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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2758


Mr STREET (Corangamite) - Mr Speaker,the Wheat Tax Bill makes provision for increasing the contribution by the wheat industry by 20 per cent for the purpose of research into all aspects of the industry, with a corresponding increase by the Government on a dollar for dollar basis. It will increase the funds available for research from $2m to approximately $2.4m a year. I am pleased to see that it has the support of the industry. It has the support of the Opposition, although in our opinion the legislation is deficient in one respect. We will be seeking clarification and further assurances on another aspect of it.

Over the years these joint industry government funds for research and, in some instances, promotion have made a great contribution to the industries concerned. In the case of wheat the funds have enabled Australia to remain in the forefront of world research in plant breeding and new varieties suitable for a wide range of climatic and soil types, in soil fertility and fertilising techniques, in solving storage problems and in many other aspects of the industry. It will be noted that the investigation of storage problems is one of the functions on which money raised by this legislation can be spent. It is a most important function, and the Opposition would have liked to see greater attention paid to it by the Government. For a while it looked as if this would be done. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) indicated to the Australian Agricultural Council that provided the wheat industry and the States each contributed $250,000 the Commonwealth Government would add a further $500,000, making a total of Sim to be used on a program for the control of weevils in wheat. The industry agreed to this proposition. The States agreed. Suddenly the Commonwealth withdrew its support and its money.

There are several points of principle involved, and the Opposition would have liked to move an amendment to this Bill which, while not refusing it a second reading, would have indicated our concern that special provision should have been made for implementing an extended research program into insect infestation of wheat, on the basis outlined by the Minister for Primary Industry to the Australian Agricultural Council and the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation. Unfortunately, this Bill not being what is generally described as a purpose Bill, the forms of the House do not enable us to take that course. But there may be another way of dealing with the problem. I will be referring to that later in my speech. But that was not the main principle involved in this rather unsavoury episode. The real point was that this was yet another example of the total unreliability of this Government when it comes to policies affecting primary industry. The States, and the industry taking their cue quite reasonably from the Minister for Primary Industry, made arrangements so that they could fulfil their side of the bargain. Now they are left out on a limb. No wonder the primary producers have lost ail confidence in this Government. The Government, by its actions, has forfeited all right to confidence.

The question of insect infestation control is an important one, for 2 reasons. It is important, firstly, because of the costs involved in controlling and, one would hope eventually eradicating insect infectation; and secondly, because our reputation as a supplier of high quality produce can be put at risk. We should remember that it is unlikely that the world wheat market will remain a sellers' market indefinitely. While prices are good, we should be taking the opportunity to improve the quality of our produce. In this context I think it is interesting that work is going on in South Australia, at private expense I understand, on new methods of protecting grain. I trust that the Australian Wheat Board and the various bulk handling authorities in the States are keeping closely in touch with this work to ensure that new storages are able to take advantage of new technology as it becomes commercially proved.

The need for new materials and technology is becoming more urgent. For some years the insecticide generally sold under the trade name Malathion has been the principal means of controlling insect infestation, especially on the farm itself. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that insects are building up a resistance to this product. To the best of my knowledge, no comparable or more efficient replacement is available or is even likely to become available in the near future. The industry is very conscious of the danger of this situation. I hope that there is an equal recognition on the part of the Government of the need to find a safe and satisfactory substitute for Malathion in the protection of grain. The need is becoming increasingly urgent.

As I said earlier, there- may be a way round getting extra finance for insect control and research, in the absence of a special program such as the one which was proposed originally by the Minister for Primary Industry. The House will note that this Bill makes provision for a rate of tax not exceeding 15c per tonne, although the actual amount collected is to be 11c per tonne. That is a 20 per cent increase over the present rate. The Minister has indicated that it will be matched by the Federal Government. I now draw attention to clause 3 (2) of the Bill which provides that the rate can be varied after consideration by the Governor-General of a report made to the Minister by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation'. Therefore it is possible under this legislation to increase the tax on growers. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), in his second reading speech, said.:

The Government has decided that it will continue to provide funds to match industry contributions at the new rate of tax proposed, that is, 11c per tonne.

As I interpret this reference, there is no guarantee that if the industry increases its contribution above 11c per tonne this increase will be matched by the Government. Certainly it has always been the practice in the past that in such circumstanres the Government has made a corresponding increase in its contribution. I am not prejudging this aspect of the matter, but it may be that the Government intends to follow past practice. What I am seeking from the Minister for Northern Development and the Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Primary Industry, is a firm undertaking that if the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation decides that the tax of 11c per tonne is insufficient to meet the needs for which the fund was established, and if it agrees to a higher grower contribution, the Government will match that increased contribution from the industry.

There is one further issue which is raised by this legislation. It is of more general application than to the wheat industry alone, but it is relevant to this Bill. I have referred to the benefits which have resulted from these joint industry government research and promotion funds. In my opinion, they have one particular defect. They tend to limit flexibility in the use of research funds and thereby inhibit the development of alternate land uses. The House will remember that the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) made specific reference to this point during his contribution to the debate on the estimates for the Department of Primary Industry. Unfortunately, this defect is selfperpetuating because when an industry - in this case the wheat industry - contributes money for research and/ or promotion the money has to be spent on projects involving that specific product. It is very easy to understand that the industry would be concerned if it felt that money it had contributed was to be spent on something unconnected with its own industry. But I should like to remind the House that the situation could arise, and in fact has arisen, that the most valuable research which could be done from the point of view of the industry is research into alternative uses for some land devoted, in this instance, to growing wheat.

We had a classic example of this situation a few years ago at a time of wheat glut, wheat quotas and depressed world prices for wheat. Growers were casting around for other crops to grow. Many of them tried oilseeds of varying kinds and with varying degrees of success. It soon became apparent that we were severely limited in the choice of seed varieties. Naturally, there was not the same experience in growing those crops as there was in growing wheat. I am certain that there are good prospects of substantially raising the profitability of growing crops of this type. But, because it is not a very large or long established industry, no funds are available to pay for the necessary research and plant breeding programs. For example, we import large quantities of soya beans. I have no doubt that we could increase domestic production by substantial amounts, but the necessary research just has not been done to enable farmers to take full advantage of the opportunities that are available for growing this crop.

We know that to grow soya beans successfully the variety planted must be the right one for the latitude in which the crop is to be grown. Soya beans are highly susceptible to variations in the hours of daylight. I understand that in North America varieties of this crop have been developed which can be grown in latitudes as high as 40 degrees. As far as I know, our efforts to develop varieties of soya beans for Australian conditions have been restricted almost to a one-man effort in northern New South Wales. Unfortunately, the situation that I have described is likely to continue unless funds are available to correct it. But, as I have said, under the conditions applying to these research funds there does not seem to be much prospect of being able to divert money into research in other fields which not only would reduce the dependence of wheat growers on demand for one crop but might in some areas provide growers with an increased income. I fully appreciate that changing the present system will require close co-operation with the primary producer organisations concerned. All I am suggesting at this stage is that those responsible should be giving serious consideration to the problem I have described and what should be done to overcome it in the best interests of the industry and of the individual farmers concerned. With those reservations, the Opposition supports this Bill.







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