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Tuesday, 25 November 1930

Senator BARNES (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - The honorable senator who has brought this matter forward, would lead the people of Australia to believe that the present Commonwealth Government has no sympathy with the man on the land; but the Government has given ample demonstration of where its sympathies lie, and of what it is prepared to do to help the man on the land. Reference has already been made to the conference held in the earlier part of the year at the request of the Commonwealth Government. At that conference, representatives of all the wheat interests met at Canberra and devised a scheme for the orderly marketing of the wheat production of Australia by which the wheat-grower would secure a decent price for his product. At that time, the world's wheat crop was not supposed to be as large s.s it has turned out to be, and it was reasonable to suppose that the Australian farmer would get a fair price for his wheat; but the situation has altered tremendously, and it is now feared that he will get a miserably low price, instead of one that would enable him to make a decent living. Personally, I do not think the wheat-grower has any chance of making a decent living with wheat at 2s. a bushel. The Government has not ceased in its efforts to do something to help the farmers, but its hands have been tied, lit came into office with £5,000,000 deficit on its hands, and since then, the world-wide .depression has caused the position to go from bad to worse. Honorable senators opposite expect us to get rid of that load of deficit and work miracles they themselves could not perform although they had ample funds at their disposal with which they could have done anything they liked. Where does the blame rest? On the present Government or on the late administration which so mismanaged affairs as to bring the country into the fearful hole in which it now finds itself? In an effort to do something for the farmers, the Acting Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Forde) has conferred with th?' Ministers for Agriculture in the various States to find out what really can b« done, and whatever suggestions they can put before him, and through him to the present Government, will receive the serious and sympathetic consideration of Ministers. The Acting Minister has also asked the Board of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank what the bank is prepared to advance for the wheat crop. The bank's definite reply has been that it would not advance more than ls. 6d. a bushel. If honorable senators, who are criticizing the Government, would suggest some means by which the Government could do anything, Ministers would be very glad to hear them. It is easy to rise in the Senate and, in a tirade of talk, blame the Government. To offer suggestions for a way out of our present difficulties is not so easy. Every one knows the position of the Government. It has not a " bob " to spend on anything. Tens of thousands of men are walking the roads looking for work, and the Government cannot get sufficient money to give them an opportunity to earn something. Such is the position of the workers. The farmer will, at least, get his 2s.. a bushel for his wheat - if the price does not improve - and our first consideration should be to help the fellow who has nothing. If we had the means to do it, we should objection to making opportunities available for employment to those who are now idle, and we should have no hesitation in giving a fair amount of assistance to the farmers, because we know how indispensable the wheat-growing community is to the progress of the country. It is, however, useless to waste the time of the Senate by talking about what the Government has, or has not, done. I notice that honorable senators opposite keep wide of the mark as to what they did when in office to bring about the present position. Even now Ministers are doing all they possibly can ; but they have not received very great assistance from honorable senators opposite. How did we fare when we endeavoured to get the Wheat Marketing Bill through Parliament? Senator Lynch says that the Labour party has great consideration for the industrial centres, but very little for rural districts. As a matter of fact, it was the representatives of the industrial centres, who, by their unanimous vote, put the Wheat Marketing Bill through another place.

Senator Lynch - Why did not the Government carry it?

Senator BARNES - If I remember aright the honorable senator, who was unfortunately unable to attend the sittings of the Senate when the measure was under consideration owing to sickness in his family, paired against the second redding of the bill, which honorable senators opposite opposed tooth and nail. It appeared to me at the time, that the Government was offering the farmer more than the p rod n fit would realize in the market.

Senator McLachlan - More than could be paid.

Senator BARNES - The Government was taking that responsibility. If it had had the assistance of honorable senators opposite in passing the measure, the organizations which were to be set up under it would have been operating to-day in the interests of the primary producer. That is the position in a nutshell. The responsibility rests with honorable senators opposite, and not with the Government, which was, and still is, anxious to do all it could to assist the wheat-growers. It is useless for honorable senators opposite to be so hypocritical as to endeavour to make it appear that they are the friends of the farmers, when their votes against the Wheat Marketing Bill are on record. They simply nailed that bill to the cross. I repeat, with a full understanding of the position, that, there is little ground for complaints made by honorable senators opposite against the Government. Personally, I cannot see any immediate way in which the wheatgrowers can be assisted. It appears that they will have to take their share of the unfortunate results that ' accompany depression, and to carry their share of the burden which is being borne to-day, especially by the underdog in this country. On any road in any part of Australia, one may see hundreds of men, and, unfortunately, many young men, searching for work, many of whom have not even a swag with which to cover themselves on cold nights. I do not know where they can obtain a crust, because many of the settlers alongside the road on which they are travelling are in as bad a position as they are. I do not know what remedy can be applied. The Government is at its wits' end to help the wheat-growers to overcome the difficulties confronting them to-day. It is practically helpless in this matter, and its helplessness was brought about, as everyone knows, by the action of the previous Administration, and by the unfortunate world-wide depression. I regret that Senator Lynch should have brought forward this wail, and I hope that the farmers of this country will not get it into their minds that the Government is unsympathetic towards them, because it proposes to go to any length it can to give them all the assistance and relief that is possible.

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