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Thursday, 29 May 1902

Mr EWING (Richmond) - I am sure that every honorable member is in sympathy with the opinions which have been expressed, principally by speakers on the opposition side of the Chamber, as to the gravity of the present position of affairs. This is an occasion on which we should rise far above all questions of fiscalism. Although I am a protectionist, it is not a difficult matter for me to forego any proclivities I have in the face of a national disaster of this kind. It is not necessary, after the speeches which have been made, to particularize the horrors of the protracted drought from which nearly the whole of Australia is suffering. Honorable members must realize that present conditions are altogether unprecedented in the history of the occupation of this continent by white men. I rose to point out one or two simple facts. One is, how little the Government can do. Honorable members must concede that if the Government does everything in its power, it will have done practically nothing. The hand of fate is on Australia for the present winter.

Mr Kennedy - The hand of carelessness is on New South Wales.

Mr Brown - The stock-owners of New South Wales think the Government can do something.

Mr EWING - No doubt our settlers might have accomplished something more than they have done in some cases, but I am tired of all the talk which we have heard about the neglect of our pastoralists and agriculturists. So far as my experience enables me to form an opinion, the. history of the occupation of this continent by white men has been a glorious epoch in the annals of civilization. No man can go from end to end of Australia, and see the development of our resources and the results of the white man's labour, without feeling proud to belong to the race which has brought about such vastly improved conditions. We might have done more, perhaps, but we have done a great deal towards the development of our territory, and those who are familiar with the conditions of life in the far western districts of New South Wales must pay a high tribute to the valour of the men who have faced them, and who have courageously endured all sorts of hardships in order to wring wealth from the wilderness. The Government cannot do very much. I would ask the honorable and learned member for Illawarra what the remission of the dutv on fodder would amount »» to. When such a stage is reached that the squatter has to hand-feed his stock, he is pretty well in extremis, unless nature comes to his aid.

Mr Page - The squatters in Queensland have been feeding their stock for the last three years.

Mr EWING - The ordinary way of dealing with stock in times of drought is first of all to remove them to a more favorable locality ; bub that resource has long been exhausted. The next expedient is to cut scrub, and thus provide them with food which is in some measure a substitute for that to which they have been accustomed. That stage has also been passed in the majority of cases. Now we have reached the third stage, of buying produce from New Zealand or elsewhere and bringing it over to Australia, and then conveying it by rail and teams to the various localities in which the stock are to be fed, and under such circumstances the position is almost hopeless. I know what the hand-feeding of stock amounts to, and although I grant that the remission of the duty ma,y be of some assistance, it will prove of very little help.

Mr Fuller - We should afford the stock-owners a chance to get their fodder as cheaply as possible.

Mr EWING - A fiscal policy is not arranged to suit the conditions which prevail during spasmodic intervals of drought, or during such a deadly drought as that through which we are now passing, and the Government ought to be very careful about interfering with a policy that is intended to apply to an ordinary state of affairs. Rather than interfere with tlie policy of the country

I should prefer to still collect the duties and afterwards refund them. The Federal Parliament might make a grant to the States equal to the amount of duties collected, and allow them to distribute the money in the interests of the people who are suffering.

Mr Thomson - The States already have 75 per cent, of the duties them.

Mr Deakin - They are entitled to 75 per cent., but they get more.

Mr EWING - Although we are prepared to do all we can for those who own starving stock, I do not know that there is any special reason why those who keep carriage horses should have any special concession made to them. I think the action I have suggested would be supported by this House. It is impossible for the Federal Government to administer this relief in detail; that ought to be left to the State Minister for Agriculture or virtually to the Government in each State. As the honorable member for Macquarie knows, it is no unusual thing for the New South Wales Government, in times of drought, to furnish seed to the farmers of that State.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That has been done over and over again.

Mr EWING - It would be much better to allow the States Governments to undertake the duty of seeing that the suffering people are afforded the relief which is so necessary, the Federal Parliament granting the amount it is entitled to retain under the Constitution. I would rather see some such scheme as I have indicated, a little cumbersome though it may be, than see sweeping changes made in our fiscal policy to meet abnormal conditions.

Mr. SYDNEYSMITH (Macquarie).I quite agree that this is a question which should be considered entirely apart from party or fiscal issues. To show that this is the view which is taken in Australia, it may not be out of place to quote from a speech delivered by the Minister for Lands of New

South Wales, Mr. Crick, who is a leading protectionist, and has during the last few months visited various parts of the State in connexion with the administration of the Land Act. Speaking at a meeting yesterday, presided over by the Mayor of Sydney : -

The Minister of Lands said he had been looking round the country a good deal lately, and since 1840 the country hud' never seen anything like what it was going through now. He had seen the worst part of the country down the '.Darling, having come across that way from Broken Hill, and yesterday had returned from Inverell. On the ridges young gum trees were dying from absolute want of water. He had seen miles upon miles of this state of things. This was the answer to those who were giving him pin pricks for not throwing the land open to speculators. (Hear, hear.) He was thoroughly in accord with the resolutions, but it was a question whether the Minister of Customs could exercise the power. He thought himself it was a matter for the States. It was a universal drought throughout Australia, and in Queensland they were worse off than New South Wales. South Australia was just as bad. He did not want to be an alarmist, but the loss of stock would be amazing indeed when the returns came to be made up. Millions of sheep had been lost in the Western district. Sheep were being fed with fodder, and already the supply had almost been exhausted.

The Minister for Lands in New South Wales, after making inquiries, states that the supply of fodder is practically exhausted. We have the winter before us, with very little likelihood of rain, and even if rain does come there is very little prospect of food, seeing that frost may follow with prejudicial results. Mi1. Crick proceeded -

The States Governments should take the matter in hand and pay the duties, if the Federal Government would not suspend them.

In any case, Mr. Crick declares that something should be done by either the Federal Government or the States Governments. Matters are so serious in New South Wales and Queensland, and also, I believe, in South Australia, that it behoves us to put all party politics aside, and consider the position as it affects the whole people of Australia. I believe that a deputation has been arranged, representative of the settlers of New South Wales, to wait on the Federal Government, with a view to urge that steps should be taken to relieve the distress as quickly as possible. The following extract from the Melbourne Age is further proof that this question is being considered in no party spirit : -

Tlie condition of the country in the Balranald district is one of drought, dust, and desolation. The drought, which has lasted for the past seven : years, and still continues, has brought the pastoralists and the selectors face to face with the worst season ever experienced in the Western Riverina.

I make this quotation in order to show that what applies to the Riverina district applies generally throughout New South Wales. I speak from personal experience as well as from reliable information, and in support of 1113' statements I may read a further extract from the Age in order to show the condition of that State -

It has the advantage of having two rivers, the Edwards and the Wakool, within its boundaries, and being moderately stocked and kept clear of rabbits, some feed is visible still, and the condition of the sheep is remarkably good in comparison with other (locks in the district. Nearly (iO waggons, drawn by horses or bullocks, are engaged in carrying feed from Swan Hill to stations in the Balranald district. From the beginning of the present month to date, 23rd inst., 050 tons of hay and chaff, 93,000 bushels of oats, 25,088 bushels maize, 11,280 bushels wheat, and 16,3li0 bushels bran have been carried at an aver- age cost of £3 per ton for road carriage, which, added to the high price ruling for those kinds of fodder, makes the expense of feeding starving stock very great.

Mr Brown - Fodder has to be brought also from the other colonies.

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