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Thursday, 18 July 1946

Mr McEWEN (Indi) .-I move -

That, in sub-clause (2.), the word "any", first occurring, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following word and figures:- "the 1946-47".

This is one of a series of amendments I intend to move with the object of changing the clause to the pattern approved by the Australian Country party and described in detail by members of that party during the second-reading debate. Our object is to exclude from the stabilization scheme the 1945-46 crop, to provide that the price to be paid for the coming crop shall be 5s. 2d. a bushel bagged at growers' sidings, and to ensure that the price to be paid for the three subsequent crops which will be included in the stabilization period shall be based on production costs. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will see the justice of this policy. As the Government has neglected to make provision for an inquiry into present production costs, we are without any data, except that provided by the wheat-growers' organizations. The Minister has been ready enough to accept the advice of representatives of growers' organizations in certain respects, and ' to regard it as a sufficient justification for doing certain things, so I hope that he will follow the same procedure in this instance. The growers' organizations have demonstrated beyond doubt that a fair and reasonable price for this year's crop would be 5s. 2d. a bushel bagged at sidings, as against 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports, which is the price that the Government has adopted. We have enough information also to say with confidence that the Treasury is not likely to be called upon to make any contribution to the stabilization fund if the wheat from the next crop be acquired at 5s. 2d. a bushel bagged at sidings. As to the remaining three years that will be included in the stabilization period, we propose that a competent commission of inquiry should be constituted to take evidence and report on production costs. We are now dealing with one df the vital provisions of the bill. It. is at this point that the Government is farthest astray from the wishes of the wheat-growers of Australia. If it continues with its present policy it will perpetuate "the gravest injustice that has ever been inflicted upon the Australian wheat-growers, in that it will break the spirit, if not the letter, of the law of this country. It has always been regarded as a fundamental principle in compulsory acquisitions' of any description in this country that the government shall acquire on just terms. We believe that wheat will not be acquired on just terms if the 1945-46 crop be included in the scheme at 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. at ports and if the price for the 1946-47 crop be not varied as 1 have suggested. We shall have other opportunities to discuss the iniquitous proposal to include the 1945-46 crop in the scheme, and we shall take advantage of them. At the moment I am dealing with the 1946-47 harvest. Whatever the Minister may tell the House about the favorable views of hand-picked representatives of growers' organizations in regard to certain aspects of this scheme, he, as the representative of a wheat- growing constituency, knows very well that the great majority of wheatgrowers in this country are not only opposed to the inclusion of the 1945-46 crop, but are also unshakably convinced that its inclusion would be the gravest possible injustice to the industry. I appeal to the Minister to review his attitude on this subject, and to give effect to the well-established principle that all compulsory acquisitions shall . be made on just terms. The growers are collecting funds with a view to fighting the Government through the courts, in order to establish their rights. That is a sorry state of affairs. The Government ought to realize clearly that, having promulgated a National Security regulation last October, designed compulsorily to acquire wheat in the crop then about to be harvested, it assumed the obligation to pay for that wheat what it was worth. That obligation cannot be satisfied by taking from the proceeds of the crop a total of £7,000,000, and placing it in a fund, the purpose of which is to aid some wheat-growers on a future occasion. Heaven knows, the wheatgrowers need badly enough to-day every penny that they can get. Justice demands that they shall be allowed to enjoy the full realization of that crop at the high level of export parity which prevails to-day, in order that they may mend their broken fortunes so far as they are able to do so. I appeal to the Government to accept my first amendment, thus indicating its willingness to exclude the 1945-46 crop, and subsequently to accept my later amendments, which are designed to alter the guarantee for the next crop from the paltry 5s. 2d. a bushel at ports to the fair price of 5s. 2d. a bushel, bagged basis, at growers' sidings, which is the only price so far ascertained that can be related to the cost of production.

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