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Tuesday, 24 February 1959

Mr KING (Wimmera) . - May I claim the indulgence of the House for the few minutes at my disposal in order to bring forward some facts concerning rural industry, the form of industry in which I am particularly Interested. As this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour to address the House I should like to give now a pledge of loyalty to my Queen and to the British Empire. I believe that today, with the threat of communism, and because of our various trade relations, our immigration plans and the importation of American industries, one sometimes overlooks the fact that we, as true Australians, belong to the British Empire. I should also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the mover and seconder of the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. Those two honorable members have set a very high standard for me, as well as for other new members of the House, to uphold.

Time will not allow me to go into all the problems of rural industry, let alone the other problems with which the House is concerned, such as 'the banking issue, social service pensions, war pensions and the matter that has been discussed this afternoon - Dutch New Guinea. So I intend to concentrate on the industries "with which I am chiefly concerned in my electorate.

Honorable members who represent adjoining electorates will realize that the Wimmera electorate is like other rural electorates in that it is fast becoming industrialized. I hope that at some future date I snail be able to discuss the problems of secondary industries in my electorate also. The two main industries in the Wimmera electorate are the wheat and wool industries, and I shall deal with them in turn. 'We, as wheat producers, have had our ups and downs, our ins and outs, our good seasons and our bad seasons, high prices and low prices; but, thanks to the wheat industry stabilization plan, we have now a price that gives reasonable security to all growers. Naturally we trust the Almighty to produce , me crop. 'Our major problem at the moment is the disposal o'f the crop. Here are some figures of last year's sales: The total quantity of wheat exported was 50,000,000 bushels, 'consisting of 34,000,000 bushels of actual wheat, and the balance in the form of flour. To .this, of course, if we add the home-consumption quantity of approximately '60;000,000, we have a total of 110,000,000 bushels. But to-day we see a harvest in the vicinity of 190,000,000 .bushels. Added to that, we have .the normal carry-over of approximately 1.6,000,000 bushels, which means that we have 200,000,000 bushels to dispose of whereas, last year, we disposed of 1.10,000,000 bushels.

Perhaps I know what some honorable members are thinking - that last year we did not have all the wheat that we could have disposed of. Granted - we did not. But there is one thing we must remember and that is that if a buyer for an article is lost it may be very hard to encourage that same buyer to come back and -buy the goods when they become available. This is particularly so to-day when we see in the world places such as America, Canada and France, with a surplus df grain, and we see -that those various countries are attempting to outbid us. They are out to sell their commodity wherever they possibly can. I repeat that once 'a sale is lost because the goods cannot be supplied it is very hard to get back the buyer.

This Government must give a very high priority to the disposal of wheat and flour even, possibly, to the extent of granting overseas credits or arranging trade missions or trade agreements. I was very happy, one day last week, to hear an announcement by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) that he had negotiated for the sale of 50,000 tons of flour for immediate delivery to Ceylon. This is a followup from a previous agreement for Ceylon to purchase flour at the rate of 100,000 tons annually.

The reasons for which I mention the flour industry are two-fold: Firstly, for every ton of flour that we can dispose of, there is a quantity less of wheat that we must dispose of. But just as important is the effect of the industry on rural dwellers. There is little need to remind honorable members, particularly those who understand and live in wheat areas, of the fact that, scattered throughout the wheat areas, are numerous flour mills. Those mills, over recent years, have been having a very torrid time. Those mills, years ago, were all producing flour with three shifts per day, irrespective of the size of the various mills.

What do we see to-day? We see very few mills that are operating any more than one shift a day and, in some cases, we see mills that are not operating at all. My mind goes to a mill which closed down temporarily three or four years ago. That mill has not produced one ounce of flour since that time. Naturally, the bigger the output the cheaper the product. Once again, I urge this federal Government to give a very high priority to these sales.

I might also remind honorable members of what the wheat growing industry has done for the national economy over a period of years. From the year of harvest 1940-41 to the harvest year 1952-53, the wheat growing industry has contributed to the economy £204,000,000. This amount is derived from the difference between the amount that the grower could have got for his wheat had it been exported and the home consumption price of our wheat and flour. Selecting a figure at random from my information, I see that in the year of harvest 1946-47, the industry contributed approximately £30,000,000 to the national economy by selling wheat and flour at a reduced price.

I was very pleased, Mr. Speaker, to see that the Governor-General mentioned the wool industry. I suppose that the wool industry has been on the lips of more people in this country than any other industry in Australia. That has occurred for one reason, and that reason is the price that has been paid for wool. I venture to say that the wool industry is in the most disastrous position that we have experienced since World War I. Naturally, not only does it affect the growers but it affects the whole of our economy.

The honorable member for Braddon (Mr. Davies) mentioned some figures relative to the export value of wool. He mentioned a deficit of £68,000,000 for a period of six months during the last twelve months. I should like to mention, also, that for the seven months ended 31st January, 1958, the average price of wool was 67.72 pence per pound. For the same period this year, the average price was 46.40 pence per pound, a drop of 21 pence. Last year's average price was well below the previous year's average. I venture to say that, over the last three years, the average price has dropped by 50%. Surely, in view of these figures and the extent to which wool affects the economy of our nation, we must consider a very sound wool programme. We must decide whether it shall be in the form of trade agreements, a floor price or a continuation of our present auctioning system. It must be given a very high priority.

As this is my maiden speech it would not be proper if I did not mention the PostmasterGeneral's Department, not so much in criticism as for the purpose of making some constructive suggestions. It is wellknown throughout the Commonwealth that there is a very big lag in the provision of rural automatic telephone exchanges. I may be wrong in saying that this shortage is Commonwealth-wide; it may be the case only in my own electorate, but there the shortage is most acute. I refer particularly to a settlement adjoining the South Australian border known as " the big desert ". The Australian Mutual Provident Society is opening up this area at the rate of about 7,000 acres a year, lt consists mainly of light scrub country and has a moderate rainfall, but because of its isolation it has been neglected. It is a long way from any major or even minor town and until recently had no roads, railway or telephonic communication. The Victorian Government has assisted financially with the building of roads in this area and if telephone services were provided and, at a later stage, schools and other essential amenities, this area could develop a fairly heavy carrying capacity.

I think also of another district where, owing to the lack of telephone exchange staff it is possible that the residents will be denied telephone services. Some homesteads have had telephone services connected for 40 or 50 years, but now, because it is difficult to obtain staff to operate the exchange, it may be necessary to close it down. The only remedy for this situation is to provide a rural automatic exchange. I again strongly urge the Government to consider making more finance available for the Postal Department in order to provide telephone services which are so important in. these remote areas. Honorable members are all in accord with the opening up of new settlement areas so that the production of wheat, wool, butter, eggs and other primary products may be increased. But this can be achieved only by providing necessary amenities and services to encourage people to settle in such areas.

As a Victorian, I naturally have very strong feelings about the present petrol tax formula. Possibly my colleagues may not agree with me on this issue but I claim that Victoria is very harshly treated in this matter. I hope that at the next Premiers' Conference some of the problems it creates will be ironed out. There are two angles to be considered when we think about allocating finance for roads. Finance is necessary first of all for their construction, and secondly for their maintenance. One has not to be a Rhodes scholar to work out that a road which carries light traffic will outlast a road which carries heavy traffic. The mileage travelled by vehicles in Victoria compared with the mileage of vehicles in other States, I think, would cause honorable members to agree that the petrol tax distribution should be on a usage basis rather than on a mileage basis. Although the tax formula may have worked quite successfully in the past I feel that it has now outlived its usefulness.

In closing I emphasize again the importance of rural problems generally and I sincerely hope that while I am the representative of the Wimmera electorate I shall be able to play some small part in bringing to the notice of the Government from time to time the problems of this great area. I take this opportunity of thanking my constituents for the confidence they have placed in me by electing me to this, the twentythird Parliament.

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