Bert Kelly, August 14, 1970. Economics Made Easy (Adelaide: Brolga Books, 1982), pp. 27-29, as “Small Farmers (1)”.
With my farmer constituents getting sourer — particularly with me — I realise I must pull a large, imposing white rabbit out of the political hat pretty soon. Mavis and I have had many discussions about which particular rabbit would attract most attention and so make me more attractive to my people. We have decided to espouse the cause of the small farmer and to demand that he be subsidised back to prosperity.
There is an important reason for this choice. There are more small farmers than big farmers and if I plead their cause successfully and so keep them on their farms, not only will they love me, but the businessmen in the country towns will also love me, for obvious reasons. So I shall get lots and lots of votes and this is good.
The first time I tried beating this new drum I was surprised at the enthusiastic reception that I received. It was almost moving. I admit that it was good stuff, there was enough about “birthright” and “heritage” and that kind of thing to let the audience know that I was just not treating the subject from a mundane, economic viewpoint, but was rather more a man of vision than perhaps they had realised.
Then to show that I was well abreast of today’s problems, as well as an authority on the past and prophet for the future, I gave them a burst about the “traditional wheat farmer” and how he could get particularly favourable treatment when wheat quotas were allotted. As the area in which I was speaking had been growing wheat for over 70 years, the hall was full of “traditional wheat farmers”, so this statesmanlike utterance was received with excited and prolonged applause. However, as I waited for the cheering to die down, I couldn’t help feeling glad that I was speaking in an old wheat district. If I had been in a new wheat district, where the people had lower quotas because they were not traditional growers, I suppose I would have had to handle the subject rather differently.
I was gratified with the reception of most of the audience, but Fred’s reaction was not only gratifying — it was downright surprising. You see, Fred is not a small farmer so I could not quite make out what made him so excited. After each of my promises to help the small man, he would give off a loud, “Hear, hear,” and I thought I heard “Amen” once or twice.
After the vote of thanks, which took a good while, Fred took me around the audience and introduced me proudly to everyone, which is something he hasn’t done since I got into parliament. Then he took me home for supper and after a lot of questioning I found the reason for his excitement.
Fred has an English farmer friend who farms about 2,000 acres in a southern county. This is a really big farm for England. About every other year his friend comes to Australia to get away from the English winter and to “avoid” (I think that’s the word) taxation. He usually reaches Fred’s farm some time in March where everything is looking dry and miserable and Fred says that he (Fred) always looks hopefully underneath the plate after a meal because he hopes his friend will feel sorry for him and leave a 20 cent tip there.
After the meal they sit down and compare the figures from their farms. The Englishman not only farms well but he keeps his books well. In one column he enters the subsidy that he receives from the British government, and the size of the subsidy staggered Fred. “No wonder you can scoot around the world all the time,” Fred said, “you surely can’t justify this kind of generous treatment from the government.”
His friend replied, “Fred, my boy, I shall be all right as long as there are enough small poor struggling farmers around me.”
Now I see why Fred was so excited. He realises that if the government starts subsidising the small farmer back to prosperity, most of the money will go to the larger farmer. No wonder he reckoned I was a statesman!
I talked the matter over with Eccles who told me that most of the dairy subsidy went to those who needed it least. He said that if the nation felt that it was necessary for social reasons to safeguard the position of the small farmer, then it would have to be treated as a social and not as an economic problem. The generally accepted subsidy solution would not be suitable.
So it looks as if Mavis and I will have to find another rabbit to pull out of the hat. This one died soon after its first performance.
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