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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr WILSON (Wimmera) .- I support the object of the mover of the motion, which is to obtain for the wheatgrowers of Australia ia fairer deal. Farmers have received only a meagre return for their wheat over a number of years. Nevertheless, it is strange to hear honorable members of the Opposition attacking the weaknesses of the present wheat stabilization scheme and the inadequacy of the returns it is yielding to tile farmers, seeing that the scheme was sponsored, and put into operation, by the previous Government which they supported. The only brief I hold in this matter is for the Wheat-growers. I wish them to receive what they are entitled to receive. It is only just, however, that we should look carefully at the undertaking given to the farmers so that we may allot the responsibility fairly. When the scheme for the war-time acquisition, control and marketing of wheat in Australia was agreed upon a guaranteed price of 3s. 6d. a bushel f.o.r. was proposed. It had been suggested previously by the then Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle

Page) that the amount should be 3s. Sd. f.o.r. Unfortunately, the representatives of the wheat-growers later agreed to accept 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. That price includes certain problematical charges in relation to the storage, handling and reconditioning of wheat over an unspecified period, and this makes it impossible for anybody to compute accurately what the return to the grower will be. At the time the guaranteed price was agreed to a proposal for the restriction of acreage was also adopted. This was put into operation, but with doubtful success, for complaints about it have been made from all quarters. I have no doubt, from the information at my disposal, that it was agreed that any production in excess of the 140,000,000 bushels from licensed areas was to be sold and the price averaged. This agreement was reached at a conference held in Melbourne last year, which was attended by representatives of the growers, including such prominent persons as Messrs. Watson and Teasdale, Western Australia ; Mr. Cullen, Victoria; Mr. Murphy, Secretary to the Department of Commerce; Sir Olive MacPherson, and several other persons associated with the industry.

Mr Paterson - In other words the honorable member is suggesting that the excess over 140,000,000 bushels should be given away.

Mr WILSON - Not at all.

Mr Paterson - That is what it amounts to.

Mr WILSON - At the moment I am not putting my own view. I am stating the terms of the agreement reached at the conference of representatives of the Department of Commerce, the Australian Wheat Board, and representatives of the wheat-growers.

Mr Abbott - That is not Sir Earle ' Page's interpretation of the agreement.

Mr WILSON - I do not know what Sir Earle Page's interpretation of it is. Let me make it clear to honorable members that I am not arguing that the agreement reached at that conference should be rigidly adhered to, for, in my view, the wheat-growers have not received nearly enough for their wheat.

Mr McEwen - What does the honorable gentleman suggest should be done?

Mr WILSON - I suggest that the Government should make an ex gratia payment to the growers.

Mr McEwen - A charity payment for 13,000,000 bushels of wheat?

Mr WILSON - Not at all. The word " confiscation " has been used in relation to this wheat. In fairness to the Government, and to all others concerned, it should be pointed out that this word, which is not a nice one, was used at the Melbourne conference. The representatives of the wheat-growers suggested that wheat grown illegally on unlicensed areas should be confiscated.

Mr Marwick - We are not talking about wheat illegally grown.

Mr WILSON - I am informed that only about 1,500,000 bushels of wheat was illegally grown. That is a relatively small quantity in the huge total delivered by the wheat-growers, and it should be paid for on the basis of ultimate realization. So far no payment has been made for this wheat. It is obvious that a good deal of the wheat stripped in excess of 140,000,000 bushels was sown for the purpose of cutting for hay. When, because of man-power difficulties, it became impossible to cut the wheat for hay, permission was given to strip it for grain. But the fact remains, and it cannot be disputed on the information available, that an agreement was- reached that any wheat produced in excess of 1.40,000,000 bushels from licensed areas should be sold and that the growers should receive a price averaged over the whole crop.

Mr Paterson - That is saying, in effect, that there shall be no payment for the extra wheat.

Mr WILSON - The honorable member may twist the agreement if he pleases, but the representatives of the growers agreed that if excess wheat were produced the price should be averaged. An executive member of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board toured the wheat belt of Australia and informed the farmers that if they produced wheat in excess of 140,000,000 bushels, the returns would be averaged over the whole crop. Although f make that statement, I have no wish to do other than assist the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick) to secure a more adequate return for the growers. The present wheat scheme has been a dismal failure, for it has not given to the growers anything like the return that they should receive, with the result they are in difficulties to-day as they have been for years past. I consider that the Government should make whatever payments it can make for the wheat received. It could calculate the probable realization and on that basis make a substantial advance to the farmers, who play such an important part in our economic life and are entitled to a fair deal. [Extension of time granted."] Some of the 'reasons for the very low returns that have been received from the present plan for the pooling of wheat and the application of the guarantee, may be of interest to honorable members. The total of the costs in connexion with the No. 2 pool was S.67d. made up as follows: - Handling, shipping and administration, 2.9d. ; storage and depreciation, .45d.; interest on advances, .79d. ; and rail freight, 4.53d. There was an increase in respect of the No. 4 pool, the costs of which were as follows : - Handling, shipping and administration, 2.99d.; storage and depreciation, 1.5d.; interest on advances, .74d.; and rail freight, 4.44u. : a total of 9.67d. I wish to give an accurate computation of costs in connexion with the No. 5 pool. It indicates how uncertain is the f.o.b. basis in time of war, and shows that the guarantee may ultimately result in the returns to the growers being lower than the amount advanced, if storage has to be continued for a long time. The inescapable conclusion is that a different scheme must be devised, otherwise many growers must leave the industry. With storage for one year, the costs would be as follows: Storage, 1.327d.; interest, .75d. ; rail freight, 4.5d. ; handling and shipping, 2.5d. ; excess production, calculated on a 10,000,000-bushel basis, 3.25d.: a total of 12.327d. With storage for two years, on the same basis of calculation, the costs would be as follows: Storage, 1.703d.; interest, 2d.; rail freight, 4.5d.; handling and shipping, 2.5d.; excess production on a 10,000,000- bushel basis, 3.25d. : a total of 13,953d.

With storage for three years, the costs would be: Storage, 2.07d.; interest, 2.75d.; rail freight, 4.5d. ; handling and shipping, 2.5d.-, excess production on a 10,000,000-bushel basis, 3.25d.; a total of 15.079d. These costs have to come out of the guaranteed price of 3s. lOd. a bushel f.o.b. Surely further argument is not needed to convince honorable members that a definite alteration must be made of the basis of marketing and guaranteeing a price to the wheat-growers.

It may be of interest to quote the actual remarks of the Minister for Commerce with regard to the illegal production of wheat. On the 25th November, 1941, the honorable gentleman stated: -

Representations have been made concerning the position of a number of wheat-growers who have planted excess areas and are unable to secure sufficient labour to prevent this excess from maturing to grain. As these growers had broken the regulations, they were instructed to cut the excess areas for hay or to prevent it from maturing, but now we are faced with the position where rural labour is simply not available to enable this to be done. In the circumstances, the provision is being made for w'heat-growers to harvest the excess wheat. They may apply to the chairman of the Local Committee of Review for their district. The chairman will make a recommendation to the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board, and the wheat may then be harvested by the growers. It should be noted that this is intended to apply only to those who find it impossible to dispose of their surplus. Wheat-growers who can deal with their surplus wheat must do so. Having made provision for dealing with this wheat, I want to make it clear that provision is also being made to protect the interests of wheat-growers who have faithfully observed the regulations. They will not suffer because they have complied with the requirements. Although growers are permitted to strip excess areas, they will not he allowed to gain as a result, nor to injure the interests of their fellow growers. The excess wheat harvested will be delivered to the Australian Wheat Board, hut the first advance paid to growers for wheat acquired will not be paid on the excess. The payment which will ultimately be made for it is a matter which will be determined later, and that payment will certainly not be sufficient to show a profit to those who have evaded the regulations.

Many of the growers who, for the reasons mentioned in that statement, were permitted to strip excess wheat, produced the excess because licences were not issued to them until the grain was ready to harvest. So far, many of them have not received a penny for more than one-half of their total production in the current year. J have appealed to the Government privately to make a payment to those who are in financial difficulties, and are being pressed by their creditors. If they have excess, or, as it has been described, illegal wheat, that was not entirely their fault. Some of them have been fortunate in that they have been able to approach the authorities administering the stabilization scheme. It has been reported to me that, although they had illegal wheat, permission was granted for it to be placed in the pool and to be paid for in the ordinary way. That report ought to be investigated, because injustice is thereby done to licensed growers whose price has probably been reduced because of this fact. I support the principle to which the motion seeks to give effect, and I shall do everything I can to secure more prompt and adequate payment to the wheatgrowers. I am convinced, however, that this can only be done in future by methods such as those proposed by the present Minister for Commerce.

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