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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I agree with Senator Gibson that this bill could have been left to a later date as it cannot be put into operation this season, and there will be plenty of time to discuss it before the next harvest. When this bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, I think it was said that the States had not passed the requisite legislation, and this measure was being presented to Parliament for its approval in accordance with the decision of the conference.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Five weeks ago !

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.The legislation of the States has advanced very little in the meantime.

Senator Brennan - This is an effort to speed up the States.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.Only one State has passed the requisite legislation, and therefore the measure will not come into operation before the 1936 harvest.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The Government is endeavouring to press the States to pass legislation.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.But this legislation will not take effect until next harvest, and, therefore, I see no necessity for the haste to secure Parliament's approval of this measure. However, I propose to support the bill, not because I like it, but because I think it is in the best interests of the wheatgrowers and because it is the best that is offering in the circumstances. Something must be done on behalf of the wheat-grower, who has experienced several years of low prices for his produce, as well as poor yields; his plant is practically worn out, his fences are in disrepair, and his buildings require reconditioning. This bill provides for a home-consumption price for wheat, and is the outcome of the appointment of a royal commission which travelled throughout the Commonwealth and took evidence as to the best means to assist the wheat-growing industry. A few weeks ago a conference of representatives of wheat-growers from all the States was held at Canberra. The delegates spent about three days in discussion, and not until the eleventh hour was any decision arrived at.

Senator Collings - This bill does not give effect to the recommendations of the royal commission.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - So far as I can see, it does not give effect to the recommendations of any commission or other representative body. Among the subjects discussed at the Canberra conference were a home-consumption price for wheat, the establishment of a compulsory pool under the control of the growers, an excise duty on flour, and the continuance of the flour tax. As all these schemes had practically the same objective, it did not matter a great deal which of them was adopted. In any case, the consumer pays, and, therefore, the Government should deal with the problem in the simplest way possible, which, in my opinion, would have been by either continuing the flour tax or imposing an excise duty on flour. I realize that difficulty would be experienced in getting a bill of that nature through Parliament, and that probably a bill with another name would have an easier passage.

It is a pity that when this Parliament is doing something to assist the wheatgrowers, it does not give to them the full benefit of all the money that is collected under the flour tax. I am afraid that so many people will be required ro implement this measure that a great deal of the revenue derived will be absorbed in administrative expenses. For that reason, as well as because no legal diffculties would arise, the imposition >f an excise duty on wheat would have been better. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) is doubtful as to the fate of this legislation should the Privy Council give an adverse decision in the matter which has been referred to it. The measure now before us would certainly come under section 92 of the Constitution. We should endeavour to give to the wheat-growers as much as possible of the money which will be collected under the authority of this measure.

Unlike the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), I am not in favour of a compulsory wheat pool, and I am certain that the farmers of South Australia agree with me. If a vote of the whole of the wheat-growers of Australia were taken, I am confident that they would not favour the establishment of a compulsory pool. However, the bill before us is the best that we are likely to get, and I shall support it. But, in my opinion, the Government would have acted wisely had it held back this legislation. It is now too late for this season's harvest which, in some of the States, will practically be over by the middle of this month.

Senator Badman - No.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Of course, a good deal depends on weather conditions; but, provided they have been suitable, the harvest will practically end by the middle of this month. However, I am prepared to give the bill my blessing. I hope that it will be half as beneficial as the Government believes it will be.

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