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Wednesday, 30 November 1938

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) (1:15 AM) . - The group of taxing measures under consideration afford an excellent modern illustration of the old practice of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The real object of the scheme which the Government is now seeking to implement is said to be to provide assistance for necessitous farmers who are passing through an unprecedented drought, and who are also embarrassed in consequence of the tremendous surplus of unused wheat held in various parts of the world. My first criticism of thu unnatural proposal of the Government is that, according to the terms of the bill, the money proposed to be raised will not be used for the purpose of assisting necessitous farmers, but will merely fill the coffers of those who are not necessitous at all - who are, in fact, very well provided with the world's goods. I speak, not as a representative of the farmers, but as a legislator, and one who has had the responsibility of being a member of a government. I speak as one who has the deepest sympathy for the producers, including the wheat-growers. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) and others have pointed out very eloquently that the burden of the tax will be borne by those members of society who are least fortunately placed, the poorest members of the community, and that the bounty will, in part, at least, be enjoyed by those who are really well off, not only by reason of the accumulated profits from wheat-growing in the past, but also by reason of the fact that they have made profits on an extensive scale out of other interests. It follows, therefore, that I, who represent in this Parliament a very large number of persons with no incomes, and with no prospect of any income, people who are not on the bread line, but below it - it follows, I say, that I receive the proposals with very mixed feelings. The right honorable gentleman who introduced the measure (Sir Earle Page) said that, in round figures, there was a world surplus of 1.000,000,000 bushels of wheat waiting to be sold and that, despite the fact that Australian production has been substantially reduced by drought, a fact that does not materially affect the world's supplies, prices in Australia are coming down, until .they are now below what is conceived to bo a payable level. In such circumstances, it is increasingly important that the minds of the Australian people should be directed towards increasing the home market for wheat. It may be asked how it is to be increased. ' I have heard with amazement that, in some years, our home consumption has been as low as one-fifth of our production, leaving fourfifths to be exported, and that at best it amounts to only one-third of our total production. The quantity of wheat products consumed in this country should be doubled, 'and to enable this to be done the purchasing power of the people must be increased.

Mr Archie Cameron - That would not increase the consumption of wheat products, because it has been proved that, when the purchasing power of the people is raised, the tendency is for their consumption of bread to decline.

Mr BRENNAN - That may apply to the plainer classes of breadstuffs, and naturally so, but bread is not the only material into which flour can be converted. Is the Minister opposed to the raising of the standard of living? Does he reprehend increasing the purchasing power of the people? Does he not think that it would be a good thing if the consumption of wheat products in Australia were doubled? I do.

It seems to me, in the light of the figures presented by the Minister for Commerce, that we are likely to produce too much wheat, even allowing for a substantially increased local consumption. Honorable members on the Government side do not seem to have taken any intelligent interest in that aspect of the matter. It is idle to go on telling us that our national solvency depends on wheat and wool if, in fact, our production of wheat is likely in the future to be far in excess of the needs of the people and we cannot control external prices. The remedy seems to be either a vastly increased population, ov a decreased acreage under wheat, and the intelligent production of commodities other than wheat. We have been told that we must make colossal sacrifices in order to keep our trade routes open for the export of wheat. Well, according to the dismal tales told us by the Minister and his supporters, it does not seem to me that the export trade in wheat is worth those colossal sacrifices. If only we could induce members of the Government to concentrate on their responsibilities to the people, if only they could be got to realize the importance of so far releasing credits as to enable the necessary work of the country, to be done, and to enable the people to buy commodities in the quantities required, they would be going a long way towards solving the problems with which this catch-as-catch-can legislation is supposed to deal. One sees in this legislation the influence on the Government of the Country party. In my opinion, it is a very curious party to be charged with the representation of working fanners.

I support the amendment, and I give; reluctant support to the general terms of the scheme. I support the bill, not as a permanent solution of the wheat-growers' difficulties, but purely as a temporary device to tide the farmers over a trying time. I join with the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who has a special knowledge, which I share with him, of the conditions of the workers and the workless, in regarding as reprobate those who, not being needy farmers - and I do not speak of members of this Parliament, or any one else in particular - reach out their hands, and take from the Treasury the proceeds of a tax which is paid by the workers and the work loss more than by anybody else. It seems a pitiful condition of mind which induces men to support a policy of that kind.

It has been said that the workers enjoy the protection of the Arbitration Court, and of other tribunals. Well, that certainly does not apply to the workers in the primary industries. In Victoria and in New South Wales there are no tribunals for the workers in the primary industries, and I remind honorable gentlemen who submit that class of argument that if we came into this chamber with a suggestion, and had constitutional authority to do it, to fix a minimum wage for workers in the primary industries, we should not be able to hear our own voices in the din of protest that would arise from those very gentlemen who are not too proud to participate in this money which is to be taken from the very poor. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition will have my support upon a vote. I view the legislation with disfavour as being clearly inequable. It manifests a want of knowledge on the part of the Government of the economic conditions with which the wheat-farmers are faced, largely in consequence of the policy of the Government. For the reasons so admirably stated by the Leader of the Opposition, whilst I shall support the amendment, I shall give my very reluctant temporary support to the principles of the bill.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Curtin'S amendment) stand part of the question.

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