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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - I listened with very great attention to the explanation given by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) when submitting this Bill for our consideration, and I was indeed surprised to learn, as he unfolded his statement, that the agreement is not embodied in it. The measure contains nothing which will enable an outsider to grasp what was the intention of Parliament in assenting to it. For some considerable time there has been a tendency on the part of the Government to keep not only members of this Parliament, hut also the people of Australia, absolutely in the dark concerning transactions carried out by it, and with its authority.

Mr Ryan - It has adopted a "keepitdark" policy.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - Precisely. I was under the impression that, with the conclusion of the war, these conditions would pass away, and that we should once more revert to the conditions which obtained in pre-war days, when everything was done in the most open manner possible. In this measure there is nothing to indicate the amount of the expenditure to which the Commonwealth willbe committed if Parliament assents to it. I think that we should be given that .information. The Minister has stated that this Bill must be passed in order that money may be paid over. Is there any honorable member who has the faintest idea of the expenditure to which it will commit us? Possibly the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) may have that information, but, if so, he has not seen fit to enlighten its upon the matter.

The Bill refers to an agreement which has not been embodied in it in the form of a schedule. Evidently that agreement has been forced upon the representatives of the producers by the Imperial authorities. We have been told that our producers applied to the Imperial authorities for an open market in Great Britain, and that the Government of that country refused to give it to them. Why? Is that the spirit of Empire? Are we to continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water always, instead of partners in the Empire? It is an outrage on the people of Australia that their representatives should be forced into an agreement of this character. The people of Australia will have to take a determined stand against a continuance of this policy. We have our debts to meet, and why should we be exploited by the Government of Great Britain ? We are pleased to find our friends in the Corner party in agreement with us when we say that the primary producers are entitled to fair conditions. Nobody realizes that better than do honorable members on this side of the House. My first' recollection of dairy farming is of milking, when I was four years of age. It is the representatives of the middlemen on the Government benches who are responsible for many of the primary producers being in their present unfortunate position.

This Bill provides for the prohibition of the export of butter. I well remember the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) prohibiting the export of rabbit skins during the war, thereby robbing the trappers and graziers of hundreds of thousands of pounds. He forced the supplies into the hands of middlemen; the trappers and graziers were compelled to sell their rabbit skins at low prices to the manufacturers, who afterwards obtained his consent to export at the world's parity. They knew .to a minute when the embargo would be lifted, and were able to buy in anticipation. They held stocks much larger than were required for any purposes of manufacture, such as hat-making, in Australia, and as soon as the embargo was lifted they exported their surplus, and made hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the unfortunate wage-earners and graziers. From past experience we know that we cannot trust the Government; they are allied to the middlemen. The money of the middlemen is behind the National party, and it is regrettable that the members of the so-called Country party, who were $ent into Parliament to put down this sort of thing, should, day after day, vote to keep the Government in power. Read the pre-election speeches of honorable members of the so-called Country party and contrast them with the attitude they have adopted in the House.

Mr Hill - The honorable member is very much concerned about the Country party.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I am not concerned about you, but I am about the men whom honorable members have taken down.

In view of the statement made in the House, that the primary producers were in favour of this agreement, I sent a telegram to a constituent, who is one of the largest butter producers in my electorate, and I have received this reply -

I have no knowledge of any such agreement, and I hope you will resist tooth and nail any agreement of that character which prohibits export or keeps the price at 240s. per cwt.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - He is not in the union.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - He is a more solid unionist than any man who sits on the Ministerial side, and he stands for higher prices for his exportable surplus. I am prepared to supply honorable members with his name. The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who interjects, belongs to the British Medical Association, a union that defies the Government. This is the first time that I have heard that a member of the British Medical Association is a primary producer.

Mr Gibson - What has the honorable member to say about the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor), when Minister for Trade and Customs, placing an embargo on the export of butter, although the price was down to ls. 3d. per lb. 1

Mr CUNNINGHAM - What has that to do with this Bill? Honorable members are continually referring to the condition of affairs in Queensland. Can they tell why the Queensland Labour party, led by the present honorable member for. West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), has at successive elections annihilated the Liberal party and the middlemen who are represented on the Government side to-day ? The primary producers of Queensland registered their opinion of Labour government, and, after all, that is the best test.

I am very sorry indeed that we should be asked to agree to a Bill introduced in such a haphazard fashion; but I expect nothing business-like from the present Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has had no business training, not one per cent, of the business men throughout Australia have any time for him as a manager or arranger of business deals. The haphazard method in which this Bill is brought forward is only another evidence of the incapacity of the Prime Minister and those who keep him in power. There has been some reference to cable messages. I believe the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) said something about a cable he had up his sleeve, in which it is promised that the primary producers, of whom I am one,, shall receive some amount above the fixed price if the market rises. If the producer is to receive the full world's parity, why embody in the agreement a fixed price of 240s. per cwt.? I am very pleased that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) supports us when he ' states " that in all probability within the next six months the primary producers will regret having made this agreement." Is not such a statement from an honorable member on that side the strongest possible condemnation of the Bill ? The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) has by interjection given a clear indication of what he thinks of the agreement. Then why persist with the Bill when honorable members admit that there is likely to be serious trouble and loss in carrying out the agreement?

I indorse the stand taken by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) in regard to the interpretation of that clause of the agreement which says that the sellers " shall accept all risks to the butter up to the time of shipment, except deterioration of quality due to length of storage." Let honorable members be warned by our experience in working under a similar provision in connexion with the wheat sales. We were told that the wheat must be put into the Pool. As soon as we did that we lost control of it. So, too, when the butter goes into the Pool, the dairy farmers will lose control of it. It under the management of officials, and whilst the producers can do nothing, they must bear all the losses. If I am to be liable for losses, I wish to control my produce. Is there a business man in the country who would agree to allow his goods to go out of his control whilst responsible for all risks and losses? . If there is such a man, he will not remain in business long. Many primary producers are in their present bad financial position because, unfortunately, they have listened to the glib tales of those who represent the middlemen on the Treasury bench; and they have not been able to enforce business deals from the Government that has persecuted them during the last four years. We have only to look at the result of Nationalist administration in New South Wales; the last elections are eloquent upon that point, and what is true of New South Wales will be true of other States as soon as the people have a chance of voting intelligently as to who shall represent them in Parliament. If there had been in operation an electoral system which would have given the people a chance of registering an. intelligent vote-

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