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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr RANKIN (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - Great Britain was buying huge quantities of wheat for India at 6s. lid. a bushel, and South American countries were paying even more. 1 do not say that all the wheat could have been sold for that price, but what was left in No. 7 pool could have, been. The department admits that the amount taken from the growers has been approximately £10,000,000. If all the wheat had been, sold at export parity prices it would have realized £19,704,739, whereas the Government proposes to pay the farmers only £9,671,470. It is true that, at one time, the guaranteed price 4d. above the export parity price, but before the Government paid out anything under the guarantee, the export price had risen, and nothing was, in fact, paid by the Government under that provision.

Mr Scully - There has been no export parity price since the beginning of the "war.

M.v.RANKIN.- The export parity price in Canada is equal to 9s. 3d. a bushel in Australian currency.

Mr Scully - I said during the war.

Mr RANKIN - I admit that there was trouble in regard to shipping, but there was an export parity price. The Government has done another thing which is worthy only of a bushranger - I refer to interest charges. On No. 6 pool interest charges are fixed at £1,239,755. We know that the Government had, to make advances to the growers against their crops ; therefore some interest charge against the growers would be just, but it was not just that the farmers should be debited with interest charges in respect of wheat, held by the Government for stock feed and for the production pf flour for home consumption. The Government had acquired. the wheat for these purposes, and the growers had no longer any say in its disposal. Nevertheless, the farmers have been debited with interest charges on advances in respect of wheat held for stock- feed, breakfast foods, power alcohol, and flour for local consumption. That is in- iquitous. At least 50 per cent, of this charge should have been debited against consolidated revenue. Interest charges against No. 7 pool were considerably more, and out of this pool 57,000,000 bushels was allocated for stock feed, 2,200,000 bushels for export flour, 3,400,000 bushels for breakfast food and 37,200,000 bushels for flour for local consumption. Obviously, the Government had to hold large quantities of wheat for these purposes, and it had to borrow money to finance the enterprise, but there is no justification for debiting interest charges so incurred against the growers. It is most unjust that the wheat-farmers, who have been struggling against adverse circumstances including drought and lack of fertilizers, should be debited with the full charge. The farmers had to carry on in the absence of the young, strong men who went into the Army. The work had to be done by the old and the unfit. Men who had previously retired, or were merely managing the properties for their sons, had to return to an active part in farming operations. In spite of all the disabilities suffered by the farmers, the Government imposes upon them this unjust charge. Therefore, I urge the Minister to make representations to Cabinet in the hope of having it removed. It is utterly unjust that the farmers should have to carry the interest hurden on wheat sold at concessional prices for stock feed and to proprietary companies for the manufacture of breakfast foods. The charge .would more properly be borne by consolidated revenue than by the wheat-growing industry.

When it became obvious that the world faced a wheat famine as the result of war devastation in Europe and Asia, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, on behalf of the Government, asked wheat-growers to step-up production. The Government did not tell them that they would not receive the market price for their wheat. On the contrary, it implied, although it may not have said so straight out, that they would get that price. It said that wheat prices would be good. Now, however, the Government proposes ,to pay them 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.b. on' a bagged basis, which is about 4s. .3d. a bushel or 4s. 4d., at the most at country stations.

Mr Scully - The price is f.o.r. ports, not f.o.b.

Mr RANKIN - "Well, the Government has changed its mind.

Mr Archie Cameron - Is the price to lie f.o.r. or f.o.b. ?

Mr Scully - F.o.r. ports. It makes !i difference of about Jd. a bushel.

Mr RANKIN - Anyway, the price is on a bagged basis. The price difference between f.o.r. ports and f.o.b. is about lid. a - bushel, which is a very small amount.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member has not added " plus 50 per cent, of realizations ".

Mr RANKIN - The Government was going to grab 60 per cent, of realizations. However, that is neither here nor there. The difference between f.o.r. ports and f.o.b. does give some slight assistance, but the fact remains that the price t.o be paid is below the cost of production. Machinery costs to-day are at least 100 per cent, higher than they were ten years ago. It is only a few years ago since I bought a new binder for £31 15s.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member means 25 or 30 years ago..

Mr RANKIN - I bought that binder in J 928- or 1929.

Mr Pollard - The honorable gentleman has not bought a binder for less than £300 since 1920.

Mr RANKIN - I have.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member might have bought a second-hand binder for £31 15s., but not a new one.

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr RANKIN - Other costs have risen. Superphosphate costs £5 ls. a ton to-day, compared with £3 10s. a few years ago, and the .quality has deteriorated, being 18 per cent, as against 22 per cent. The cost of wheat bags has risen from 30s. to 36s. The farmers, who have been saddled with all these increased charges on production, are to get only 4s. 3d. a bushel at country stations, and the Government proposed to take 60 per cent, of realizations above that amount, and to pay that into a stabilization fund, which is only an equalization fund, after all. In view of the fact that other industries are subsidized, I consider that the Government should also contribute to the equalization fund.

Mr Scully - I think it will have to.

Mr RANKIN - There, is no possibility of its having to do so for many years.

Mr Scully - The honorable gentleman is an optimist.

Mr RANKIN - 1 may be. History demonstrates that after a great war, when the world faces a wheat, famine the like of that to-day there is no likelihood of the Government having to contribute to the equalization fund for at least five years. In common justice, the 1945-46 wheat crop should be exempt from this stabilization plan. I agree with the Government and the- wheat-growers' organizations that a wheat stabilization plan is essential, because no one wants to go back to the old days when, with a world shortage of wheat, a return of 7s. or Ss. a bushel, with consequential land booms, was followed in two, three, four or five years by a world glut, with the price dropping to the ruinously low level of half-a-crown a bushel. The boom-and- burst cycle is disastrous, not only to the industry in general, but to men engaged hi it. The wheat-farmers are so badly in need of a stabilization scheme that they are ready to submit to a great deal in return for it, but we do not think it fair that the 1945-46 crop should be included in the scheme, iri view of the straitened financial circumstances of the men engaged in the industry, particularly the men in the lighter rainfall areas, and the marginal areas, whose only chance of getting on to their feet again, so that, they shall be able to go ahead with renewed hope, lies in their being allowed to get the full price for their wheat this year. The people, who will be able to buy bread at a reasonable cost., ought to be prepared to subsidize this industry, as they are subsidizing other industries, to keep down the cost of production. I do not think anybody doubts that the wheat-growers have been badly treated in being forced to carry on their industry under almost impossible conditions, including shortages of labour, fertilizer and machinery. During theN war the policy of the Government was that men engaged in the manufacture of farming machinery had to be diverted to the production of armaments. I have no complaint about that because the necessities of war demanded it, but the farmers suffered as the result. I think it is just that they should be compensated as far as possible. , [Extension of time granted.] 1 urge on the Minister, whom i thank for having moved that I be given an extension of time, that there are certain things that, in common justice, the Government must do. It must pay the wheat-growers a just price for the wheat sold at concessional prices. Otherwise, it will be deliberately robbing them of their due. It must transfer the burden of interest on the concessional wheat from the industry to the Consolidated Revenue. It must allow the wheatfarmers to get the full amount of the realization on the 1945-46 crop if it wants the industry to carry on in solvency as the great pillar of the political economy of this country.

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