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Wednesday, 25 September 1974
Page: 1398

Senator WALSH (Western Australia) - Before dealing with the substance of this legislation I wish to make a couple of brief comments on the previous speeches. I say to Senator Scott that I am extremely gratified, firstly, that the Opposition as a whole is accepting these Bills without amendment, and, secondly, that he recognised quite clearly the distinct advantages which accrue to the wheat industry as a whole through having an organised marketing system, not so much in Australia as for the purposes of selling wheat abroad. Senator Scott recognised implicitly the very dangerous situation into which the wheat industry would degenerate if we were to have 5 separate State marketing authorities competing with each other and cutting each other's throats to secure markets abroad. It is gratifying to see that Senator Scott recognises this implicitly and that his colleagues in the Senate and the Parliament recognise it. Unfortunately it has not been recognised so clearly by a number of Liberal and Country Party politicians and ex-Country Party politicians in the State in which I live who, during the autumn period when this Bill was being delayed, campaigned quite vigorously and irresponsibly to establish a State wheat marketing athority

Senator Scottraised one other point; the question of the owner-operator's allowance. I notice that the focus of his complaint centred on the fact that the allowance was fixed at far too low a level. Certainly that is a point upon which opinions could well vary, but it is interesting, and once again gratifying, to note that Senator Scott has at least confined his objections to the owneroperator's allowance on the ground of the absolute level at which it is fixed and not to the fact that it is fixed per se. His colleague in the House of Representatives, Mr McVeigh, last week stated:

We object to the owner-operator's allowance being constant.

My comment on that is that there is nothing new about the owner-operator's allowance being constant. Such a provision was in fact included in the previous Wheat Stabilisation Act which was passed in 1968 by a government of Mr McVeigh's persuasion.

The other comment which I wish to make on previous speeches concerns Senator Young's passing reference to Government interference in the Australian Wheat Board's affairs. I think Senator Young said that he hoped that Government interference would be confined to a minimum. He made an oblique reference to alleged Government interference in Wheat Board affairs last year. I am glad that Senator Young has raised this point because I have some personal knowledge of Government interference in Wheat Board affairs which pre-dates 1 973 and in fact pre-dates the election of the Whitlam Government. I refer in particular to a statement made on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's program 'Country Hour' in Western Australia on 31 October 1973. October 1973 was the month when the alleged interference by the Whitlam Government occurred. Shortly following this, on 31 October 1973 Mr Wolf Boetcher who was at that time a vice-president of the wheat section of the Farmers Union of Western Australia and a member of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, when asked whether there was anything new about governments issuing directives to the Wheat Board as to where and under what conditions it would market wheat, ridiculed that suggestion. He stated that in fact quite early in 1 972 a directive had been issued to the Board by the then Liberal-Country Party Government not to trade with the Chilean Government following the election of the Marxist President Allende. I refer Senator Young also to the book by Ronald Anderson which was published in 1971 entitled 'Crisis on the Land', in which Anderson makes an admittedly oblique reference to directives handed down in 1969 by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Sir John McEwen, to the Wheat Board to terminate its aggressive marketing policies because they were producing an unfavourable reaction in Washington.

I wish to refer most of all to something of which I have direct personal knowledge. In 1967 a Wheat Board selling mission visited Hong Kong and there met representatives of the Chinese Government. Prior to leaving Australia this selling mission was instructed by the Government of the day to deliver to the Chinese officials a note in which it issued the ultimatum that unless the anti-British rioting, which was then in progress in Hong Kong ceased, the Australian Government would terminate the Australia-China wheat trade. I heard that story directly from a member of the Australian Wheat Board, Mr Horrie Smith at a meeting of the Farmers Union executive in Perth in 1 967, which was shortly after the event took place. In 1972 I made a statutory declaration setting out the events which I have just recounted to the Senate. A short time after making the statutory declaration I approached the 'Farmers Weekly', which is the official organ of the Western Australian Farmers Union, to insert a paid advertisementpaid for by me- which included the relevant extracts from that declaration. The 'Farmers Weekly' refused to accept the advertisement. I stress that it was an advertisement to be paid for at commercial rates. Although the newspaper was then losing about $25,000 a year, largely because of lost advertising revenue, it refused to accept the advertisement.

Those stories collectively tell us a good deal about government interference in Wheat Board affairs. They also tell us a good deal about the level of objectivity which prevails among Wheat Board members when they made such a hoo-ha, to coin a phrase, last year, because the Government had allegedly interfered in its marketing activities. The Wheat Board not only remained utterly silent when the previous Liberal-Country Party Government had interfered in 1 967 and on previous occasions, but also endorsed implicitly a deception by remaining silent after the events had been exposed and by refusing to accept an advertisement which would make the information available to all wheat growers who were interested.

Senator Young - Senator, couldyou say who were in that mission at that time? Was Mr Smith a member of it?

Senator WALSH - I am not sure whether Mr Smith was a member but he was reporting on a Wheat Board meeting which had been held shortly before in Melbourne. I hope that there will be no more hypocrisy about the alleged evils of government interference in the affairs of the Australian Wheat Board, or at least no more hypocrisy from the members of the previous government which practised it.

I have a couple of other comments to make. I wish to deflate a couple of popular myths concerning the balance sheet, if I may call it that, between the Australian wheat industry and the Australian consumer. It is often claimed that the Australian consumer owes an enormous debt to the Australian wheat industry because in the late 1940s and early 1950s wheat was sold on the domestic market at prices considerably below export parity. Because in the last 12 months or so we have been back in that sort of marketing situation, this story has had a revival.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Debate (on motion by Senator Wriedt) ad journed.

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