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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - 1 might say at the outset that the Opposition protests against the farce of sitting at this hour of the night. At the moment there are 4 members of the Parliament in the chamber.

Mr Stewart - Five.

Dr PATTERSON - There are 5 members now that the honourable member has come in, and there are more staff and members of the Press present than there are members of the Parliament. If this is not a disgrace to- the national Parliament 1 do not know what is. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Phosphate Fertilisers Bounty Act 1969 to authorise retrospective payment of the increase in bounty applying from 13th August 1969 on those stocks of bountiable fertilisers which were held by re-sellers at that date. This is the purpose of the amendment. The object of the previous legislation, the parent Bill of last year, was to allow the bounty on stocks held at midnight on 12th August 1969 by the manufacturers themselves. It was quite obvious that resellers who held stocks would be penalised because they would be forced to reduce their prices to meet competition by others who had in fact received the benefit of the bounty. Honourable members will recall that several protests were made about this anomaly and the Government has now decided to rectify it A new section will be inserted in the Act for the application of the increased rates of bounty to superphosphate, ammonium phosphate and phosphatic fertiliser mixtures. This will mean that the anomaly affecting resellers will be eliminated.

In Australia over 90 per cent of the phosphatic fertilisers that are used are in the form of a single or standard superphosphate. The position in America is quite different. In that country only 4 per cent of the phosphatic fertilisers are single or standard superphosphates. One may ask for a technical explanation why there is such a big difference between the usages in the 2 countries. Of course, the types of phosphatic fertilisers used are entirely different. In Australia we have concentrated for years on standard superphosphate, but it appears that because of increasing freight rates in this country, shipping freight rates as well as our own domestic land freights, there is a trend towards phosphates of higher analysis or towards more concentrated phosphates.

The single or standard superphosphate of 22 per cent P205 will probably be replaced to an increasing degree by double super and triple super. Double super is approximately 45 per cent P205 and triple super about 50 per cent. This development makes sense when one considers that with aerial agriculture, which is becoming more important in the application of phosphates, double and triple superphosphate can be spread at considerably lower cost than the single or standard superphosphate. In Australia a greater amount of research is now being carried out in the field of polyphosphates. Here again I think we can see some trend towards fertilisers of higher analysis in the future.

You, Mr Deputy Speaker, are probably very conscious of the fact that debate on this Bill is limited since its purpose is merely to rectify an anomaly. I may say in passing, however, that phosphatic fertilisers have made one of the greatest contributions to agricultural development in Australia that we have ever seen. We know that the marriage of superphosphate and subterranean clover has transformed a very large part of southern Australia. We know also that the combination of Townsville lucerne and superphosphate is producing a similar result in the north. One of the disturbing features, however, is the declining sale of superphosphate. This, of course, must be very closely related to the decrease in plantings of wheat. In 1963, 2.8 million tons of superphosphate were sold. This amount increased progressively up to 4.3 million tons in 1967, and it declined to 3.6 million tons in 1969-70. This is something at which the Government must look very closely. Whether it can all be attributed to the decline in wheat one does not know for certain, but there certainly has been a significant reduction in the sales of superphosphate.

I raise a matter that 1 have raised several times before in this Parliament, that is, the superphosphate bounty, which is of direct relevance to this Bill. I have made the point on several occasions that there are grave doubts as to whether the farmers are getting the full benefit of the bounty. The last time that I made this statement the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) was quick to get to his feet and challenge me. He said that the farmers were getting the full benefit because the bounty meant a reduction in the price of superphosphate. No-one could accept that argument. I draw an analogy with a retail shop which sells a refrigerator at a big discount. In order to give a greater discount it increases the initial price. It is the weighted final figure that counts.

Although it is impossible to estimate the figure accurately, one can take it from a comparison of prices that the farmer is not getting the full benefit of the bounty. It is interesting to note that if the present bounty of $12 a ton for superphosphate were applied to the 1963 pre-bounty price, the cost of superphosphate in Victoria would be approximately $5.93 a ton. If we were to spread the bounty over the various parties who are concerned in the production and sale of superphosphate the farmers would get approximately five-twelfths. In other words, for every $12 a ton bounty $5 would go to the farmers.

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