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Tuesday, 12 August 1902

Mr SKENE (Grampians) - The Minister for Trade and Customs has admitted that it is only at very long intervals that duties upon grain can be of any advantage to the farmers. That was the position which I took up when this matter was under consideration upon a former occasion, and I then suggested the postponement of the item until the committee had dealt with the other duties in the Tariff bearing upon the farming population. As showing the opinion of the farmers of a very large agricultural district, I will read an extract from a letter written to me at the request of his committee by the secretary to the St. Arnaud Agricultural Society, which, judging by the attendance at its annual show, is probably the largest, and, I believe, one of the most progressive, of the country societies. The extract is as follows : -

I am instructed to state that this society is strongly opposed to the remission of fodder duties, unless in suspending such duties, the duties on agricultural machinery and implements and binder twine, are remitted at the same time.

The farmers would, I believe, be content to do without this duty if they could obtain the remission of the duties which they have to pay, but inasmuch as the duties upon grain, although operative only at long intervals, are all they get by way of compensation for the duties which they have to pay, they feel that they should not be remitted. I can see now that there is no possibility of the remission of the duties which the farming population have to pay, and, therefore, I am unable to vote for the remission of the duty upon wheat. There is also the objection that wheat has been singled out by the Senate for special treatment ; why, I do not know. There is more wheat than other grain within the Commonwealth : but even if it were available at such a price that it could be fed to stock, it could not possibly be conveyed to the localities where the stock are starving. One of the greatest disabilities under which the New South Wales stock-owners labour at present in connexion with the supply of fodder for their starving stock is due to the railway policy pursued by New South Wales in years past. The Government of that State prevented the construction of a railway from Deniliquin to Hay by private enterprise years ago, and it also prevented a connexion being made between Cobram and Finley. If these railway connexions had been made, immense quantities of fodder might have been sent from Victoria at cheap rates to the starving stock of Riverina. I hope a more enlightened railway policy will be followed when the Inter-State Commission is appointed, and that there will be nothing to prevent squatters in the drought-stricken districts from obtaining all the fodder they require from those localities in which it can most profitably be grown. The Minister was quite correct in stating that wheat had been sold at 2s. per bushel. I sold 10,000 bushels of wheat at1s.8½d. per bushel delivered at the railway station. When wheat was sold at these unprofitable prices, however, the duties upon the tools of trade and the necessaries of life required by the farmer were not remitted, and no help was forthcoming for him. We have to take into consideration the requirements of the various States. When we entered into the federal compact, we knew that we should have to make certain compromises, and I desire to deal fairly between the States. Those who represent the free-traders of Victoria recognise that that State had, to perhaps a greater extent than any other, adopted a protective policy; and we are prepared to go to a great length in imposing duties so that the industries established under protection should not be ruthlessly destroyed. At the same time it seems to us that the duties have been piled up very high all round, and that unless some of the imposts upon tools of trade and the necessaries of life are remitted, the duty upon wheat should be retained.

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