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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2763

Mr KING (Wimmera) - It always seems to be my lot to follow the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan). Over recent months I have found myself in great disagreement with what he has had to say. I have endeavoured to correct him and advise him. He has often informed the House that he has been an adviser. But tonight I find myself in a rather different situation. I find that I cannot altogether disagree with him. I would like to make the brief comment that I believe his contribution, on an academic line, was no doubt quite a good one. However, I think - and I want to say this as kindly as I possibly can - that his services are wasted in this place. I feel quite sure that he could forward his knowledge better in the field in which he worked before he entered this place because I believe that many wheat growers would not altogether appreciate what he had to say this evening.

As to the honourable member's comments in relation to the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation laying down conditions for the contribution of funds, he is only partly right. It is true that the Federation was somewhat divided as to whether it should, firstly, enter the field by making additional funds available and, secondly, enter the actual properties in order to make an investigation. But I want to tell the honourable member for EdenMonaro that in the broad there was overwhelming support for the contributions. I am informed by a very reliable source that 90 per cent of the members of the Federation supported this principle. If I have sufficient time in this debate I will make a few more comments about this later on.

Broadly speaking, the Wheat Tax Bill seeks to amend the Wheat Tax Act by extending on the one hand the date of operation and on the other hand the amount to be deducted from the various wheat growers. The original Act which commenced in 1957 fixed a rate of a quarter of a penny - a farthing for those who do not recall the old currency - per bushel of wheat delivered. The second Act altered the rate to three-tenths of a penny and that was to operate from 1 October 1965. Today we are discussing a further alteration to increase the amount to 15c per tonne, or approximately half a cent per bushel, which is an increase of about 20 per cent. However, the Bill makes provision for a figure lower than the 15c, namely 11c, but that rate can be increased to 15c after discussion between the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) and the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. I have no criticism of those proposals. Research into any industry is, of course, of the utmost importance and with ever increasing costs it is inevitable that the contribution be increased. In the case of wheat the increase is effected by the industry or the Government or both. This Bill, of course, makes provision for the Commonwealth to match the grower contributions, so in turn it is near enough to a fiftyfifty affair. I think this is acceptable to both parties.

Wheat research can cover a very wide range and it just as well that it does so. If success is to be achieved in this industry there are many .fields which must be looked at very closely. Apart from seasonal conditions which vary from year to year there are other issues that are important. They include: Soil fertility - to which I think the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) made reference; the types of wheat to be grown in certain areas; the quality of the wheat to be produced - this is important; combating the various diseases that appear from time to time; continuous plant breeding programs in the various States to combat the changing conditions. These programs include propagation of the various legumes used to build up soil fertility. All these are aspects of the growing side of the industry. They are but a few of the matters that are covered by the introduction of this Bill.

After wheat is grown it has to be stored. At one minute we see a world glut of wheat and the next we see a world shortage. Many people believe that wheat can be stored indefinitely. This is partly true but the cost is very high. Wheat can be kept indefinitely if one is prepared to pay and to look after it. I do not refer only to the cost of storage. I also refer to the problem of vermin infestation which again was mentioned by the honourable member for Corangamite. This is where the costs are extremely high. In addition to this cost there naturally is a downgrading of the quality of the wheat and the losses that invariably occur in any event. So there are a a number of cost factors and it is not true to say that one can store wheat indefinitely at very low cost. I have estimated that the real cost of storing a bushel of wheat over a 12-month period is approximately '20c per bushel. This varies according to conditions, naturally.

So when one reads and hears some of the comments of the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) I wonder just how little he knows about such problems. He has plenty of talk but he tells us nothing. In recent days he has harped on the question of wheat restrictions and how he was opposed to them. Yet under this legislation we find the Government in principle supporting them. I do not know why the honourable member continues to support the Government. He forgets about the cost of storing grain which can, as I said, be anything up to 20c per bushel. To me it is strange that the Minister for Primary Industry in another place has not spoken out against quotas. I wonder why. There seems to be a little difference of opinion. I would be very interested to hear comment perhaps later this evening from the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson). When I said there seems to be a little difference of opinion I was not referring to you, Mr Speaker, on this occasion. We do appreciate that you have a great knowledge of this industry. Sometimes I wonder whether the Minister for Immigration has even heard of the word weevil', quite apart from having seen one or knowing what it does. I can inform him that it certainly is playing havoc with the wheat industry. This insect is building up a resistance, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Corangamite, to various insecticides, including malathion. This is a major field of research into which we are entering and it is a very important one. Any falling off in research certainly could spell disaster for the wheat industry.

Time will not permit me in this debate to explain in detail all the various problems of the industry. I have not mentioned the great threat hovering over the industry right now, particularly in the State of South Australia. I refer to the problem of rust caused by excessive heat and moisture at the same time. This alone could mean huge losses running into millions of dollars for the wheat industry. There is no doubt that this is another important angle in the research program. I do not have time to cover the costs of training personnel to carry out the various research programs. I think of student training. I think of the wheat research centres in the various States, including the one that was established more recently in the heart of Wimmera, namely, at Horsham.

Perhaps it is worthwhile covering some of the various expenditures that were recommended firstly by the Wheat Industry Research Council and adopted by the previous Government. They total some $800,000. I mention the amount $193,000 for the Commonwealth

Scientific and 'Industrial Research Organisation; $84,000 for the Department of Agriculture in Victoria; $83,000 for the University of Adelaide; $71,000 for the University of Western Australia; $68,000 for the University of Sydney; $58,000 for the Department of Primary Industry in Queensland; $57,000 for the Department of Agriculture in New South Wales; $48,000 for the Department of Agriculture in Western Australia; $25,000 for the Department of Agriculture in South Australia; and $38,000 for the University of New England in New South Wales. They are but a few of the areas of expenditure. But that expenditure does not cover the areas of the various wheat industry research committees, which are different bodies altogether.

One of the big problems facing the various research areas is the uncertainty of money available. It varies according to the amount of money contributed by the Government on the one hand and the wheat growers on the other. We, as a Parliament, can set the contribution, based on a bushel or, to use the new formula, tonne delivered. But the deliveries vary from year to year, based mainly on seasonal conditions. A comparison of the deliveries to the Australian Wheat Board between the year 1968-69 and last year will reveal that they ranged from as high as 515 million bushels to as low as about 250 million bushels, which is less than half, in just a few years. Naturally the growers' contribution is reduced accordingly.

I believe that the time has arrived when the Government must underwrite the amount of money that is necessary for research, irrespective of the amount collected. A scheme similar to the wheat industry stabilisation scheme could be adopted. The growers could contribute a certain amount per tonne up to a certain figure. If their contribution goes beyond the sum that is needed by the various research committees the Government contributions could be reduced; likewise, if the contribution by the growers was insufficient the contribution by the Government could be increased. I believe that this is something to which the Government must give a great deal of consideration.

I said at the outset that I wanted to make reference to a matter raised firstly by, I think, the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and secondly by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro, that is, the decision of the Australian Cabinet not to agree to the Sim contribution for special research and to control weevil infestation that was first mentioned at an Australian Agricultural Council meeting. It is my understanding that this arose from a recommendation by the Standing Committee of the Council that the Commonwealth should contribute Sim that the States between them should contribute $500,000 and that the industry should contribute a further $500,000, making a total of $2m, for special research and to control weevil infestation. The States accepted the proposal. After a deal of controversy among the growers they also in the main accepted it. But then the bombshell was dropped. The Minister for Primary Industry announced that the Government would not play ball. That has certainly left a very nasty taste in the mouths of many. The Minister has been reported on several occasions as having claimed that he did not agree to the proposal. But from information I have at my disposal he left no doubts in the minds of the members of the Agricultural Council that he had put the proposal to Cabinet. I have no doubt he did. Either he failed when he presented it to Cabinet or Cabinet rejected it out of hand. I do not know which is correct. Perhaps the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory will comment on this aspect in his contribution to the debate.

It has always been the practice of previous Ministers to indicate Government thinking when they are talking to various business houses and industry alike and to pass information on to them but not to make promises unless they are pretty sure that Cabinet and their Government support them. In other words, I am saying that the Minister's word is gospel. I know that when the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) was a Minister we could take what he said as being factual. We could always rely on him. But it appears to me as though those days have gone. It was either the honourable member for Corangamite or the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) who made some comment earlier about this being one of the reasons why people are losing confidence in what is said in various ministerial statements - -and believe me we are certainly hearing plenty of them.

Recently I asked in this House: Who is running the Government? If one asks the same question outside of the chamber one soon gets a variety of answers ranging from Mr Hawke, through a number of individuals to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and, as the honourable member for Calare (Mr England) has said, even the Australian Country Party. I am very proud to think that the Australian Country Party has been able to quell some of the crazy statements and decisions made by the Government. It is still my belief that decisions should be made by Ministers and the Cabinet and that their non-acceptance by other members of a party is tantamount to saying that there is a lack of confidence in, firstly, the Ministers and, secondly, the Cabinet. If the Caucus overrules them or, in this case, the rural rump overrules them it is likely to sap the confidence of the people. It is very easy to say that the Minister for Primary Industry is on side with the rural community on a certain issue but Caucus or Cabinet lets him down, but I will not accept that. If that is the way in which the present Government is to operate, all I can say is that it will not operate for very long. It will soon fall if it continues to operate under those conditions. No Government could operate under those principles. If an individual Minister is a good bloke but his mates in the Cabinet are a whole lot of snags, how long would one give them? In my opinion, not very long. Caucus does interfere occasionally and some strange statements are made as a result.

I will finish my remarks right now. I have some 4 minutes of speaking time left, but I intend to take up only one of those minutes. I am sure the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory would like to say a few words about this matter. I say finally on this point: Should a man be congratulated on a job that is harmless and useless because he has not done any harm? That is what honourable members opposite are doing in this place: They are congratulating Ministers for doing harmless things or congratulating them on a job that was not badly done, in other words, congratulating Ministers for not having made any really bad mistakes. They even congratulate Ministers on not doing anything at all. I have found myself listening to a lot of people saying in this place that the Minister for Primary Industry is not a bad bloke. He may not be a bad bloke, but if he does not achieve anything in the Cabinet and if he does not achieve anything in the Parliament I do not care how nice a fellow he is - he is a failure. And that goes for the Minister for Primary Industry.

Dr PATTERSON(Dawson- Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the

Northern Territory) (10.9) - It is a pity that the honourable member-

Mr Giles - Mr Speaker, is the Minister closing the debate on this Bill? I am on the list of speakers and I would like to speak on the Bill.

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