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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2321

The PRESIDENT - If the Senate is agreeable, they can be taken as cognate Bills and voted upon separately. There being no objection, that course will be followed.

Senator LAUCKE - This is the first ocasion since the inception of the wheat stabilisation scheme in 1948-25 years ago- that the renewal of the scheme is sought for 1 year only. In the past it has always been a 5-year arrangement. On this occasion there has been a departure from the arrangement. The Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt), in his second reading speech, said that because of the Government's decision to have an in-depth review of the industry there is not before us this evening a scheme to cover the next 5 years. I very much regret the fact that a rural industry, particularly the wheat industry which has enjoyed for so long a system which has been of real benefit to it and which does not plan ahead from year to year, should be confronted with this situation at present.

Today I pay a tribute to the very meritorious work of the Australian Wheat Board, which is the marketing authority for Australia's wheat production. It has been a most effective organisation. It has been run efficiently, as I know from personal experience through the years. It has been an effective sales promoter in many overseas markets. It has been instrumental in promoting and encouraging research in certain areas and in making recommendations as to which wheats could well be grown and their segregation in certain ways to meet markets. As a background to the industry the Wheat Board has done very well indeed. I hope that in a year's time when there will be, I trust, a 5-year plan before us, the past history and experience of the Board will not be overlooked and the wheat growing industry will be served as well in the future as it has been in the past.

When the wheat stabilisation scheme was introduced the industry was in a chaotic condition. There has been an orderly aura about it since. The scheme has been a boon to the producer and to those who are associated with the industry and with financial institutions. It has enabled farmers to plan ahead with a degree of assurance that certain prices would be realised. Through the years the amounts required to meet the conditions of the scheme from general revenue have not been large. Up to 1968 the wheat growers had received $ 156m. Honourable senators should remember that the scheme started in 1948. In the last 5 years they have received about $95m. Because of the price structure on the local market, $400m has been subsidised to Australian consumers generally because of the lower prices obtained on the local market when compared with the prices which would have been obtained in overseas markets.

The Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill provides for a guaranteed price on all exports, up to 200 million bushels or 5,443, 108 tonnes, of $ 1 .60 per bushel or $58.79 per tonne f.o.r. at outports. There will be a new home consumption price as from 1 December. That price will certainly be higher than the price obtained in past years because it is determined according to variations in costs, interest rates, rail freights, handling charges and so on. The 1973-74 season will be a quota season. I believe that quotas are a necessary base in times of over-production in the industry but have little relevance in times of extraordinarily heavy world demand for wheat and at high prices. The quota system has never appealed to me, particularly in the marginal rainfall areas. It does not seem to have impact on the old traditional farming community in these low rainfall areas. The farmers out in the dry country are a rugged race. I have in mind farmers in areas of South Australia such as the Murray Flats, parts of the Mallee lands and lands to the north of the Mallee. These farmers have great optimism and great courage and are hard working. I believe that they should be allowed to produce all the wheat that nature will allow them to produce because nature is so harsh upon them so often. This section of the wheat growing community produces some of the highest protein wheats that are produced in South Australia. Other farmers in low rainfall areas throughout Australia should also be allowed to produce all the wheat that nature will allow them to produce.

The legislative arrangements for marketing wheat continue for 2 years beyond the end of th:period of the stabilisation scheme but exclude the guaranteed price and stabilisation arrangements after expiration of the period of the immediate stabilisation scheme. This fact has been explained in the Minister's second reading speech. The Liberal Party Opposition will not oppose the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill. The Wheat Export Charge Bill imposes on the growers a charge when the price exceeds by 5c a bushel the guaranteed price for the 200 million bushels of export wheat. With the guaranteed price at $1.60, for wheat sold at a price from $1.65 up to $1.80, 15c will be taken or retained by the Board and paid into a fund to meet demands which could be made upon the fund when the price does not equal the guaranteed price. I can see no possibility in the disposal of the current harvest of the growers having any call on the taxpayer. On the contrary the prices overseas are such that there will be, without doubt, greater returns than the guaranteed price. The system is that on delivery a first advance of $1.20 per bushel is paid and then the balance up to guaranteed price is paid when receipts come in for wheat sold in overseas markets and also in relation to what is consumed on the home market. The farmer certainly will not realise $ 1.60 by the dme the government of the day has worked out a new scheme of stabilisation.

Looking at the background of the matter, I can see no reason why this Wheat Export Charge Bill is being proceeded with. It intrigues me that it is. It is estimated by the Minister himself that some $46m will ultimately be received for this pool by way of levy from the farmers before it is wound up. I would like the Minister to say what will happen to that money. Will it be the nucleus for a new scheme? Will it be used as a bait for acceptance of terms otherwise not very attractive to the farmers? I hope there will be a very responsible and a very receptive attitude to farmers' representations in relation to this matter when it comes to the actual disposal of this money. This year the farmer could receive very much larger returns than is the guaranteed amount.

I wish to raise a further point in regard to realisations to growers. I should like to know how and when governments, through their own policies, determine that certain markets shall be supplied with wheat on conditions at some variance from the arrangements under which the Wheat Board could dispose of its wheat without having to resort to long term credits and so on. Such a situation applied in regard to the Egyptian sale recently in which long term credit has been provided to the purchaser. The man who pays for that long term credit arrangement is the wheat grower. This occurs when the Wheat Board, the marketing authority for wheat production, can dispose of wheat in markets for spot cash, but it is forced to take another market and wait for its money. I think in those circumstances the Government should advance to the Wheat Board the value of that wheat sold. Under the present arrangement a comparatively small number of wheat growers in Australia have to pay because of Government policy, and I regard that as being unfair. The Liberal Party Opposition will not oppose these Bills.

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