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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - The honorable member wastes time in harking back to bygone days when he should be centreing his attention on the conditions that apply now. Another offender in that respect is the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon), who said, "We want to look at the conditions that confronted the wheat-growing industry at the outset of the war ". Nonsense ! What we have to examine is the condition that confronts the industry to-day. We want to ascertain what is causing the drift from the farms to the cities. We want to discover what will curb that drift and give the greatest impetus to decentralization: A glance at the position will disclose that the wheat-growers have been excluded from schemes designed to stabilize industry. Mr. Tonkin, at the dinner tendered by the Primary Producers Association and the Wheat and Wool Growers Union to delegates to the conference of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation in Perth on the 4th April, said -

I cannot believe that the wheat-grower does not want a price upon which the farmer can budget and not be left to the mercy of the law of supply and demand.

Neither can I believe it, but I do know that the farmer is not getting that price. I cannot understand why Mr. Tonkin did not go to the core of the matter and discuss the question whether 4s. 2d. a bushel at country sidings equals the cost of production, plus a fair profit. The wheat industry is languishing, and, if it is to be restored to the position of being a great Australian asset, some tonic must be administered to it that will help it back onto its feet. People were first attracted to Australia by the lure of gold, but, when the pursuit of gold became unprofitable, people turned their bands to the land; thereafter, Australian prosperity was built on the foundation of the products of the soil and the pastures. Upon the wheat industry, as well as the wool industry, Australia's future depends.

The export price of wheat from December, 1944. to March, 1945, was 6s. 5£d. a bushel, and, in April and May,. 1945, 7,722,850 bushels of wheat was sold for stock feed when the export value was 7s. 4id. a bushel. In June, July and August, 12,269,169 bushels was sold when the export price was 8s. 8d., leaving 12,111,000 bushels to be sold after August. Why was the price to be paid to growers for export wheat fixed at the lowest level wheat had reached that year, namely 6s. 5-Jd. ? The export price of wheat0 now was revealed in an answer to a question asked in this House on the 27th March -

What price, or prices, is at present being charged by the Australian Wheat Board t.o.b. for wheat for export or for the manufacture of flour for export, bagged basis?

The answer was - 10s. 4Jd. per bushel trucks, bagged basis.

Yetthe Government, under the stabilization plan, cannot offer the wheat-grower more than 4s. 2d. a bushel at country sidings. However, the right approach to this matter is not the price that wheat is fetching, but the cost of production. So let us start at that end and ask ourselves whether the producer is not entitled to the cost of production, plus a fair profit. All fair-minded people will agree that he is.

I have received dozens of letters from wheat-farmers, who lost their crops through drought, saying that they want to sow their land with wheat, but have not the money to carry on satisfactorily in the industry. " We want drought relief", they say, but the Commonwealth Government has handed that matter over to the States, and nothing has been done. There must be close cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and the State Governments on the matter of drought relief.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Drought relief is outside the question before the House, which relates to -

The failure of the Government to pay the growers the full value of the wheat sold by Government direction from Numbers4,6, 7 and 8 Pools at concessional prices, and the necessity to pay to growers the full realization value of theNo.9 Pool.

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - I raised the matter of drought relief because it is causing embarrassment to so many of my const ituents.

M r. SPEAKER. - Order !

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - On the other question, the Government must take action. I invite the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture to come to my electorate to learn at first hand the position of the producers. This remote control system is useless. If the waterside workers go on strike or do not like the conditions they work under, Ministers meet themand discuss things with them. Let the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture meet the growers and discuss with them the conditions in the industry.

Mr Fuller - They might give the same answer as the farmersat Parkes gave, namely that they are satisfied.

Mr TURNBULL (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - They certainly will not, pay that they are satisfied, because they are intensely dissatisfied and are holding meetings of protest everywhere. The only people who do favour ' the present set-up are those dependent on the Government for jobs. They are part-time farmers, relying on governmental positions for the bulk of their means of livelihood. The wheat-farmers have always battled for stabilized prices, because no one knows better than they do how price vagaries affect their economic position and cause their industry to languish. But wheat to-day is selling at 10s. 4¾d. a bushel in the world markets, and, on that basis, many years will elapse before the Government will be called upon to contribute one penny to the wheat stabilization fund. It would not be too much to expect the Government to pay 5s.2d. a bushel for wheat at country sidings. If it did so it would be acting in the best interests of the country, because it would thereby foster the production of a grain for which the world is crying out.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Mr. Sheehan) agreed to -

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the negative.

Sitting suspended from 12.30 to2.25 p.m.

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