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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator COLLINGS - An effective arrangement would he a Commonwealth pool supported by legislation in the different States. The bill contains no provision for a compulsory pool, and we say that the Government could have made such provision if Ministers had listened to the wheat-growers. Why does the Minister, in his sauve and gentlemanly manner, try to " put something over " me? He knows perfectly well that I know, and I know perfectly well that he knows, that because of the division amongst its supporters, the Government was at its wits' end to know what to do about this wheat problem. He knows and I know that this is such a thorny problem, that, for the last month or six weeks, Ministers have hardly known whether they were going or coming. This bill is merely an attempt to get the Government out of an awkward situation, because it did not want to do what the wheat-growers desired should be done for the benefit of the industry. The Minister must not think that, because the Opposition in this chamber consists of three trusting Queenslanders,' we are entirely unacquainted with the difficulties of the Government. We know very well that Ministers have to walk very warily lest their servile majority be torn to tatters.

I come now to an article which appeared in the Melbourne Star on the 31st May last, dealing with the difference of opinion that exists in Government circles, as to what should be done to put the wheat industry on its. feet. I take the following from the report -

Speaking for the Victorian Wheat-grower.? Corporation, the manager, Mr. R. Tilt, said that the plan would benefit growers and enhance the value of Australian wheat on the world markets, but compulsory wheat pools in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia would be essential.

Am I not justified in quoting these authorities in support of my arguments and telling the Senate that, despite what may be said to the contrary, the Government is not bringing down this bill at the request of the wheat-growers, but it is deliberately refusing to formulate a scheme which the wheat-growers themselves and every other competent authority declare that the industry wants? Mr. Tilt went on to say -

Although it is said that compulsory pooling is not an essential part of the plan, it is difficult to see how it could function without compulsion. If the plan be brought into operation, State compulsory pools would have to be inaugurated to enable it to work effectively. And, if State compulsory pools were brought into being, there would immediately be some uniform selling arrangements between the different State pools so as to overcome the present multiplicity of sellers of our wheat overseas.

The Melbourne Age, also, I submit, a reputable and reliable authority on this subject, in an article published in its issue of the 26th November, said -

In the absence of any further communications from the Commonwealth Government as to its intentions about operating the flour tax, cabinet yesterday decided to proceed with the second-reading stage of the Wheat and Wheat Products Bill in the Legislative Assembly

This reference is to the State legislation complementary to Commonwealth proposals -

The threat of the Commonwealth not to operate the flour tax if the States did not pass supplementary legislation to apply a homeconsumption price for next year, has forced two States to submit the legislation. These States - Victoria and New South Wales - fearful lest their wheat-growers were left without any assistance, hurriedly submitted their bills The Commonwealth realizes that the homeconsumption prices scheme cannot be applied for the current harvest, but it has indicated that it wants the legislation on the statute-books of the States before it will operate the flour tax again.

The States are not to be blamed for not having passed the complementary legislation because, as is evident to all who understand what has been taking place, they do not know where they stand. The Wheatgrower, in its issue of the 14th November, published these comments -

On May the 9th, 1935, The Wheatgrower published "an article entitled "Why we won't get a Commonwealth compulsory wheat pool ". . . The article pointed out that wheat merchants, manufacturers and distributing interests which control the United Australia party were unanimously opposed to a compulsory pool and had instructed the Ministry to resign rather than establish it. Already, Mr. Menzies, Federal Attorney-General and Prime Minister elect, had announced his intention to resign from the Ministry if the Government went on with the proposal.

Senator Brennan - That statement bristles with falsehoods.

Senator COLLINGS - The report went on to state -

It was further pointed out that wheatgrowers could expect little support from the Country party, most of the members of which were not interested in wheat-growing and all of whom regarded their jobs as their first and only consideration. . . .

The fact is that art no time has the Federal Government had any intention of establishing a pool. But despite this obvious fact the Federal Country party has embarked upon an intensive propaganda campaign, in an endeavour to persuade growers that they did not betray the growers' interests . . . The Country party mindful of the fact that farmers will remember their treachery at the next elections are endeavouring, by wholesale misrepresentation, to justify their betrayal of the growers' interests. The facts are that a compulsory pool is not unconstitutional until it is proved" unconstitutional, and that repeated attempts to secure a High Court decision that such legislation was unconstitutional have failed; and that the Federal plan, far from giving the growers all the benefits of a compulsory pool, actually leaves them worse off than they were under the system of annual bounties.

I shall now quote from an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the 30th October, 1935. It gives an informative review of the position of the wheat industry in Argentina -

The Argentine- Government accordingly on the 28th November, 1933, issued a decree creating a Grain Regulation Board, and another decree establishing minimum prices for wheat, maize and linseed . . . The board undertook to buy grain from producers at the above prices, re-selling to exporters on the basis of international values, subject to the condition that the grain would actually be exported. As the Government simultaneously reduced the export value of the paper peso by 20 per cent., maize rose to the minimum price and linseed above it. Thus the board was called upon to operate very little in maize and not at all in linseed. In wheat, on the other hand, the board was required to trade very actively, and until the end of May, 1934, was losing from 40 to60 centavos per 100 kilos (/23/4| to /41/3 per bushel).

I have quoted that passage to show that even Argentina has discovered that Government control of the industry and not merely the establishment of a homeconsumption price is essential if the industry is to be saved. The article continued -

The board did not press sales when the market was weak, but sold freely when the market improved. Farmers and merchants had a free hand to sell their remaining stocks direct to exporters at remunerative prices.

In the opinion of the British Commercial Counsellor, the fixing of minimum prices and the operation of the Grain Board were beneficial to the country. Farmers were assured of a fair price for their wheat at a time when the market was weak and uncertain, while exporters, whether large or small, remained free to compete on equal terms.

This, of course, is not exactly what we think should be done. I conclude my speech by moving -

That all the words after "that" be left out with a view to insert in lien thereof the following words: - " the bill he withdrawn, and re-drafted to provide that immediate steps be taken to establish a compulsory wheat pool with power to control the marketing of the whole of Australia's wheat crop in co-operation with compulsory State wheat pools."

I ask the Government not to regard my amendment from a party viewpoint, but to judge it entirely as a proposal to conserve the interests of the wheat-growers. If it will do that, and honorable senators will consider my amendment in the- same spirit, we shall be able to establish a compulsory wheat pool in answer to a demand which the wheat-growers are mating through every authority which can speak on their behalf.

Senator Sir George Pearce - On a point of order, I draw attention to the following standing orders: -

Second READING 193. On the order of the day being read for the second reading of a bill the question shall be proposed, " That this bill be now read a second time ". 194. Amendments may be moved to such question by leaving out " now " and adding " this day six. months ", which if carried shall finally dispose of the bill; or the previous question may be moved. 195. No other amendment may be moved to such question except in the form of a resolution strictly relevant to the bill.

This bill relates to trade and commerce with other countries and among the States in wheat and wheat products. Surely it cannot be held that an instruction to withdraw the bill and to redraft it to provide for a compulsory wheat pool is relevant to this bill.

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