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Wednesday, 2 July 1941

Senator FRASER (Western Australia) . - in reply - I shall deal first with the remarks of Senator Johnston, who, as a member of the Country party and a representative of Western Australia in this chamber, has endeavoured to find a way out of the predicament in which my motion has placed him. Although he complimented me upon bringing this matter before the Senate, he sought to throw cold water on my proposal, simply because a Western Australian member of the House of Representatives gave notice of a similar motion. The position in that respect is not exactly as the honorable senator has stated. During last session I made it known that I intended to give notice of this motion. I am not accusing either Senator Johnston or the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Marwick), but strange to relate, after I, as a representative of the Labour party, had raised this matter, the honorable member for Swan placed it on the notice-paper in the House of Repre sentatives although, as stated by Senator Johnston, he has now withdrawn it. I have been urged by honorable senators opposite to consider the advisability of withdrawing my morion and allowing the matter to be investigated by the Rural Industries Committee. With all due respect to the honorable gentlemen who are members of the committee, my opinion is that that committee is not competent to deal with the subject. In fact, it has not sufficient power. No doubt the Government will delegate to that committee many other matters which it considers require investigation.

Senator Gibson - The Rural Industries Committee will have power . to deal with this matter.

Senator FRASER - It will not have the powers that a select committee would possess. .!

Senator Gibson - Exactly the same, power ? :

Senator FRASER - No. Despite his' emphasis of the urgency of this matter'. Senator Johnston says that it cai) be referred to a committee which it to investigate all problems relating ta rural industries. Can Senator Johnston assure honorable senators that the price and manufacture of superphosphate will be the first matter on the agenda whan the Rural Industries Committee meets? I am sure that he cannot give that assurance, despite the fact that this matter affects almost every primary producer. It is apparent that notwithstanding the honorable senator's sympathetic lip service, and all his excuses for not supporting this motion, he is not prepared to act in accordance with the wishes of his own party in Western Australia, or of the Western Australian Parliament in which all parties unanimously decided to support the action I have advocated.

Senator E B Johnston - Selectcommittees have never yet given relief to the farmers.

Senator FRASER - Senator Johnston says now that a select committee would not be able to give relief to the farmers, yet he wants to delegate this matter to the Rural Industries Committee.

Senator E B Johnston - This is not a matter of relief; it is a matter of the manufacture and sale of superphosphate.

SenatorFRASER. - Senator Johnston knows that 13s. a ton is the f.o.b. price at Nauru.

Senator Leckie - No.

Senator FRASER - It is. The price of phosphate rock has not increased to any great degree in recent years. I say to the Minister . that the difference between 13s. and £4 18s. 6d. and contemplated additional increases should be investigated.

Senator Cameron - That is where they get their profits.

Senator Gibson - There are no profits.

Senator Leckie - Phosphate rock is sold to all States at the regulated price.

Senator FRASER - I do not dispute that, but as I pointed out when moving this motion, that acting on instructions from the Prices Commissioner the Australian Phosphate Company in Victoria, generally known as the Pivot Company, had to increase its price to £4 18s. 6d, That company was the regulating factor in the sale of superphosphate in Australia, but that position has now been altered. I realize that Senator Johnston is a member of the Rural Industries Committee. The honorable senator has admitted that the farmers are in urgent need of relief, but he claims that a select committee would never give them that relief. I should like to know what he expects the Rural Industries Committee todo? His attitude does not appear to me to be reasonable or consistent. The Minister has only told us what we already knew. He did not tell us, for instance, if the commissioner, in fixing the price of superphosphate, made a retrospective examination of this industry. That was one of my objections.

Senator Leckie - The Prices Commissioner takes all these things into consideration. Regardless of the previous price if he finds that the present price is exorbitant he pegs it. He does not take any notice of the previous price.

Senator FRASER - Of course he does not. The Minister admits then that in fixing the price the commissioner considered only the figures obtaining at the 31st August, 1939. He did not make a retrospective inquiry to find out whether these companies were making big profits before the war. If they were making big profits before the war, they must be making 'big profits now.

Senator Leckie - No.

Senator FRASER - Despite the investigation and report made by the Commerce Department, the Western Australian Parliament is not satisfied. Unfortunately, we on this side of the chamber have not got the numbers to carry the motion, and it seems that this matter will be delegated to the Rural Industries Committee, but I assure the Senate that that will not satisfy farmers in Western Australia or in any other part of Australia. The price they have to pay for superphosphate is affecting them severely, and the inevitable result will be that they will use less. Perhaps that is the intention of the Government.

Senator Gibson - The farmers might be forced to use less.

Senator FRASER - Quite possibly. I shall come to that point later. Is the Government trying to find a way to starve the people off the land? Are those the tactics which are to be adopted?

Senator Uppill - Do not be stupid.

Senator FRASER - Senator Uppillis probably one of those fortunate members of the Senate who are in a position to pay cash for superphosphate, but I remind him that there are many other farmers in Australia who are not so well placed, and have not the necessary ready cash to enable them to secure the rebate of 5s. a ton. Senator Gibson has said that the supply of superphosphate may be rationed. That is quite true, and in view of that possibility I should like to know what has been done since Mr. Gunn's report on deposits in Australia was made in 1932.

Senator Gibson - They are of a very low grade.

Senator FRASER - That may be so in some cases but I notice that some of the deposits contain 50 per cent, of fertilizer content. That is one of the points that have been raised in connexion with the increase of the price of superphosphate.

Senator Leckie - But not of pyrites?

Senator FRASER - No, but these deposits do exist and the people should know just what development has taken place since the report on them was made nearly ten years ago. The rationing of superphosphate would be disastrous to this country, and the sooner that this Parliament sees that something is done in regard to the development of our own resources the better it will be. I was struck by a comment made by Senator A. J. McLachlan several days ago, when he was speaking of the possible restriction of the acreage under wheat. The honorable senator said that we were facing a dangerous position. I agree with him that we should make every effort to keep all available land in production, because, perhaps sooner than we expect, millions of people in Europe will be starving. In view of that possibility, why should we talk of acreage restriction in Australia? As Senator Cameron pointed out, an accentuation of the position will mean that farmers on small holdings will go off the land, just as the small man is being forced out of business, and the wealthy landholders will 'benefit. If ever there was justification for the appointment of a select committee, it exists in connexion with the superphosphate industry. Despite all that has been said by Senator Johnston in favour of referring this matter to the Rural Industries Committee, I am not at all satisfied. I do not believe that that committee could reach a decision in time to save the small farmers from bankruptcy. At least I have carried out the wishes of the Labour party, and of the Western Australian Parliament, many members of which represent a large farming community in that State.

Question put -

That the motion be agreed to..

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