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Tuesday, 25 November 1930

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I move-

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till 10 a.m. to-morrow.

I do not think that I am overstating the position by using the word " urgent " in connexion with this motion. This subject, which has been under discussion for some time, and in which the wheat-growers are vitally concerned, is still an unsettled question in this country. Honorable senators will recall it was reported in the daily press that the price of wheat in London yesterday was 22s.11d. per quarter, which is a world's record in the matter of low prices. In considering the quantity available for consumption, which is an important factor in connexion with this subject, I find from inquiry from authentic sources that the world's supply of wheat this year is very much greater than it has been for many years. The Department of Markets and Transport has supplied me with the following figures which will give honorable senators some idea of the position in this regard. ' Taking 1920 as the starting point I find that for nine years - from that year to 1928 - the average carry-over of the world's production of wheat for each year was 316,000,000 bushels. In 1929 and 1930 the carryover was very much greater, the figures being 591,000,000 bushels and 540,000,000 bushels. The estimate for this year is 488,000,000 bushels. In yesterday's press it was reported that the Argentine Republic, which is always a strong competitor with Australia and produces as much wheat as we do has been struck by a natural visitation in the form of red rust. According to the report, this will be responsible for a loss of 2,000,000 tons, which represents from 70,000,000 to 80,000,000 bushels, and when deducted from the difference between the average for nine years and the estimate for this year, leaves the present estimate of 488,000,000 bushels over 100,000,000 bushels above the average for the previous nine years.

The entry of Russia into the world's wheat market is something of a mystery. It is reported in this morning's newspaper that M. Stalin, head of the government of that country, which, in the past, has been the world's greatest exporter of wheat, says that Russia will once more gain world preeminence in the matter of wheat exports. He said, "All this talk of exporting wheat below cost, and of forced labour in Russia is sheer nonsense." I. have before quoted in this chamber the testimony of the crew of a Russian ship in Glasgow, and I shall repeat it in order to show that M. Stalin is telling the world something which has been directly contradicted by the crew of a steamer belonging to his own country. In a Glasgow newspaper of September 27th, the following paragraph appeared : -

Members of the crew nf the vessel that recently discharged 2,000 tons of Soviet wheat in Glasgow, relate how they had to pay ls. per 211). for very indifferent' bread in Russian ports. Yet Russia is selling us wheat at prices that make a British 41b. loaf costing 74tl. in. Edinburgh, and Hd. in Glasgow.

On the testimony of these Russian seamen it is quite clear that the Russian people are paying in their own country three times more for wheat than the price at which it is being sold to Great Britain to-day.

Senator Ogden - And they are eating black- bread.

Senator LYNCH - Yes, the quality of the bread is not comparable. As I have said, the members of the crew of this vessel stated that the Russian authorities are dumping Russian wheat into Great Britain and selling it at one-third of the price at which it is being supplied at the Black Sea ports. If these statements are placed alongside those of M. Stalin, honorable senators will see that all this talk that Russian wheat is not being supplied under cost is so much nonsense.

What is the position of the farmers engaged in wheat production in Australia? Happily, we are in for a bountiful year, which is a relief. The estimated production is in the neighbourhood of 210,000,000 bushels, which is a record for this country; but when we compare the value of this year's crop with preceding years how disappointing it is.

In 1927, the value of our wheat production was £42,000,000; in 1928 it was £31,000,000; in 1929, £33,000,000, and this year on an estimated crop of 210,000,000 bushels at the present rate of 2s. a bushel, which is an outside figure, it will be as low as £20,000,000. It is useless comparing that figure with the records of past years when it was worth as much as £64,000,000 and £50,000,000. The important point is that, although this year we shall have a record crop as to quantity, the return from it will probably be £20,000,000 less than the return from last year's crop. It is well to have a record crop; but, after all, its value is more important than its quantity. A fair estimate of the cost of producing wheat is from 3s. 6d. to 4s. a bushel. With the price of wheat at 2s. a bushel, it is clear that, on every bushel produced, the wheat-growers of this country stand to lose ls. 6d. or 2s. How can they carry on in such circumstances? Already they are so heavily involved that it is difficult to foresee how they can obtain further assistance to carry them through. Unfortunately, the position is much the same in all the wheat-producing States. Hitherto, the wheat-growers of Australia have made a fair living; but they have now reached a time when, on account of the heavy burdens placed on them, coupled with the low prices for their product, they are faced with enormous losses. Unless something is done to assist them, many wheat-growers will be forced off the land as a matter of dire necessity. I believe that the Government is earnest in its desire to help the farmers; but, unfortunately, it has done nothing to fulfil its promises to them. At such times, deeds, not words, are wanted. The Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) recently told a conference representative of the wheat industry that the Government had requested the management of the Commonwealth Bank to advance 2s. a bushel on this season's crop, only to be told that, even were the advance backed by the Commonwealth and State Governments, the Commonwealth Bank could not possibly accede to the request. Such, a statement naturally gives rise to a suspicion that we have been misled in the past. Only a few months ago, we were assured that the Commonwealth Bank was ready and willing to finance this season's wheat crop to the extent of 4s. a bushel; now, we are informed that that institution refuses to accept a responsibility of only 2s. a. bushel, even though the advance were backed by the credit of the Commonwealth and the States combined. These conflicting statements leave a nasty impression. We are forced to ask what importance can be attached to the statement that the Commonwealth Bank a few months ago was able and willing to finance up to 4s. a bushel for our wheat.

Senator Daly - The bank said that it was willing.

Senator LYNCH - This matter needs clearing up. I am pleased that Senator Daly recognizes the gravity of the situation, and the peril confronting the wheatgrowers of this country. I appreciate his recent action in permitting me to move a motion dealing with the wheatgrowing industry before the Government business on the notice-paper had been disposed of. The Acting Minister for Markets and Transport, when addressing the recent conference, described the difficulties confronting the wheat industry as a " national problem." In another place recently, several supporters of the Government, including the honorable members for Indi (Mr. Jones), Bendigo (Mr. Keane), and Angas (Mr. Gabb), stated that, in their opinions, the wheatgrowers of the Commonwealth had a " moral claim on the Government " for some substantial assistance by way of compensation for having complied with its request that they should grow more wheat. Nothing has been done. Why is effect not given to the promises of the Government, especially in view of the dire need which exists? In view of the danger which threatens so many wheatgrowers, and the probability of holdings being abandoned, the Government should strain every nerve to honour its promise to come to their assistance.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - What was the outcome of the conference?

Senator LYNCH - Three resolutions were carried at the conference. First, the delegates agreed that the price of wheat for home consumption should be increased and the proceeds devoted to raising the general level of prices for the whole of the wheat marketed. Secondly, they advocated a straight-out guarantee of 3s. a bushel on railway sidings, and, thirdly, there was a suggestion by the honorable member for Wimmera in another place (Mr. Stewart) that 4s. 9d. a bushed should be paid for wheat at railway terminals. We have since been told that the Government cannot see its way clear to accept any of those proposals.

Senator Guthrie - Was not the 4s. 9d. a bushel to apply only to the wheat consumed in Australia?

Senator LYNCH - Yes. A good deal was said about providing an amount for equalizing purposes. The Acting Minister made it clear to the conference that the Government was considering a proposal to raise the price of wheat to local consumers in order to provide a better price for the whole of the marketable product. His actual words as given on page 5 of the statement were : -

Ministers yesterday gave long and careful consideration to the proposal that a price should be arranged above export parity for wheat required for local consumption. Had the Wheat Marketing Bill submitted by the Com- mon wealth Government to Parliament this year been carried there would have been little or no difficulty in giving effect to this suggestion.

On the one hand we are told that, "had the Wheat Marketing Bill been agreed to, no trouble would have been experienced in financing the crop, and, on the other, that a proposal for a much smaller guarantee has been rejected. What is the explanation? There is no use sheltering behind the rejection of the Wheat Marketing Bill. If the Government was in earnest it could get the necessary legislation put through now in a few days. The Government cannot go on fooling the wheat-growers. No longer can we feed them with an empty spoon. I do not charge the Labour party with being indifferent to the needs of the farmers of Australia - I believe that in its ranks there are many who entertain the kindest of feelings for them - but those members of the party who would assist the wheatgrowers are outvoted on every occasion by representatives of industrial districts who are afraid to raise the price of wheat or flour for fear that they themselves would be brought into disfavour.

1.   remind honorable members of the Government and their supporters that, for the la,3t 30 years, the wheat-growers of Australia have had representatives of city interests, public men and all manner of appellants and suppliants knocking at their door seeking relief and protection, and never have their appeals been in vain. The people of the country have supported their city colleagues even to the tune of having to bend their backs to the resultant burden. Now, for the first time in the history of Australia, the wheat-growers seek a little reciprocation from the city interests and public men, and ask for but a morsel of the consideration that they have extended to them during those 30 years. Is it not fair that the city interests should turn a willing and attentive ear to those who have so obligingly and uncomplainingly borne the burden of tariffs and embargoes and other heavy imposts when they now say, "We have borne your burdens for the last 30 years and hope that, actuated by a spirit of fair play and gratitude, you will reciprocate and grant us a small measure of the assistance that we have extended to you in the past"?

Senator McLachlan - What did the city interests suggest at the last conference?

Senator LYNCH - What, indeed? Mr. Curtin, M.P., the Editor of the Western Australian Worker, was there, and by his unusual silence fully supported the sales tax expedient as a temporary relief to the farmers. The question is, what is to be done!? If some action is not taken the problem will resolve itself in a very simple way. A considerable percentage of these worthy sons of the soil will be forced into city areas. At a very reasonable estimate, there are 60,000 wheat-growers in Australia, and it is a fair thing to claim that every man engaged in that basic industry is responsible for the support of five other persons in the community. I have seen it proved repeatedly in isolated mining communities in Australia, that the activities of one miner meant the support of five other persons. If the necessary relief is not forthcoming 20 per cent, of those 60,000 wheat-growers will be forced into the cities of Australia. That means that the Government would have to keep 12,000 erstwhile wheat-growers and their families and children. At 10s. per week per person, that would amount to something like £1,500,000 which would have to be found annually by the Government in the form of relief.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator mentions 10s. a week as sustenance. Unemployed workers claim the basic wage.

Senator LYNCH - I am modest in my calculations. If the Government does not act promptly it will be faced with an unemployment problem compared with which the existing one will be mere child's play. The wheat industry is the foundation of our industrial and communal prosperity. The first inquiry that is levelled at a wheat-grower when he reaches town and the season is doubtful, is, "How is the season and the crops?" Town dwellers feel instinctively that they depend upon this product of mother earth. Now a combination of world events has brought about something worse than a bad season, and these worthy sons of industry are reduced to dire poverty. Can any government be so callous-hearted as not to hold out a helping hand to . them in their hour of need?

Senator Guthrie - Was nothing evolved at the last conference?

Senator LYNCH - Nothing. This is a government of negation so far as the wheat-growers are concerned. While it is prompt to extend sympathy and assistance to the city dwellers, it fails in its duty to those who have frequently proved themselves to be the hope, aye the salvation, of the country. Senator Guthrie gave incontestible figures as to the value of the wheat industry to Australia. Unless the people knuckle down to it and take off their coats when carrying out the intermediary processes of manufacture and distribution, as the farmers have to do in the primary processes, the whole community, by a process of economic attrition, will be reduced to the necessity of doing their fair share of work in the general effort to recover our lost prosperity. Men in the baking trade demand a 44-hour week, while the farmers have to work 54 and 64 hours a week ! Employees in the city industries also have their basic wage, while the wheat-growers earn infinitely less than that sum. In the rich and prosperous State of New South Wales it was shown the other day that £6,000,000 was owing by the wheat-growers to their country creditors. The growers in Victoria and South Australia have been drought-stricken for three years. Just imagine the position that they must he in. A recent ministerial statement intimated that, even in the younger State of Western Australia, at least 8,000 of its 10,000 whea t-growers will shortly ' have to seek government aid. Some effective solution of the problem must be found. It is up to this Government to strain every nerve to extend the helping hand to these producers. I know that there are other speakers who wish to address themselves to the subject, and I shall not encroach upon their time. Time, if ever it was the essence of any contract, is the essence of this contract. We cannot follow the example of the ostrich and bury our heads in the sand in the hope that the matter will right itself. If the Government does not take prompt action it will result in dire consequences to the country.

Senator Barnes - What does the honorable senator suggest should be done?

Senator LYNCH - I support the proposal put forward by Professor Perkins: the imposition of a duty of 3s. per bushel on wheat used for home consumption as one alternative. If this is not acceptable, then something could be done to help the wheat-growers to put in next season's crop. That gentleman stated that his scheme would raise the price of a 4-lb. loaf by 1-Jd., hut I do not think that the increase would be as high as that. Further, there is ample room for improvement in the intermediate processes of manufacture. It requires more work and more economy in those processes. I appeal to those concerned to put their shoulders to the wheel and work as the farmers do, so effecting economies, which would make it unnecessary to increase prices to the consumer, so as to give the farmers a living wage. They now turn to the people of our cities in the hope that, for the first time, they will act as comrades. In the exclusive preserves of city employment, where by awards of arbitration courts and special tribunals, the citizens are assured pleasant times and easy conditions, it is an easy matter for employees to address one another as comrades in industry and social intercourse. If the same treatment is not now given to our rural workers, the movement from the country to our cities will be much accelerated.

Senator Guthrie - When wheat was 7s. 6d. a bushel the price of bread was the same as to-day, and even in New Zealand, with wheat at 6s. 3d. a- bushel, bread is cheaper than in Australia.

Senator LYNCH.That is so. In New Zealand, with flour at £16 a ton, the price of the 4-lb. loaf is lid., whereas in Australia, with flour at £9 a ton, the 4-lb. loaf is ls. It is a disgrace that the baking industry - those engaged in the intermediary processes of manufacture - should be making such enormous profits.

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