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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2760

Mr WHAN (Eden) (Monaro) - The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) has made one or two comments which I think need to be answered before I begin to discuss the content of this Bill and its implications for wheat research. First of all, the proposition in regard to the Australian Government's involvement in the program for eliminating weevils from wheat was never agreed to by the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt), as I illustrated recently by quoting from the minutes of the appropriate meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. He has at all times qualified the Australian Government's involvement in this program by the need for Cabinet approval.

The second aspect which should be borne in mind is that the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation placed a condition on this program, which made it extremely difficult to initiate. That condition was that inspectors involved in the eradication program could not enter private farms in order to inspect stocks of wheat held on the farms. Quite clearly, if we are to eliminate weevils from the national wheat crop it is ludicrous to expect this job to be done if a fairly substantial proportion of the crop cannot be approached by the people who are carrying out the eradication of the weevils. If weevils are being generated in farm held stocks, a great deal of money will be wasted on a national program to eliminate weevils. It is quite obvious that we need to have an opportunity to approach those wheat stocks. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation was not prepared to give the inspectors that opportunity.

Mr Maisey - The black marketeers in wheat did not want it.

Mr WHAN - I agree.

Mr Maisey - It is mostly in Queensland and New South Wales.

Mr WHAN - This is quite so. We are in complete agreement on this matter. It is quite clear that a national program could not operate unless we were able to cover every grain of wheat stored.

This Bill applies to wheat research. A tax is proposed to be collected to finance wheat research. A summary of the research that was conducted last year is contained in the 15th annual report on wheat research for the year ended 31 December 1972. A very interesting range of subjects will be financed by this money: Firstly, as to the environment in which the wheat is grown - namely, the soil itself - moisture, organic matter, nitrogen content, microbiology and nutrients within the soil which are required for the adequate production of wheat. That fascinating range of subjects involves a great many disciplines. It is clear that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation - this is reflected also in the report - plays a very dominant role in this research. In 1972-73, $193,000 in a total expenditure of $800,000 on wheat research was spent by the CSIRO. It is also encouraging to note that other organisations are so deeply involved in research; namely, the various State departments of agriculture, the universities and the Bread Research Institute in New South Wales.

As I have mentioned in regard to soil research, a great range of disciplines is involved. The only way in which we can get a productive outlet is through research. If we look down the list of the fields of research we find such things as plant physiology and plant breeding - to which the honourable member for Corangamite referred in his speech - and then we come to an aspect which I believe deserves a great deal of attention, namely, wheat quality. The prelude to a proper marketing system is a proper classification system. It is important to understand the parameters and properties of wheat, or any other commodity for that matter, in a detailed way. If we pay a great deal of attention to the analysis and composition of individual wheats, we are in a better position to exploit the unique advantages those wheats have for particular markets.

Mr Maisey - The moisture content is the most important one.

Mr WHAN - Also protein. Many properties of wheat, which at the moment we do not suspect as having an economic value, will in the future become more important as the wheat consumer becomes more discriminating. Therefore, it is important that a wheat producing country such as Australia should have a greater understanding of the quality, range and potential of its wheat product than the consuming countries have. It must be in a position to meet the buyer ahead of the buyer's requirements. So wheat quality, which in a sens: becomes the basis of a classification system, deserves a great deal of attention. It is no longer satisfactory in a sophisticated marketing system to depend upon a basis of fair average quality or any other quality for describing wheat. We have a very good demonstration - the honourable member for Corangamite agrees with me on this - in relation to wool. The wool industry which is the traditional industry in this country was prepared to sell wool at an f.a.q. standard for so long. It was only in recent years when we approached the whole question of wool marketing from the point of view of understanding its composition, and then directing those unique batches of wool towards unique end uses that we were in a position to capitalise to a greater extent on the virtues of specialised products. The idea that any commodity, particularly wheat, produced on such a wide scale and subject to such a huge variety of environments, the idea that we are producing one commodity and one commodity alone, just does not stand up to examination. We have traditionally used wheat in the way that is suggested by this basic premise that in fact there is only one type, only one quality, with broad classifications - hard and soft wheat. Clearly the research into wheat quality can be, and I believe almost certainly will be, the prelude to a much more sophisticated marketing system for wheat which will extract the last possible cent for the wheat grower. Ironically, this particular knowledge does not blossom until conditions are bad for the producer. Under those conditions he is then in a position to exploit his ultimate knowledge of his product. In other words, he is able to get a monopoly for some wheats with a particular balance of qualities for some end uses where the Australian market has established its fundamental claim.

Mr Maisey - It all depends on how much water you can put in the flour.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Oh goodness, can you not keep quiet?

Mr WHAN - He is thirsty. Let us face it; the man is thirsty.

McSPEAKER-Order! I will not permit private conversations. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro is addressing the Chair.

Mr WHAN - The report then gives a very impressive list of research areas including wheat diseases, wheat storage, legume pasture studies, and then it deals with an area on which the honourable member for Corangamite concentrated in his speech - alternative crops in wheat growing areas. In this report, outlining the research that was done in this regard in 1972-73, is a separate paragraph headed Alternative Crops' deals with exactly this question. It reads:

Research .is being supported into grain crops which can be grown in rotation with wheat or as alternative crops for wheat growing areas. The program is concerned with legume and oilseed crops and includes plant breeding and selection to develop varieties with improved yield, seed quality and disease resistance.

Clearly the research into alternative crops, and in particular in relation to oilseeds, is already under way. As the honourable member for Corangamite emphasised, it is important to ensure that the wheat grower does indeed have an alternative crop iri a low priced wheat year; an alternative which will maintain his income at a reasonable level; an alternative which will allow him to include into his cycle of crops a crop which will enhance the capacity of the soil to produce a satisfactory wheat crop. Already in this program we have recognised the need - in the future I believe this will be so particulalry in regard to the State endeavour - to continue this research into alternative crops.

I come now to research carried out into weeds. Again this is an obvious area for such funds to be used. I would like to conclude my contribution tonight by concentrating on 2 areas which I believe are extremely important. I refer, firstly, to the question of our contribution to research into agricultural economics in relation to wheat, and, secondly, the matter of studentship for the production of new research workers in the field. We have 2 areas of research which complement each other. One is the purely physical, chemical area of studies into wheat quality which lay the basic groundwork for wheat classification and, subsequently, a marketing system. The second area of study is the micro-economics of marketing. This area has been seriously neglected in the past, not only in relation to wool but also in relation to every other agricultural product. It is vitally important that we develop the area generally called micro-economics so far as agricultural economics is concerned, because it is in this area that we can develop the sensitive marketing mechanisms which give the grower, and therefore the seller, a much more powerful and much stronger bargaining position in the market, not because the Government imposes on the market some artificial restrain or some Draconian pressure but because we can impose on the market a better understanding of market requirements and use the market mechanisms to further the interests of the grower or the seller. So our very elementary knowledge of marketing of wheat - I now think that in some sense wheat is falling behind wool in this regard - requires a great deal of attention and a great deal of research effort. I am glad to see that this has been acknowledged in the past and will be continued in the future. Once again it is significant that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics is developing a marketing section in order to obtain a better understanding of the marketing problems of wheat and other crops.

Mr Maisey - It is certainly long overdue. It knows nothing at the moment.

Mr WHAN - I thank the Country Party for its intelligent contribution tonight. The emphasis that the funds place on the development of studentships of various types is extremely welcome. We need to increase the supply of research workers at all levels. The program allows for postgraduate and undergraduate studentships. These are being offered at all levels. Both cadetships and scholarships are being offered. In other words, we are sponsoring here not only the university graduates but also graduates at other levels, if I read the program correctly.

It is extremely important that we do not get a disproportionate emphasis in our expenditure on studentships. Far too often we concentrate on the rarefied education of the university. It is important to have this but it is also important to ensure a good and adequate supply of technologists in this and other research areas. Too often we have had these 2 bodies of research - I level this as a criticism of research in the past - one completely fundamental and the other experienced with the knowledge of practical conditions. There is an important gap between these 2 areas which has been overlooked in the past, partly because we tend to finance research on too short a basis. It is impossible to get to the applied level of research if we finance research only on a hand to mouth basis. It is of vital concern that we bring together the fundamental research carried out by the scientists, particularly in the CSIRO and the universities, and the practical problems that are experienced by the farmers at that level. The way in which we can bridge this gap is by providing technological research.

In the wheat industry, as indeed in almost every other aspect of research not only in agriculture, we find this incredible gap between the fundamental research workers and the practical problems of the man on the land. The solution to the problem is not only a matter of providing the technologists and the research workers; it is also a matter of providing those people who can interpret the results in a meaningful way for each of the groups involved in research. We lack the interpreters who can carry the message backwards and forwards between the farmer and the fundamental research worker. It is not just a matter of technologists who might work pardy in a laboratory and partly in industry - and again I would point to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics which is making a major contribution in this area - but it is also a matter of the journalists and the whole multitude of people who act as interpreters in this process of taking research results to the farmer and the farmers' problems back to the research worker. We do not have a highly developed technical area of journalism in which journalists can understand either the results of the work of the research worker and then be in a position to interpret them for the farmer of the problems of the farmer and be able to define them in clear terms for the research worker. This question of applied research goes well beyond the laboratory. It becomes a question of communication. I would like to see these funds for wheat research applied to this particular area because of the neglect in the past of this question of communication. The legislation to which we are addressing ourselves tonight is a part of an ongoing research program with which this Government is proud to be associated. Not only that, but this Government will in fact enhance and increase the program as the Government's years in office continue.

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