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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) . - Very briefly I wish to indorse the remarks of honorable senators who have already spoken in opposition to the Government proposal, which is one more blow at the primary producer. We were' told by interjection a few minutes ago that our wheat farmers have done very well in recent years, notwithstanding the increased cost of superphosphate. They did well last year, because they had a record crop and record prices, but the average price for wheat in Australia for the last eighteen years is 4s. 2d., and in the ordinary course of events it is likely to come down, if not tq that level, at least to under 5s., whilst the cost of production is continually increasing. The position has not been improved by this Tariff, which imposes increased duties on machinery, fencing wire, and ever blessed thing the farmers require, and now there are proposed increases in the duties on super.phosohate, which is essential for successful production. The average quantity of phosphate used is, I think, about 1 cwt. per acre.

Senator Senior - Not so much as that.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It is. On some of the northern rich lands we use 60 lbs. of super, per acre, and down south, in my own immediate district, as much as 2 cwt.

Senator Wilson - I think the average is estimated at 80 lbs. per acre.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Well, that is pretty close to my estimate of 1 cwt. It is important that we should encourage our people to go on the land, not off it; and at the risk of wearying honorable senators I must repeat some official figure? which have an important bearing upon this subject. In .1915-16 the area under cultivation was 18,528.234 acres, and in 1920 13,332,393 acres. These figures evidence a serious retrograde step, which it is important to check if possible.

Senator Senior - Do not forget that 60,000 of our workers were away at the war.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - They were not away from Australia in 1920, and I shall give the figures for that year. They are entirely against Senator Senior. He has made a boomerang which will rebound and hit him. in the neck ; because, whereas in 1915-16, when the men were away at the war. the area under wheat was 12,000,000 acres - and it would have been greater, according to the honorable senator, if the men had been here - in 1919-20, when the men were back it was only 6,000,000 acres. Yet we hear the cry, *" Open up the lands and settle people on them. Put returned soldiers out-back in the Mallee, and down "in the south-east of South Australia, or up in the north of the continent." At the same time, we increase the price of his fencing wire and his plough, and now on top of that rack him with, a higher price for the superphosphates which are so essential for his farming operations to-day. Graziers have also learned that the scientific use of superphosphates improves the carrying capacity of grass lands. For years in Denmark and other countries, superphosphates have been applied to grazing lands, and it has been demonstrated in Victoria, according to a pamphlet issued by the State Agricultural Department, that a top dressing of superphosphates has considerably increased the production of milk, butter, and cheese per acre. Provided the price of superphosphates is not too high, they oan be used with considerable advantage, particularly on our poorer lands near the coast, and even in the Wimmera, Mallee, and Riverina districts. Although I have given a pair to a. Minister (Senator Russell) whom we all regret is unwell, I could not allow this proposal to increase the burden of the primary producers of Australia to pass without my strong protest.

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