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Thursday, 8 March 1973
Page: 448

Mr KING (Wimmera) - Standing order 142 refers to questions in this chamber. As a result of the change of government and certain alterations to the Standing Orders, honourable members on this side of the House are finding great difficulty in being able to ask sufficient questions. Like many honourable members on this side I have been endeavouring to raise certain issues. I will give an illustration, though this is not unusual; it has happened before. This is the sixth sitting day and I have been rising in my place seeking to ask a question but time has run out and I have not been able to do so. Therefore, I would like to raise that question tonight and I hope that it will be recorded in Hansard and in turn looked at by the Minister concerned who might then be good enough to give me a reply. My question is directed to the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) and concerns the expenditure of his Department on the upgrading of certain telephone lines in various areas. The question I had intended to ask is this:

In view of the Postmaster-General's statement to the effect that he was opposed to using departmental revenue for the development of his Department's services, will he take steps to see that sufficient money is made available from funds outside his Department to make sure that the line policy laid down by the previous Government continues and will be completed in a reasonable time.

I am not asking the Postmaster-General to spell out exactly when this project will be completed because it is never ending. But at least I would like the Postmaster-General to endeavour to make a clear-cut statement on where he expects to get the funds to go ahead with this project. The Postmaster-General has stated clearly that he is opposed to using departmental revenue for the purpose and naturally enough he will either have to get outside money or the work will stop. I want the Postmaster-General to make a very clear statement on this issue so as to enlighten people outside of this House.

The next matter I wish to raise is my concern as to where we are going in some of our primary industries. I refer in particular to the wheat industry.

Mr Whittorn - The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) is not a member of this House.

Mr KING - Yes, that is the trouble. As the honourable member for Balaclava has pointed out, unfortunately the Minister is not in this chamber and we cannot direct anything to him. As a result we get a second hand answer from someone who represents the Minister in this chamber but cannot give us a clear cut yes or no to our questions. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) decided to give this portfolio to a Minister in the other place. After all, the gentleman concerned is not a man who has a great knowledge of primary industry. Rather, the Prime Minister seems to have selected someone who is lacking in this field.

The present Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), the honourable member for Riverina, when his Party was in Opposition made great play about what the Labor Party would do as far as primary industries were concerned if it were in government. The wheat industry is one of those primary industries. He promised us the world. I have vivid recollections of the time when the Minister said that a Labor government would make $500m available for primary producers at an interest rate of 3 per cent. The Prime Minister has been pretty good; he has been flying into all sorts of other decisions. But nothing has happened in relation to this matter. Why did the honourable member for Riverina make this statement? I understand that what he said was backed up by other candidates who were running under the Labor Party flag. But nothing has happened since.

The Government has taken certain actions on the wheat industry. Some people now are suggesting that the new Government has increased the first advance from $1.10 to $1.20 a bushel. This, of course, is very misleading, because the Minister for Primary Industry has said - and I give him the credit - that the Government would pay a first advance of $1.10 and 10c incentive, which brings the figure up to $1.20. Some people on the Government side today are saying: 'Well we are increasing it and you didn't'. This is fair enough; it is true. The first advance on wheat has been $1.10 with the exception of one year, for 17 years. The Australian Wheatgrowers Federation wants the advance increased. The previous Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) rightly told the Federation leaders that just prior to the election it would not be right for him to commit a government in advance. Honourable members opposite are laughing; they do not even know what it means. The previous Minister said: 'My suggestion to you is that if we are returned I will meet the Federation straight after the election if I happen to be the Minister'. Today, of course, the new Minister has taken all this time - since 2nd December until two or three weeks ago - to indicate what the price will be.

It was correct for the honourable member for Riverina when in opposition to say that we should have an increase of $1.10 for a first advance payment because of certain reasons, which he spelt out, what I want to say this evening is this: If it was good enough for the previous Government to pay $1.10 at a time when Australia had huge supplies of wheat, a lot more than we could sell, and we guaranteed this price as a first advance - now the situation is altogether different. Previously we sold wheat for as low as $1,25 a bushel but we still paid $1.10 as a first advance. Today we are selling wheat at $2.25 a bushel. Bearing this in mind it would seem that the amount of the first advance should be about $2 and not $1.10 plus 10c.

In conclusion I want to say that I am a little surprised at the Minister making a statement to the effect that he is urging and encouraging wheat growers to grow more wheat. Older honourable members will recall that many years ago growers were urged to grow more wheat in the interests of the economy of Australia. They grew more wheat. Then under a Labor government the growers were told to either burn their wheat or plough it in. 1 do not want to be associated with any instructions from this place that growers grow more wheat. Encourage them, yes; but there is a very big difference between asking them to do it and encouraging them. If the growers want to grow more wheat, let them grow more wheat. 1 appeal to the Minister for Primary Industry, and to the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), who represents him in this place, to refrain from saying: 'We want you to grow more wheat'. If we looked at the quantity of wheat that is grown in Australia and the quantity that is produced throughout the world and worked out the percentage of export wheat that comes from Australian in comparison with that of other wheat exporting countries we would find that the little bit that we grew is infinitesimal. This country could run out of wheat and yet there would be a world surplus. Honourable members will appreciate what I am saying if they look at the percentages. 1 urge the Minister for Primary Industry and his representatives in this House to make sure that they do not demand that growers grow more wheat. If they act on that line they will be the ones who will be responsible when we possibly see a crash in wheat sales because of over-production. Theirs will be the responsibility if we then have to reduce production.

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