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Thursday, 18 July 1946

Mr SCULLY (Gwydir) (Minister for Commerce and Agriculture) . - I move -

That, in sub-clause (1.), after the word "may" the following words be inserted: - " subject. to any directions of the Minister".

The amendment provides for power of direction by the Minister. The principle involved is one which is well recognized ; but it may be desirable now to explain the reasons for it briefly, because they are often not understood. First, we are dealing with a foodstuff of primary importance. It is important from the viewpoint of local supply, of our export trade, and of the world's needs. In dealing with wheat the Minister concerned must be directly responsible to the Parliament. The second point arises from the present world food crisis, and the action necessary by governments to meet it. Foodstuffs must be so allocated as to give the greatest possible measure of relief. The action to be taken involves high policy and direct negotiations between governments. The Cabinet must take the responsibility for that policy. It is one in which ordinary commercial considerations are fitted into a wider field, and here again the Government must be directly responsible to the Parliament. The third point arises because of our Federal Constitution. This is a joint Commonwealth and State plan, and the wheat concerned is grown within the borders of the States, and marketed under State law. Matters of policy involving Commonwealth arid State Governments will need decision from time to time, and those matters must be settled by the governments. On these matters the responsible Ministers must assume responsibility before their parliaments.

This bill deliberately sets up a monopoly in wheat marketing. The reasons, for doing so are sound, but they do carry an obligation that it will not be an uncontrolled monopoly. The responsible Minister must answer to the Parliament for the actions of the board, and must have the right to ensure that its operations shall be conducted in the interests of both the wheat-grower, who is to benefit directly, and the public, who must be assured of fair treatment at all times. Finally, it will be noted that there are included powers of the board in regard to cornsacks and a very wide range of other matters. Some of these are subject to Commonwealth policy from year to year, and that policy may change. They are mattersof convenience, not of- principle, and so must be subject to variations if any variation does become desirable.

Those briefly are the principles involved. The war-time procedure is being followed and it has proved sound in its operation. The effect is that the board will perform its legitimate function, but the responsibility rests squarely on the Minister who has to answer to the Parliament.

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