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Wednesday, 29 April 1942

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD (Western Australia) . -Great publicity has been given to the subject of the storage of wheat in Western Australia, and there has been a good deal of loose and erroneous thinking with regard to it. A committee consisting of Senator Clothier and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) visited Western Australia some months ago with a view to making a report on the storage of wheat, and since then there has been speculation as to what action the Government will take to implement the committee's report. In the meantime, there has also been much free speculation as to the actual damage being done to the wheat owing to the depredations of weevils in the wheat. Mr. Braine, the secretary of the body dealing with the bulk-handling of wheat in Western Australia, in a recent report, has clearly indicated that the depredations of weevils are not nearly so extensive as most people thought; in fact, he has reported that they are a minor consideration as far as the effective storage of wheat .in Australia is concerned. We all realize th at on account of the shortage of shipping, and the loss of our overseas markets, the wheat-farmers of Australia are faced with a serious condition of affairs, and that any matter affecting the storage of wheat is a vital consideration, particularly to Western Australia, which produces a large quantity of wheat and has a very limited local market. It can be well understood that consternation was caused in the industry when a statement on this matter by the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) appeared in the Wheatgrower on the 9th April last. The statement included the following remarks : -

Without doubt the weevil problem in Westcm Australia is already serious. At Geraldton and Fremantle there are already vast weevil and lesser grain borer infestations in the bulk-heads, and no means are available foi dealing with the rapidly growing populations. One has only to see the No. 1 bulkhead at Geraldton, where, after less than a year's storage, there is a heavy 18 in. surface infestation, and the even more severe infestations in the Government Store and Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited bulk-heads at Fremantle after eighteen months of storage, to become convinced of this.

According to those who have special knowledge of the problem of wheat storage in Western Australia, among whom Mr. Brain must be included, the statement by the Minister contains a gross exaggeration, and doubts are being expressed in Western Australia as to the expert advice which the Minister received before making his statement. Growers who have approached me on this serious matter state that the quantity of wheat stored at the Commonwealth Oil Refineries bulk-heads at Fremantle was 106,936 tons, and that at the out turn the quantity of fair average quality wheat was 106,609 tons. In other words 99.7 per cent, of the wheat stored was of fair average quality. That is a direct contradiction of the statement by the Minister. There is no definite information available at the moment as to the position at the Geraldton bulk-head, or as to when that out-turn will take place, but judging from the figures available from Fremantle, the Minister's statement was erroneous. I suggest that the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce (Senator Fraser) should inquire from his colleague as to the source of his advice, have the si a tennent corrected and, in addition, have the whole subject .reviewed.

Recently the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) visited Western Australia in connexion with the gold-mining industry. Naturally, the people on the gold-fields are anxious to know what the Government intend.s to do about the .industry. Up to date, it has made no definite or real statement of its policy in the matter. I now urge it to give the subject earnest consideration and to make such an announcement as soon as possible. Following the uncertainty which has arisen as the result of recent semi-official reports of the Government's intentions many men have already left the gold-fields with the result that, in the last five or six weeks, gold production in the State has declined by about 40 per cent. Approximately onefifth of the prosperity of Western Australia depends upon gold production : and no suitable industry is available to take its place. This decline must seriously affect the finances and internal economy of the State. I urge the Government to come to a decision regarding the industry in order to enable those now engaged in it to make necessary plans for the future. It should inform the industry exactly what demands it will make upon man-power on the gold-fields. I repeat what I said when I moved the adjournment of the Senate on this matter during the previous period of the session that engineers on the Western Australian gold-fields are amongst the finest mining engineers in the world. Their services should be employed in urgent defence undertakings such as the construction of aerodromes and strategic roads inland. I am sure that these men would readily respond to such a request for their services. They could easily organize the workers on the goldfields for the carrying out of essential war works of the kind I have mentioned. Their present duties are much more intricate than those involved in the construction of aerodromes and roads. They could carry out such works more efficiently and expeditiously than many of our military authorities who are now charged with the construction of such works. For instance, men engaged in the gold-mining industry recently constructed ah internment camp for aliens at Kalgoorlie within five days. I believe that the military authorities would have taken at least five weeks to complete that job. The Government should not hesitate to utilize the services of these capable rnining engineers in war work.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is the impressment of firearms. A few months ago, a general order was issued for the impressment of arms, and many people were obliged to surrender arms which they had possessed since the last war. No payment has yet been made to the owners of these arms. It is an old business axiom that prompt payment makes good friends. I urge the Government to attend to this matter. The cost involved would not be very high. T raise the subject because many people have complained to me that they have not yet received payment. Many farmers are seeking the return of shotguns which they surrendered under impressment orders. Similar requests have also been made to the Department of the Army by various, roads boards and local government bodies in Western Australia, particularly in respect of owners who are British subjects. Farmers generally require these arms in order to keep down pests. Possession of the arms also gives to settlers in outlying places a sense of protection, and I urge the return of these arms as early as possible.

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