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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) .- The honorable member for Werriwa has referred to this Parliament as moribund. Judging from the action which the Opposition sometimes takes when it is operating in full force, I must say that it appears to me to be a very lively corpse. I dissent from the honorable member's remarks with regard to the Federal Capital Site, and as to the visit which it is proposed to make to newly-suggested sites.

Mr Kennedy - I thought the honorable members of the Opposition were a unanimous party.

Mr WILSON - We break out occasionally. Ours is by no means a caucus party. We are quite free to express our own opinions. I suggest that our best plan is to leave over the Capital Site question, and to defer the proposed excursion until the next Parliament, when perhaps many ofus may be saved the necessity of making it. My principal object in rising, however, was to direct the attention of the Minister representing the Defence Department to the case of the men dismissed from the Warrnambool battery. No information has as yet been given with respect to that matter. The subject has been as much in evidence within the last few weeks as I could make it - indeed it has beenquite as much in evidence as have been those honorable members who were previously members of the New South Wales Parliament.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -It is time the grievance was remedied.

Mr WILSON - I hope that the Minister will see that the matter is pushed forward, so that the information may be given to the House, and those concerned may learn their fate as soon as possible.

Mr Webster - What is wrong with the battery ?

Mr WILSON - I do not know that there is anything particularly wrong with the battery, except that it is not supplied with proper guns, that men have been improperly dismissed,, and that a proper instructor is not supplied to them. The particular point is that the guns supplied to them are unfortunately obsolete, and I believe that it is unsafe to fire them. . As I was under fire from these guns on one occasion, I cansay thatthey can fire - perhaps those standing nearer to them than

I was were in greater danger - for the shells were dropping round us in a very lively manner. I hope that the Minister will make a note of my representation, and give me an answer as soon as possible.

Mr Ewing - Judging from mv last inquiry, I think that it will be a few days vet before the matter can be dealt with. I shall give the honorable member an answer as soon as possible.

Mr WILSON - The last promise I had was that the honorable member was seeking for fresh information. I anticipated that it would not have taken very long to get it, and that then the Minister would give his decision, because he has ample power to cancel the discharges of the men. if they have been improperly or harshly discharged. There is another matter which is, I think, of serious importance to the bulk of the people of Australia, and it is one affecting their food supplies. It has been brought under my notice that in the case of oatmeal - a food which is more particularlyused by poor persons - there is existing in Australia a sort of combine which is to the detriment of the public. I hope that in the interests of poor persons the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister of Trade and Customs will make an inquiry. I cannot say that my figures are exactly correct, but I believe that they are very nearly so. Oats have been purchased at from 2s. 3d. to 2s. ad. a bushel. It takes 56 -bushels of oats, weighing 40 lbs. to the bushel, to make a ton of 2,240 lbs., which brings up the price of oats to £7 14s. a tons Wheat, which is sold at 60 lbs. to the bushel, is purchasable in the market at 3s. 4 1/2d. per bushel, and it takes 38 bushels to make a ton of 2,240 lbs. Of course, a tor. of flour is reckoned at 2,000 lbs. ; but in order to make the comparison complete I have brought the ton to 2,240 lbs. in each case. At 3s. 4 1/2d. per bushel, a ton of wheat comes out at £6 8s. Flour in small parcels is quoted in the market at £7 10s. a ton. Allowing for what the millers get in the way of offal, such as bran, it leaves a difference of £1 2s. for the cost of milling and distributing. On the other hand. I find that oats which cost £7 14s. are being distributed wholesale as oatmeal at about' £18 a ton. Allowing £r 16s. a ton for the cost of milling and distribution, because the offals are not so valuable as in the case of wheat, and also allowing for distributers' profit, and everything else, it brings the total cost of oatmeal UP to £,9 i°s- a ton. But instead of being distributed at anything like that sum, I believe that the wholesale price is close upon -08, if not actually ',£18.

Mr Kennedy - Has the honorable member considered the relative values of the waste of the two products ?

Mr WILSON - Yes, I have made allowance for the difference in the price of oafs and flour, and also' the difference in the value of the offal. I know as well as the honorable member that the value of wheat offal is much greater than that of oat offal. If we make a comparison between this market and the English market, we find that, as a general rule, oats are more expensive in England than in Australia. Oatmeal is being distributed in Glasgow at £13, and in Melbourne at about ,£18 a ton.

Mr Conroy - The millers take advantage of the duty of £9 6s. 8d. a ton.

Mr WILSON - I do not say that there exists a combine, but it looks to me very much like as if, amongst the millers and workers in this commodity in the different ports, there has been some arrangement entered into whereby the cost of oatmeal to the people is made excessive.

Mr Webster - A ring among the millers.

Mr WILSON - I shall be very glad to hear the honorable member for Moira if he can throw any light upon the subject. If there is no combine in existence, there is an end to the matter, but if there is a combine in existence it is the duty of honorable members and those connected with the Department to see if something cannot be done to set the matter right. Seeing that we have set our faces against the existence of trusts and combines, which are acting to the detriment of the public, we should be' very careful to see, first of all, that poor people, who are dependent to a very great extent upon flour and oatmeal for their sustenance, do not suffer. I believe that I am doing only mv duty in .mentioning the facts. I hope that inquiries will be made, in order that people may get their foodstuffs at the lowest possible price, always taking into consideration the expense in connexion with the preparation and distribution of the article.

Question resolved in' the negative.

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