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Thursday, 13 November 1930

Senator O'HALLORAN (South Australia) .- I regret that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has departed from the even tenor of the discourse on the subject raised by Senator Lynch. The debate was proceeding along peaceful lines prior to the right honorable senator's speech.

The PRESIDENT -- The Leader of the Opposition made his speech by way of personal explanation, because he felt that he had been accused of certain things by Senator Rae. The honorable senator who now has the floor has not been accused of anything, and I ask him to confine his remarks to the motion.

Senator O'HALLORAN - I was deliberately setting out to do so. I am pleased indeed that at least one proposal of the Government has won wellmerited encomiums from honorable senators opposite. The motion moved by Senator Lynch, with which I heartily agree, and which I hope will he carried unanimously, is a tribute to the Government which, despite the set-back it received through the defeat of the Wheat Marketing Bill in this chamber some time ago, is persevering with its endeavours to do something that will benefit the wheat-growers of Australia.

I support what Senator Lynch and other honorable senators have said to-night about the difficulties which our 60,000 farmers are experiencing. These difficulties have not been exaggerated in any respect. We have formerly had our periods of depression, drought and low prices, but there has never before been such a combination of oppressive circumstances facing our agriculturalists. The difficulties of our farmers are hanging over them to-day like an impenetrable cloud. The boom period of a few years ago has really accentuated the present depression. In those days the price of land rose very high and farms changed hands under conditions which caused the original holders to accept substantial mortgages from the purchasers. With the drop in the price of land and the low price for wheat which now prevails, a good many farmers who purchased land 5n the boom period are finding the utmost difficulty in meeting their commitments. "The position became so difficult in South Australia that, as Senator Johnston has pointed out, the State Government passed legislation, applicable particularly to farmers, which granted something in the nature of a partial moratorium. The measure is known as the Debt Adjustment Act. I believe that the "Western Australian Government intends placing a similar measure on the statute-book. An officer of that Government was in South Australia some time ago making inquiries into the whole matter.

Senator E B Johnston - The bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

Senator O'HALLORAN - It is amazing to me to find such marked differences of opinion among honorable ' senators opposite on this subject. Senator Pearce referred this afternoon to an allegation that one of the members of the Labour party had advocated the passing of a kind of national Debt Adjustment Act containing similar conditions. On the other hand, Senator Johnston commended the South Australian Government for what it had done to enable the farmers to evade their liabilities for the time being, for that is what the act does in the final analysis. Under the terms of that act a farmer who is in debt may apply to the court for an order which, if granted, will relieve him of the obligation to pay his debts for the time being. Under the South Australian act the farmer is placed in the same position in which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) says the nation would be placed if effect were given to the alleged proposal of a member of this party.

South Australia has been hit harder, proportionately, than any other State through the present depression. Some districts in that State have just emerged from a most severe drought. Two hundred or 300 farmers who were settled in one district five or six years ago have not reaped a crop for three years. Some of the settlers, as a matter of fact, have not reaped a crop since taking up their holdings. They have obtained super phosphates and seed wheat from the Government each year under the conditions of the Drought Relief Act, but have had no return whatever. It is particularly unfortunate, therefore, that in this year, when they will obtain a comparatively good return from that class of country, the price of wheat should be so low as to prevent them restoring their fortunes at least to some extent. The district in. which I live had suffered from four years' drought, which broke only this year. I purchased my seed wheat this year for 4s. 9d. a bushel, and it looks as though I shall receive only about 2s. a bushel for my crop. I can, therefore, assure honorable senators that Senator Lynch has not described too vividly the sufferings of the wheatfarmers.

I disagree with the suggestion that if the Wheat Marketing Bill bac! been passed the difficulties of the farmers would have been increased, and also with the statement that the bill was unconstitutional. Had the measure been passed it' would not have involved the nation in the huge loss which its opponents allege would have occurred. If the farmers of South Australia., for instance, had been paid the guaranteed price of

43.   a bushel, instead of the 2s., which they are likely to receive, the Commonwealth and State Governments would have had to provide about £3,000,000 to make up the difference; but this additional payment would have enabled the farmers to meet commitments to the South Australian Government to the extent of almost that amount. There is an amount of £1,500,000 due for drought -relief, and £400,000 for water rates, as well as other substantial payments, owing to the South Australian Government by the farmers in consequence of the drought conditions which have prevailed, and of the inability during recent years to produce wheat at all. or at a proft. This has complicated the State budgetary position, and has contributed to the huge deficit. These conditions will continue until such time as these people 'are able to sell their when', at a price which will enable them to meet their commitments. It is not easy for honorable senators opposite to excuse themselves for their action in connexion with the Wheat Marketing Bill.

It is idle for them, at this stage, to make any pretences. They definitely rejected the measure in principle. If they had allowed the bill to go into committee, and had moved amendments for its improvements, or to remove its alleged disadvantages, we could have understood their a ttitude.

Senator E B Johnston - An attempt was made to do that in another place.

Senator O'HALLORAN - An attempt could have been made in this chamber where honorable senators opposite are in a majority. Will they deny that an effort could have been made?

The PRESIDENT - I ask the honorable senator to discuss the motion before the Chair.

Senator O'HALLORAN - I am afraid that the immediate prospects of the wheat market are not very bright; but I am not at all despondent as to what will ultimately happen. I believe that there is a good deal of doubt as to whether the huge quantity of wheat supposed to be available in Russia actually exists. The published reports on this subject are inconsistent. For instance, a few months ago, we were informed that there were 100,000,000 bushels of wheat on the way to Great Britain, whereas, on the 15th October, information was received from an authentic source - a Minister of the present British Government - that for July, August, and September, the shipments totalled only 5,000,000 bushels. A few days later, we were informed by Mr. W. R. Blair, a director of the Co-operative Wholesale Wheat Proprietary Limited, through the newspapers of the 20th October, that practically the whole of this small quantity was inferior wheat that could be used only for poultry food, and that very little of it was of a sufficiently good character to enter into competition with English wheat for gristing purposes.. Senator Lynch referred to the reported sale of Russian wheat in America. I understand that the American tariff on wheat is 42 cents., or, roughly,1s. 9d. a bushel. The price at which Russia can sell wheat in America is about 3s.5d. a. bushel, and how the Russian producers can dispose of their product in that country with a duty of1s. 9d. a bushel at aprice of 3s. 5d. is difficult to under stand. I do not know how they would meet the ordinary transport charges irrespective of, at least, some payment to the Russian producers.

There is a good deal of uncertainty concerning some of the wheat reports that are coming to hand. I believe that speculators are purchasing wheat to provide the requirements of the couutries they represent, and are taking advantage of the Russian scare to stampede the farmers into selling at a ridiculously low price. That is an additional reason why the Senate should carry this motion and give its whole-hearted support to whatever action the Government may take to assist the primary producers. I am confident that there will be an improvement in these prices in a couple of years. I base that contention upon a study of wheat prices over a long period. I have before me a table, which I quoted on a previous occasion, prepared by the South Australian. Statistician, showing the average price of wheat over a 67-year period was 4s. 9¾d. It is interesting to note that during the whole of this time there were only five seasons when the average price fell below 3s. per bushel, and there was only one instance in which it was as low as it is to-day. There were never more than two seasons in succession in which the average price remained consistently low. I believe that the present world surplus of wheat is due to a combination of circumstances, which will disappear this, or next, year. The principal factor is abnormal harvests in the northern hemisphere, and in a portion of the southern hemisphere. For the past four years, the wheat-producing countries in the northern hemisphere have broken all records. Just as these countries have had cycles of good seasons, so they will have cycles of poor seasons which should result in improved prices. Possibly, the comparatively low price prevailing to-day will discourage, to some extent, the production of wheat, because it is obvious that in Australia, at least, wheat cannot be profitably produced at world's parity. As mentioned by Senator Guthrie, the most efficient methods are employed in Australia; and, generally speaking, they are superior to those of any other country. Further, it has been reported that the crops in Canada have been seriously affected by , heavy falls of snow. The statement is apparently authentic that J 00.000,000 bushels :of wheat are at present under snow in Canada. That means that the wheat will not be harvested in gristable condition, because it will be months before it is available for threshing. These facts ought to be impressed upon the farming community of Australia so as to give them some hope for the future. 1 believe that the farmers, despite their difficulties, will continue to fallow and grow wheat, and will eventually be rewarded for their perseverance and energy. In the meantime this Parliament and the State Parliaments in co-operation, are in duty bound to give the farmers the maximum assistance to carry them over the difficult period through which they are now passing. I feel confident that the Government will hearken to the pleading of Senator Lynch and other senators, and do all that it. possibly can to assist the agriculturalists of Australia.

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