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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr WILSON (Wimmera) .- I direct the attention of the Government to what I regard as the very serious hardship that is being suffered by primary producers in particular, and especially by wheat-growers. The present returns from wheat are very low. According to a computation that has been made, it is estimated that, despite the fact that certain figures have been stated as representing a guaranteed price, the net return from the present year's wheat pool will be approximately 2s. 7£d. a bushel when the full amount has been received. I have had letters from time to time from persons in my own electorate, and from other parts of the wheat-growing belt in Australia in which I have contacts and friends. I suggest that action be taken to liberalize what is already provided under Statutory Rule No. 65. The regulations made by that statutory rule contain a cover which entitles a person who is hard pressed by his creditors to appeal to a local tribunal, which may be a court of petty sessions, or a county court, according to the amount of the debt. Regulation 4 reads -

Where a tribunal ia satisfied, on application by any person, that by reason of circumstances attributable to the war or the operation of any regulation made under the National Security Act 1030 or under that net us subsequently amended, the performance, or further performance, of a contract or agreement to which that person is a party, in accordance with the terms thereof, has become or is likely to become impossible or, so far as the applicant is concerned, has become or is likely to become inequitable or unduly onerous, the tribunal may make an order cancelling the contract or agreement or may make such order as it thinks just, varying the terms of the contract or agreement, or may provide for the repayment, in whole or in part, of any amount paid in pursuance of the contract or agreement.

That is a very useful piece of legisla-lion. The application of it is not so widely known as it might be, by those who are suffering from the hardships that I have mentioned ; but it has certain limitations, in that it lays down that the tribunal shall decide whether the difficulty that has arisen in respect of the creditor is or is not attributable to war causes. I should like it to be amplified, in order to meet the circumstances of persons such as the writer of the following letter-a constituent of mine - which is typical of many others that I have received :--

Perhaps I will be able to help you in your efforts to better the conditions of the primary producers, and you may be able to help me if I relate to you just exactly what I have been up against since last harvest.

I have two properties, each carrying a first mortgage, one a private investor, the other a bank, which is now termed an O.D.

Prior to last October both had been fixed for five years at 4 per cent. Now, I will deal with the private mortgage first. I have been trying ever since last October to arrange for an extension of the mortgage for three years and have offered ii per cent. But he will not agree to leas than S per cent, and insists on a special clause protecting -him from any deflation of the currency during the term of the mortgage. I have refused to agree to such an unreasonable demand, so the matter is just dragging on. I received a letter a few days ago advising me that if I did not agree to his terms he will be compelled to take some further action.

Well, now for the bank. On the 1st October I was told by the manager that the term of the fixed mortgage has expired and that in future I would be put on a limit, and interest increased by $ per cent., and that in February, 1042, I would be required to reduce the amount by £200. When this date arrived 1 told the manager it was impossible for me to reduce the O.D. Last week I was told that head office insisted on the reduction. That, I think, is plain enough for you to understand the position.

Now for myself : 1941 was a drought and I refused to take drought relief. I borrowed on my life assurance to pay my interest and other expenses. I am compelled to crop 400 acres of wheat each year to keep square. And now, here is the point that is making me see red: I have four sons, two of them enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force nt the commencement of the war. The third, nineteen years old, was called up last November. I applied for harvest leave for him, which was granted. I then realized that it would be almost impossible for me to carry on and meet my commitments with a lad of sixteen years, who ia not a bit interested in the farm, and is just about pining his life away because he has a " kink " for radio, I then applied for exemption for the nineteenyearold lad, pointing out that I already had two boys serving. I also stated that if they would grant exemption to the boy who would bc of some use to mc on the farm, the other one could go into training as a radio operator in the Air Force. To this the military authorities simply said: "No, we want your boys ".

Now, Mr. Wilson, I don't want to make this letter too long, and I ask you: Is this the type of justice and equality of sacrifice we are fighting for? My boys, all fighting for the country and I am left to carry, at my time of life, the financial burden which was too heavy for at least three of us to carry.

On top of this, my interest has been increased, as I have already stated, and the bank insisting on a reduction in the amount owing to them.

I just thought I would like you to know these facts, which you are at liberty to use in the right place and at the right time. You may or you may not be able to offer me any advice.

Those blessed words " security of tenure " ; surely a man and his family who has played the game in this war to the extent to which we have are entitled to a little better treatment than this, and some immediate action is necessary by the Federal Government to protect Edi people from these unjust demands being made at a time like this.

That letter indicates a state of affairs which is more widespread than is generally recognized. The Government should consider the extension of more liberal protection to primary producers who are suffering in this way. Every mail brings to me letters from men who have been dispossessed of their properties or who are constantly threatened with dispossession of them. Owing to the low price received for primary products, it is impossible for many farmers to carry on their holdings, and they are reduced to a hopeless position through their sons or other employees having been called up for military service. I have made representations on this matter previously, and I hope that action will be taken by the Government along the lines suggested by me. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), like me, represents a rural constituency, and I hope to have his support in this matter.

Mr Anthony - I am prepared to support the honorable member if he demands that action be taken.

Mr WILSON - I may have to call upon the honorable member for his assistance, but that will depend on what action the Government is prepared to take. I trust that the Government will see that increased protection is given to those men on the land who are enduring patiently and without great protest the hardships that the war has imposed upon them.

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