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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3711

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman may make a passing reference only to the sugar agreement. It has nothing at all to do with the Bills under discussion.

Mr SINCLAIR - As far as wheat and other agricultural commodities are concerned, sales to countries abroad have been effected by the industry representatives. The intervention by Ministers of this Government is unjustified and has not contributed to achieving better returns for the producer; on the contrary it has seriously prejudiced the producers' chances of getting better returns. These blackmail threats that the Minister for Overseas Trade applied to future sales indicate the mentality and attitude of this Government. When he came back to Australia he said: 'If there is a change of Government there will be no further wheat sales to China.' Perhaps he has failed to recognise that a member of the Australian Country Party, the honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey), was a member of the first Australian Wheat Board mission that secured the first sale of wheat to China. Per haps the Minister is not aware that the average quantity of sales that the Wheat Board - not the Government - on behalf of the Australian wheat grower contracted for with the Chinese instrumentality that purchases wheat is in fact less than the quantity that has been sold to China by the Wheat Board in the past on a significant number of occasions. In other words, this great saviour of the wheat industry, in spite of his political affiliations, has not been able to secure as good a deal in the quantity of sales as have past Wheat Board negotiators operating under the climate of a Liberal-Country Parry government.

As to the price, of course that is a matter that is privy between the Wheat Board and the purchaser, and so it should be. I trust that, whatever the price might be, we have not been sold down the drain by the intervention of the Minister for Overseas Trade, as I suspect we might have been in the sale of sugar because of some of the interventions of the Minister for Northern Development. However, I think it is true to say that the wheat growers themselves are concerned about future intervention in the wheat industry. Accordingly, we are concerned about that aspect of the existing legislation which provides that the Wheat Board can be directed by the Minister in its. functions and in the exercise of its powers. At the appropriate stage in the Committee deliberations on this Bill I intend to move an amendment which will ensure that in future that intervention can relate only to an assurance that the level of price and the conditions associated with the wheat sale provide a reasonable market return for the wheatgrower. In addition, I intend to provide in that amendment a proviso to the effect that after such intervention has been exercised the Minister shall have an obligation to table in the Parliament within IS sitting days of his having so intervened the reasons for having done so. That, to my mind, is the only basis upon which a government or a Minister on a Government's behalf is justified in intervening in the operations of what has been one of the most successful commodity boards.

There is a very real fear on the part of some of my colleagues that perhaps we should go further with the second piece of legislation, the Wheat Export Charge Bill, and that we should refuse it passage until such time as it provides a long term wheat agreement for the Australian wheat grower. The Wheat Export Charge Bill is in fact the measure which enables the allocation of that part of returns for overseas sales in excess of 5c above the guaranteed reserve to be held by the Wheat Board on behalf of wheat growers and to be used to offset future stabilisation payments at such times as overseas price returns fall below the stabilised minimum price. That is a point of view for which I have some sympathy. I am concerned that this Government has introduced a one-year extension of the Bill, that it has provided for the deduction from the funds received at a time of very high world prices and that there is no guarantee for the grower that the funds will be applied in his best interests in the future. Indeed the very indication that the Minister for Primary Industry has given in regard to an upper limit on an annual contribution by a Labor government to the wheat industry makes me concerned that the Wheat Export Charge Bill should provide for such significant deductions without any guarantee that the long tern; stability of the industry is to be assured.

As I have explained, it is not only the amount of the actual deduction that is of concern to the Australian wheat grower. There is already a very real subsidy provided by every Australian wheat grower for every Australian wheat consumer in the differential rate between the home consumption price and the available export sale price. At the moment the export sale price and the home consumption price differ by approximately 70c. Every bit of wheat that is consumed in Australia or sold at the home consumption price is in fact a loss to the wheat grower of an amount equal to that differential. That differential means that the wheat grower himself is contributing to taxpayers' returns and to the consumers. If for no other reason, that is one of the purposes behind our concern at the statement made by the Minister. The Opposition supports the extension of this stabilisation plan. It regrets that the extension is for one year only. It is concerned at the intervention that this Minister and this Government have made in the sale of wheat overseas. It is concerned at the degree to which there is no guarantee of a long term stabilisation arrangement to benefit the wheat producer. The Opposition believes that as soon' as possible dicussions should be concluded between the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, the Ministers for Agriculture and this Government in order to introduce a long term stabilisation scheme which will have some meaning to the industry.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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