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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (Minister for Commerce) . - I move -

That the bill bo now read -i second time.

This measure is introduced for the purpose of granting and applying out of the Consolidated Revenue fund moneys sufficient to provide for the payment of a bounty of 25s. a ton on superphosphate produced in Australia and sold by manufacturers on and after the 1st July, 1941.

Honorable members are probably aware that superphosphate is manufactured from raw rock phosphate and that Australia, is dependent on outside sources for its supplies of this rock. Since the outbreak of th« war, freight and other charges incurred in importing rock phosphate from Nauru, Ocean Island and, following damage by enemy action at Nauru, other sources of supply, have consistently risen, and the British Phosphate Commission has from time to time found it necessary considerably to increase the landed price of the rock to superphosphate manufacturers. The Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, who has been in close touch with the superphosphate position throughout, has approved on three separate occasions of increases of the prices chargeable by manufacturers of superphosphate to users of this fertilizer. The first increase of 10s. a ton, which took effect from the 1st January, 1.940, applied to all of the States. The second increase, which operated from the 1st July, 1940, varied among the States. In New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, excepting Eyre Peninsula, it was 14s. a ton; in Western Australia and Eyre Peninsula, 16s.; and in Tasmania, 9s. The latest rise of 32s. a ton in all of the States has been in operation since the 1st July, 1941. Our primary producers bore the cost of the first two increases. It was obvious that, unless action were taken to cushion the impact of the further rise of 32s. a ton, the use of this fertilizer in Australia would be curtailed to a minimum, and,, as superphosphate plays such an important part in the agricultural economy of our country, this would have constituted a serious menace to the efficiency of our farming industries. The Government of the day decided to grant a bounty of 25s. a ton as from the 1st July, 1941, which meant that the net increase of price to the consumer from that date would be 7s. a ton instead of the full 32s. a ton approved by the Prices Commissioner. This is now operating, although the enabling legislation was not passed by the previous Government. The bounty is payable to manufacturers of superphosphate, who are required so to adjust their prices that the consumers will receive the full benefit of the bounty. The bill provides means for imposing an adequate check on all transactions. Honorable members will appreciate that it is not possible to say exactly what amount will be involved in the payment of the bounty. The quantity of superphosphate that can be produced in Australia is dependent upon the quantity of rock phosphate available, and on the phosphate content of the rock. Imports of rock phosphate cannot be predicted with any certainty; but if they should continue at the present rate, probably 400,000 tons of rock will be imported during the twelve months ending the 30th June, 1942. In terms of superphosphate, this should represent about 600,000 tons, which, if taken by consumers, would involve bounty payments totalling about £750,000.

The Australian Agricultural Council, at its recent meeting, adopted unanimously a scheme for the rationing of superphosphate, submitted by the Department of Commerce. That scheme was the result of a consultation with the British Phosphate Commission and the manufacturers, and is based on the use by each producer of 65 per cent, of the quantity of superphosphate used in the year 1939-40. Despite the reduced production of superphosphate, consequent upon the reduction of imports of rock phosphate, this allocation to each producer will leave a reserve sufficient to enable crops of flax, vegetables for canning, &c, to receive special attention. The rationing system will work very simply, from the Phosphate 'Commission to the manufacturers, from the manufacturers to the merchants, and from the merchants to the producers. Special cases, and those that are in doubt, will be referred by the manufacturers to the Department of Agriculture in the State concerned, and it will decide the relative merits. Supplies in such cases will come from a contingency pool of 5 per cent., which each manufacturer will be asked to hold. I commend the bill to honorable members.

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