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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- We have had another illustration in the debate on this agreement of very effective opposition coming from this side of the House which will, as usual, be misrepresented in the press as an absence of opposition. The effective opposition which came from the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), and the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has not been met by anything that has been said by the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Swartz), the honorable member for Fisher (Mr. Adermann), or the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson).

The position is that the Government has said that the Ottawa Agreement was completely unsatisfactory and a great disadvantage to Australia. With that, everybody isin agreement. But the Government has gone on to say that the agreement before us will remove those defects and replace the Ottawa Agreement. Speakers on this side of the House have shown that this is not so, and that this agreement makes no advance whatever on Ottawa, or no change of any significance. These things have been proved from this side of the House. Noanswer has come from the other side, and I challenge the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) to answer that criticism.

In order to provide his answer with alittle more substance, and perhaps put it on the lines, I should like to discuss some aspects of the Opposition's case. The Minister has said that this is a new agreement which replaces the Ottawa Agreement,. because the Ottawa Agreement was a disadvantage to Australia. He said, in his speech on 13 th September -

Taken in combination, these two trade treaties-

That is, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Ottawa Agreement - result in a quite extraordinary rigidity of Australia's international trading relations.

On 9th April, he said -

However, over the quarter-century that had elapsed since the Ottawa Agreement was drawn up, the changes I have already referred to had caused a major shift in the balance of the agreement and in our trade relationships with the United Kingdom.

He said that they had caused a major shift. If a major shift had taken place in our trade relations, some major remedy - some major change - was necessary, but I submit that no major change whatever has taken place.

What were the elements in this major shift with which the Government has been concerned? First, Australia gave preferences on 80 per cent, of its imports from the United Kingdom but the United Kingdom gave preferences on 40 per cent, of our exports to the United Kingdom. That position remains substantially the same after this agreement. Another cause of the marked shift in our trading relations is that many of our preferences were based upon quantity and not on values, and that is the reason why the degree of protection has changed over the years. For instance, the margin on butter was 15s. a cwt. That was worth 15 per cent, in value in 1932, but it is only 4i per cent, of 1956 values. The margin on eggs, which was 12 per cent, in value in 1932, is 4 per «ent. to-day. That position remains exactly the same after this new agreement. In Schedule A of this agreement exactly the same values a hundredweight and 100 eggs are expressed. That position is not altered one scrap by this new agreement. What, then, is the use of it?

What has happened in relation to one other element, wheat, which is apparently the mast upon which the Government flag, tattered as it is, has been raised to the full height by the Australian Country party? The Minister's speech tells us that the prewar position allowed us to export 52,000,000 bushels of wheat a year to the United Kingdom. In the last five years the quantity has been down to an average of 23,000,000 bushels. In 1954 it was 13,000,000 bushels. What is done by this new agreement, which is supposed to redress the balance and replace the Ottawa Agreement? It raises our export of wheat to 28,000,000 bushels in a very conditional manner, as I hope to show in a few minutes.

The Minister said that the Ottawa Agreement changed the whole balance of our trade with the United Kingdom. Of course it did, and this agreement does nothing whatever to redress that balance. If our whole trade situation has changed, then certainly we need some equally marked change to offset it; but what does this agreement represent? In order to see what it represents. I want to refer to the Minister's own speech. He said -

In the first place, we retain for Australian exports to the United Kingdom the same rights of duty-free entry as were provided under the Ottawa Agreement.

That is the first advantage of this new agreement. It retains the position under Ottawa. What is the second advantage? The Minister said -

.   . all of the tariff preferences that were guaranteed to us under the old agreement have been re-guaranteed in the new one.

The second advantage put forward by the Minister is the advantage of retaining the second provisions of the Ottawa Agreement. What is the third advantage? The Minister said -

To the extent that these preferences are expressed in terms of specific money values-

And they were not; they were expressed in terms of quantities - such as with butter, eggs, milk products and some fruits, we have had to accept that they could not be restored to their former degree of value

So the third advantage is that we have not been able to change that requirement of the Ottawa Agreement. What is the fourth advantage? The fourth advantage is this great advantage with regard to wheat. We exported 52,000,000 bushels of wheat to the United Kingdom before the war. The average has been 23,000,000 bushels in the last five years. The figure was 13,000,000 bushels in 1954, and under the new agreement 28,000,000 bushels will be exported. But 28,000,000 bushels under what conditions? It is 28,000,000 bushels under the conditions outlined by the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who has not been answered by any Government speaker, and I renew the challenge ro the Minister now at the table. What does Article 6 say? ft says that the Governments of the United Kingdom and of Australia " affirm that it is their desire and expectation . . .". That is the strength of it. It is not an agreement, and members of the Australian Country party and wheat-growers generally should realize that there is no agreement involved in this. What is involved in it is the " desire and expectation " of these two governments. It is like the young girl and man mentioned by the honorable member for Lalor who had desires and expectations, but no legal undertaking or obligation. The Minister for Trade is hardly a young man. He is beyond the stage of pinning his hopes to desires and expectations, but he is perhaps the kind of Minister we would expect to give us something a little better than desires and expectations which one might find shared by adolescents. But no. That is what this is. It is not an agreement; it is a desire and an expectation.

What will happen if the desire and expectation, which is the great achievement of this new agreement, is not realized? Two things will happen. First, immediately we fail to sell 28,000,000 bushels of wheat at current market prices there will be a conference in London - a consultation. The Minister, accompanied by a retinue from the Department of Trade, will no doubt sail on the " Iberia " or some such comfortable ship and have a conference in England. When the conference has been held, if the two governments do not agree on the sale of further wheat they can tear up the whole of this agreement. That is the kind of thing that is involved in this agreement. If that is the most important thing that this agreement can give us, then what is it worth? Clearly, as has been said by members of the Opposition in this debate, this agreement makes no advance whatever on the Ottawa Agreement. Indeed, it takes a step back from the Ottawa Agreement. It is less binding and less definite than the Ottawa Agreement was. This agreement, or expectation, as I should prefer to call it, has been described by the Minister as an agreement which assures a market in the United Kingdom over the next five years for at least 750,000 tons of f.a.q. wheat. Now I say with consideration that that is a wrong statement, and if the Minister knows what he is talking about. I think it has been deliberately made. There is noagreement whatever involved in this. It is a deliberate untruth and 1 challenge the Minister to answer that.

Mr McEwen - I rise to order. I direct your attention, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, to what the honorable member has said. He has described a remark of mine as a deliberate untruth. I ask for a withdrawal and an apology.

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