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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) - I stress the danger that is likely to arise in connexion with food supplies in this country, unless a great deal more care be taken than appears to be taken at the present time. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley), inparticular, will have a very onerous duty in providing for the necessary food requirements of both Australia and our Allies in the forthcoming year. Because of the depletion of man-power on the farms, and the virtual evacuation of many country districts, due to enlistments and engagement in more attractive work in munitions factories in the cities, a very grave problem is developing. The north coast area of New South Wales, and the Northern Tablelands, constitute one of the most closely settled rural areas in the Commonwealth. I was surprised to discover, when I was up there a week or two ago, the number of vacant farms in a district in which, twelve months or two years ago, there would have been the utmost competition for any farm which became available. Now, places are being advertised and nobody is prepared to take them. Some farmers are being compelled by labour difficulties to reduce the size of their herds. The point that I make particularly is that, once a farm has gone out of production - the cattle having been turned out or the herd having been reduced by slaughter or sales, or allowed to become dry - additional production to overcome a shortage of butter cannot be achieved in a. week or a month. The opportunity has gone; the farm cannot be brought back into production; the owner cannot be induced to run it. Although New South Wales is a big producer of butter, for the greater part of the lasttwelve months it has not produced a sufficient quantity to feed its own population.

Mr Frost - Was not the drought the cause of that?

Mr ANTHONY - Drought and other causes. Labour conditions are contributing very seriously to the present position. For the greater part of the last twelve months we have had to import butter from other States of the Commonwealth. At the moment, there is a flush season as the result of good rains, with a consequent increase of production ; but if we happen to have a dry season, such as occurs during certain periods of practically every year, with the depletion of the herds, the closing down of various farms and the labour shortage, the Minister for Supply and Development, in particular, will have a problem impossible of solution. This applies not only to butter production but also to many other phases of rural industry. It was necessary recently for the Minister to issue a regulation taking control of the entire tomato crop, because he could not otherwise obtain sufficient quantities for the troops. The shortage was due partly to drought, but mostly to the shortage of labour. The position is much the same in regard to vegetables. I have received sheaves of letters from people asking how they are to carry on if they, or members of their families, are called up. I have just received a letter from a farmer who has been called up for military service. He is the only man on the place, and he wants to know what is his duty. Should he go into the Militia, or should he endeavour to obtain exemption and remain on the farm in order to grow food? If he goes before the man-power officer, he will probably encounter some one with no knowledge of Australia's requirements in regard to food' supplies, and little sympathy with men on the land. The officer's attitude will probably be that the applicant is not engaged in an essential industry, and that he should be in the Army. Therefore, exemption will be refused. I say that these matters should be determined by the Government itself. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley"), the Minister for Commerce (Mr. ' Scully), and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) should take heed of the position into which we are drifting regarding food supplies. If our food sup plies fail, then we shall fail in everything, i am afraid that we in Australia have a kind of Maginot Line complex about food. We have the idea that this is a vast continent which produces an abundance of all kinds of foodstuffs. There may be an abundance of wheat and of one or two other commodities, but, as the Minister for Commerce himself pointed out, there is at present an alarming shortage of beef. That is why the controversy regarding the use of Werribee beef has assumed fresh importance. I warn the Government that, unless action be taken now, it may be too late. In New South Wales, we do not grow enough apples to supply the people of that State. Ordinarily, large quantities have to be imported from Tasmania, but at the present time transport problems aggravate the position. Though there may be tons of apples available in Tasmania for export, the difficulty will be to get them to New South Wales. Therefore, we must endeavour to make the various States as self-contained as possible. I ask the Minister for Supply and Development, who is the person responsible, to see that adequate food supplies shall be maintained to feed the civilian population, our own troops, and particularly the troops of our Allies stationed in this country. To-day, I asked the Minister for Labour and National Service a question on this point, and I was not altogether satisfied that he had a full grasp of the significance of the question. He replied courteously enough that the matter would be investigated, and that the man-power position would be explored, but such inquiries may take months. In the meantime, if farms go out of production, and cows are dried off and slaughtered, the damage will have been done, and a long time will be required to get those farms back into production again. I urge the Government to take action immediately.

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