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Thursday, 29 October 1931

Mr THOMPSON (New England) . - I have no intention of delaying the passage of this bill. As the representative of a large . number of wheatgrowers, I wish to congratulate the Minister' and his colleagues on their persistent efforts to assist the wheat-growers of this country. During the discussions of the numerous measures which have been introduced to assist the farming community, I have made it clear that I have no desire to make political capital out of the farmers. So long as they are assisted, I do not care which government introduces the legislation which helps them. I have always been willing to support the present Government in its attempts to treat the wheat-growers of this country fairly. The only objection I see to the' present bill is that the bounty is not. nearly big enough. I am sorry that thebounty is not to be 6d. a bushel on production, and I am indebted to my colleague, the honorable member for Echuca (Mr.Hill) for figures which indicate that the bounty could easily be 5d. a bushel. These figures show that this year the probable production of wheat in Australia will be 160,000,000 bushels, which is somewhat less than the recent estimate of 175,000,000 bushels. From that must be ' deducted 14,000,'000 bushels for seed, on which no bounty will be paid. That leaves a total production of 146,000,000 bushels on which a bounty of 41/2d. will be paid. That absorbs £2,750,000 of the £3,000,000. The balance of £250,000 could easily be used in bringing the total bounty to 5d. a bushel. I regret that this point was not put by the Minister to the banks.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The amount available is £3,000,000, and we must keep reasonably within it.

Mr THOMPSON - It is still possible for much wheat to be destroyed between now and the completion of the harvest. I, therefore, think that the Minister has played too much for safety. Surely some machinery could have been devised to provide against any heavy loss in production between the commencement and the completion of the harvest. At any rate, I consider that the Minister has done his best, I hope that in committee and, perhaps, in another place, any suggestions that are likely to improve the bill will be adopted. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has stated that it is bad policy to pay this bounty without any limit on the market price of wheat. I am pleased, indeed, that the Minister has been able to gain that point from the banks. I have been among the wheat-growers recently, and have discussed this proposal with them from all angles. The general impression was that a bounty with a limited price of 3s., and possibly 3s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b., would be practically worthless. I have to admit that that proposal at that time did not seem a very good proposition, but the present proposition is totally different. I assure the Minister that it will be hailed with delight by the wheat-growers throughout Australia. It is true, as. the honorable member for Echuca has pointed out, that some unfortunate farmers will have a small production, while the more fortunate ones will have a big production, and, therefore, the bounty will benefit mainly those who have a big production. We cannot provide against that. We cannot provide in a scheme like this for every human possibility, and it is very necessary to make the machinery of distribution as simple as possible. I understand that the banks have refused to pay a bounty on last year's production.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister put that proposal to the banks several weeks ago, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

Mr THOMPSON - That is definite, and, it is, therefore, of no use to discuss that matter now. It is not the fault of the Minister that a bounty is not being paid on last year's production. It has been argued that this bounty should be based on export, and not on production, and the case of Queensland has been mentioned as the main reason why this proposal for a bounty on wheat is inherently wrong. It is not altogether fair to Queensland to use its position as a reason why the bounty should be on wheat which is exported. The price of 4s. a bushel in that State was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to put it practically outside the scope of a measure for relief. But we have to remember that that price is paid in Queensland by levying direct taxation upon the people. It is a contribution by the people to the farmers of that State. It is a credit to Queensland that its people have made that sacrifice. That State is part and parcel of the Commonwealth, and will have to bear its share of liability in respect of the loan for this bounty, and the interest payable upon it. It would not be fair to Queensland to prevent it from sharing in .the. bounty. I, therefore, cannot see how the case of that State can be used as a reason why the proposal for a bounty on production is inherently unsound. I do not think that it is. Of course, States like South Australia and Western Australia would receive more benefit from a bounty on export, particularly if it were Cd. a bushel. Those States are anxious to get as much assistance as possible, but if a bounty on export were agreed to, other States would lose more in proportion than South Australia and Western Australia will lose under this proposal.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - What will be the position of Tasmania, which produces no wheat?

Mr THOMPSON - It is not our fault if Tasmania produces little or no wheat. It does produce some wheat, which is used mainly for the manufacture of biscuits; but that State has to depend on the rest of the Commonwealth for wheat for local consumption. It is also dependent on the Commonwealth for contributions to enable it to balance its budget. It has been enjoying that benefit for some time. . When honorable members representing the smaller States talk about the disadvantages that those States are under in comparison with the larger States, they should realize that Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia, the so-called weaker States, have been in receipt of charitable relief.

Mr Frost - Tasmania has never received charitable relief from the Commonwealth.

Mr THOMPSON - It has received relief from Commonwealth funds, which is a form of charity. Those three States have for some years past received relief.

Mr Gregory - That is due to their federal disabilities.

Mr THOMPSON - I admit that the stronger members of the federation should assist the weaker members.

Mr Gregory - The assistance given to the smaller States is not charity.

Mr THOMPSON - It i3 a direct contribution from the taxpayers of the larger States to the people of the smaller States, to help them to overcome their financial difficulties. That assistance was given to them without any consideration whatever, merely as a gratuity. Therefore it is not fair that the smaller States should be continually .complaining about the way in which they are being disadvantaged under this proposal, which is nation-wide in its scope. The Government has done good work in bringing this scheme to its present stage. I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that we cannot establish as a principle a bounty on wheat every year.

Mr McNeill - There should be some guarantee.

Mr THOMPSON - The only way to overcome the difficulties of the wheatgrowers of Australia is to establish a Commonwealth pool. "When we have done that, the method of arriving at a solution of our economic problems will be much simplified.. The establishment of a Commonwealth pool would do away with the necessity for a bounty, and the growers would then be able to devise machinery which, with the financial backing of the nation, would enable them to solve many of the marketing problems with which we are now faced. A permanent bounty on the production of wheat is absolutely outside the scope of practical politics. I trust that the bounty will be paid to the growers as expeditiously as possible, because many of them need it badly. If that is done the Minister will find that his efforts will bc very much appreciated by the wheat-growers. I hope that he will see that no red tape or unduly inquisitorial methods will be used before the bounty is given to the farmers. It is their due. The Government, in paying this bounty, is really redeeming the promise that it made last year to the wheat-growers and did not fulfil. It is because of the failure of this Parliament to honour that promise that we are taking considerable risk at present not only with the finances of the Commonwealth, but also with the present marketing situation. The price of wheat is improving. I should like to see it reach 5s. or 6s. a bushel, and if it did, I should still be prepared to give the bounty to the farmers, not because they really require it, hut hecause its withdrawal will create the bad impression that thi3 National Parliament is prepared to break its word.Whatever it costs us, we must rehabilitate ourselves in the eyes of the primary producers, and this measure will help largely in that direction. The Minister should adopt the sug gestion of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) that buyers should be licensed. I was curious to know the reason for the suggestion, and the honorable member has explained to me that it is quite possible for collusion to take place between some buyers and growers. Probably it would not be a serious factor in the scheme, but there are black sheep in respect of all propositions that represent easy money. A farmer can always be traced, because he will not leave his farm, but a buyer representing certain wheat interests may operate in a district for the first time, and never be heard of again. It would be possible for such a buyer, who is hot too scrupulous in his methods, to issue a certificate which misrepresented the quantity qf wheat purchased by him from certain growers. The Government would probably pay the bounty on the false certificate. I do not say that that would happen, but it could happen. In such a case it would be difficult to locate the buyer, particularly if a considerable sum of money were at stake. To prevent the Government from being imposed upon, I suggest that the Minister should re-insert the licensing provision in the hill, and if he is not prepared to do that, at least to demand from the buyer and the grower a declaration made before some responsible person as to the transaction which has taken place between them. By that means the Government would he assured that its money was going to the right quarter.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I assure the honorable member that a careful check will be made of all sales of wheat, even to the extent of collaborating with the State Agricultural Departments, so as to prevent collusion.

Mr THOMPSON - Does not the Minister think it necessary to license buyers ?


Mr THOMPSON - If the Minister is satisfied, I am. He is the responsible authority and will he called to account by the Government if anything goes wrong with the scheme. I feel sure that the Minister will handle the job very well. He has shown his capability in connexion with previous measures relating to the wheat industry, and it must be a great satisfaction to him, as it is to all the representatives of wheat-growing areas, that at long last his efforts are to be crowned with success, and will confer . 11 Don the farmers a great boon.

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