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Thursday, 30 September 1971
Page: 1781

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) (Minister for Customs and Excise) - I will not delay the House but as the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) asked some questions I thought they might like answers at this stage. The honourable member for Dawson raised a question relating to increased selling prices. I can give the honourable member the assurance that he sought from me, although I was not too keen about the euphemism 'watch dog' that he ascribed to me, that every variation in price is fully investigated by the Department of Customs and Excise to ensure that the bounty is not eroded and that the full benefit is passed on to the farmers. It is interesting to note that the price of superphosphate in Australia without bounty is one of the lowest in the world.

The honourable member quite properly said that it is all very well to be paying the bounty but might this not be a shield behind which the industry is either making higher profits or decreasing its efficiency of production. This is a fair question. The answer I give him now is not conclusive but I think it is persuasive. There is no sign that the industry is sheltering behind the bounty and becoming inefficient. For example, the average price paid in the United States in 1970 for superphosphate was $46.42 per ton as against $27.25 per ton in Australia, or $15.25 with the bounty. So the comparison would be $46.42 as against $15.25 per ton. I am not saying that that conclusively proves anything but it does give an indication of the true position in the 2 countries. I understand that only 2 other countries are known to have a lower price which indicates that the Australian producer has some level of efficiency. The honourable member for Riverina asked me 3 questions. Firstly, he asked whether the farmer is getting the full $12 and then said that some people were saying that he gets only 50 per cent of it. I asked him who were the 'some people'. It was a genuine question and he cited no authority except himself. I do not dispute that he is an authority but I think it should be exposed that he could not call anybody other than his eminent self to support that statement.

I am able to assure the House that the Department of Customs and Excise investigates all price variations. The investigations are carried out by fully qualified accountants who examine the accountancy and costing records of the producer. So far as is possible I give the honourable member for Riverina and the House the assurance that my Department is satisfied that the full benefit does go to the farmer. I was interested to hear the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) interject to say that they certainly got the full1 bounty in his electorate. Perhaps the honourable member for Murray makes more inquiries or inquiries in greater depth than does the honourable member for Riverina on these matters, but at least he is satisfied. The honourable member for Riverina made some reference to a major stockpile and said that, therefore, there should be a reduction in price. I am unable to follow his reasoning that because there is a large stockpile of a raw material the price of the finished product must fall. I am afraid there must be a step in his logic which completely eluded me. Perhaps he might like to follow up that point later. The rock was purchased by the manufacturers from the British Phosphate Commission and the agreed price plus the cost of servicing the stockpile preclude any price reduction. Perhaps I am not understanding the honourable gentleman as well as I should.

The third question he asked me was whether the farmers were making optimum use, as distinct from maximum use, of the fertiliser. I was fascinated to hear his cot league, the honourable member for Dawson, say that in some areas some soils needed 25 cwt of superphosphate.

Dr Patterson - Wallum soils.

Mr CHIPP - This was a fascinating point of philosophy raised by the honour able member for Riverina when he said we should be looking at this. If he were sitting in his seat, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would ask your indulgence so that he could interject. I want to know - and I am sure that my friends in the Australian Country Party want to know - whether, if by some mischance his Party was in government, it would determine in its socialistic way how much superphosphate should be applied to certain types of paddocks. As the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) stated, surely the farmer is the best judge of that. The honourable member for Mallee may be right or the honourable member for Riverina may be right as to who is the better judge, the farmer or a bureau. Surely the fundamental principle in this matter is whether the honourable member for Riverina is taking away the right of choice from the farmer. Should some bureaucratic body say to the farmer: 'Under these circumstances you cannot use superphosphate'? Is that what the honourable member for Riverina is saying?

Mr Grassby - No, that was never intended. The rates of application for soil types and crops are determined now by extension and research people in cooperation with the farmers.

Mr CHIPP - I think Hansard will record that the honourable gentleman, when he was speaking, said something a little different from what he has just said.

Mr- Armitage- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Minister has invited the honourable member for Riverina to interject, which is contrary to the Standing Orders.

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