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Tuesday, 12 August 1902

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) - I do not know that the discussion of this matter requires such an amount of warmth as the Minister for Trade and Customs has thrown into it. The right honorable gentleman has nt length enunciated something like a policy. It has taken him some days to do it, and, sifter all, it can hardly be called the policy of a statesman. The Minister asks, in the first place - " What is the difference between 4.s. 6d. and 4s. 3d., and how can 2d. or 3d. per bushel make all the difference between success and failure ?" But as a matter of solid fact the policy to which honorable members opposite are all pledged is one, the very essence of which is that 2d. or 3d. in the price of an article does make all the difference between success and failure. What is protection but that ? They say that a difference of 2d. or 3d. will enable magnificent industries to be raised. If 2d. or 3d. will make no difference to the purchaser on the one hand, it can make no difference to the farmer on the other hand. We are not asking for this 2d. or 3d. for the squatter, so much as in the interests of the people of the country. What honorable members opposite do not seem to realize is that it does not matter whose fault it is that a crisis has arisen. Whether or not one class has been selfish in the past has nothing to do with the question. The question is : What will be the effect if something is not done to arrest the devastation of the flocks and herds of this continent? The result will inevitably be that there will be no stock from which to breed, and that the Commonwealth and States Governments will be compelled to put their hands in their pockets and restock the pastoral and agricultural holdings. There is no possible escape from that position. The Governments must either do so or sit down and see the chief sources of their prosperity cut away from them. Ministers might look at this matter from the standpoint of the welfare of the whole community rather than from that of the welfare of any particular section. They are the constitutional guardians of the welfare of the whole people and not of a section. If we do not do something the price of meat will rise. It has already risen in New South Wales, whatever may have been the case elsewhere, to such an extent that the poor classes cannot buy meat. The price has already exceeded any recorded in the last quarter of a century. What is going to become of the people ? No provision is to be made for them. But we are told that when the pastoralists and the squatters got their wheat cheaply they did not consider the farmer. As a matter of fact, I venture to say that the majority of the farmers at the present time have no wheat for sale. A very large number of them have not even sufficient wheat for their own purposes, and the wheat they have sown has rotted in the ground. Many of the farmers will have no wheat to harvest even if rain comes. The interest of the people, by and large, even including the agriculturists, is bound up in the interest of the whole body of the producers, including those engaged in the pastoral industry. The interests of agriculturists who grow mutton and beef cannot be dissociated from the interests of those who are purely wheat-growers. The dairymen also are in a parlous state. But all that the Minister says is that the ruling rate of wheat has been much less than it is this year. I fail to see how that affects the situation. If one were to be appealed to by a man who had spent all his money in riotous living, and was starving, what would be the use of saying to him - "If you had put your money in the bank you would not have been in this position ? " If you see a man struggling in the water on a Sunday afternoon when he ought to have gone to Sunday school, of what use is it to stand on the bank and deliver an oration as to the wickedness and impropriety of going for a sail on the Sabbath 1 Is it not the better course under such circumstances to launch a boat, or to take off one's clothes and to plunge into the water to effect a rescue? But what does the Minister do ? He gets up and tells us what the agriculturists have suffered in days gone by. The honorable member for Moira gave us an eloquent dissertation on how to avoid droughts in the future; which is precisely like saying to a man who is going down at sea - " Look here, old chap, if you had gone out in a different boat, or had taken mV advice and had not gone out when the wind was nor'-nor'-east, you would not have been in this position today." Considering the grave constitutional position as between the two Houses of the Legislature, the Government might arrive at some sort of compromise, or, at any rate, might address themselves to the question under consideration in a practical spirit, and not indulge in wild heroics which have nothing whatever to do with the situation, and only tend to prolong the debate without helping the poor unfortunate men who are enduring misfortunes which are very considerable indeed. We have been told by the Acting Prime Minister that there were grave constitutional difficul Dies in the way of a 'remission of these duties. Those grave constitutional difficulties do not stand in the way now, because the duties may be removed in a constitutional manner. Whether it is advisable to remit them or not is another matter entirely ; but that, after all, is a question that ought to be discussed in relation to the prevailing distress, or from the stand-point of finance alone. It is a question of finance or of the absolute destruction of one of the stable and chief industries of the country. I am very sorry indeed' to think that the Government cannot approach this question in a rational spirit, and cannot even at this eleventh hour evolve a better and more statesmanlike policy than that which they have given for opposing a very reasonable and moderate demand.

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