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Tuesday, 25 November 1930

Senator GUTHRIE (Victoria) . - I am glad that Senator Lynch brought this matter up this afternoon. There is not the slightest doubt that the condition of the wheat-growers of Australia is very critical. If they fail a very serious blow will be struck at the financial stability of Australia, which will do much to destroy the confidence reposed in the country. Our 60,000 wheat-growers work very long hours. They are probably the most efficient wheat-growers in the world, as they produce more wheat for a given rainfall .than do those of any other .country. Also, .their -grain brings 2s. .a quarter more than .that of .any other- nation. Yet, (because of a collapse in world prices, our growers are faced with ruin on the eve of harvesting the most bounteous crop that we have ever had in Australia. They do not work 34 or 44 hours a week ; more frequently they work 70 -hours a week. I am associated with sharefarmers who, for months at a stretch, work two shifts of twelve hours each, daily, operating throughout the hours of darkness with the aid of headlights from tractors. Our growers were exhorted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), Mr. Hogan, and others, to " Grow more wheat." The appeal was broadcast night after night until it became almost nauseating to those who were bending their backs to the task and already doing their utmost. What encouragement has the Government given them to grow more wheat ? An absurdly high tariff has been placed on all their requirements, with the result that they have to pay £610 for a tractor, £112 for a plough, and in like ratio for other tools of production. They have been loaded with high prices for their superphosphates and with high railway freights. Further, owing to our tariffs necessitating ships coming to Australia almost empty, they have had to pay high freights on the primary products that have been despatched to the markets of the -world. Our primary producers, and particularly the wheat-growers, have borne the burden.

I voted for the Wheat Marketing Bill when it was brought down by the Government. I thought that it would grant our growers 4s. a bushel for their product I believed that part of the guarantee would have to be met by the city dwellers, but considered that it was about time that they did something to assist our primary producers. Some of our manufacturers are spoon-fed with prohibitive tariffs. Some, like Lysaght's, are granted a monopoly. The wage-earners are protected by Arbitration Court and wages board awards, and enjoy the shortest hours and highest effective wages in the world. Coal-miners in Australia have refused average wages of £14 for a 34-hour week. A tremendous amount of assistance is given to cwn sugar industry - the consumers and taxpayers pay millions of pounds annually for that assistance - to our iron and steel and many other industries, but nothing is done for the wheat and wool growing industries, which carry the people of Australia on their backs. So I make no apology f or having voted for the Wheat Marketing Bill. But I admit that when I did so I did not realize that the world price for wheat was to collapse to such an extraordinary extent, and that had the bill become law, the strain on the taxpayers of Australia would have been very heavy. I thought that the consumers of Australia might have had to bear a contribution of a few million pounds. I now realize that their contribution would have approached £20,000,000. If the Government was sincere with regard to the Wheat Marketing Bill, and was prepared to tax the consumers of Australia to the extent of £20,000,000, why is it now doing nothing to help the wheatgrowers ? It is no use calling conferences, and merely passing motions. The whole thing is so simple. If previously the Government could have financed our crop to the extent of 4s. a bushel, it surely can guarantee the growers 3s. a bushel now. The Government has a mania for taxing ; it has taxed practically everything, with the exception of fresh air. Surely it could put a sales tax on flour to increase the price of wheat by 6d. or 7d. a bushel? It is all rot to claim that, by increasing the price of wheat by 7d. a bushel, the price of bread to the consumer would be materially increased. When wheat was 7s. 6d. a bushel in Australia, bread was only lid. a 4-lb. loaf. I am now paying ls. for a 4-lb loaf in one centre and lid. in others. My share-farmers, who, in a week or so, will be delivering wheat at ls. lOd. a bushel at the railway, have to pay ls. for a 4-lb. loaf of bread. It is a crying shame. The people of New Zealand, who have been paying 6s. 2d. a bushel for their wheat, plus another 3d. a bushel for bags, making 6s. 5d. a bushel are charged only lid. for a 4-lb. loaf of bread. It is shameful that the price of bread should be so high in some parts of Australia. Bread could be sold at 6d. the 4-lb. loaf, or even cheaper but for absurd awards and extravagant methods. Recently a contract was let in a northern district of Victoria at 53/4d. the 4-lb. loaf. At present prices for flour, bread should be sold at 5d. or 6d. a loaf. It is absurd to argue that, if the wheat-growers receive a bounty of 6d. or 7d. a bushel, there will be an increase in the price of bread. There would be absolutely no justification for any advance in bread prices. If millers can purchase wheat at 3s. a bushel, which is equivalent to 2s. 4d. or 2s. 6d. a bushel at countryrailway stations, and 6d. a bushel more than most growers are getting to-day, they should be able to sell flour at £8 to £9 a ton, and the price of bread should not be higher than 6d. a 4-lb. loaf.

Too much attention should not be given to the argument that the imposition of a sales tax on flour would materially increase the price of bread. Where does the Government stand in this matter? If it is sincere in its desire to help our wheat-farmers, it should give evidence of its sincerity, because the position of our wheat-growers is extremely grave. I know of a number of sharefarmers who will have to walk off their properties, because, at the present prices, it will not pay them to take off their crops. Surely the Government will realize its obligation and do something, either by offering growers a guaranteed price or by the imposition of a sales tax on flour. Practically every other commodity is protected in some way, so it should not be impossible for the Ministry to assist our wheat-farmers. A sales tax on flour, to enable the payment of a bounty of 6d. or 7d. a bushel, would only ensure to the grower 2s. 6d. a bushel, which is at least1s. a bushel below the actual cost of production, notwithstanding that our farmers use modern machinery, and are as efficient in their methods as are wheat-growers in any other country. It is idle for Ministers and their supporters to shelter behind the excuse that the Senate, in its wisdom - I voted the other way - rejected the Wheat Marketing Bill. The defeat of that measure cannot be advanced as an excuse for the Government's present indifference to the serious position in which our wheat-farmers find themselves to-day.

Senator E B Johnston - Reference to the defeat of the Wheat Marketing Bill by the Senate appeared five times in a speech delivered by the Acting Minister for Markets (Mr.Forde) the other day.

Senator GUTHRIE - It is not right that Ministers should seek to excuse their apathy in this way. If they are sincere in their protestations for the welfare of our primary producers, now is the time to give evidence of it. The eyes of all our wheat-growers are on the Ministry. It is possible to help the growers in many ways; but the simplest and most feasible plan is to impose a sales tax on flour, thus making possible the payment of an additional 6d. a bushel to our wheatgrowers. This should not mean an increase in the price of bread, because for the last six months, at least, many bakers have been profiteering. This is proved by the price charged in open contracts. as I said before. One, in a northern district of Victoria, was 53/4d. for a 4-lb loaf.

I again appeal to the Government, to do something before it is too late. Our wheat-farmers have been working against tremendous odds, and, at the present time, although the harvest is a bountiful one, the price is so low that it will not pay them to take it off. Within the last day or two, I have telegraphed to some share-farmers who, I know, are leaving their holdings, offering them work to take off my crops, although I know that, for every bushel which I garner, I shall lose at least 1s. 6d. I appeal to the Ministry not to delay in coming to the assistance of these magnificent men and women of the soil who have done so much to develop Australia and add to its prosperity. They are the people who have carried so much of the burden of taxation through high tariffs, Arbitration Court awards, high railway freights, high ocean freights, and other charges. If the Government does not help them now, Ministers and their supporters should for ever remain quiet as regards the rejection, by the Senate, of the Wheat Marketing Bill.

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