is the fact that last harvest reached 153,000,000 bushels, and the Government's guarantee was limited to 140,000,000 bushels. In my opinion, the Government adopted the proper course in giving that guarantee. It would be better generally if governments were to inform producers of the maximum quantity that they shall grow, instead of preventing them, by indirect methods, from being able to produce a crop. The position, as it appears to me, is that the guarantee applied only to 140,000,000 bushels, upon which payment should be made in full. Regarding the balance of 13,000,000 bushels, there is, I take it, a definite implied contract that payment will be made on the basis of the price realized. Out of that arises the problem of whether the 13,000,000 bushels can be sold at the present time, as the result of the war situation. I agree with those honorable members who say that it is not reasonable to expect the farmers to pay the storage costs for possibly years, and that the Government should pay off the wheat at a fixed date. That is a natural course for the Government to adopt, and I am surprised to hear honorable members opposite, who have so often proclaimed that they are the true representatives of the farmer, protest that the producer will be paid too much. Where are the farmers who produced the surplus of 13,000,000 bushels? I do not know, but the suggestion has been made that many of them are in New South Wales. Perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us. It is time that the arrears on several years' stored wheat were paid off. The farmers who grew the wheat are not in affluent circumstances and it is only reasonable that their accounts, which have been outstanding for several years, should be paid, particularly as the earlier pools have not resulted in any loss to the Government. That should be taken into account. The primary industries are confronted with four outstanding difficulties just now. The first is the shortage of man-power. There has been a deplorable lack of any attempt by any government to deal with manpower as it affects primary producers, [n that respect the wheat-farmer has suffered perhaps more than, and certainly as much as, any other primary producer. In South Australia there are, I venture to say, thousands of farms where there is not one employee, not even the son of the proprietor, left to do the work. At the same time as we are being told in this House that the sons of farmers will either be released from the Army or not taken into camp their release is being refused or they are being called into camp. There should be some system, and, if the Minister for Labour and National Service makes a statement, it should be carried out.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! If the honorable member were allowed to discuss the wheat industry generally, the same privilege would have to be given to all honorable members. It would be better for him to confine his remarks to the definite matter of urgent public importance mentioned by the mover.

Mr DUNCAN-HUGHES - ^Without wishing to differ from your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I would urge that the question of the payment for wheat cannot be adequately considered unless the general position of wheat, not in detail, of course, be taken into some account. The second difficulty of primary producers is the rising cost of production, which is adequately and excellently set out in the last report of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries. The third difficulty is the provision of financial accommodation by the banks. No one knows better than the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) that the Commonwealth Bank and, through it, the trading banks have been restricting the provision of finance. That policy is reacting to the detriment of the men on the land. I know of men in my own district who have been on the land for 30 or 40 years -and are now vacating their farms because they know that they can meet their commitments at present, but that, if they suffer a couple of bad seasons, they will not be able to do so. I understand that the rule is that the banks shall not penalize the farmers, but, if the choice is between a prosperous city business and a struggling farmer, it is inevitable that the first will receive assistance from the bank, when its own right to extend credit has been seriously curtailed: The fourth difficulty is one which I have discussed before in. this House. ' It does not apply to the wheat industry so much as to other primary industries. It is the fixing of prices at figures which show no profit for the producer. It will inevitably cause production of the primary commodities affected to fall below requirements. Although I do not usually venture to prophesy, I say now, as I said to some of my electors months ago, that, in a few months, the Government will be appealing to primary producers to grow food for the people because there will not be sufficient to go round. Men who know more than I do about this matter say that it is possible that before many months have passed we shall find ourselves starved of certain items of food. That is a matter for the Agricultural Council, or, better still, the Minister for War Organization of Industry has the chance to show what he can do, for primary production is a form of industry. If the people find themselves without sufficient to eat, we shall have an expression of their opinion which may be belated but which will be none the less effective. I heartily support the motion of the honorable member for Swan.

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