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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Senator McLEAY (South Australia) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I move -

1.   That, in the opinion of the Senate, having in mind the difficulties confronting the wheatgrowers of Australia, particularly as the result of increased production costs and the effect of the war on flour and wheat exports, the Commonwealth Government should immediately authorize the Australian Wheat Board -

(o)   to make further immediate payments of amounts estimated to be due to farmers for wheat delivered to pools .numbered 2, 3 and 4;

(6)   to limit charges on wheat in the No. 5 Fool to an amount not exceeding 9id. a bushel; and

(o)   to pay to farmers the guaranteed price, on the basis of bagged wheat at 3s. lOd. a bushel free on board, for all wheat delivered into the No. 5 Pool.

2.   That this resolution be transmitted to the House of Representatives requesting its concurrence therein.

I propose, first, to furnish for the information of honorable senators an historical survey of the establishment of the different wheat pools, the operations of which have become somewhat complicated. At the outbreak of the war, Senator McBride and I were entrusted with the administration of the Department of Commerce, and we had to follow carefully the ramifications of these pools. When the war broke out in 1939, there was a surplus of a little less than 20,000,000 bushels of wheat in Australia. The wheat was acquired by the Australian Wheat Board and dealt with in the No. 1 pool. The wheat harvest of 1939-40 was placed in two pools, designated the No. 2 and No. 3 pools. The Australian Wheat Board received into the No. 2 pool 196,000,000 bushels. In that harvest there was a small quantity' of wheat, particularly from New South Wales, affected by rust, and it was placed in the Ho. 3 pool. The quantity so dealt with was approximately 1,000,000 bushels. The harvest of the next season, 1940-41, was put into the No. 4 pool, and because of the dry year, the crop was small and the Australian Wheat Board received only 64,000,000 bushels. The No. 5 pool was established for the 1941-42 crop. Up to date, the board estimates that the quantity of wheat that will be received into the pool will be 153,000,000 bushels. I am pleased that the Australian Wheat Board was able, with the assistance of the Department of Commerce, to handle the crops received into Nos. 2, 3 and 4 pools and dispose of the wheat in a very satisfactory manner. The figures I propose quoting are based on a rough estimate and are given in round numbers, but J think that on the basis of the information that has been published the Minister who will speak to the motion will find that my figures are approximately correct; if they are not, he will have the opportunity to show honorable senators where my figures are inaccurate. In the 1939-40 season, the Australian wheat crop totalled 196,000,000 bushels, which was one of the biggest crops we had ever had. Fortunately we were successful in disposing of large quantities of that wheat to the United Kingdom. Some of the wheat for which the United Kingdom Government paid was not shipped, and I understand that there is still a small quantity of it in this country. However, it has been paid for, and for all practical purposes, the pool has been finalized. I gather from reports that I have seen from time to time that there is still l£d. a bushel due to the wheat-farmers of Australia from that pool, and my suggestion is that the Government should authorize the Australian Wheat Board to pay that amount forthwith. Wheat-farmers are having rather a difficult time, and the wheat for which payment is still outstanding was delivered in 1939 - three years ago. Honorable senators will be pleased to know that when the final lid. a bushel is paid, that pool will have realized 4s. Id. a bushel f.o.b. for bagged wheat. All the figures which I am quoting refer to bagged wheat because the payment for bulk wheat was 2d. a bushel less. As I have said, the pool will have realized 4s. Id. a bushel f.o.b., the charges for storage, freight, &c, amounting to approximately 9£d. a bushel. A perusal of records at the Department of Commerce will show that when the original calculation was made in respect of this pool, it was estimated that 9|d. a bushel would cover all charges, based on an average rail freight throughout Australia of 4 1/2 d. a bushel. It will be realized that in cases where the freight amounted to. more than 4£d. a bushel, the additional cost had to be met by the farmer, but if the freight was less than that, the farmer received the benefit. In effect, therefore, for that crop the farmers received approximately 3s. 3£d. a bushel at country sidings. The first point that I wish to make is that the Government should pay to the farmers the amount still owing from that pool. I have written to the Minister for Commerce on several occasions in regard to this matter, but so far I have been unable to induce the Government to take action. It will he appreciated that portion of that wheat was not paid for when it was sold. That money is now in Australia and it should be only a matter of transferring it from the Treasury to the Australian Wheat Board.

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