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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr SPOONER (Robertson) .- Having had the privilege of hearing the statement just made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), I must say that it cannot have any other effect than to make all nf us who possess a sense of responsibility feel how puny are the internal affairs of our country whilst these world-shaking events are taking place, events which, if i hey are determined in a favorable way io us will leave us a happier people. If the events proceed in an unfavorable way, however, as the Prime Minister has said, we may be placed in a position of having many years of toil and hardship ahead of us, with much suffering before we can reach the desired victory. I can only express my own view when I say that the commander of the allied forces in this area, and the Government of Australia have the sympathy and support of every loyal Australian, and whatever active help can be given by us, must be given unstintedly. It is our duty to-day to do what we can to help.

I desire now to refer to a scheme that was recently instituted by the Government, in relation to the purchase for export for the next twelve months of certain quantities of beef, lamb, mutton, and pig meat. Unfortunately, the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) is temporarily absent from the Chamber. Until recently, a contract was operative under which the United Kingdom Government purchased the meat to which I have referred. In future, the Commonwealth Government will purchase and resell certain quantities of meat to the United Kingdom Government, and the return to the producer will be the Australian equivalent to the United Kingdom contract price, less 15 per cent. I desire to refer to that deduction of 15 per cent., and to ask that the Minister for Commerce should reconsider the scheme from that angle. I understand that the producer is to be paid 75 per cent, of the contract price when the Government takes over the meat, and is to be paid a further 10 per cent, on shipment. The balance of 15 per cent, is to be retained by the Government, which would give some service to the producer for that amount so held. The meat has to be stored until it is ready for shipment, and the Government has to meet the interest cost on the 75 per cent, of the contract purchase price that is paid to the producer. The storage charges may be considerable, and the interest cost may cover a long period, therefore, the Government is entitled to compensation for the outlay. In addition, the Government is properly retaining a portion of the money for the purpose of giving a subsidy of 16s. Id. « case on canned mutton in respect of some mutton not up to export standard. That subsidy does not apply to all mutton not up to export standard, but only i.' such portion as is passed for canning purposes. I am informed that the 15 per cent, which is to be retained by the Government will amount to approximately f 1.030,000 in twelve months. That fi gum assumes that the Government will be abls to find sufficient shipping, space to deliver abroad the quantities which are intended to be delivered under the United Kingdom contract. The statement made by th Prime Minister a few minutes ago seriously affects the problem of whether suffcent shipping space may be available for that purpose. It may be assumed, however, that if shipping space be available for the quantity of meat that the British Government desires to be delivered, the 15 per cent. deduction from the contract price will realize £1,030,000 to the Government.

The view lias been expressed that the 15 per cent, deduction is too high. J take no personal responsibility for the figure which I am going to mention, but it has been supplied by a reliable authority in the industry. It is estimated that a sum of approximately £200,000 would cover the subsidy on canned mutton as well as interest and storage charges. 1 am not without some detailed calculations on how the £200,000 is arrived at. It is based upon the estimated proportion of mutton that would be canned, and in respect of which a subsidy would be given. It is also based on a knowledge of what storage costs would be entailed, and what interest charges on the capital outlay would have to be met over a period of six months. It is claimed that the Government is retaining from the producer approximately five times the amount that it is necessary to retain. I ask the Minister to examine this matter in order to ascertain whether the position is as 1 have stated. If so, I urge that there be a revision of the arrangements so as to provide the producer with a better return than he receives at present. A deduction of 15 per cent, is a serious matter to the grower under present conditions. In this country the fat lamb market is largely supplied by the comparatively small grower. The woolgrower in the large areas frequently if not a fat lamb producer, as honorable members are aware. I am informed that 75 per cent of the mutton and lamb that is dealt with under this arrangement is produced by growers who own fewer than 2.000 sheep, and to these people a deduction of 15 per cent, in times such as the present is a serious matter. Recent seasons in New South Wales, at least, have been extremely bad, and costs of production have risen very much in the pastoral industry. I do not suggest that wool-growers have done badly, because I am one of those who express gratitude for the agreement made with the British Government at the outbreak of war, and I believe that, generally speaking, the wool-grower has receiver! a fair average price for his product at a time when he might have encountered great difficulty in disposing of a considerable proportion of it. However, while his return has remained static, under present conditions his costs of production have risen inevitably, and the small mixed producers in the closer-in areas, who depend largely upon the production of fat lambs and mutton, have found themselves very much at a disadvantage because of rising costs, bad seasons, and this severe deduction of 15 per cent. As the Minister is aware, the local market for mutton and lamb is influenced very much by the export price received by producers, and when 15 per cent, is deducted from that price, it is naturally reflected in the homeconsumption price, and consequently the producer is at a disadvantage in both ways. The figures which I have quoted have come to me from a reliable source. It may be that the Minister can show that the Government's outlay is considerably more than £200,000, but there is a big margin between £200,000 and £1,030,000, and if the Minister has in view the use of that balance for some other purpose, which will benefit the industry, I have nothing more to say; but if, on the other hand, there is a substantial difference such as I have indicated, I hope that the Minister will give the matter more consideration.

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