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Thursday, 11 September 1958
Page: 1149

Mr BUCHANAN (McMillan) .- The item in the Estimates that I wish to discuss is the .allocation of bounties to the dairying industry. This year, the Government is again making available £13.500.000 to enable the people of Australia to purchase their butter at about ls. per lb. less than they would otherwise have to pay. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this particular item on account of the complicated method of its distribution through the Australian Dairy Produce Equalization Committee, which subsidizes the butter factories in order to allow them to make a higher payment to the dairyfarmer than would be possible on the return from butter sales at present ruling prices.

Since it has been in office, this Government has made £138,000,000 available for this purpose. In addition, it has made yearly grants to the States for extension work, and to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization for research. The Government intends to bring down a bill this session to extend the scope of the Australian Dairy Produce Board so that it can engage in sales promotion in our best market, namely the local market, and research into possible new products and new markets. I do not intend to go into that aspect now, as I covered it in my speech on the Budget, and the actual facts of stabilization in this industry are now very well known to anybody who has any interest in the industry.

I want to direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that dairy-farmers are alarmed at the present trend in world prices. They are also concerned at the competition from edible oils and the effect that these things will have on their future incomes, and perhaps their future existence. Representing as T do the richest dairying centres in Australia - the Buln Buln, Tanjil, and South Gippsland areas - these things are of vital concern to me because they are the concern of my constituents - not only the dairy-farmers, but the business and professional people who have established themselves in those areas on an assumption of a certain standard of prosperity because of the nature of the districts.

I think this committee should know that in the last few weeks there have been five major public meetings in Victoria to discuss this very question. The first one was at Warragul, in which district there is a greater concentration of the dairying industry than anywhere else in Australia. It has more cows to the acre, produces more milk to the acre, has a greater investment per acre than any other part, and they have shown, by their actions, that they have more interest than any other part. This particular meeting was attended by some 500 people. Not only dairy-farmers, but business people, also attended it.

The meeting was addressed by Mr. Eric Roberts, who occupies a unique position in the industry in that he has been a member of just about every committee that has had any hand in negotiating with the Government on matters affecting the industry. He set out very fairly the actual situation, and affirmed the fact that the Government has completely fulfilled its obligations to the industry under the agreements it has made with the industry. He did say that the present plan is not quite the one that the industry set out to achieve in 1952, and he emphasized that the maintenance of bounty is an essential factor if living standards of dairy farmers and country people dependent upon the industry are to he maintained.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a resolution was passed urging the Government to grant additional bounty to cover increased costs and so honour the spirit of the stabilization plan. I should like to read the relevant part of the actual resolution passed at the end of that meeting. It is -

.   . We consider that the present bounty allocation will not be sufficient to give producers cost of production on that portion coming within the guarantee under the terms of the five-year Dairy Stabilization Plan without a price increase on the home market of a magnitude calculated to have a depressing effect on the level of Australian consumption.

We strongly urge the Federal Government to reconsider its decision not to increase subsidy allocation of £13,500,000 to assist in meeting the cost of production for the 1958-59 season.

Mr Daly - You are putting up a good case for a change of government.

Mr BUCHANAN - I am putting up the case of these people.

Mr Brand - Not for a change of government.

Mr BUCHANAN - No. I am taking the opportunity to put the case for these people. This Government is taking the necessary action to see that the industry gets the conditions it needs for rehabilitation.

The attitude of the dairymen attending these meetings is that the Government has an obligation to maintain the relative standard of living of those engaged in the industry, according to the spirit of the 1952 agreement; that is, to see that each year there would be sufficient money coming to the Australian Dairy Stabilization Committee to enable it to return the found cost - or guaranteed price - for that portion of the total production which is represented by the home consumption, plus 20 per cent.

Other meetings have been held in other districts. There was one at Thorpdale. Three hundred people attended a meeting at Traralgon, at which the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) was present. There was a meeting at Colac. Another meeting was held at Warrnambool. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) was present at that meeting, and it was attended by over 1,000 people, on one of the bleakest nights this winter, following a power failure that had seriously disrupted work on the local farms that day. Another meeting is to be held at Korumburra on Monday night next, and I believe one is being called at Boolarra very soon.

The point I want the committee to consider is just where the dairying industry does rate in our community. Have we given enough thought to the fundamental character of its support of our national economy, and have we done as much to protect it as we would have done if it were a secondary industry of comparable size? it we take a look at a map of Australia, we see that dairying is distributed right down our coastline from Cairns to the Eyre Peninsula, and that there is another patch in the south-western district of Western Australia. All over Australia, settlement has been made possible, towns have been established and great centres have grown round the initial efforts of our pioneers to develop this vast continent.

The value of the milk output is something like £140,000,000, on the farms, and we could add at least 50 per cent, to that figure in arriving at some estimate of the wholesale value of this industry to Australia. It is estimated that the capital invested in dairy farms is £700,000,000, and that at least another £50,000,000 is invested in milk depots and processing plants. On farms and in factories, the industry probably finds sustenance for upwards of 600,000 persons, whilst it contributes substantially to many additional thousands in the production of farm and factory requisites, and in the transport and handling of dairy products in general.

Although it is customary to look upon wool as our most important industry, it is very doubtful whether it is of as great importance, from an overall national point of view, as dairying. The wool industry certainly does not provide employment for as many people, and it is not to be compared with dairying as an avenue for decentralization. In fact, except for the capital cities, one or two cities and towns in large industrial areas, and the sugar areas of Queensland, the great bulk of the cities and towns in Australia's coastal belt are mainly dependent for their existence on this great industry.

The Australian farmer is well known for his resourcefulness and ability to overcome the ever-recurring vicissitudes of farm life. He is constantly readjusting himself to the changing factors in his fight for existence, and I have no doubt he will adapt himself to the conditions that are confronting him now.

As a government, we are not able to do very much in the way of controlling world prices, which are what is affecting the dairyman most at the moment, but, on the facts that I have stated as to the relative importance of dairying as a way of life, as well as an important factor in our economy, it might be as well for the Australian Agricultural Council, which consists of the State Ministers for Agriculture, meeting under the chairmanship of our own Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon), to make a thorough appraisal of the damage that has already been done to the industry by the impact of that cheap substitute for butter - margarine.

At best, margarine is only a substitute. It provides very little employment. It is largely a by-product of the great soap manufacturers, although I note that in Queensland they are now using up the waste fats from the meat works and passing off a glorified beef dripping on a longsuffering public that is hoodwinked by completely misleading and unscrupulous advertising. The Agricultural Council maintains a quota system for table margarine, limiting production, under licence, to 16,072 tons a year, but this limit is being flagrantly broken by the lack of uniformity in State laws.

The quantity being sold for table use is almost certainly considerably more than 16,000 tons, hut even that quantity would make a great deal of difference if it was transferred to butter sales. It could well bo, Mr. Adermann, that the Agricultural Council should consider very seriously the imposition of a total ban on its manufacture for table purposes. The Agricultural Council should most certainly insist upon the manufacturers stating what the stuff is made of, and should agree on uniform laws in regard to labelling and advertising. At the very least, the council should impose strict quotas on the production of cooking or industrial shortening in less than 14-Tb. blocks.

J.   R. FRASER (Australian Capital Territory) [3.25]. - The honorable member for McMillan (Mr. Buchanan), who speaks with authority on these matters, always puts a reasonable case and does not speak with the vehemence or exhibit the animus of some other honorable members who represent country electorates, and who attempt to blame us on this side for everything that goes wrong with their industries. It is perfectly true that there is a crisis facing the dairying industry in the production and sale of butter, but similar difficulties have been faced and overcome by other rural industries of this country. The honorable member, I think, spoilt a good speech by suggesting at the close of his remarks that the Government should impose a complete ban on the production of eating margarine and place a very strict limit on the production of commercial margarine or industrial shortening. I do not think I have ever heard of the wool growers - represented here largely by the Country party - suggesting a ban on the use of nylon or other artificial fibres of that kind. In fact, I think most of them wear nylon socks, and that is to their credit.

Mr Daly - And synthetic suits.

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