Bert Kelly, “Let’s have a quota of principles,” The Bulletin, April 3, 1984, p. 106.
Doug Anthony was interviewed by the Melbourne Age when he retired. Among the many interesting issues raised was Anthony’s interest in administration. The Age says: “Doug Anthony liked handling problems. He loved it, he says. The biggest one he had was trying to sell the wheat industry the wheat quota scheme but he battled on. ‘Without it, there would have been absolute chaos. We lost one wheat seat — Riverina — because of that but, without it, we would have lost all of them!’”
I represented a wheat seat and I supported the wheat quota legislation and have blamed myself ever since. Why should I be so embarrassed when Anthony is so proud?
The scheme was brought in at the end of the 60s to limit the amount grown because we were growing more wheat than we could sell. The State governments, with the help of the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation (AWF) members, told farmers how much wheat they could grow. A quota was based on the performance of the farmer: he got a bigger quota if he was a bigger grower but a battler developing a new block got a small one or none at all.
I was a wheat farmer in a tired kind of way and mine was a traditional wheat-growing electorate and these were the farmers who were getting the biggest quotas. And the AWF was very powerful in my electorate and wanted quotas, though now it seems that Anthony was pushing them from behind or from above or somewhere else.
Why should I still be embarrassed about my support for the scheme?
First, I was worried because it seemed wrong to be limiting the production of food when much of the world was hungry. I know that is no real solution to supply a hungry country with food aid; it is far better to help them grow more food for themselves. Still, it worried me a little.
I was embarrassed secondly because I had not warned wheat growers that almost inevitably, sooner or later, we would produce more wheat than the market wanted if the continued to support a stabilisation system that blanketed the market signals. I know that wisdom comes easily with hindsight and it is easy to see now that the encouragement to grow more and more wheat was inherent in the marketing scheme of those years. I could see this way back in 1964 but lacked the guts and wisdom to shout it aloud from the rooftops. So we drifted into growing more wheat and we were at panic stations by the end of the 60s and that was why Anthony had to take action. But we should not have got into that situation.
My third concern was that quotas presented an irresistible temptation to grow out-of-quota wheat and then sell it on the black market. This happened all over eastern Australia.
My fourth concern was that I knew so many battlers who had obeyed the only market signals they could see and, so, had gone out and developed new land only to be told that they could not grow wheat on it while farmers who had made a lot of money growing wheat were allowed quite big acreages.
I always regard with deep suspicion any government action which gives particular advantages to particular people while denying them to others, even if this is done in the sacred name of orderly marketing. I know that quota holders are very much in favour of the idea but I hate it and for good reasons.
However, there is another part of Anthony’s reported statement that worries me: That is when he speaks of losing Riverina and saving the other wheat seats. When I read that, I realised that I was not cut out to be a politician. I had a pathetic kind of feeling that, surely, other principles should guide us besides grubbing for votes.
There has been some talk lately about a possible marriage between the Liberal and the National parties. It is true that sometimes it is hard to know what really divides us. If Mavis and I have a tiff, after a few days I forget what I am cross about though I am certain I am in the right. I think our two parties are at about that stage — we cannot remember what we are cross about. And, if Anthony’s way of judging the correctness of political action is typical of National Party thinking, the Nationals and the “wets” in the Liberal Party should get on splendidly together.
As I have said many times before, when Ginger was asked whether he preferred the infantry or the cavalry, he thought for a while and then voted for the infantry.
Asked why, he replied, “One day, the retreat will be sounded and then I don’t want to be hindered by no plurry horse!”
Well, the Liberal “wets” and the Nationals wouldn’t be hindered by any silly principles either.
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