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Wednesday, 2 July 1930

Senator CARROLL (Western Australia) . - I think it is doubtful whether we all realize the importance of this measure from the point of view, not so much of the proposal contained in it as the need for some form of assistance to our primary producers. This, to my mind, is the most serious aspect of the matter. The proposed guarantee of 4s. a bushel to wheat-producers is neither more nor less than a bounty to be paid by the Governments of Australia to the wheat-producing industry.

Senator DUNCAN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Governments may not be called upon to pay anything.

Senator CARROLL - I am aware of that, but the bill is, in essence, a contingent liability upon the Federal and State Governments to give financial assistance to wheat-growers in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, the payment of bounties is not uncommon in Australia. Only the other day, honorable senators were called upon to consider a bill providing for the payment of a bounty on cotton, and from all I can learn, several similar measures will come before this chamber shortly. I do not know where the money will come from. Perhaps Senator Dunn can enlighten us, because one day last week he informed honorable senators that when this Government came into office it found an empty treasury, yet it managed to extract from it £1,000,000 as a grant to State Governments for the relief of unemployment.

Theoretically, the payment of a bounty is intended to assist infant industries and providing those industries are likely to prove of benefit to Australia, there might be justification for it. I suggest, however, that by no stretch of the imagination can wheat-growing be regarded as an infant industry, because it is practically contemporaneous with the settlement of Australia. It is difficult to say, with exactness, when Australia first became a wheat-exporting country. I have made inquiries, and I find that in 1862 Victoria exported 109,916 bushels of wheat to the United Kingdom. Of that quantity, 29,337 bushels were the product of Victoria, and the balance, 80,579 bushels, presumably the product of the other colonies which was sent to Melbourne for shipment. But when we glance at the production and population figures of an even earlier date we find that there must have been a considerable surplus. It is quite possible there may have been earlier shipments than the one quoted for we find that in 1860, the population of Australia was 1,146,000, and the area cultivated for wheat was 643,983 acres, which yielded 10,245,496 bushels. Allowing for a much greater per capita consumption than that now obtaining in Australia, there must have been a considerable quantity of wheat available for export. Whatever the date of our first export of wheat, the fact emerges that Australia has been exporting that grain for approximately 70 years. During this period the industry has received a great deal of encouragement from different State Governments, yet, in spite of that fact, it has reached such a precarious position that the Commonwealth Government feels called upon to provide further support for it. Whatever, conflict of opinion there may be as to the merits or demerits of the bill, I do not think that anybody who has given the subject consideration can come to any other conclusion than that our wheat industry is now in dire distress.

It may be worth while examining the position more closely. We have in Australia all the natural conditions that are necessary for the successful growing of wheat, conditions equalling any to be found elsewhere in the world. A good deal has been said about the quality of the Canadian No. 1 northern wheat. Yet even Canadians themselves admit that their best grain contains 14 per cent, moisture, whereas the average moisture of Australian wheat is 7 per cent. In that respect we produce the best wheat in the world, and in a great many ways we produce it more cheaply than can be done elsewhere. Because of our genial climatic conditions our wheat is more easily harvested than that grown abroad, and no one can justifiably cavil at the cost of its transport to the seaboard. In an endeavour to assist this great national industry the State Governments have uniformly charged a low rate of rail freight from the point of entrainment to the port of shipment. I do not think that any of the States have transgressed in that direction. As a matter of fact, it has been frequently said that it does not pay to carry wheat in Australia at the freight rates that are charged. Yet I notice that every year when we have a poor crop our railways show a greater deficit than they ordinarily do.

The two great pillars upon which the prosperity of the Australian Commonwealth has rested have been wool and wheat. Now we find one of those pillars tottering. I can come to no other conclusion than that the poor, blind, political Sampsons of Australia - I do not refer to the honorable senator representing Tasmania who bears that name - have set to work to tear down the pillars of our prosperity. After just about succeeding, they have realized the mischief that they have wrought, and have endeavoured to take some steps to remedy the evil. To put the matter in another way, it may be said that these industries have been the beasts of burden for the whole of Australia, and they have been loaded to such an extent that this one poor unfortunate beast has eventually sunk to the earth, crushed with the load that it has to carry. The authorities have thereupon called in a veterinary surgeon to diagnose the trouble, and, on examination, he has prescribed a stimulant to revitalize the beast of burden in order that it may continue to carry the load under which it has staggered.

We are setting out to provide some relief for the industry. At such a stage it might have been profitable for us to discuss what would be the best means of relieving the industry from some of the burdens that it is bearing, in order to give it a chance to right itself and so continue, as in the past, to be a great bulwark of the national prosperity of Australia. Unfortunately the bill before us precludes such a discussion. For the moment we are confined to examining this specific means for the relief of the wheat industry. It consists of an Australianwide compulsory wheat pool, with divided management and responsibility. So far as I am aware, this is the only occasion on which any Australian government has brought down a proposal to assist an industry which provides for divided financial responsibility. The Commonwealth Government is asking the States to come in and assist it to bear any financial burden that may be involved in the proposal now before the Senate. I believe that if this project for an Australianwide wheat pool were put before the farmers of Australia without an accompanying guarantee it would be overwhelmingly rejected; in fact it would be abhorrent to every wheat-grower in Australia. Neither do I think that it would commend itself to any other section of the community, particularly the consumers, who would not regard it with very much favour, even in its present form. I make it clear that if the proposal is agreed to by Parliament, and endorsed by the farmers of Australia, that cannot be taken to be an endorsement of the principle of compulsory pooling. It will be nothing more or less than an agreement to accept a guaranteed price, that, in my opinion, will be considerably above the world's market price for wheat. It is very unwise to prophesy, but so far as human judgment can foretell, it seems apparent that the guaranteed price mentioned in the bill will be higher than the world's market price for wheat during the next twelve months.

It is rather a pity that the project was not brought down in two separate sections. That would have enabled us to see whether a compulsory wheat pool is favoured, and whether the whole project is merely a bait to induce the farmers to support a proposal that would otherwise be rejected.

Senator Rae - The honorable senator would ask a man to work without wages.

Senator CARROLL - I can hardly describe as wise the honorable senator's interjection, for no one would ask the farmers to part with their wheat without receiving any payment for it as the interjection suggests. If the farmers of Australia agree to the Government's proposal, they will receive a guaranteed price for their wheat for one year; but they will bind themselves for three years.

Senator Sir John Newlands - What will they receive for their wheat during the other two years?

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