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Wednesday, 25 September 1974
Page: 1397

Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - The wheat industry is one industry in this country which was prepared in the early post-war years to contribute during good times in order to cover wheat payments and to provide security for it in bad times. We have seen fluctuations in the industry both in regard to price and seasonally but grower contributions and stabilisation have made it one of the more secure industries. This is important because there have been peaks and troughs in the whole of the rural industry sector. It is important that the wheat industry be secure because it is one of our most important rural industries. The wheat industry is a great export earner but it involves a great amount of capital intensity and hence there is a flow-on factor covering many fields , such as the labour component, the manufacturing component and the commercial aspect, through to the export earnings affecting our overseas balance of trade.

Throughout the years there has been criticism that to some extent the ratepayer has heavily subsidised the wheat industry. I have refuted that statement for years. Only in the last couple of years did we reach a very critical situation when governments had to go in fairly heavily to assist the industry. However, I think we must look to the reasons why this was so. We cannot sell wheat if we do not have markets for it. Australia was faced with the peculiar situation of being one country which is very prominent in research. We assisted in carrying out research and we saw a green revolution throughout the world when countries which previously were solely dependent on wheat imports suddenly became nearly self-sufficient. Other countries very much dependent on wheat imports to meet home requirements suddenly became exporters of wheat. This situation, coupled with good seasons in both hemispheres, suddenly saw in Australia a great surplus of wheat. This situation applied to other big producing countries also, such as the United States of America and Canada.

The thing that concerns me at the present time is that there is very little surplus wheat- in fact surpluses are basically non-existent- and if there are more failures in some producing countries this year there could be problems in producing sufficient to meet consumption requirements throughout the world. But situations change very quickly and in two years' time there again could be great surpluses in all the wheat exporting countries. Hence it has been imperative that we have another wheat stabilisation scheme.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), working in cooperation with the leaders of the wheat industry, has reached agreement on a stabilisation scheme very different to the previous one. It is not an open-ended scheme as was the previous one, but whilst concessions have been made on one side others have been made on the other side. The industry, although perhaps it wanted more out of this stabilisation scheme, has not criticised it. It is pleasing to see that we will be able to continue with a stablisation scheme in an industry which lends itself to peaks and troughs, both in regard to seasonal factors and price factors.

I want to refer to the membership of the Australian Wheat Board. The Minister spelled out very clearly in his second reading speech that membership of the Board will be the same as previously. Over the years the Board has been prepared to go out and find markets as well as to expand old and continuing markets. I think the Board is to be commended for the way it has conducted the affairs of the wheat industry. The Board is recognised and respected by the various consuming and trading countries and I am glad that the same structure will operate. I also hope that the Board will be able to continue its work without too much Government interference. I could refer to the concern last year over a sale of surplus wheat to Egypt but I feel that over the years the Wheat Board, basically acting independently, has been a good marketer of its product and I hope it continues on the same basis.

I want to make one other comment. I refer to a new aspect within the stabilisation scheme on this occasion- the fact that the Board is being given supplementary borrowing powers which will enable it to make earlier progressive payments than it has been able to do in the past. I think that this is a very important aspect. I hope that when this Bill is passed and becomes law the Wheat Board will have the ability to make early payments to the wheat industry. This facility will enable the Board, when it has the backing of credit and assets, to make earlier payments to the wheat industry. I wish to ask one or two questions of the Minister in the Committee stage. The legislation has my full support. I am very pleased that the Government has seen fit to work in cooperation with the industry to give the security of stabilisation to this very important industry of Australia.

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