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Wednesday, 17 July 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- As the last speaker in the debate from this side of the House, I reiterate the question to which the farmers will demand an answer, if not in this House, then on the hustings during the forthcoming elections - why does the Government propose to include the 1945-46 wheat crop in its stabilization scheme for 1946-47 onwards? Why is it proposed to keep from the growers £10,000,000 which ought to be in their pockets now? The honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) evaded the question. He spoke on every aspect of the matter except that. He refused to explain why the Government was stealing the proceeds of the 1945-46 crop from the growers. In a few weeks, Government supporters will go out and tell the people the story which they have told so often here. They will recount the evils of twenty years ago. They will say what the Bruce-Page Government did not do, what the Lyons Government might have done, and what the Scullin Government attempted to do. They will tell the people everything except what the unfortunate growers really want to know, namely, why the Government is taking from them a large proportion of the proceeds of their 1945-46 crop. The growers do not want to know what happened during the "last war. They do not want to know what happened ten years ago, or even what happened during this war. The question they are asking themselves, and which they will also ask Government representatives, is "What about my bank account to-day?" There is about £10,000,000 involved in this steal - no other word can describe it.

Mr Scully - -The honorable member should keep to bananas1 - he knows more about them.

Mr ANTHONY - I know something about .this matter, also. We have been told that the' stabilization scheme was introduced to help the wheat-growers, who are to benefit from the generosity of the Government. The falseness of that claim has been fully exposed in the course of this debate. It has been shown that' the growers will not get one sou from the Government. Clearly the reason for bringing this proposal before Parliament in its dying hours is that,. . if it were delayed, it would be even more difficult for the Government to justify the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop in the scheme, and the £1.0,000,000 of which I have spoken might be lost to it forever.

Another question which demands an answer is why the Government proposes to go on giving the farmers' wheat to other sections of the community at a price less than the wheat would realize on the open market. I refer to those who feed wheat to stock - dairy-farmers, poultryfarmers, &c. - and I admit that many of those benefiting from the arrangement are my own constituents. Up till now they have been able to buy wheat for about 4s. a bushel. When the stabilizascheme is in operation, they will buy their wheat at the home-consumption price. They are glad to get cheap wheat, but they should not be getting it at the expense of the growers. If wheat is to be supplied to stock-raisers at less than the market price, the difference ought to be made up out of Consolidated Revenue. In other words, the whole community should pay, not the wheatgrower only. If the growers were able to sell their wheat on the open market they would receive 10s. a bushel for 28,000,000 bushels, instead of 5s. 2d.

Mr FULLER (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are some dairyfarmers and poultry-farmers in my electorate, too.

Mr ANTHONY - Neither the dairyfarmers nor the poultry-farmers would consider that they were receiving justice if one-third of their production was taken away from them and sold at less than the fair market price ; yet that is what happened to the wheat-grower. I do not contend that there is no justification for allowing the poultry-raiser and the stock-feed processors to purchase wheat at a low price, but if that is to be done it should be at the expense of the whole of the people and not merely of a few. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) with great gusto pointed out that there had been an improvement of the incomes of primary producers during the period in which this Government has been in office. That is probably quite' true, because periods of war have always brought increases of the prices of foodstuffs and commodities of various kinds. There is grave misconception on the part of the Minister when he contends that this Government has dealt generously with the dairying industry, just as it is dealing generously with the wheat industry in the bill now before us. Although the subsidies paid to the dairying industry have run into many millions of pounds, if dairy farmers were, permitted to operate on a free market, the price of butter to-day instead of being ls. 7d. per lb. would be nearer 3s. per lb.

Mr Breen - In the United States of America butter is sold on the free market for' 6s. 6d. per lb.

Mr ANTHONY - That is so. Instead of conferring a benefit, the granting of the subsidy to dairy farmers has deprived them of a free market price and has cost them many millions of pounds which could not be covered by the subsidy. What possible justification can there be for including the 1945-46 harvest in the stabilization scheme and thereby taking from the pockets of the wheat-growers an amount' estimated to be approximately £10,000,000 which would otherwise go into their banking accounts? As a practical farmer the Minister is well aware of the plight of the wheat-growers and of the fact that because of seasonal fluctuations their incomes can only be based on the average of perhaps three successive seasons. Never was there a time when the Australian wheat-grower needed more urgently the return he hopes to get from this season's harvest.

Mr LEMMon - Nonsense !

Mr ANTHONY - Last season the wheat yield amounted to 123,000,000 bushels, but in the preceding season it amounted to only 45,000,000 bushels. The 1943-44 season was one of the worst in the history of wheat-growing in Australia. Yet the honorable member characterizes as nonsense our claim that the wheat-growers need the full proceeds of the 1945-46 harvest to carry on. In the 1943-44 season the crops harvested in Victoria were not even sufficient to feed horses on the farm properties.

Mr Lemmon - Yet it is impossible to buy a wheat-farm to-day.

Mr ANTHONY -It is also impossible to buy a property of any description, even a house or a business. Although the bill has many desirable features it is unacceptable because of its imperfections and obvious omissions. I have no doubt that the Minister, as a practical farmer, has the welfare of the wheat-growers at heart, and that he has been badly advised or has been forced to agree to this plan against his will. No justification has been advanced to warrant the inclusion of the 1945-46 harvest in the plan. No doubt it will he pointed out that the whole of the money paid into the stabilization fund from the 1945-46 harvest will ultimately be returned to the wheat-growers. That may be true, and there would be no argument against the proposal if those now engaged in the wheat industry remained in it until 1950. The Minister must be well aware,however, that those engaged in primary industries drift, not only toother forms of primary production, but also to the cities, and accordingly many of the growers who contribute to the pool during the 1945-46 season will not share in the distribution of the proceeds of the stabilization fund in 1950. It would be difficult indeed to assess the percentage of those now engaged in the industry who will still be engaged in it after a lapse of five years. If the Minister will not accept the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) I trust that he will at least reconsider the implications of the bill, as it is at present drafted, with a view to meting out more equitable treatment to those whom it is ostensibly designed to assist.

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