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Thursday, 22 October 1970

Mr DAVIES (Braddon) - This Bill seeks to correct what I consider to be an error made by the Government 12 months ago when it increased the bounty on the production of certain phosphate fertilisers. I commend the Bill and I am pleased to note the final paragraph of the second reading speech of the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) wherein he said:

The Government intends to apply this principle to any future changes in the phosphate fertiliser bounty rates.

He was referring, of course, to the fact that from now on the benefits of any bounty provisions will apply to stocks held in store by produce merchants on the night when the annual Budget was introduced. The Government at last has shown some sanity on this matter. On 27th August last year I pointed out in this House that produce merchants had been penalised 3 times in a period of 6 years - in 1963 when the bounty was first introduced at $6 a ton and many produce merchants were caught with stocks in their store; in 1968 - my friend from Mallee (Mr Turnbull) has referred to a constituent of his who was caught with a considerable amount of superphosphate in his store - when the bounty was increased from $6 to $8 a ton; and again last year when it was increased to $12 a ton. I pointed out in the House during the debate last August the inconsistency of the Government in this matter because when the bounty for nitrogenous fertilisers was introduced the Government gave credit for nitrogenous fertilisers held in store at the time the Budget was introduced, yet it had denied the same concession in regard to stocks of superphosphate held by produce merchants.

I would go along with the honourable member for Mallee. If it was good enough for the Government to more or less compensate produce merchants at the time the Budget was introduced in 1969, surely it would be a simple matter for the Government to look back to 1968 and extend the principle to produce merchants for that year, and also to those who held stocks in 1963. As I have said, I think the Government should be commended for trying to correct mistakes that were made 14 months ago. I agree with the honourable member for Mallee that the Government should go back to 1968 and to 1963 because I know what it means to some produce merchants. Only recently I received a letter thanking certain honourable members for the representations we had made because the person concerned had received a cheque for ยง400. One might say that this is the cream on the skimmed milk. This concession is important to produce merchants. One can imagine how the books of the particular produce merchant would have been affected had this $400 been taken from him.

The produce merchant to whom I have referred is not in business in a large way. He is one of many produce merchants in my area. By putting this right the Government in effect has paid out $400. There must be many produce merchants throughout the country who could do with this concession which I consider to be a legitimate payment from the Commonwealth. When we last discussed this matter in the House I pointed out that many produce merchants in my area were in a comparatively small way and were unlike produce merchants in other parts of Australia where superphosphate was ordered, and went straight out to the farmer. It was not handled by the produce merchant. In the very rich north west coast farming areas it is important for supplies to be on hand for the benefit of primary producers for the early sowing of canning peas and other cash crops. The farmers in southern Tasmania and on the mainland usually draw their stocks direct from the manufacturer so they are in a far different position.

The merchants could ill afford to carry the $4 increase last year, the third time that they had been caught in 6 years and farmers were concerned in case the merchants decided not to stock the manures during August which is the traditional month for the introduction of the Budget. Had the produce merchants followed this line of action then the farmers themselves would have been seriously inconvenienced. If the produce merchants had said: 'It is coming around to August which is Budget month and we are not going to be made the guinea pigs by the Government and be caught with stocks of fertilisers in store.

We just will not carry them in August until we find out what is in the Budget,' one can imagine the chaos, confusion and the inconvenience that would have been caused the primary producers and farmers who were anxious to go to their local produce store and draw on supplies of fertiliser, the attributes of which have been exalted by my colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). if one is living in a small farming district in the country, unless one has access to a produce merchant it is very difficult, as my colleague the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) knows only too well, to get supplies from the manufacturing centre which, in the ease of our State, is Hobart. The produce merchants play a very important part in the farm economy of a district. Apart from raising this matter here on 27th August I submitted a detailed case to the then Minister for Customs and Excise on behalf of the Produce Merchants Association which covers merchants between Deloraine and Wynyard. The then Minister for Customs and Excise. Senator Malcolm Scott, advised me of certain things on 9th September 1969. I just want to quote a part of the letter because I could never see the reason for this anomaly and that is why f am pleased to compliment the present Minister for bringing about this change. The advice we received was this:

When deciding to pay increased bounty on phosphate feriliser sold on and from 13th August the Government fully considered the question of including stocks held by distributors for bounty payment at the increased rate. In this regard, it will be appreciated that regardless of the point in time, or point in distribution chosen, disadvantage will occur to some purchasers.

The decision was made that the increased rates would apply only to those sales made by manufacturers on and from 13th August 1969. The Government had in mind the fact that Common-, wealth taxing laws such as sales tax and duties of customs and excise apply as from the commencement of business on die day after the announcement of the change is made. For example, when a sale has taken place, goods which have left the hands of wholesalers are not affected by any change in sales tax.

The same principle has therefore been applied in he c case of the increased bounty on phosphatic fertiliser.

Senator Scottsaid that in the circumstances he could not apply the increased bounty to the stocks held by the produce merchants. However, this decision has now been reversed by the provisions of the Bill before the House and on behalf of the merchants on the north west coast of Tasmania I must say that I am very pleased to note the change of attitude by the Government and I am delighted to learn that the merchants to whom 1 referred in my speech on the Phosphate Fertilisers Bounty Bill 1969 will now be compensated for stocks held at the date of the introduction of the 1969 Budget, and, what is even more important, that the Government has now adopted the principleto ensure that in future the produce merchants will never again be disadvantaged when bounties on fertilisers are introduced.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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