Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 21 June 1949

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - That is why the honorable member is out of order.

Mr HAMILTON - I cannot agree, sir. Flour is mentioned in the agreement.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member had better return to the hill.

Mr HAMILTON - The bill provides for the export of flour. We must not be unmindful of the fact that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation is very concerned because, under the terms of the agreement, importing countries will be able to import only wheat from the exporting countries and will therefore be able to expand their flour-milling industries to the detriment of the Australian flour-milling industry. Unfortunately, it seems that the representatives of the Australian Government who took part in the negotiations were not concerned about that fact. In reply to our protests, the Minister has said that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation agreed to accept the agreement. That is true in respect of prices. The honorable gentleman said in his second-reading speech -

Both the Cabinet and myself were very loth to accept a lower maximum than two dollars, which was the figure in last year's agreement, but after examining all the circum-stances and after consultation with the executive of the Australian Wheat Grower* Federation, it was decided to do so. The executive had advised me that although it was not satisfied with the maximum rate it considered that the Government should accept the range of prices proposed with the lower maximum.

That is certainly true, but the Minister has not stated all of the facts. The federation agreed to accept the agreement subject to a proviso, which is indicated by the following resolution that it sent to the Minister: -

The Australian Wheat Growers Federation has no alternative but to re-affirm its protest on the forcing down of world prices of wheat as envisaged under the International Wheat Agreement. We agree that if India and other nearby purchasers of Australian wheat and flour become signatories to the agreement, Australia has no other course available but to remain in the agreement in accordance with the Australian Wheat Growers Federation decision made in Melbourne on 17th March. 1949.

In the light of that resolution, I claim that we are free to criticize the methods that were adopted by the Government in accepting the agreement. What will happen if agreement cannot be reached concerning the quantities of wheat, or of wheat and flour, that importing countries must take? The International Wheat Council is the only body that will be able to take any action in such circumstances, and the only sanctions that it will be able to apply, after investigating all aspects of the trouble, will be to deprive the importing country concerned of its voting power or expel it from the agreement. But what good would that do? Any importing country would be able to import as much wheat as it needed from countries not included in the agreement, because there is more wheat in " free " countries than there is in tb, countries that are covered by the agreement. I base that statement on the figures used by the Minister, and I am prepared to accept their accuracy Russia wants importing countries to buy their wheat from exporting countries that are not parties to the agreement. We hear a great deal of talk about the danger of Russia flooding the world's markets with wheat. I point out that Russia has taken such action only when prices have been low or when there has been chaos in the wheat markets. The very nature of the government of that country prescribes that it must add chaos to chaos and I am sure that, while any agreement exists, the danger of heavy selling by Russia will be ever-present. Should Russia pour great quantities of wheat into the world's markets in times of bountiful harvests, I am sure that the international agreement would not last for long. Russia desired an export quota of 100,000,000 bushels if it came into the agreement. Furthermore, China, which is being over-run by the 'Reds" Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, which demanded compensation from Great Britain because it used Egyptian territory so that it could protect Egypt and the Egyptians, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ireland, which remained neutral during the recent war, Israel, Bolivia, and Mexico have very little standing amongst the nations.

Mr Pollard - Have they not?

Mr HAMILTON - They have not. [f the Minister studies history he must know that those countries have denounced agreement after agreement, and I am certain that, if they are pushed outside the agreement through any default they will not have to go far in order to obtain, all their requirements of wheat. That is what Russia particularly wants to happen in connexion with the international agreement, and that is one reason why members of the Australian Country party consider that they should have the right to criticize the agreement. It contains no provision for sanctions against offending member nations. What is the good of making an agreement that contains no penalty clauses to which the contracting parties must subscribe? The wheatgrowers are seriously concerned because Argentina is not included in the agreement. We have heard a great deal about the movements of Argentina's surplus commodities recently, yet that nation is kept outside the agreement. One of the main reasons for its non-acceptance was the fact that it could not obtain any agreement upon reciprocity from the im porting countries. That is a serious fact to which the growers must give earnest consideration. Did this Government make any demand upon India, for instance, for the pegging of the price of jute? None at all. At least we have never been informed of such a demand. The price of jute is rising all the time. If it is good enough for a country that wants to import considerable quantities of wheat to have the price of the commodity pegged, it is fair and reasonable that we should ask for reciprocity in pegged prices of goods that we buy from it, but, so far as we have been told, neither the Minister nor his representative took steps to ensure that reciprocity. In his second-reading speech, the Minister said -

A very important question is " Will the world trade in wheat continue during the next four years at the present volume?" The evidence suggests that it will not. The pre-war net annual demand was around 550,000,000 bushels. It is true that since then the import requirements of certain countries have risen. In some coses - India is an example - the increase has been considerable. Other importing countries may be prepared to reduce production and increase foreign purchases when prices fall from the present high level. However, taking an overall view, it does not seem likely that the world import demand will remain permanently at the current very high figure, although an immediate contraction is not expected.

The Minister knows as well as does every one else who knows anything about the industry that, before 1930, 550,000,000 bushels of wheat was being imported annually by the wheat-importing countries. No cognizance has been taken of the increased population of those countries. The Minister, in one instance, suggested that the markets for wheat would not maintain themselves and, in another said that he could not foresee an immediate contraction. Nor can any one else foresee an immediate contraction. Sir John Boyd-Orr, on his retirement from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, told people how stupid they were not to exploit to the full the rural areas for the production of food, of which cereal is one of the most important items, because he visualized that, within a limited period, with the population of the world increasing at the rate of .75 per cent, per annum, which is a conservative estimate of the rate of increase, they would find themselves short of food. Yet the Minister endeavours to create a panic in the minds of the wheat-growers by saying that their markets will decrease very soon, or, in other words, that the evidence that he has does not show that there will be no contraction.

I turn to the International Wheat Agreement itself. Paragraph 1 of Article IV. provides -

The Council shall keep records for each crop-year of those transactions and parts of transactions in wheat which are part of the guaranteed quantities in Annexes A and B to Article III.

Whether those reports will be made available to any one is not mentioned. I ask the Minister to ascertain whether those records will be made available to the Australian Wheat Growers Federation which represents and is the mouthpiece of the wheat-growers. Paragraph 6 of Article XVII. provides -

The Council shall, each crop year publish an audited statement of its receipts and expenditure in the previous crop year.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the federation shall be supplied with copies of that report. Paragraph 2 of Article XIII. provides -

Each exporting country and each importing country shall be a voting member of the Council and may be represented at its meetings by one delegate, one alternate and advisers.

The federation has asked the Minister to allow it to be represented by one adviser, but I understand that the Minister has not yet signified his willingness to allow that. If he has decided against it I ask that he reconsider the matter. The wheat to be disposed of under the International Wheat Agreement is owned by the wheat-growers. It will be taken from them by the Government and handed to other people to dispose of. But, it is the wheat-growers' wheat. They have sown the crops and reaped the harvests in pursuance of their livelihood. Their products should not be taken from them and dealt with arbitrarily by the Government without their having a say. They are entitled to be represented on the council by an adviser appointed by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. I have received from the federation a letter

Mr.Hamilton. conveying to me a resolution carried by it at a conference in the following terms : -

This Conference records its strong disapproval of the Federal Government action in refusing to allow the A.W.F. to be represented on the International Wheat Council as an Adviser.

We believe that other exporters will have their advisers on the Council, which will mean that Australian wheat-growers will be without a voice.

We must bear in mind that during the negotiations leading up to the agreement, the Canadian wheat-growers had their representatives present. When the agreement has been ratified and accepted by the signatory countries, it will remain unchanged, except, perhaps, for minor amendments that may become necessary from time to time. Amendments, of course, would have to be ratified by the various signatory countries. So the council will carry out the terms of the agreement, and it is natural that the Australian Wheat Growers Federation should have a representative at the meetings of the council in order to tender advice. What better representative could the Australian wheat-growers have than one selected by their own federation or a representative of the Australian Wheat Board, which this Government, under other legislation, has entrusted with the handling of the wheat, up to a certain point, without ministerial direction? I support the principle of the International Wheat Agreement and deplore statements by some honorable members opposite that honorable members on this side of the chamber, in criticizing the agreement, have shown themselves to be opposed to an international wheat agreement. We have come to a sad state of affairs if the Australian Parliament is to be deprived of its right to criticize an agreement that has been made on its behalf by the Government.

Suggest corrections