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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .- I wish to say a few words in support of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), I congratulate him on the form of the amendment, which seems to admirably meet the difficulty that confronts honorable members in view of the fragmentary way in which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) dealt with the question of the agreement that is alleged to have been made with the Food Control authorities in England and representatives of the dairying interests who were sent Home. Th© amendment proposes that the Bill should be withdrawn for the purpose of recasting and immediate re-introduction with suitable provisions to insure that the butter producers of Australia shall be guaranteed a return for their exportable surplus butter at a price which shall not be less than the "world's parity for butter during the period in which such exportable surplus is disposed of. A great many of the speeches delivered during the debate remind me of the fact that some years ago when in Parliament I was quoting tie speech of an honorable member delivered some years previously, he interjected, " That is my speech, but how did I vote ? " That is what is happening in 'this House at the present time. We have listened to a number of speeches from members in the Ministerial Corner proclaiming that they stand for the primary producer, and are absolutely against any interference by the Government, and their votes directly will show that they stand for giving the Government a control that has never hitherto been given to any Government that has held office in Australia. They will give the Minister for Trade and Customs the power, not to prohibit the export of a particular commodity in the interests of the Commonwealth, but to prohibit it, except under certain^ conditions, to direct it into a certain channel. Under section 112 of the Customs Act, as it stands, the Governor-General has power by proclamation to prohibit the exportation of any goods " the exportation of which would in his opinion be harmful to the Commonwealth." He has that, amongst other powers, with regard to prohibiting the export of goods, and under it various proclamations have been issued prohibiting exports in order to allow of a proper supply being retained for local consumption.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - When?

Mr RYAN - The honorable member ought to know. Section 112 gives power to issue such a proclamation, but there is no provision in the Act to enable the Minister to direct exports into some particular channel. That is what this Bill proposes to do. It does not ratify any agreement. There is not one word in the Bill which would have that effect, but there is in it clauses which will give the Minister power to prohibit the export of butter, except with the approval of a certain committee.

Mr Austin Chapman - Is that not ratifying the agreement?

Mr RYAN - No.

Mr Austin Chapman - It is as good as ratifying it.

Mr RYAN - How can we ratify an agreement when we do not know what that agreement is. I listened with considerable interest to the honorable] member, because I know that he represents a constituency in which there are many dairy farmers. I remind him that it has been pointed out that there is an agreement, duly signed, fixing the price of butter at 240s. per cwt.

Mr Austin Chapman - As the minimum.

Mr RYAN - No mention is made of that price being the minimum. The price is fixed at 240s., but we are vaguely told that some one in the House has a cablegram from somebody on the other side of the world to the effect that the primary producers here may receive for their butter an additional 10s. per cwt. I want to see that cable. I want to know from whom it comes, and to whom it is directed. We have had already too much unbusiness-like management of the affairs of the country. We have had wretched alleged agreements with regard to the sale of wool and wheat, and we now have the same vague kind of .thing brought before the House, and are asked to approve of a measure, in the absence of any definite information. Surely the Minister (Mr. Greene) has heard of this cable.

Mr Mathews - The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) can always get a cable when he wants one.

Mr RYAN - I know that in that' respect the Prime Minister ils an expert, but I do not place the Minister for Trade and Customs om the same level. If some honorable member has received a cablegram, will he not be good enough to produce it for our information? Is it in the possession of some member of the Country party? Will the Country party be good enough to tell us from whom it comes? Later on, we shall be told about the cablegram, and a wrangle will take place as to the distribution of the money. Since the Minister is prepared to go so far as to tell us that there are some negotiations proceeding with the Imperial authorities with regard to a modification of the agreement, would it not be as well to stay his hand until the completion of those negotiations'

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - No, it would make no difference. The Bill will apply to the agreement, whether it is altered or not.

Mr RYAN - I do not think it will make any difference, since the Bill has nothing whatever to do with the agreement. The word " agreement," which appears in it, is only a piece of camouflage. What this Bill is intended to do is to force the producers of butter to export their produce through a certain channel, whether they like it or not. It matters not what the agreement is. Why do not honorable members of the Corner party admit that that is so? This is simply a proposal to give the Minister power to prohibit the export of butter.

During the course of the debate we have heard some very cheap criticism of the Labour party. Having regard to the suggestions that have been made with respect to the commandeering of butter in Queensland while I held office as Premier of that State, I should like to remind the House that when the Queensland Government took control of the butter that was in cool storage there the Government itself exported it, sold it to Great Britain, and handed back to the producers the surplus that was realized. The producers received some tens of thousands of pounds.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The whole of the surplus?

Mr RYAN - The whole of it. They received some tens of thousands of pounds, and I say without fear of contradiction that the butter which was then sold in London, by the Queensland Government, on behalf of the primary producers of that State, realized a higher price than that which was sold by the Commonwealth.

As a proof of the confidence of the primary producers of Queensland in thatGovernment, and particularly of the confidence of the butter-producing districts, I may say that when, subsequent to that transaction, we faced the electors, in March, 1918, we increased our numbers. When I resigned the Premiership of Queensland the State Government was supported by a majority of the primary producing constituencies. It was supported by all the sugar-producing constituencies with one exception, and by a majority of the dairy farming districts. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) knows that that is so. He knows, also, that my statement with regard to the export of butter by the Queensland Government is true. How is it that honorable members will deliberately make misstatements in regard to these matters? The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) said that some of his acquaintances ran away fromQueensland

Mr Fleming - The honorable member does not say that that is a misstatement ?

Mr RYAN - I ask the honorable member to give the names of his friends who ran away from Queensland.

Mr Fleming - I can give them to the honorable member privately.

Mr RYAN - The honorable member, in view of the public statement made by him, ought to give them publicly. The population of Queensland has increased to the extent of 40,000 or 50,000 since Labour has held office there.

Mr Fleming - Did the honorable member expect these people to remain in Queensland when his Government took their meat from them?

Mr RYAN - I am very glad that that interjection has been made, since I desire to refer very briefly to the Labour party's policy in respect of primary products for local consumption and the exportable surplus. The Labour party has always stood for giving the primary producer a fair return for his products. They stand for giving him a price for his products that is based upon the cost of production plus a reasonable profit.

Mr Stewart - How are you going to arrive at what is a fair return?

Mr RYAN - Just as we arrive at what is a fair thing in respect to all other matters. This is from the official policy decla- ration of the Labour party at the last Federal election -

The situation in Australia to-day demands a broad, virile policy of development. Production must be increased. Our primary and secondary industries must be encouraged and placed upon a proper footing. In- this way only can Australia become great and selfcontained and take her place among the nations of the world. We shall stimulate production, and with that object in view we shall guarantee to the producer a return which will secure to him a price for his products that will cover the cost of production and allow a reasonable margin of profit.

The Labour party has never stood for anything else. If the policy of the Federal Labour party -were carried out as the State Labour party's policy is carried out in Queensland the primary producer -would receive a better price for his products, and the consumer would get his products at a more reasonable rate. The honorable member for Robertson made an interjection with regard to meat. If the exporters of meat were given the full world's parity for the exportable surplus, then, even allowing for the price which was. paid to the meat -companies of Queensland for meat for local consumption, there would be a better return to the producers of meat, and the local consumers would be provided with meat at more' reasonable rates.

I entirely agree with the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) that the High Commissioner's office should be used in the interests of the primary producers of Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon J M Chanter - Order! That matter is outside the amendment.

Mr RYAN - I think I shall be. able to show you, sir, that it is not. The amendment proposes that the Bill shall be withdrawn and its provisions recast, so that the primary producers shall not get less than the world's parity for their exportable surplus. I want to show the workability of that amendment. If the High Commissioner's office were used as it ought to be, this would become a really workable provision. I do not wish to refer to the matter except to show that the High Commissioner's office could be so used as to insure our primary producers receiving the world's parity for their exportable surpluses. This is no new idea so far as the Labour party is concerned. The Labour party has always expressed the same view. Let me read to the House this further official (pronouncement on the part of the Labour party to the people of Australia. - a pronouncement made long beore the introduction of this Bill -

We shall take steps to provide oversea world markets for the sale of exportable surpluses. The machinery of the High Commissioner's office in London will be used for giving direct effect to this policy. We shall extend our operations to other countries, including the United States of America. The functions of the Commonwealth Bank will be extended to provide for a liberal system of rural credits.

That shows, whatever honorable members opposite may say, that we have a really practical, well-thought-out, business policy for the primary producers of this country, and not some mere haphazard proposal such as that now thrown on the table of the House, with the result that we find members of the Corner party trying to excuse their votes.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - How does the honorable member reconcile the amendment, which provides that the butter producers shall obtain the world's parity for their exportable surplus - and, therefore, all the profit that can possibly be obtained - with the proposal in the Labour party's programme that they shall be allowed a reasonable profit?

Mr RYAN - The right honorable gentleman could not have been listening attentively, because I have already pointed out that this party stands for the local consumer, in a country which produces large quantities.' of a staple commodity for the people, receiving the product at a reasonable price. I defined a reasonable price as one based on the cost of production, plus a reasonable profit, and stated that, in connexion with any exportable surplus, the producers are entitled to the world's parity. That is what this amendment stands for, and that is the Labour policy as I administered it when Premier of Queensland. I do not intend to delay the House any longer; but I trust honorable members will think very carefully before they cast their votes in opposition to the reasonable amendment moved and so ably explained by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). No harm will be done in adopting the amendment, and if our friends in the Ministerial Corner are really in favour of giving the producers the world's parity for their exportable surplus, this is their opportunity to do it.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - We have been thinking of that for the past six months, and the honorable member has been thinking of it for only the past six hours.

Mr RYAN - Perhaps I could do in six hours what the honorable member would take six months to do. If it is gentlemen of the calibre of the honorable member who has just interjected who have been making agreements of this character, I can quite understand the statement made by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) that the dairy farmers may yet regret the action that has been taken.

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