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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr NOCK (Riverina) .- It has been proposed that the House shall adjourn because of the failure of the Government to take action to stabilize the wheat industry and provide economic security for farmers and their families. In dealing with a subject of this kind, we must first analyse the position to see whose is the responsibility. My attitude in this House has always been that the Government's obligation is to give to all sections of industry equal protection. By means of the tariff, secondary industries are protected, whilst arbitration tribunals protect the workers in industry.

Secondary industries can reimburse themselves for extra costs incurred, but primary producers cannot do so. Consequently, it is necessary that there shall be some different method of treatment in order to compensate primary industries for the burdens which national policy places on them, but which they cannot pass on. As to the various schemes which have been mentioned, such as a homeconsumption price for wheat, compulsory pools, and stabilization of the wheat industry, we must recognize that whatever policy is adopted by the government of the day, the money required to implement it must come out of the pockets of the people. The Government has no well of gold to draw upon. If the wheat industry is to be assisted, that assistance must be provided by the people of Australia. This country has no control whatever over the prices received for wheat overseas. There have been frequent attempts to secure a compulsory pool, but those of us who have been connected with them, and have investigated the position, know that except under a War Precautions Act, now non-existent, a compulsory pool is constitutionally impossible. There is one thing which a compulsory pool can do; it can secure a home-consumption price for wheat. But we already have on our statute-book a measure to provide for a home-consumption price; that price is to be paid by the aid of a sales tax on flour. If there were a compulsory pool for wheat, the money would have to be paid by exactly the same people and to the same amount in the price which would! be charged to the millers for their wheat. Had that scheme been carried out in accordance with the act and the intention of the States and the Commonwealth Government when they came to an agreement, the wheat-growers of Australia, during the current year, would have received about £3,500,000. Although a definition was placed in the taxation portion of that act to provide that the tax should be based upon the export value of wheat on trucks at Williamstown, that has not been done. Since the act came into operation, the tax has been based upon the market price of wheat free on rail Williamstown,, which is quite 5d. a bushel above export parity. This represents £1 a ton of flour, so that the wheat-growers of Australia are losing £1 a ton because of this departure from the letter and spirit of the act. It means that the fund to provide this year's bounty will be deprived of about £600,000. This is not the fault of the Government. The act provides that the Government shall proclaim the tax in accordance with the recommendation of the special committee appointed to make a recommendation. It is not the Government's responsibility to indicate to that committee what it thinks the tax should be, but to accept the committee's recommendation. So the farmers are losing approximately £1 a ton from the tax because of the method by which it has been proclaimed. To-day's tax of £5 5s. a ton represents 2s. 2£d. a bushel and the price of wheat for export is a fraction over 2s. 6d. a bushel - say 2s. 6£d. - at any seaport in Australia, making a total of 4s. 8fd. Every honorable member knows the intention of the act, and the words used were that the tax would return to the wheat-growers 5s. 2d. a bushel at seaports. Honorable members will see that I am justified in saying that the farmers are losing approximately 5d. a bushel on the home-consumption price because of what is being done. Reference has been made to the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool which, it is said, would provide an extra price for the wheat-growers by eliminating the profits made by wheat merchants. It was suggested by the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Scully) that the wheat could be held by those controlling the pool, and sold at the top of the market. Apparently by some system of crystal gazing they would know just when to sell. No one knows what the future of the wheat market is likely to be.

Mr Scully - Has not compulsory pooling been successful elsewhere?

Mr NOCK - It has not increased the returns except in respect of the homeconsumption price. Competition of pools with the merchants of the world has not put much more money into the farmers' pockets. If the controllers of the pool take the risk of the market that risk is taken at the expense of the farmers.

Mr McHugh - John Darling died a millionaire.

Mr NOCK - As a result of business organization, foresight and acumen. We have seen what has been done by the controllers of wheat pools and, in the matter of exports, we can get the same results from a voluntary pool as from a compulsory pool.

Mr Frost - Is the honorable member in favour of a compulsory pool ?

Mr NOCK - I have supported it on many occasions in order to get a homeconsumption price. If we could not have a home-consumption price without a compulsory pool, I would be in favour of the system. The home price is 90 per cent. of the advantage to be derived from a compulsory pool and the other 10 per cent. may be obtained only by taking the risks of the market. In the matter of interest it was suggested that we might have free loans for farmers, but I do not think that that is practicable. The Federal Government's proposal for a long-term mortgage section of the Commonwealth Bank will assist materially to reduce the interest which has to be paid by the man on the land, and I trust that the Government will move speedily in that direction. Fully 50 per cent. of the cost of growing wheat is represented by interest, and if that could be reduced by one-fifth the farmers would save 10 per cent. in their production costs. That would materially assist wheatgrowers. Reference has been made to the amount collected from the flour tax and to the manner in which it is distributed. The honorable member for Gwydir contended that men growing wheat on a large scale should not be allowed to collect the bounty. I remember the Minister (Sir Frederick Stewart) referring to a wealthy wheat-grower in Western Australia receiving a big cheque representing bounty payments based on the quantity he produced. It was not long before that man was in the bankruptcy court, notwithstanding the large cheque, in respect of which abuse had been hurled at him in this chamber. It is well to remember that the wheatgrower producing the largest quantity of wheat when the price is 2s. a bushel loses most. He has to carry the heaviest burden because of the commitments which he has to meet through the tariff, Arbitration Court awards, workmen's compensation, workers' insurance and the high cost of implements. He pays much more than the farmer operating a smaller property. These things have to be recognized. It is not the Government's responsibility to make industry prosperous. If it is the Government's responsibility to make the wheat industry prosper it is also its responsibility to assist the wool-growers, the bootmakers, the hotelkeepers, and others. Every person in the community has an equal right to assistance. The Government is not entitled to discriminate in the assistance it gives, but the burdens imposed by the Government, which rest inequitably on certain sections, should be compensated for in some way. The Government is attempting to do that in a proper way. If it is prepared to expand its help I shall be glad to support it.

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