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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Primary Industry) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to set out the details of plans which will result in new research into the scientific and economic problems of the wheat industry. The growers are providing their share of the money and the Commonwealth will add its share. The total amount will then be used for additional research.

This is the third industry whose representatives have agreed to a plan to finance research into industry problems. Similar arrangements, differing in detail to meet special circumstances in each case, exist for wool and tobacco. The introduction of this legislation is a landmark in the history of the Australian wheat industry, because it opens the way to a concerted attack on industry problems by drawing on the skill and experience of research workers who specialize in different fields associated with wheat production and marketing.

It is hardly necessary to mention the very great importance of the wheat industry in Australia. Second only to wool, it has provided the basis for Australia's development. The Australian standard of living is founded in no small part on the economic health of this great industry. About onefifth of Australia's farms grow wheat, and the value of the Australian crop in the last three years has ranged from £92,000,000 to £130,000,000. Much of this wheat has been consumed at home, but earnings from sales overseas continue to be a major source of export income. In recent years exports of wheat have been valued at between £66,000,000 and £78,000,000, an appreciable contribution to our export income. Furthermore, the wheat industry provides employment for large numbers of Australians, not only on farms, but also in associated industries. For example, the value of superphosphate sales to the wheat industry was about £4,500,000 in 1955-56, and it is an important end user of machinery and chemicals of many kinds.

In recent years, while maintaining its position as a major source of overseas income and of employment for Australians, the wheat industry has undergone significant changes in techniques of production. A whole range of scientific advances have found their application in the wheat industry, some based on the results of painstaking research under Australian conditions, and others founded on advances in overseas countries which have had a role here in Australia. The work of Australian wheatbreeders has not been surpassed anywhere in the world.

Sixty-one years ago William Farrer started his wheat breeding work at Lambrigg, not far from where we are now sitting. He pioneered new ideas in plant breeding and in 1901 released his famous wheat called " Federation ". Let me recall Professor Robert D. Watt's comment: " It is not often given to many men to alter the appearance of the whole landscape, as Farrer did with this variety, the dark brown heads of Federation replacing the pale golden colour of most of the varieties which it supplanted ".

Perhaps even more significant is the fact that, good as they were, few Farrer varieties are grown to-day because they have been replaced by even better varieties also bred in Australia. Men like Professor W. L. Waterhouse, who retired a few years ago from his work at Sydney University, have laid a foundation of new wheat varieties and of trained personnel. Given adequate money for the purpose, wheat breeding can be expanded to produce new varieties suited to the special environments of our wheatgrowing areas, suited to requirements of our markets and to meet new challenges from new diseases. The need to improve the quality of our wheat crop is being more widely recognized, and the spur to analysis of the problems involved in doing this can be provided by making more money available for research.

The basis of any successful research programme in the wheat industry must be the analysis of soil fertility problems and their relation to rotational and cultivation systems of various kinds. Associated with this are the studies of cereal chemistry designed to relate quality variations in the wheat grain to environmental factors and to different aspects of soil fertility. A good example of this is work in progress at the Wagga Agricultural Research Institute in New South Wales, where new aspects regarding the quality of wheat starch are being investigated. Decentralized work of this kind, drawing on the special skill of different scientists, is the kind of work to which the funds from the proposed trust account can be devoted.

Recent experience in overseas markets indicates clearly that we have prospects of selling more wheat if we can produce a quality higher than our present f.a.q. There is little doubt that our market outlook would be greatly improved if we were producing more hard or medium hard high quality wheat. There are some regions in Australia where these classes of wheat can readily be grown. There are other regions where more research is necessary into conditions under which quality improvement can be achieved without lowering yield. This will need field experiments and studies of rotational systems including the economic aspects, fertilising techniques and varietal trials, and also fundamental plant breeding activities. There is the additional need to increase our knowledge of quality in wheat, as related to millers' requirements, in an age in which baking techniques have changed and are still changing. Research into practical commercial techniques of testing wheat quality is also necessary.

Another phase of research of great importance in Australia is the problem of mechanization in the industry. We have a long history of pioneering and invention in this field. Ridley's stripper and McKay's combined harvester were early and remarkable examples of this work. An aspect of this research is the development of machines better suited to cultivation operations under the wide range of soil types used for wheatgrowing. The expansion of the bulkhandling method of harvesting and transporting wheat has done much to reduce costs and remove some of the arduous manual labour involved in wheat production.

Many changes influencing production methods and the distribution of the wheat industry are under way in Australia. It is only by the establishment of a broadly based research programme that we can maintain our position in this fiercely competitive industry, and provide Australia's wheat-growers with the " know how " to protect their competitive position against producers in overseas countries. We need to keep these changes under constant review, to assess their importance, and to be ready to use our research resources in a way designed to help the Australian wheat-growers.

While the emphasis has been on research into agronomic production problems, I would not want to leave the impression that this alone would constitute a wellrounded research programme for the industry. There is also a need for economic research into production and marketing problems, to provide more detailed information on the cost structure of the industry, the effects of changes in costs and prices on the incomes of wheat-growers, and the way in which new techniques of production founded on scientific research can be introduced and their acceptance encouraged. Analysis of the factors slowing up the adoption of technological change also come within the scope of economic research of this kind.

This bill is the outcome of negotiations that have been going on for some time. The wheat-growers' organizations, the States and the Commonwealth, have all been concerned; and the proposals that have received the approval of all parties are now presented.

I should like to record my appreciation of the work done by the Australian Wheat

Growers Federation which, as the representative of Australian wheat-growers, has endorsed the proposals submitted to introduce a tax on the wheat produced. The tax will be administered by collections from the Australian Wheat Board, and the effect will be that the growers will receive the first advance, less the tax of one farthing a bushel. This represents about £1 for every 1,000 bushels, and, I am sure, represents a very good investment for Australian wheat-growers. Total proceeds will be well over £100,000 each year. For the 1956-57 crop, it would be £125,000 approximately, and on a crop of 160,000,000 bushels total tax proceeds would be about £170,000.

It is proposed to impose the tax on the 1956-57 crop, so that the plan can get under way without delays which would result from waiting for the 1957-58 crop now about to be sown. This aspect of the proposal has the support of the Australian Agricultural Council, as well as the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. The growers wish to have the disposal of the money they supply, and there is to be a committee in each mainland State nominated by the State Minister for Agriculture. There will be a majority of grower members from the Australian Wheat Growers Federation on each of these committees, together with other members according to the varying needs of the different States. The State committees will allocate the tax funds to research. Wheat crops vary in size from State to State, and the effect of this provision is that each State committee will allocate the tax paid by growers in its own State. So the States with the most wheat will have the most tax to allocate. That is the system that the growers want, and it is quite reasonable that they should control the funds that they supply.

There will also be a Wheat Industry Research Council, lt will consist of: - One representative of the Department of Primary Industry; two representatives of wheat-growers; five representatives, being one from each of the Departments of Agriculture of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia; one representative of the universities of Australia; one representative of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. The council will be a co-ordinating body, co-operating with the State committees, and avoiding duplication.

One of its important duties will be to recommend the appropriate expenditure of the funds supplied by the Commonwealth. It will be seen that the additional work is to fit into the research scheme. Over the years valuable work has been done by research workers in the universities, the State Departments of Agriculture, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In the expanded programme that is made possible by this scheme the existing research bodies will naturally find scope for additional work, and the money to carry it out.

The State committees can be expected to spend most of the money in research carried out by the institutions in their own State; but at times a State may benefit most by bearing part of the cost of research carried out in another State. Reciprocity of that kind will be possible under the act. It is obvious, too, that the Commonwealth Council can do valuable work because it will know what programmes are being carried out all over Australia. In consultation with the State committees it will be possible to improve the efficiency of the scheme by passing on information about desirable lines of research in different places. The Commonwealth Council will recommend the expenditure of the money supplied by the Commonwealth. Here there are obvious means of getting good results from the scheme. The Comonwealth funds can be used as additional funds in a State where some project needs more money; they can be used to fill in gaps in State programmes; and they can be used for desirable research that for some reason is not being carried on elsewhere.

It will be noted that the ways in which research is to be carried out are not stated; they are left completely open for selection when the money is allocated for definite lines of research. In fact, there are research institutions in all States, and the amount already being spent year by year is much greater than the amount to be brought in by this plan. Nevertheless, the tax on growers, plus the Commonwealth appropriation, will add a substantial amount to the sum that is at present being spent for research into wheat problems. The point is that the money now provided will be spent on additional research that otherwise would not be carried out; but obviously the research bodies that have proved themselves over the years will not be supplanted. They will be given funds so that they can carry on the additional research.

The bill is the outcome of negotiations in the Australian Agricultural Council and with the organized wheat-growers. It gives expression to the wishes of the growers that research in their industry should continue and should increase; it gives expression to their conviction that the industry itself should suply funds for its own future benefit. It is one way in which growers express their appreciation of what wheat research has done for them in the past. They know that in wheat production they must keep fully in line with scientific developments here and overseas. Perhaps, most of all, this plan expresses the determination of Australian wheat-growers to keep on producing wheat successfully in face of all the competition that the world can bring.

May I mention, Mr. Speaker, that I have agreed with my friend, the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that this bill and the Wheat Tax Bill 1957, which is a cognate measure, be debated concurrently on the motion for the second reading, and that, subsequently, the normal procedure be followed in respect of each of these measures.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pollard) adjourned.

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