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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) (12:30 PM) . - I feel very much inclined to voice my disapproval of the rush that has now commenced in the closing hours of the session. I can see no valid reason why we could not meet next week to consider this business in more comfortable circumstances, both mental and physical, instead of putting through legislation by a process of exhaustion. However, I am not complaining very much: if this procedure has been decided upon, I am prepared to accept my share of the exhaustion; but I feel that I am not so adequately equipped for it as I would prefer to be. Frankly, I do not like this bill. I am glad that something is being done for the wheat-grower; and I shall endeavour to improve this proposal as we proceed with the consideration of it. The Opposition is in agreement with the bill to the extent that it is setting out to do something for the wheat-growers, but we do not believe that it is being done in the best way; If honorable senators will examine the provisions of the bill, they will see that it contemplates an amount of documentation which the average wheat-farmer will never be able to comprehend. The returns asked for, and the forms that the farmers will be required to fill in, seem to be extravagant; and all because the Government will not follow Queensland's example and give to the growers a compulsory wheat pool, which is what they desire.

Senator Badman - Do the majority of farmers want a compulsory pool?

Senator COLLINGS - I shall produce the evidence necessary to support my statement.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The Queensland Parliament has already passed legislation complementary to this bill.

Senator COLLINGS - The bill seeks to establish a home-consumption price for wheat and makes the necessary arrangement for giving effect to this proposal.

The bill seeks to establish a homeconsumption price for wheat, quotas for export, and wheat authorities for administrative purposes. It prescribes that receivers of wheat, millers and shippers are to be licensed. It also prescribes export quotas for flour and other wheat products. Warrants are to be issued for the home consumption portion of the crop, and others for the export quota delivered. In order to carry out the scheme, there will be required a vast and complicated arrangement involving adjustments between the ruling export price and the home-consumption price. It is a bad plan; but in my opinion the worst feature of the measure is that it will leave the industry unorganized and the problems affecting the wheatgrower entirely unsolved. The industry is still at the mercy of certain vested interests, whose influenceis not to its advantage. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison) stated that the bill, had been conceived in haste and will create further confusion; I agree with, him. In reply to the interjection of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) that Queensland has passed complementary legislation, I point out that the Government of Queensland always honours: a promise which its representatives make in conference assembled. I shall explain for the information of Senator Pearceand other honorable senators why the- Queensland Government accepted this; proposal and agreed to pass complementary legislation. It was because, at the conference held in Canberra in October, which decided to adopt this scheme,, the Queensland Government was given, no option to do otherwise.

Senator Hardy - Has the honorable? senator read the transcript of the speech made by Mr. Bulcock at the conference?'

Senator COLLINGS - I do not think I have.

Senator Hardy - I shall quote it later for the information of the honorable senator.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall prove that Mr. Bulcock had no option but to accept the Commonwealth's proposal. At the conference, Mr. Simpson moved, " that this conference agrees that legislation providing for the organized marketing of wheat and for a homeconsumption price be passed by the Commonwealth Government and by the parliaments of three or more of the States." The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page), who was chairman of the conference, frustrated the proposal by ruling that it was not competent for Mr. Simpson to move such a motion at that stage. The position, I consider, was somewhat similar to that at the conference three years ago which agreed to the reduction of the price of sugar by id. per lb. At the conclusion of the conference the statement was made that the sugar organizations had agreed to accept the reduction. Of course they had agreed, because the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) had said to them: "If you do not accept this reduction something very much worse is waiting for you. The matter will be made the sport of political parties in Parliament every year, and you will not know where you stand." In the face of that threat the sugar organizations accepted the proposal under compulsion. In similar circumstances did Queensland accept the Commonwealth proposal that is embodied in this 'bill.

Senator Brennan - The important phrase in the statement of the Minister for Commerce was " at this stage ".

Senator COLLINGS - The importance lies in the sentence itself. In other words, Dr. Page refused to accept the proposal for the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool.

Senator Brennan - At that stage.

Senator COLLINGS - At no other stage of the proceedings was the right honorable gentleman willing to accept it. The delegates were also confronted with another difficulty: they were informed that the constitutionality of such a measure was in serious doubt, and that if the Privy Council reversed the decision of the High Court in an impending case, the proposal could not be proceeded with.

I desire to point out that if the Privy Council should decide against the ruling of the High Court, this bill must also be just as unconstitutional as the act which is the subject of the appeal. Those who drafted this measure must be aware of that. Further, the conference was held in public; the press was represented, and sub-committees were appointed to investigate various matters. Ministers and Under-Secretaries for Agriculture were present, but the conference had not been very long in progress before those present did not know whether they were on their heads or their heels. Because the statement has been made that the Queensland Government had passed the complementary legislation, I have related these facts to the Senate. The Labour party is prepared to accept this bill if it fails in its attempts to improve it, but I emphasize « that it will agree to it only under compulsion. The most that can be said in favour of the measure is that it is better than nothing at all. One fault that I find with the bill is that it will leave the industry unorganized and the problem of the wheatgrowers unsolved, while it will permit certain blood-sucking vested interests that have been drawing the life blood out of the wheat-growing and many other industries, to proceed merrily on their nefarious ways.

Senator McLeay - That is unfair.

Senator COLLINGS - The wheatgrowers do not approve of this bill, although I admit that this statement probably does not apply to South Australia.

Senator Arkins - Did the honorable senator refer to blood-sucking interests ?

Senator COLLINGS - I repeat that those blood-sucking interests, which never do one action of value to the industry from the time the seed is sown until the bread is consumed by the people, are to be allowed to continue in existence. Similar harpies are to be found in every industry with the exception of those that have been protected by legislation.

Senator Arkins - They do not really suck blood?

Senator COLLINGS - They take toll of the industry and render it no valuable service. In view of the importance of the industry to Australia, I fail to understand the honorable senator's attempts to be humorous. I desire briefly to refer to the history of wheat pools so far as they have been accepted. Dr. Page objects to compulsory wheat pools, though for what reason I do not know.

Senator Hardy - That is incorrect. Upon many public occasions, Dr. Page has stated that he is in favour of pools.

Senator COLLINGS - I am aware of that; but Dr. Page did not express that opinion at the conference held in October. When he made previous statements favorable to pools he was not a member of the Cabinet.

Senator Hardy - Dr. Page, when holding ministerial rank, has publicly stated that he is in favour of pools.

Senator COLLINGS - What influence has been brought to bear on him to alter nis attitude, I do not know. I stand by my statement that he does not support the principle of a compulsory pool.

Senator Abbott - And I stand by my statement that he is in favour of it.

Senator COLLINGS - Then perhaps Senator Abbott will carry my statement to Dr. Page and ask himwhether it is true that he has changed his attitude, and if not, why is it that the Cabinet,in which he is a dominating influence, has not introduced a bill to establish a compulsory pool instead of this hotchpotch we are discussing now?

Senator Abbott - Because such a bill would not be worth the paper it was printed on.

Senator COLLINGS - Why ?

Senator Abbott - It would not be constitutional.

Senator COLLINGS - Not being a lawyer, I am always prepared to defer to the legal opinions given by members of the profession in this chamber knowing full well that they never seek to clarify a matter without making confusion worse confounded. I repeat that if the Privy Council reverses the judgment of the High Court, this bill also will be unconstitutional. The farmers desire a wheat pool. Every authority connected with the purchase and distribution of wheat, with the possible exception of South Australia, demands a wheat pool.

Senator Badman - A wheat pool was rejected by a vote of the farmers of New South Wales.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall have something to say presently about the wheat-growers of that State. The Scullin Government introduced a measure to constitute a wheat pool.

Senator Herbert Hays - The honorable senator would be well-advised not to refer to that measure.

Senator COLLINGS - I would be in a sorry plight indeed if I needed the advice of the honorable senator who has interjected. That measure reached this chamber, where it wa3 brutally sabotaged by honorable senators belonging to the United Australia party. On that occasion every senator belonging to the Country party voted for the pool. Queensland has had a compulsory wheat pool for thirteen years, and pools to control other products also. The Queensland Producer of the 14th August, 1935, which is the organ of the Queensland primary producers, and is not subsidized by a Labour government, said -

In Queensland the wheat-growers already had a compulsory pool, and, moreover, since the pool was established have benefited by ls. a bushel more than the growers in the other States.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Queensland does not export wheat.

Senator COLLINGS - The article in the Producer continues -

We feel impelled to say that, without the enabling legislation passed by the Labour government of the time, there would have been no wheat pool to-day.

The president of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, speaking at the annual conference of that organization, said -

The position of the wheat-growers has gone from bad to worse, and patience, longsuffering and self-sacrifice, which have characterized them while they watched their life-savings and assets disappearing under the present system governing production and marketing of their products in Australia, have gone for nothing. Many of those in the wheat industry of Australia are labouring under appalling financial difficulties and are in constant fear of dispossession.

The acute position of the wheatgrowers is referred to in the report of the royal commission, which states -

The number of wheat-farmers in Australia is about 62,000. The commission recommends that one-third of the number be allowed to go into bankruptcy, and that one-quarter of the growers bc given debt relief. Sixty per cent, cannot produce profitably at present prices.

Senator Hardy - On what page of its report did the royal commission recommend that one-third of the growers should go bankrupt ?

Senator COLLINGS - It made provision to save them from bankruptcy, if it could be shown that it was possible to save them. The point is that they cannot be saved, no matter what is done.

Senator Hardy - That is an admission of defeat. The Country party does not admit defeat.

Senator COLLINGS - Perhaps not, but during the last few weeks Senator Johnston has had to admit defeat at the hands of a member of the Country party. The report continues -

Forty per cent, of wheat-growers, even if free of all debts and subsidized at 3d. a bushel, could not produce wheat at the commission's basic price. Less than 50 per cent, can continue without help. There is no remedy on the side of production or marketing.

One wheat-grower referring to the above report, said -

Thank the Lord those conditions do not prevail in Queensland. We have to thank our Wheat Board for saving us from the parlous plight of wheat-growers in the south.

I ask honorable Senators representing other States which are vitally interested in the wheat-growing industry, not to be blinded by prejudice, but to follow the splendid example set by Queensland.

Senator Hardy -How much wheat does Queensland export?

Senator COLLINGS - The interjections of Senator Hardy descend to the ridiculous and never rise to the sublime. He has asked such a ridiculous question, that I am astounded at his unbounded ignorance. If he does not know that Queensland does not export wheat, but is an importer of wheat, I am sorry for him, and more than sorry for myself because, in replying to his interjection, I know that I am wasting my eloquence on the desert air. I shall leave the honorable senator and ask other honorable senators with, more alert minds to take notice of the following extract from page 244 of the report of theRoyal Commission on Wheat and Flour: -

If the Court is satisfied -

(i)   that a farmer's plant and machinery (including tractors) is seriously worn and inefficient and

(ii)   that the replacements are essential. and

(iii)   that the moneys in the account referred to in item 7 of " Working Expenses " as set out in Schedule A are deficient for the purpose of enabling such replacements to be effected, and

(iv)   that the farmer is unable to make good such deficiency either from his own funds or from moneys borrowed from his creditors or otherwise and is thereby unable to effect such replacements, the Court may recommend that a loan be granted from funds provided for that purpose pursuant to the provisions of paragraph 577 by the Commonwealth.

I emphasize those points, because, unless we take into consideration the fact that the wheat-farmers of Australia have for a long time been carrying on with no possible chance of making replacements, and doing those things which everyone knows are essential, they will at last reach the point of utter bankruptcy. The report of the royal commission, which ' went thoroughly into the whole subject, also stated - " Working Expenses " shall be deemed to exclude interest, but to include the following items . - -

1.   A reasonable maintenance for the f armer and his family including clothing and other personal essentials and medical and dental expenses.

In the year 1935, we have come to the stage where it is suggested that something should be done to give the wheat-growers of this country clothing, personal essentials and medical and dental expenses! The report then goes on to refer to the need to provide farmers with the means to pay wages for hired labour, including the adult children of the farmer. In other words, it says that means should be taken to prevent farmers from making slaves of their children. The report continued -

2.   Wages for hired labour, including adult children of the farther, properly employed in the production of farm income.

3.   Reasonable wages of other children of the farmer properly employed in the produr tion of farm income.

4.   Reasonable expenditure properly incurred in cleaning wheat, in cartage and in chaffcutting.

Note. - This item should be incurred only in cases where circumstances are such that these operations cannot be performed by the farmer with the plant and labour at his disposal.

5.   Expenditure necessary for the purchase of all commodities required for the purpose of operating the farm.

Note. - In this item should be included the cost of petrol, kerosene and oil for use in a tractor if it is established that the use of such tractor is justified by considerations of economy and efficiency.

I shall not read the whole of the report, which goes on to point out that unless these things are done, the farmer cannot possibly exist, because he cannot go on for ever without replacing plant, repairing fences, and so on. The farmers of this country should not be asked to accept conditions which mean that their children are forced to perform work which they ought not to be called upon to do; such conditions are not in accord with Australian conceptions of decency.

I missed the point I wanted to make when speaking of the constitutionality of the bill. The present AttorneyGeneral - not some dead and gone Attorney-General - who every one will admit is a man of transcendant ability, especially in his profession, when speaking at the conference recently held at Canberra, is reporfed as follows: -

Mr. Menzies,when asked, admitted that this scheme of the Government's would be equally unconstitutional.

Senator Hardy - Only on the assumption that the Privy Council gave an adverse decision on section 92 of the Constitution.

Senator COLLINGS - The remarks of Mr. Menzies referred to this scheme - not the one concerning which the Privy Council has been asked to give a decision. Senator Hardy is incapable of following a logical argument. I did not say that it rested on the decision of the Privy Council on the appeal to be heard soon, but I referred to what Mr. Menzies, the present Attorney-General, had said regarding this scheme. Mr. Menzies admitted that if the Privy Council decided that section 92 did bind the Commonwealth this scheme also would be unconstitutional.

Senator Brennan - Can the honorable senator give me the reference to the report of Mr. Menzies' opinion?

Senator COLLINGS - It will be found in Mr. Stott's report of the conference, which was published in The Wheatgrower, the recognized organ of the wheat-growers of Australia.

Senator Badman - Which Wheatgrower is the recognized organ of the growers ?

Senator COLLINGS - I understand there is only one publication with that title.

Senator Badman - There is more than one. Where is the journal from which the honorable senator is quoting published?

Senator COLLINGS - At the moment I cannot say, but as I have several other quotations to read, I have no doubt that I shall be able to satisfy the honorable senator on that point. In a recent issue of the Producers Review, a Queensland publication, there appeared an article under the heading -

Queensland Compulsory Pool Saves Wheat growers from Bankruptcy.

I shall not delay the Senate by reading the article. If I did, I could not more forcefully emphasize the value of the compulsory pooling system to the wheatgrowers of the Commonwealth. Let me now examine a few authorities who, I submit, are fully entitled to speak on behalf of wheat-growers in demanding the establishment of a compulsory wheat pool. The first is a telegram from Wagga, published in the Sydney Telegraph of the 23rd November, in the following terms -

Vigorously criticizing what he declared was the inept and inefficient handling of the wheat problem by the Commonwealth Government, the president of the Farmers and Settlers Association, Mr. Field, said the situation demonstrated the incapacity of Australian politicians, except the New South Wales Government, to deal with the question. The past five years was one long record of muddling delay. The industry was once again in the melting pot, after months of political cockfighting.

Surely Senator Brennan will acknowledge that Mr. Field has some warrant to speak on behalf of the wheat-growers. I hope that the honorable senator is listening. Continuing, Mr. Field said -

The Commonwealth scheme is half baked, though we accept, in default of our full objective, a Commonwealth pool if a board can be set up to control 25 per cent, of the wheat.

Surely the opinion of the Farmers and Settlers Association is entitled to respect. Another publication which has something interesting to say on this subject is The Land. I daresay that Senator Badman is acquainted with it. In its issue of the 4th October, an article appeared with the following captions: -

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