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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- The two measures now being debated - the Wheat Research Bill 1957 and the Wheat Tax Bill 1957 - are the outcome of an offer by the Australian Wheat Growers Federation to make, in respect of all wheat produced in Australia, a contribution of id. a bushel for research, and scientific investigations, relating to the production of wheat in this country. I think that the Government is to be commended for accepting the offer and introducing legislation to enable the country to avail itself of these funds from the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. It is obvious that it would be beyond the capacity of the wheat-growers and the organization to collect this money satisfactorily from individual wheat-growers without the power of law to back them. Consequently, authority to collect the money will be given by a taxing measure associated with this legislation.

I notice that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) is sitting opposite me, and I assume that he will support the imposition of a tax of one farthing a bushel, even on those members of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation who might be unwilling to have such a tax imposed on them. I am glad to note his concession to a form of compulsion. After all, a majority of the members of the organization have signified that they want such action to be taken because they know that it will be not only to their benefit, but also to that of the nation. The money that will be raised by the Commonwealth, as the collecting authority, by this tax will amount, in a normal wheat year, to between £150,000 and £160,000, a very considerable sum. That money will come from an industry which, during the last quarter of a century, has grown wheat on an area ranging from 15,000,000 acres to approximately 7,000,000 acres at the present moment. It is an industry which has been able to lift its average production, during the last ten years from approximately 11 bushels per acre to about 17 bushels per acre. Admittedly, that increase of production has, in some measure, been due to the very good seasons that we have had during the last ten years, but it has not been entirely dissociated from the fact that research workers, scientists, soil investigators and the wheat-growers themselves have been interested in the application of the results of research to the problems of the industry.

In dealing with this industry, we cannot be unconscious of the fact that, in a normal year, approximately half of the wheat produced in Australia represents the basic food of the Australian people and is therefore of paramount importance to them. Roughly speaking, the other half of the annual production is exported to the markets of the world. That indicates that the industry feeds not only the Australian population of more than 9,000,000, but also an equal number of people in other parts of the world. Those figures surely indicate that this is a very important industry.

It is to the credit of the wheat-growers of this country that, in making this offer, they have shown appreciation of the fact that, over a long period of years, the people of Australia and governments ,of different kinds have helped them substantially in putting their industry on the basis that it is on to-day. The Australian wheatgrowers enjoy a marketing system which is second to none in the world. That system was obtained not without a great deal of struggle and strife. From 1947 until the present time, the wheat-growers have enjoyed the benefits of stabilization and price guarantees used on the cost of production - a system inaugurated in this country by a Labour government and endorsed by succeeding governments. I believe that it is now firmly established and that it is so suitable in its application to the marketing and other problems associated with the industry that no government, whatever its political complexion, would dare to tamper with it.

There was a time when the wheatgrowers were the victims of the vagaries of the market. They were also the victims of the wheat speculators, not only in Australia, but all over the world. At this juncture, when it has been prophesied that we shall face marketing difficulties in the future, the wheat-growers must feel very secure in the knowledge that if prices fall even to an all-time low, they still will be assured that, in respect of 100,000,000 bushels of their production, they will be paid the guaranteed cost of production, although for the balance, they will have to accept the hazards of the world markets. In the absence of a stabilization scheme, they would have no alternative but to accept for all their wheat the world ruling prices, whatever they might be.

Having said that, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I now apply myself to the purpose to which this money is to be devoted. Because the money is being made available for research in the technical, economic and educational fields associated with the industry, there may be a tendency on the part of some people to exaggerate and to imagine that the wheat-growers of Australia are producing wheat which is so low in value and quality that the sudden injection of £160,000 a year for research purposes is necessary. That, of course, is not so. I say - I hope without fear of contradiction - that, notwithstanding some of the aspersions that have been cast on the quality of Australian-grown wheat, it is excellent wheat. It has enjoyed a widespread market over a long period of years. During the war, at one stage we supplied the people of Britain with 80,000,000 bushels of wheat in one season, through one contract. We supplied our allies all over the world - on the Continent, in the East, in New Zealand and in other parts of the globe. Our wheat had a fascination for many of those people. It is true that Australian wheat differs, in some respects, from the Canadian hard red wheat and the Russian wheats; but to imagine, because of a justifiable clamour for more and more research, and because markets are not as buoyant as they ought to be, that £160,000 a year is being injected into the industry because Australian wheat is not satisfactory is to entertain a very wrong and harmful idea.

Mr Roberton - Hear, hear!

Mr POLLARD - I am glad to see that for once, I think for the first time that I recall, my friend the Minister for Social Services agrees with me. The world should know that from the very dawn of wheatgrowing in Australia, research has been progressing in every State. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, mentioned the great Farrer, who engaged in breeding experiments and produced the great Federation wheat. It is true that since Farrer's time there have been many men in every State who have made important contribution to the science of wheat-breeding. Their names have not been publicized, but I make bold to say that many of them deserve praise equal to the praise rightly given to Farrer.

Our yields of various varieties of wheat have been substantially increased. Some endeavours have been made over the years to improve the gluten and vitamin content of wheat, and some success has been achieved. Irrespective of the contribution from the wheat-growers provided for in this measure, these experiments would go on. I think it is correct to say that in Canada, the United States and, for that matter, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and also in Europe, research is going on all the time into means of increasing the gluten and vitamin content of wheat grown in those countries. That being so, I think that we can say that there is still a very great field for improvement of Australian wheat production, and a very great field indeed for research such as that proposed under the bill.

I now turn to the bill itself. The measure proposes to establish a Wheat Research Council on a Commonwealth basis. It is provided that there shall be a representative of the Department of Primary Production, who will be chairman of that council, two grower representatives, five State Department of Agriculture representatives, one representative of the universities of Australia and one representative of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. All these representatives will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination, in the case of the grower representatives, of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation and, in the case of the State Departments of Agriculture, on the nomination of each State Minister concerned. As far as I can gather, in the case of the universities and the C.S.I.R.O. the representatives will be nominated by the Minister himself after consideration. I think that that composition of the council is a relatively good one; but I suggest that as one of the things that concerns the bread-eating people of Australia is the quality of wheat - as it concerns sensible people all over the world - and the gluten and vitamin content of wheat, it is of paramount importance that there be representation on the council of the flour-millers of Australia. I ask the Minister to consider that. It is a reasonable suggestion because, after all, whilst it is true that the wheat-growers are sometimes accused of growing a variety of wheat that will give them a large yield, rather than a better quality, it is likewise true that flour-millers can adopt methods which will give a low vitamin content of flour instead of a high content. Bakers also can make a less satisfactory loaf than would otherwise be the case if they paid more attention to certain considerations.

If the council is to be considered the body from which all those associated in the milling and baking industries are to learn something, the same consideration should also be given to the employees. Only the other day I read an article by Professor Wadham, of the University of Melbourne, in which he pointed out that if tin loaves are made and are not allowed to rise to the top of the tin in the process of baking, the bread is not of as good quality as would otherwise be the case. I suppose there are other technical reasons involved.

The bill provides that there shall be established in each State a Wheat Industry Research Committee. The membership of these committees is not to be fixed except as agreed upon from time to time between the Minister for Primary Industry and the State Ministers for Agriculture. That is a most unusual provision in any bill. An unlimited number of people may be appointed. There may be justification for that provision. It may give the Minister that degree of flexibility which, in the case of State committees, would allow flourmillers' and bakers' employees and others to be represented. The members to be appointed to the State committees must comprise a majority of members from the Wheat Growers Federation or its affiliated organization. In view of the fact that the wheat-growers of Australia are, as far as I can see in the absence of some promise from the Minister, to find all the money, I do not think it is unreasonable to suggest that they should have majority representation on the State committees as on the council.

Mr McMahon - That is the Wheat Growers Federation?

Mr POLLARD - Yes. That is provided for. I do not think it is unreasonable. It is in the bill; I did not say it was not. The term, of course, is at the pleasure of the Minister, because he can dismiss them at any time. The State committee in each case will appoint its own chairman. That appears quite reasonable.

The Minister made passing reference in his second-reading speech to the fact that the Commonwealth will provide some of the necessary money from time to time. In the measure itself there is provision for the creation of a trust fund into which may be paid, from time to time, contributions from Consolidated Revenue. I would make a pretty good guess that there will not be any Commonwealth money provided at all. So far, there is not a promise of a solitary penny. Apparently, the Commonwealth Government has said, " Here is a generous offer of £160,000; we will take it. We will make provision for the appropriation of money from Consolidated Revenue to go into the trust fund, but we do not expect that anything will ever go into it from that source ". There is nothing in the bill to ensure that anything will go into the fund from the Commonwealth. It is like putting a money box at the door and telling people that it is available, but never putting anything into it. That is where the Commonwealth Government leaves this problem at the moment.

We find that there is provision for the setting up of a trust fund and that the moneys received from each of the States are to go into separate accounts. Money appropriated from Consolidated Revenue is to go into a separate portion of the trust fund. There is provision also for the payment into the fund of contributions from any persons for the purposes of particular research work. In the case of contributions from persons in Victoria or New South Wales, for example, there is a provision that each contribution, if the wish is expressed, shall go into the section of the trust fund set aside for the State concerned. Then there is provision for the investment of the trust money, separate accounts, and so on.

That is about all there is to it, except that I think I should put on record again the purposes stated in the measure for which the money may be utilized. The money is to be used for scientific or economic research likely to benefit the industry; for the training of persons for research and allied purposes; for the dissemination of information and advice relating to technical matters in connexion with the wheat industry; for the publication of technical reports, periodicals, books and papers in connexion with the wheat industry, and for any purpose incidental to any of these matters. That is a very wide and generous field, and I have no doubt that these moneys, if applied sensibly, will have a very important influence on the future welfare of the industry.

I direct attention to another provision in the measure. I do not think it is worth much, but it is a good thing, I will admit, to express an intention sometimes. I have no doubt that it was put there as the result of a request by members of the Australian Wheat Growers Federation. This provision is that the moneys shall not be spent, or payments made of the moneys, unless the Minister is satisfied that the payments are not for purposes that would have been undertaken by the C.S.I.R.O., departments of agriculture or universities. This indicates that, as far as the wheat-growers are concerned, they do not want any department of agriculture, any research institute, C.S.I.R.O., or other instrumentalities to reduce in any way their existing research expenditure. That is a very understandable view. It will be impossible to police this trust fund, as I think the Minister will admit, but that opinion is expressed - rightly so, I think - and I hope that it will have the effect of preventing money contributed to this fund from going into the pockets of organizations which otherwise would have found their own funds.

In the purposes that I read out there is a very wide field for investigation. The question of grading could be dealt with, because economics are not outside the field of research. There has been much difference of opinion on that question. I read in the press recently a controversy between Dr. Sutton, a noted authority on wheat, and Sir John Teasdale, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board. Dr. Sutton's point of view was very interesting, and so was Sir John Teasdale's. The discussion concerned the question of grading wheat - separating strong wheat from weak wheat. Great differences of opinion existed between those two versatile authorities. Perhaps this new body will be able to deal with that problem.

I remember being a member of a royal commission appointed by the Government of Victoria as far back as 1924 to inquire into the advisability or otherwise of installing a bulk handling system for wheat in Victoria. I remember that the commission examined three of the foremost wheat speculators and wheat gamblers in this country at that time. Every one of them, despite the fact that they were all great wheat-buyers, nationally and internationally, expressed his opposition to the installation of a system of bulk handling in Victoria. In my young, and perhaps even then suspicious mind, I sought reasons why they should oppose this proposal. I believed then, as I believe now, that wheat speculators, buying under the f.a.q. system and paying an average price, are able in due course, in some cases, if not in all, to sell at a premium the wheat which they buy at an average price, thereby making a substantial profit. I believe that they are hostile to the introduction of bulk handling systems because they think - perhaps rightly so - that it will offer facilities for the grading of wheat, which they would forthrightly oppose. To-day we have farmers' organizations^ - the Wheat Growers Federation and the Australian Wheat Board - which are able, by making some changes in the mechanical conditions of their silos and plant, to introduce a grading system. One objection is that if a farmer brings his wheat to the silo and desires to empty his vehicle quickly, he will want a decision there and then as to whether his wheat is strong, medium or weak, and it is said that there is no technical equipment yet devised to enable such a decision to be made rapidly. Perhaps, with the establishment of this research organization and the availability of these funds, that problem can be examined closely.

I understand from an interjection that it is thought there is a possible solution to this problem. If that is so, the position will arise that those who grow stronger wheat, which in some cases does not give so heavy a yield, will be able more easily to obtain a premium price for it. That would encourage the growing of a stronger wheat in Australia, with a consequential benefit to local consumers and to our export wheat trade.

I leave it at that. I give my blessing to the measure and hope that a successful outcome will be apparent within a few years.

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