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Thursday, 18 October 1956

Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) .- The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) felt called upon to produce evidence that he had a right to speak about the International Wheat Agreement. He prefaced his remarks by proving that he had had some association with wheat-growing, that his family had been engaged in that industry over the years. Although there are not now any growers of commercial wheat in my electorate, it is rather interesting to recall that certain areas which it now embraces played a very important part in the early history of wheat growing in Australia. in 1787, when Governor Phillip set out for Australia, he was given quantities of corn and wheat and instructed upon his arrival to proceed immediately with the cultivation of the land. The one serious oversight was that, among the 1,030 people who accompanied him, there was only one farmer. There were quantities of wheat. people, and poor equipment, but only one farmer, lt was not until 1792 that Governor Phillip pushed out into the areas which the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) and myself now represent. I am sorry to have to inform the honorable member that the most fertile area was generally agreed to be Prospect Hill, which is in the division of Mitchell, lt was so fertile that some of the fields returned 30 bushels of wheat for every bushel of seed planted. lt is interesting to dig back into the past and note that in 1795 the plough was first used in the adjoining electorates of Werriwa and Mitchell, and to some effect at Ruse's farm at the junction of South Creek and the Hawkesbury River. But all that is in the past, and over the intervening years farmers in the former wheat-growing areas of the division of Mitchell have become the wheat farmers' best customer on the home front. I refer to the stock feed purchasers.

Under the International Wheat Agreement we are called upon to export less, and it may soon become necessary to examine what alternative markets exist either at home or abroad. Secondly, it may be profitable to examine our own methods of production and the quality and quantity of the wheat that we produce. The stock feed purchaser, though one of the wheat-grower's best customers, receives scant consideration, and harsh treatment, at the hands of the industry. Frequently he has been the victim of the system of one-grade wheat. The wheat farmer need only produce wheat that conforms to the f.a.q. standard. On the other hand, the stock feed buyer has very often to pay top price for inferior grade wheat. I have always maintained that he should be able to buy it at a lower price. This would be possible if there were a proper wheat grading system.

The rigid attitude of the wheat-grower has forced many poultry farmers and pig producers to sell up their properties or seek jobs elsewhere. In the process, the grower has endangered one of his best markets on the home front. Moreover, I am satisfied that wheat politics are hampering Australia's wheat export market. I agree with the honorable member for Wilmot on the possibility of finding markets in the East. In my recent visit to the East, I saw enough to satisfy me that there are plenty of opportunities for increased trade in Australian wheat and flour, provided that we give to the buyers what they want in the way of quality. There is nothing new in a statement of that kind. That has been said many times by many people who have returned from other lands. In Manila, for instance, Canadian and American wheat and flour exporters do a very big business, but Australia, despite its favorable position geographically, supplies only about 1 per cent, of the wheat imports. That is because Canada and America supply the high-protein grain that the trade wants. We, too, grow high-protein grain in Queensland and northern New South Wales, but, under our f.a.q. system of marketing, customers abroad cannot buy it. They are offered Australian wheat and they must trust to luck for what they get.

For many years, there have been demands by millers and exporters for Australia to introduce a grading system, but that has always been refused by the southern wheatgrowers, who grow - I say this with all deference to them - the poorer-quality wheat. The southern wheat-growers fear that if wheat were graded, their returns would be lower. There is where politics come into the wheat industry. It so happens that the southern wheat-growers are far more numerous than the northern growers, and that they are in control of the wheat-growers' associations. In addition, most of the public men on both sides of politics in the State and Federal spheres, who are recognized as spokesmen for the industry, come from the south. That applies to the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in a Labour administration. In New South Wales, where there should be a demand for a grading system in the interests of the northern growers, the Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Graham, represents a southern wheat-growing constituency. On the Government side in this Parliament, in both the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, the leading spokesmen for the wheat industry come mainly from southern wheat-growing areas. I put it to the southern wheat-growers and their representatives that their opposition to grading is short-sighted. I do not think that under ;i grading system their wheat would bring lower prices than it brings now.

Mr Pollard - The honorable . member is out of date.

Mr WHEELER - 1 have already explained to the House and to the honorable member for Lalor the situation that exists in my electorate. The stock-feed consumer is one of the biggest customers of the wheat-growing industry. I offer no apology for espousing the cause of people in my electorate and, in the process, putting a national view to the Parliament. Australian wheat brings the minimum price, not because of poor quality, but because of variable quality. There is a market for the softer wheat which is grown in the south, and many millers, if they knew with some degree of accuracy the protein content and other characteristics, would be willing to buy it at prices at least equal to those which Australian wheat brings now, and probably at higher prices.

The f.a.q. system is not only holding back prices for the northern growers, but also is holding up the development of the industry in that part of the country. An expert stated recently in Toowoomba that the area sown to wheat in Queensland could be increased fourfold, and he estimated the potential wheat production of Queensland to be 78,000,000 bushels annually. Many countries have expressed to the Queensland wheat-growers their willingness to buy the type of wheat grown there, but the present position is thai Queensland grows barely enough wheat to meet its own needs. Almost all of the wheat grown in Queensland is consumed in that State. Nearly all of our export wheat comes from the south. The growers' associations have always taken the line that the solution of the problem is to evolve varieties of wheat with a high protein content which could be grown in the south. That prospect has been held out to us for the past 20 or 30 years, without coming nearer to realization. I think it is entirely unrealistic in any case. For so long as we have a system under which the grower is paid according to quantity, without regard for quality, he will grow for quantity alone. All that he is concerned with now is to fill the bags, and that is all that he will be concerned with until he gets a premium for better grade wheat. I admit that a limited premium system, is in operation in the northern districts, but it is operating erratically. The premiums vary from season to season, and the system does not give great encouragement to growers to plant the better quality wheats. It is not nearly as efficient in that respect as a proper grading system would be.

I have stated that my interest in wheat arises from the fact that I represent a large number of stock-feed consumers, who have been forced to purchase a good deal of inferior quality wheat. There is a roughandready grading system in operation which often directs the worst of the wheat to the stock feeders, who are required to pay the full price for it. If there were a proper grading system, that wheat would certainly be available at a lower price. The wheat industry should be concerned at the situation that has arisen. For the twelve months ended on 1st December, 1955, stock-feed consumers used 16,500,000 bushels of wheat, but in the ten months from the end of January to the beginning of October of this year they used only 12,500,000 bushels. Sales of wheat to stock-feed consumers have already declined by 10 per cent., and it is probable that the decline will be at a higher rate during the next two months.

The great incentive for the introduction of a grading system is that it would serve, not only the interests of the stock-feed consumers, but also the interests of the nation as a whole. I repeat that I believe the southern growers are mistaken in their opposition to a grading system, because in the long run a grading system would be as much to their advantage as to that of the northern growers. However, I have little hope that a system of grading will be introduced. Therefore, 1 suggest to the northern growers that they break away from the southern associations and form their own wheat-growers' organizations with the object of furthering the case for the production of wheat with a high protein content. If they do that, they may, in due course, succeed in getting a grading system at least in their own districts. If we had a special grade of northern wheat, as distinct from southern wheat, the way would be clear for the encouragement of more varieties of high protein wheat in the north and for an export programme for these varieties. The southern growers then, I think, would be forced to follow suit and introduce their own system of grading, because if the southern grower were offered an incentive I am sure he could improve the quality ot his wheat, with resulting benefit to the nation as a whole.

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