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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- Perhaps I might begin my remarks by saying that it is particularly appropriate that an honorable member from Western Australia, and the representative of an area which grows a great proportion of the wheat produced in that State, should address himself to this bill, because this research fund and this proposal had their genesis in Western Australia. The wheat-growers of that State, despairing of ever achieving unanimity amongst wheat-growers in the various States of Australia, went ahead and devised a research scheme of this kind of their own volition. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) referred to the matter in his second-reading speech, and he mentioned the contribution that the wheatgrowers of Western Australia voluntarily made to the industry by establishing a research fund to be applied for the benefit of the industry. Their contribution has been taken into consideration in this measure, and an allowance will be made to them when it comes to operation of the tax which will be imposed.

Mr Hamilton - Another example of how we lead the wise men of the east!

Mr LESLIE - As the honorable member for Canning says, this is another instance of how the people of the west have led the so-called wise people of the east. It is another indication of the source from which the wisdom of the Commonwealth really springs. So I say that it is appropriate that an honorable member from Western Australia should discuss this measure. It is also appropriate that he should point out that the primary purpose for which this scheme was devised was concerned not so much with the grading of wheat, or with improving the quality of wheat, as with improving the industry generally. Wheat growing has many other industries associated with it. The purpose of the Western Australian wheat-growers in instituting this scheme was to promote research into all the operations of the industry. Problems involving the quality of wheat, soil fertility, soil erosion, the growing of additional crops in order to improve the soil and to enable the grower to reduce the costs of operation by such profitable side-lines, were all part and parcel of the picture which the Western Australian wheat-growers had in mind when they proposed this scheme. Therefore, the whole of the ramifications of the industry come into the picture when this scheme is being discussed.

I am very glad to see that the bill provides that the application of this money is not to limit in any way research which has been carried on in the wheat-growing industry by any other organization. That is a welcome provision. However, in spite of the affirmation by the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) that a specific amount will be provided by the Commonwealth Government from the Treasury for this fund, I fail to find any specific mention of it in the bill. All that the bill says on this subject is that, in effect, the Commonwealth may appropriate whatever amount it deems to be advisable and pay that amount into the trust account. It does not say that the Commonwealth shall do so. I should have preferred the bill to contain specific provision that the trust fund shall be subsidized by the Commonwealth, on a £l-for-£l basis, to a specified maximum amount, as has been suggested by previous speakers. As it stands, the bill merely provides that moneys appropriated by law shall be paid into this trust fund. It gives the Government power to appropriate money without specifying an amount. Perhaps we shall find that such provision will be made later.

Much has been said concerning the quality of our wheat, and it has been suggested that the solution of this problem lies in the grading of wheat. It is contended that if we could segregate hard high-protein wheat from medium or lower grade wheat, we could increase our markets. In this connexion, may I point to the example of Canada, which, so they say, produces the best wheat in the world. The bulk of the Canadian wheat is hard wheat. Canada has on its hands a wheat problem that is far more serious than the problem that Australia, the Argentine, or any other country is facing or is likely to face. I do not believe that the answer to our problem is to offer overseas markets the top quality of hard wheat. Quite frankly, I do not believe our wheat is of the low quality that some people suggest, and I think that if we did improve the quality we would still not increase the market potential, because there its no evidence anywhere that there is this tremendous 'market for best hard wheat about which we are told. On the contrary, the country that produces the best hard Wheat in the world, Canada, faces a wheat problem almost bigger than we can imagine. lit has also been suggested that we might improve our wheat position by engaging in an intensive search for new markets. I 'do not for a moment believe that the purpose of this fund should be one outside the internal requirements of the industry. The Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry have funds, voted by this Parliament, which I believe should be devoted to the promotion of wheat sales abroad.

The finding of markets for our wheal presents a major problem today, if we take full cognisance of present circumstances and the circumstances that are likely to obtain in the immediate future. I have never been pessimistic about the wheat industry. On the contrary, I have always taken a most optimistic view of it. But i say that there are problems associated with wheat marketing which this Government, the growers themselves, the flour millers, and all those associated with the export of wheat have to tackle. There are problems which have to be examined, and the nature of which must be conveyed to the growers clearly and definitely so that they themselves can do something about them. I understand that the Government had a conference some time ago with various bodies interested in the flour milling industry. I do not know what the outcome of it was; but I have discussed the question of milling with people engaged in the processing of wheat, and I know that the millers are alarmed over the present situation and over the possible future situation.

The markets for our flour are disappearing at an alarming rate. We have lost markets to competitors, for instance to the United States. We have lost markets, strangely enough, to a country which is at times an importer of wheat - France. We have lost them because these markets have been offered flour and wheat at concession rates. The United States has adopted the subterfuge of subsidizing its export wheat by accepting payment for it in the currency of the buyer country. Our problems in marketing wheat in India, Pakistan, Ceylon,

Japan and Formosa might well be solved if we were willing to accept payment in the currency of the buyer country, if we could afford to do so. I have not delved into that aspect of the matter. All those countries, Ceylon, Pakistan and the East Indian nations, which have been among the biggest outlets for our flour, are reaching a stage in their national development when they are demanding self-sufficiency. I am not denying :that they are entitled to selfsufficiency. The result is that they are building mills for themselves. So, while they will continue to be importers of wheat from some country or other, the market for our flour will disappear rapidly. I would say that in the next couple of years these countries will have enough mills to provide the major part of their flour requirements.

Mr Ward - What is wrong with that?

Mr LESLIE - Nothing is wrong with it; but it presents a problem to this country in a number of respects. I do not know how costly the operation of Australian flour mills is, but once they cannot maintain two shifts at work the question of the price of bread will become a major factor for consideration. An even bigger problem is that of Where our dairying industry, our poultry industry, and even our race-horses, will get the products of flour mills, the wheat offal, which is a staple necessity for them. That is a problem which the Government, the people, and the growers themselves will have to solve. It is not a problem of competition. We have demanded selfsufficiency in Australia in our time, and the countries of Asia which have been the markets for our flour have demanded it also, and are sensibly applying it to-day. That means that we have to look at the wheat industry not as it is to-day, but as it will be to-morrow, next year and the year after, and we have to plan the basis of the industry accordingly.

Anybody who looks at the statistics concerning the world wheat situation cannot help but feel a degree of concern. America has huge stocks of wheat which she is prepared to quit regardless of the consequences to her friends - and we are supposed to be one of her friends. Canada, the country which grows such splendid wheat, faces a problem far beyond the problem we face. Canadian silos are full of last season's wheat, and the farms have a huge crop now ready for harvest. What will be the position in Canada? Then, Ave have a country like France, which was formerly a considerable importer of wheat, but has now entered the export market. F ranee had a bad season last year and is faced with a possible loss of the markets it had established in previous years, particularly for flour. So, she is importing wheat in order to mill it and reship it to her markets in order to maintain continuity in these markets, which were won at considerable cost to Australia, because they were once Australian markets. That position requires considerable thought. I do not think the solution rests entirely with the Government. I want to say to the growers that each one of them is an independent unit in what is to-day a wellorganized industry. I want to say to them also that they .are part and parcel of the democratic system of government. The difference between the democratic system of .government and the totalitarian system of government is that under the democratic system everybody is required to think for themselves, whereas under the totalitarian system, which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) would like to see here, nobody is required to think for himself. The bureaucracy does the people's thinking for them. The growers need to put their thinking caps on. I do not think that a reduction or a restriction of acreages - a -wheat-growing holiday, so to speak - is the solution of the problem. Other solutions are available to the wheat-growers, if they could think of them. It will be the responsibility of the Government and of the research trust, also of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Department of Trade and the Department of Primary Industry, to inform the growers fully of the current situation and of likely future trends. The responsibility will then rest on the growers to decide what action to take, in the light of the best possible information. It is not the responsibility of the Government, or of any individual member of the Parliament, to tell wheat-growers what they shall or shall not do, any more than it is our responsibility to tell refrigerator manufacturers, electric kettle makers, jam makers or beer brewers what they shall do in their industries. It is not our job to tell the brewers how much beer it would be advisable for them to brew in a particular year or what they should do a'bout their industry. The people in these industries must think things out for themselves.

Every wheat-grower, although he is a part of a well-organized industry, is a unit of the industry. He is in the industry for his own benefit and he must think these things out. The responsibility of the Government is to tell him the facts about his industry - for example, that Australia has shipped overseas a tremendous quantity of wheat, which has not been sold. The Government can .tell the grower how many ships were chartered to carry that wheat and how it has been hawked to various markets in an effort to sell it. The grower must be made acquainted with the marketing position to-day and the likely position in the future. Those are the major problems confronting the industry to-day. I do not think that this research fund will be of much help to the growers in those directions, but it can be used to help the wheat industry to re-organize in such a way that the industry will be able to meet any situation that is likely to arise as a result of world conditions over which the growers and the Government have no control.

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