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Thursday, 24 September 1942
Page: 925

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (Minister for Commerce) |"2.43 a.m.]. - I wish to reply to certain inaccurate and misleading statements made by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). The honorable gentleman's speech was in marked contrast, to those delivered by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr Francis) and the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), both of whom evinced a desire to co-operate fully with the Government, in order to assist it. to meet the serious position which confronts the country. The speech of the honorable member for Richmond was totally different, and was of the " knocking " variety.

Mr James - He is just a " knocker ".

Mr SCULLY - That is so. The honorable gentleman spoke at length concerning the action of this Government in connexion with food production in Australia and exports to the United Kingdom. In order that there shall be no misunderstanding ofthe true position, I shall state it briefly to the committee. The honorable member claimed that in previous years the Commonwealth Government had exported substantial quantities of badly-needed foodstuffs to the United Kingdom, but that this Government had failed to make the necessary provision for such exports. In his approach to this problem, the honorable member adopted an unfair attitude, and has apparently deliberately overlooked or omitted to mention the following three very important f ac tors : -

(1)   The difficult conditions and circumstances operating sinceDecember of last year when Australia found itself at war with Japan.

(2)   The entry of America into the war against the Axis and the arrival in Australia of substantial numbers of allied troops.

(3)   Adverse seasonal conditions which in two States last year, namely, New South Wales and Queensland, played a very important part in the lessened production of certain essential foodstuffs.

The honorable member must have been aware that during the first two years of the war Australia had export surpluses of the principal food commodities and that, at that stage, it was a matter not of supplying Britain with its requirements but of inducing the Government of the United Kingdom to take the whole of the available surplus of Australian products. It was possible during this period, therefore, for Australia to enter into contracts with the British Ministry of Pood for the supply of exceptionally large quantities of meat, dairy produce and eggs. Australia carried out these contracts, which were of tremendous value not only to this country but also to Great Britain, in that the supplies we were able to make available formed valuable reserves for the feeding of the people of the United Kingdom. With the advent of war to the Pacific conditions changed, as it were, overnight, and Australia, instead of being a country of export surpluses, found that it had to provide for increasingly huge demands for essential foodstuffs in order to meet the needs of the fighting forces in Australia. Moreover, with the possibility of actual warfare on this continent, the Government was forced to provide adequate supplies of foodstuffs for the civilian population in addition to building up reserves of these foodstuffs in case of emergency. The honorable member for Richmond admitted that he was aware of poor seasonal conditions last year in New South Wales and Queensland. The latter State, in particular, experienced a very dry period, during which the production of dairy produce was reduced materially. Moreover, these conditions affected the supplies of beef, for which the demands have been increasing. Similar conditions in a large area, of New South Wales affected the production of dairy produce and eggs, and at certain periods we were forced to face up to the fact that surpluses of essential foodstuffs were not available to be put into reserve for export to the United Kingdom.

There is another side to this story, with which the honorable member did not deal. It relates to the demands upon Australia for foodstuffs by the British Government. He, I presume, is aware of the exceptionally difficult problems that have been experienced in regard to shipping, and the efforts made by the Government to secure refrigerated space in which to carry perishable products to the United Kingdom. In this regard, his attention might be directed to the action taken by the Commonwealth Government at the suggestion of the Government of the United Kingdom to process, into a canned or dehydrated form, all available foodstuffs that can be so treated. He referred to egg powder. For his information, I inform him that we have been asked to can and dehydrate meat so that shipping space may be saved, and to process butter into pure butter-fat which may be shipped in less space as general cargo. These facts must necessarily have affected the volume of our exports to the United Kingdom.

Reverting to meat: The honorable member may, or may not, be aware that the British Ministry of Food this year entered into a contract with the Australian Government for the supply of 110,000 tons of frozen carcase meat. This was due entirely to the inability of the British Government to supply refrigerated shipping space for any greater quantity. This compares with a contract for 210,000 tons for the previous year, and 240,000 tons in the first year of the war, when actual shipments of frozen carcase meat were approximately 2i60,00O tons.

In connexion with dairy produce, I point out that the original contract with the British Government was on the basis of 100,000 tons of butter per annum. For this contract year, the British Ministry indicated that it desired only G0,000 tons of butter and that it would prefer it to cheese. In compliance with this request, the Common wealth Government instituted steps to arrange for the necessary change-over from the manufacture of butter to cheese. We were also informed that the British Ministry of Food did not require other than choicest and first quality butter. Again the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the Dairy Produce Control Committee, met the position by processing low-grade butter and sending it to the United Kingdom as pure butter fat in general cargo space. These experiments were so successful that Great Britain has now informed us that it is prepared to take, next contract year, 10,000 tons of pure butter-fat and any further quantities that may be available. In order that the honorable member may fully appreciate the position, I inform him further that recent advices from Great Britain in connexion with dairy produce are to the effect that butter is again in demand. A total of 85,000 tons has: been mentioned; but the previous demands for cheese have been reduced by 75 per cent.

Mr Ryan - Because of the reduction of the British contract, is there to be a surplus of cheese left in Australia?

Mr SCULLY - It is anticipated that there will be a surplus.

It will be appreciated that once again the industry is being asked to arrange a changeover and that this will necessitate a slight hold-up of production. The Commonwealth Government, however, is 'taking all steps to ensure that the requests of the British Government shall be met as far as possible.

At this point, mention may he made of eggs. Here, too, seasonal conditions played an important part in the industry, with the result that the production failed considerably. I do not want- to convey the impression that seasonal conditions were entirely responsible for the falling off of the production of dairy produce, meat and eggs, but I do say that, combined with the shortage of man-power in primary industries, (hey made it extremely difficult for the industries concerned to maintain production at previous levels. This aspect of the matter has had the serious considerations of the Government, and it is hoped that the position will improve progressively from now on. I have digressed slightly in regard to eggs. The preliminary indications were that egg production this year would not suffice to meet all the demands for service requirements in Australia, and local consumption. With the improvement of the season, the supplies are now estimated to be in excess of requirements, and it is anticipated that a substantial quantity of egg powder, totalling more than 2,000,000 lb., will be available for export to the United Kingdom.

The first contract for the supply of dried vine fruits to Great Britain covered 49,700 tons. In the second year, the contract was reduced to 33,000 tons, due to a falling off of production- Last year, however, we were again able to increase the contract, on this occasion to 44,000 tons, which is being shipped at the present time. I mention here that rather than reduce the quantities for export to the United Kingdom, the Government took measures to ensure that the contract quantities would be available.

At the beginning of the present season, the British Ministry of Food advised that purchases of canned fruits from Australia from the 1942 pack were not contemplated. It indicated, however, that the maximum quantity of fruit pulp would be required. As the resultof this advice, the canned fruit pack was reduced so as to enable a diversion of fruit from cans to pulp. Recently, the Ministry asked for supplies of canned fruits for Near-East requirements, and an allocation of 300,000 cases was made from the limited supplies available in Australia for civilian requirements. Exports of fruit pulp to the United Kingdom, however, were increased substantially during this year. Approximately 4,000 tons was shipped, consisting of apricot pulp and berry fruit pulp. On the other hand, the Ministry of Food indicated that it would take from Australia substantial quantities of jams, and mentioned 20,000 tons. In order to illustrate the difficulties of the Government in this connexion, war developments in Australia caused unprecedented increases of the jam requirements for Australian and allied defence services. In March, it became necessary for action to be taken to prohibit the export of jam from Australia. Prior to that, 3,700 tons of jam had been sent to the United Kingdom; further exports were not possible.

I consider that this explanation will convince the honorable member that his charges against the Government in this matter have been ill-founded, and that the Government has been just as anxious as the Government of which he was a member, if not more anxious, to meet the urgent needs of the people of the United Kingdom. I ask honorable members to accept my assurance that the matter of food supplies is having theconstant attention of the Government, and that every effort is being made to ensure the production of essential foodstuffs so as to meet the needs of the allied services in Australia, the civilian population, and the needs of Great Britain, all of which are regarded by the Government as of equal importance.

Mr Francis - Will the honorable gentleman reply to the recommendation in the report of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries, that the price of dairy products be substantially increased? Has the honorable gentleman examined the report and recommendations of that committee.

Mr SCULLY - I have studied the report briefly, and compliment the honorable gentleman and the committee upon it. It will be of immense service to me. I shall deal with the recomendations as soon as possible.

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