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Wednesday, 26 November 1941

Mr McLEOD (Wannon) .- Whilst I welcome the bill, I consider that, the Government could not have avoided the payment of this bounty on superphosphate without jeopardizing the future of the primary producing industries. Honorable members are well aware of the immense improvement that the application of superphosphate has wrought during the last twenty years in the lighter soils, which have become more and more dependent upon the yearly application of this fertilizer. Primary producers could not, afford to meet the whole of the increased cost, which is prohibitive, and without the bounty, a collapse of production would occur, with grave, results to the economy of Australia. If superphosphate he not applied annually to many pastures, especially in the lighter class of country in Tasmania and Victoria, the soil will deteriorate rapidly. During the last twenty years, settlers, by the use of superphosphate, have converted what was virtually waste land into splendid pastures, and have revolutionized various districts. Without rh, constant application of the fertilizer, those soils would probably revert in three years to their original condition, and that would involve the settlers concerned in serious loss. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has brought to the notice of the Minister, a suggestion that deserves serious consideration. Even if economies be effected only in interest payments, the result will be reflected in the reduction of the price of the fertilizer.

Since the outbreak of war, the price of superphosphate has increased from 28s. to 100s. a ton. I do not know whether the inquiries of the Prices Commissioner begin with the landed cost of the fertilizer, but in my opinion, this extraordinary increase should be thoroughly investigated. The first rise of 10s. a ton occurred on the 1st January, 1940, only a few months after the outbreak of war, and so far as I am able to ascertain, a big proportion of that increase was due to higher shipping charges. If that he correct, freights are excessive. They are higher than the prewar cost of the rock. For twelve months after the outbreak of war, shipping in these waters was not subject to interference by enemy raiders, but the shipping companies increased their freights abnormally. On appearances at least, one is justified in concluding -that profiteering has occurred there.

In future, supplies of superphosphate will be rationed. Each purchaser will receive only 65 per cent, of the quantity that he used in 1939-40. This will deprive the primary producer of a freight concession that he hitherto enjoyed. Previously, he purchased consignments of ten tons or twenty tons, and those large orders enabled him to obtain truck rates.

The bill will assist, in some degree, to lighten the burden on the primary producer, but the Government, by vigorous measures, should effect a reduction, of costs. If not, the nation will have to bear the added cost. That may be an incentive to the Government to take action against shipping companies for the purpose of securing a reduction of freights.

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