1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. BARTON laid upon the table, by command -
Report by Captain Cresswell on the best method of employing Australian seamen in the defence of commerce and ports.
– I should like to know from the Minister for Home Affairs whether, in view of. the fact that the Government are making arrangements for members of the other branch of this Legislature to visit the proposed federal capital sites almost immediately, they are prepared next week, seeing that we have now made such substantial progress with the Tariff discussion, to announce the approximate date when members of this House may be able to do so.
– The Government do not intend to propose an adjournment of this House at the present time. It will be a matter for the consideration of the Prime Minister whether a statement should be made next week as to the date when honorable members are likely to be able to visit the federal capital sites. When public business permits - and it cannot be done until then - there will be no delay in giving honorable members the opportunity.
– Has the attention of the Treasurer been directed to the report that some of the State Governments have been charging interest to the Imperial Government upon advances made in respect to con tin gents which have been sent to South Africa? Is it the intention of the Federal Government to do the same?I venture to express the hope that they will do nothing of the kind.
– The Treasurer is making every arrangement to save exchange and other expenses in this matter, and I have intimated to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, for communication to the authorities in England, that it is not the intention of this. Government to ask for, and that we could not accept, commission upon such work.
– In view of the warlike declarations of the Premier of Queensland, is it the intention of the Government to order the Commander-in-chief to subjugate him?
– It is not my intention to do anything that has been shown to be so unnecessary.
Ordered (on motion by Mr. Tudor) -
That there be laid upon the table of the House a return showing the number of public servants in the general division employed by the Commonwealth in each State who are over 21 years of age, and who have been more than three years in the service, distinguishing between males and females, particularizing-
Consideration resumed from 6th February (vide page 9813).
Item 135. Sugar - per cwt. of manufactured sugar, 3s., until the 1st January, 1907, less from the 1st July, 1902, a rebate to the grower of 4s. per ton on all sugar-cane delivered at the factory for manufacture therein, and in the production of which sugar-cane white labouronly has been employed. The rebate is calculated on cane giving 10 per cent, of sugar, and is to be increased or reduced proportionately, according to any variation from this standard.
– I understand that it is proposed to give a rebate to growers of beet as well as to growers of sugar-cane, and I think, therefore, that before we come to a decision as to the amount of the rebate, we should determine whether it is to be given to beet growers as well as to cane-growers.
– The Government do not object to it being given to beet-growers.
– We donot.
– There may be other honorable members who object to a rebate being, given to beetgrowers, and I suggest that the. feeling of the committee should be tested on the question by the proposed insertion before the figures “ 4s. “ of the words “ beetsugar.”
– I think the honorable gentleman will raise the question more clearly if he proposes the insertion of the words “ cane sugar only.”
– Perhaps that would be better. If it is desired to test’ the feeling of the committee as to whether any rebate whatever should be given; that con be done on the question of omitting the word “ rebate.”
– I agree with the honorable and learned member for Werriwa when he says that under the Government proposals a very heavy tax will be imposed upon the people of the Commonwealth.
The Government estimate that they will collect in New South Wales £153,000 in excise duty, and £63,000 in customs duty, or a total of £189,000. In Victoria it is estimated that they will receive £114,800 in excise duty, and £60,000 in customs duty; or a total of £174,000. Altogether £410,000 is expected to be collected in excise duty, and £120,000 in customs duty throughout the whole of the Commonwealth; so that on their own showing the Government proposals will impose a heavy burden upon the general taxpayer. Sugar enters very largely not only into domestic consumption, but also into manufacturing operations, particularly into those connected with the preservation of fruits ; and we should be very careful how we deal with it. Whilst this particular form of taxation does not commend itself to me as being based upon sound economic principles, I admit that the element of expediency enters into the consideration of the Government proposals. We hove to remember what we have done to secure the abolition of the kanaka traffic and the employment of white labour on the Queensland sugar plantations. Black labour was introduced into the Queensland sugar plantations under State control and countenance, and in view of the conditions under whichthe sugar industry has been built up, it would be unfair to deprive the planters of the black labour upon which they have been dependent, and which they may find it difficult to immediately replace with white labour, without affording them encouragement in another direction. For this reason I am prepared to favorably consider the proposals of the Government to the extent which they tend to encourage, the employment of white labour, and to correspondingly discourage the continued use of block labour. As I understand the proposals of the Government they provide for, the very high import duty of £6 per ton, and an excise duty of’ £3 per ton, with a rebate to the grower equivalent to £2 per ton on all Sugar cane grown by white labour, the rebate being calculated on the cane giving 10 per cent of sugar. The effect of this is that all. sugar grown by white labour for the period of five years, during which the excise provisions are to obtain, will have to pay an excise duty of £1 per ton. This seems to be a very peculiar way of encouraging a native industry, and I never, before heard of such duties being imposed with this object.
– Look at the difference between the excise and the import duty - the growers have £5 protection.
– Thatis to a certain extent true, but it must be remembered that the excise duty will impose a direct and immediate charge upon the producer before he has any opportunity of finding a consumer for his product.
– In many of the States they had duties of £3 and £6 before ; £6 per ton had to be paid upon all sugar imported into Victoria.
– If the principle laid down by the right honorable gentleman is correct, why are not excise duties levied upon the products of other industries, which are encouraged by protective duties through the Customs ? I consider that this excise duty of £3 per ton should be entirely remitted in regard to all sugar grown with, white labour, and I quite agree with the view taken by the honorable member for Wide Bay, who has made a proposal in this direction. The Government propose that the excise duty should remain in force for five years only, and their design is to encourage the substitution of white labour for black labour in the production of sugar. Yet, in the working out of their proposal, the Government penalize the sugar grown with white labour to the extent of £1 per ton through this excise duty.
Mr.F. E. McLean. - How are the sugargrowers penalized when they have a distinct preference given to them of £5 per ton ?
– That is a preference that is given to them at the expense of the general consumer. I hold that the excise duty should be remitted, and if the duty imposed on the general consumer is too large the customs duty should be reduced to £5.
– Sugar has been grown in New South Wales by white labour with the assistance of a £3 per ton duty. Why does the honorable member wish to give the planters protection to the extent of £6 per ton?
– No doubt the New South Wales planters have grown sugar with fair success with the protection of a duty of only £3 per ton.
– They do not produce anything like the quantity that is consumed in New South Wales.
– No, perhaps not. What I wish to know, however, is why the sugar grown with white labour should be subject to an excise duty of £1 per ton.
– That still leaves a protection of £5 per ton.
– Yes ; but I have already explained that the £1 excise will form an immediate charge upon the producer, before he has found his consumer ; and he will secure the benefits of the protective duty only when he is able to place his article within reach of the consumer in a market favourable to himself. I hold that the advantage which is supposed tobe given to the grower, owing to the difference in the amount of the excise and customs duties is more apparent than real, and that the sugar grown with white labour should berelieved of all excise duties.
– That would involve a severe loss to the revenue in a year or two.
– The Government proposals only operate for five years, and this, period will be the most critical through, which the sugar industry will have to pass, owing to the necessity for substituting white labour for black labour. If the sugar industry is to be encouraged, why should any excise duty be charged ? Whilst I am prepared to support the imposition of an excise duty upon sugar grown with black labour, I should do so only for the purpose of offering special encouragement to the employment of white labour. If the excise duty is charged with a view to reducing the advantage gained by the local grower from the imposition of a high customs duty, the customs duty should be reduced, and the taxpayer thus far relieved. If the imposition of an excise duty is intended to encourage the cultivation of cane by white labour, why should its operation cease at the end of five years? The. operation of the customs duty does not cease upon the expiry of five years, and why, therefore, should the excise be discontinued at the end of that period ? I hold that during the prescribed term in which special encouragement is to be given to the growth of sugar by white labour, no excise should be levied upon it. If £2 per ton is a sufficient margin to allow between sugar grown by black labour, and that grown by white, I should prefer to see the excise fixed at that amount. In my judgment, sugar which is cultivated by European labour should be completely relieved of excise, and the customs duty could then be reduced from £6 to £5 per ton, or to whatever figure was necessary to preserve the present ratio between excise and’ import duty. In the absence of any such proposal, I am prepared to support the honorable member for Wide Bay. I maintain that the imposition of an excise duty is not the proper way in which to encourage the sugar industry. The Treasurer has as much justification for charging the wool grower £1 per. ton upon his wool, or the farmer a similar amount upon bis wheat, as he has for levying a tax of £1 per ton upon sugar grown by white labour, under the plea that he needs revenue.
– That is an argument against excise altogether, and we cannot afford to forego the revenue to be derived from that source.
– That is the position which I take up. I hold that the imposition of an excise duty will discourage the sugar industry. If the Government wish to replace black by white labour upon the cane fields, the maximum amount of encouragement should be given for the employment of white labour. I would further point out that the revenue which it is proposed to collect will altogether cease five years hence, because after that period the employment of the kanaka will be prohibited. Why, therefore, is it necessary to collect revenue from sugar grown by white labour as well as from that which is grown by black during that time 1
– Because we are giving up £500,000 which is now collected from imported sugar. It is to be allowed to gradually run out for financial reasons.
– Of course the Treasurer has dealt with this from a financial standpoint; but I think the taxpayers’ stand-point is worthy of some consideration. Revenue could be derived from many other sources which could better afford it than can this particular industry.
– Unfortunately that is said in regard to every item.
– I am convinced that the New South Wales sugar-growers will find this excise duty of £1 per ton upon their production a very serious impost, and I am inclined to think that in competition with Queensland they will be at a disadvantage as compared with their former position under free-trade.
– Surely the honorable member does not object to New South Wales competing with the sister States 1
– Not at all, but I object to this encouragement of the Queensland industry by the imposition of an excise duty of £1 per ton upon their sugar. I do not want to see them called upon to contribute any excise at all. I am, however, prepared to impose an excise upon sugar grown by black labour, as a discouragement to the employment of such labour. The question has been raised as to whether the rebate proposed will really find its way into the pockets of the primary producer, and not be intercepted by some big monopoly like the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The desire of Parliament, in assenting to this legislation is, that a preference shall be given to sugar grown by white labour; but whether that preference will benefit the persons whom it is intended to benefit, the future alone can determine. To a large extent it depends upon how the Act is administered, and I strongly urge the Government to see that its administration is placed in the hands of competent men, who will insist upon the producer getting the benefit which it is intended he shall receive, and prevent its diversion into other channels, where it would be secured by big monopolistic companies.
– I cannot understand the position taken up in reference to this matter by the honorable member for Canobolas. He tells the committee that the imposition of an excise duty upon sugar will discourage production. But in this connexion I would point out that in England, where upon spirits and tobacco there are the heaviest excise duties in the world, the production per head of the population is much higher than that of any other country.
– Sugar and tobacco are scarcely upon the same footing.
– The principle is precisely the same. It is a question of what margin of profit can be assigned to each industry. Instead of allowing the whole of the profits of an industry to go to the producer, a fair share of them ought to come to the State. Otherwise the Government will have to be carried on by taxing the wrong people. Instead of collecting it from those who can reasonably pay we shall have to impose taxation on the poorer classes. The honorable member really proposes to handover the whole of the excise to one particular company in Australia, because at the present time that company has a production of sugar which is practically equal to half the consumption for the whole continent. I cannot understand the position taken up by such a staunch free-trader as is the honorable member, in not only advocating the Government proposal, but in actually claiming that there ought to be no excise upon white-grown sugar. The attitude which I take up is that we ought to retain the excise. The Government proposal is a most vicious one. It declares that after the year 1907 no excise duty on sugar shall be paid in Australia. Do honorable members realize what that means? If we impose a duty of £10 per ton upon beet sugar, and £6 per ton on cane sugar, unless there is a dearth of production locally, importation will absolutely cease within eight or nine years. What will be the result ? If a proposition is then made to secure some of the enormous profits which a few monopolies will be making, we shall be met with the cry - “Oh, but a condition of the abolition of the kanaka was that excise should be abolished.” How can we get away from that position ? If any effort is made eight or nine years hence to impose an excise duty upon sugar, those interested will point to the charter of these monopolies under which they are to be for ever exempt from excise duties.
– That applies to all duties, both Customs and excise.
– It does not apply to import duties. The import duties, unless they are altered, will still be £10 upon beet sugar, and £6 per ton upon cane sugar. But when in the future we attempt to impose an excise duty, we shall be met with the allegation that it was an actual understanding embedded in the Tariff, that there was to be no excise upon sugar.
– The honorable and learned member wishes to eliminate the date?
– Undoubtedly. I cannot understand how any honorable member can refuse to strike out the date. The proposal to hand over upon the present estimate £500,000 annually - an amount which probably will have increased by 1907 to £700,000 - to one or two trusts, is a perfectly monstrous one. I have not the slightest doubt that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, being cognisant of what is occurring here, in conjunction perhaps with another company, will by that period practically control the whole sugar production of Australia, and will thus add to their profits the loss occasioned to the Commonwealth by reason of the abolition of the excise. Why should we take this step?ast night I looked through the speech delivered by the Prime Minister, in moving the second reading of the Pacific Island Labourers Bill. The whole burden of the Prime Minister’s speech was to the effect that there was nothing in. the legislation of Queensland, and nothing in the statements made in the Parliament of that State, which gave anything like a vested interest to the sugar producers in the continuance of the kanaka traffic. The producers knew that for ten years they were to be allowed to have kanakas, but that after that period they had to conduct the industry without black labour ; and it is that legislation of Queensland which we are repealing. Where is the vested interest that calls for this enormous subsidy - this so-called compensation? If this compensation be justified, we cannot resist the claim, if such should be made by any honorable member, to compensate any industry that up to the present time has been overprotected - any claim made on the ground that profits will be prejudicially affected by a reduction of duty. The same principle is here involved, and if honorable members complacently agree to the proposition of the Government, free-traders, at all events, will destroy the solid position in which they now stand should any question arise as to compensation to other protected industries when duties are lowered. It is an exceedingly bad precedent, which is not justified by anything in the circumstances of the introduction of the kanaka into Queensland. What other ground can be urged for compensation ? Is compensation really required as a supplement to the Pacific Island Labourers Act ? Did the Prime Minister urge that the Act to exclude kanakas by 1906 would be ineffective unless this compensation were paid -unless, in fact, we gave a bonus on the employment of white labour? The Prime Minister said nothing of the sort. What danger is there that this legislation will break down unless there be this bonus or premium on the employment of white labour ? The Act is clear enough, and when the period of 1906 is reached, we can identify the kanakas. Is the Executive so weak that it cannot put the Act in force ? On what ground can it be alleged for a moment that the Act is likely to be inoperative unless we tempt the sugargrowers to come in and help legislation by employing white labour under a bonus ?
Mr.F.E. McLean. - There is other coloured labour employed apart from that of the Pacific Islanders.
– I do not think any other black labour is contemplated by the Pacific Island Labourers Act ; the undesirable element to which the honorable member refers is cured by other legislation. We were told by the Prime Minister that this Act would succeed in putting an end to the traffic and in clearing all kanakas out of Australia in five or six years ; but now we are asked to declare that this legislation is utterly bad, and to make it operative by giving the planters a bribe.
– The Prime Minister referred to this proposal when he was introducing the Pacific Island Labourers Bill.
– But the Prime Minister did not say that this legislation would be ineffective without the co-operation of a bonus.
– The Prime Minister said the two would run together.
– No doubt, and so did the Treasurer in his Budget speech. This bonus is part of the Ministerial policy of kanaka exclusion ; but the Prime Minister never for a moment disparaged the Bill, or said that in order to make it operative there would have to be a bonus. I look on the bonus as nothing more than a sort of bribe to the producers to allay their discontent - to make the “pill “of kanaka exclusion a little more commendable to their palate.
– It is fair compensation for what is being done.
– No compensation is justified. The kanakas were introduced for a period of ten years, and the Prime Minister, from the beginning to the end of his speech, urged that there was no vested interest or promise of continuance. And even if there had been such a promise, what the Legislature can do it can always undo ; and people are supposed to know that.
– That argument applies to the honorable and learned member’s proposal to eliminate words, because Parliament can undo what it is doing now.
– In that I quite agree with the honorable member. But if we embody this compensation in a Tariff proposal, we shall be met afterwards by the objection to the imposition of excise that there was a moral if not a written understanding that part of the scheme for kanaka exclusion wasa gift of the excise to the producers of “ white “ sugar. We know how easily honorable members are deflected from supporting or opposing a proposition by considerations of that sort ; and it may be found, as I say, difficult to get excise imposed. The Prime Minister did not justify this compensation on the ground that it was required in order to strengthen the act of Parliament, nor on the ground that there was anything exceptional in the circumstances of Queensland. I am informed that some planters, though glad to get compensation, never expected that the generosity of Parliament would reach the extraordinary limits of handing over £700,000 a year in order to “sugar-coat the pill.” The high duties of £6 and £10 will stop importation, and therefore the whole of the revenue, both import duty and excise, will go to the producers - to a trust which will control production. A time will come when there may be a glut of production, and when there may be done as was done the other day in France in connexion with the bounty on the production of wheat. An export duty will be asked for in order to keep alive the industry which it is now proposed we shall encourage. It is not very long since the heavy bounty on the production of wheat in France led to such a glut that last year a proposal was made, I think successfully, to grant a bounty on exportation. That occurred under the mistaken policy of granting a bounty on production ; and the history of Australia in regard to sugar may be the same. There is absolutely no justification for abolishing the excise after 1907. As an Australian - and if I wished to put it from the local point of view, I might say as a South Australian - I object to this great sacrifice of revenue. In South Australia the revenue from the import duties on sugar amounts to £54,000 a year, but of the total import of £375,000, no more than about £2,000 worth of sugar from Queensland, the bulk coming from Java and the Mauritius.
– But in the future South Australia will surely deal with Queensland ?
– In the future we shall be obliged to deal with Queensland, whether we like it or not, owing to the prohibitive duties.
– That is one of the benefits which Queensland gets.
– It is a benefit which we shall have to pay for, at all events for two or three years, to the extent of £54,000 a year.
– Each State makes gains and losses under the Commonwealth.
– This is a bonus given to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company on about half the production of Australia, and probably it will be given to one or two big trusts in five or six years. There is nothing in the policy of kanaka exclusion which justifies this continuous bleeding of the people and the States, to compensate an industry, which, according to the Prime Minister, has no just claims to compensation. In order to test the feeling of the committee I move -
That the words “ until the 1st January, ] 907,” be omitted.
This amendment means that the excise will continue unless an Act of Parliament be brought in to abolish it.
– We would have no stronger evidence of the fact that this House has been asked to sit too many days a week, and too many hours a day, than is disclosed by the evident inattention of honorable members to the speeches which are being made upon this very important question. I should like some explanation of the fact that while the Ministers show a production of 134,000 tons, they also show imports of 21,000 tons, thus indicating a larger consumption of suger in Australia than has been the case previously.
– The estimate of 155,000 tons is probably under the mark, the quantity being nearly 170,000 tons. It varies from year to year, and we have taken a kind of mean.
– I accept the figures of the Treasurer, but if they be correct there is not the same excuse for abolishing the excise that there might otherwise be. The whole question is very much complicated by the fact that, outside tobacco and spirits, it is entirely new for any Government in
Australia to propose an excise duty. If there is no excise it is perfectly clear from the Treasurer’s figures that there will be a diminution in the revenue to the extent of £410,000 a year, which he has announced he is unable to do without, and therefore asks that he shall be able to collect it. Where there is excise there must be a corresponding import duty, or we discourage the production of an article amongst our own people. So far as an excise of £3 per ton is concerned, I, under the circumstances, am prepared to support it; but when the Minister proposes the next moment to do away with the excise, I say that if that is to be done, we ought to start at once. I quite appreciate the position that owing to the necessities of the various States we cannot do without this excise revenue, but if the Government propose a sliding scale, finally abolishing the duty, I say why should we not start at once? If the Ministry are anxious to do away with excise, why did they not accept the proposal made yesterday to equalize the excise and import duties on spirits, which, at all events, would have prevented the creation of distilleries in this Commonwealth. In my opinion, to prevent the establishment of distilleries would be a good thing, and we should have the extra £150,000 which we shall lose by the removal of the excise on sugar.
– The argument of the honorable and learned member is that we ought to impose an excise duty of £6, because there is an import duty of £6. Would the honorable and learned member follow the same line in regard to tobacco?
– Less the cost of . collection, certainly. Why should we give the Colonial Sugar Company a bonus of £3 per ton, which ‘ will amount, on 135,000 tons, to nearly an equal sum. Taking the figures given by the Minister for Trade and Customs and the Treasurer, the local production of sugar is roughly 135,000 tons, and an excise of 3s. per cwt. upon that would produce £405,000. That is the amount of the bonus which is to be given to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company - because that company practically controls the whole of the sugar trade of the Commonwealth. It is also proposed to return them every penny that they pay in excise. It is true that the arrangement is modified to some extent by the condition as to variations from the standard in the cane, but during this year at least the Colonial Sugar Refining Company will get back every £1 that it pays in excise with another £1 added, less an amount of £127,000. I ask honorable members if they are going to consent to that? I could understand the argument that to provide for the necessities of some of the States, it is necessary to impose an excise duty of £3 per ton; but to go beyond that, and propose that we shall give back to any body of men the amount of excise they collect, and £405,000 in addition, is unjustifiable. Those who are in favour of the duty of £6 per ton upon sugar should see that the excise duty is increased, or, if they agree to an excise of £3 per ton, they should see that not more than 5s. or 10s. per ton is allowed for the cost of collection.
– The money will still be in the country.
– Of course, I could use the protectionist argument that, as the money will be collected by the Government and distributed by them again, so that it will remain in the country, it does not matter whether the excise is £3 or £6 a ton ; but I think that only one or two protectionists in this Committee hold that doctrine now, after all the arguments they have listened to on the subject. To my mind, no difference should be made in favour of certain individuals, simply because they happen to be growing sugar.
– Should no distinction be made between the grower, who uses black labour, and the grower who uses white labour ?
– All the persons engaged in the sugar industry are members of the Commonwealth, , and we should not differentiate between them. In America, if the arguments of those who have raised the black labour question here were correct, all the manufacturing would be done in the Southern States, where the negroes are ; but, as a matter of fact, we find that nearly all the large manufacturing towns are in the Northern States. It is questionable indeed whether the employment of a certain number of kanakas does not tend to give work to a white population rather than take it away. Another objection to the rebate proposal is that what may be sufficient in the southern cane-growing districts, cannot be sufficient in the northern districts. What will suit New South Wales and Southern Queensland will not suit tropical Queensland. I trust that the committee will not grant bonuses to people, simply because they are engaged in canegrowing. We do not give bonuses to those engaged in growing wheat or oats, and why should the community be taxed to give bonuses to other agriculturalists ?
– Did not the honorable and learned member propose the other day to give a bonus to the iron industry ?
– No ; I have never proposed to give a bonus to anything. But if a straight-out bonus is given to an industry, the community know exactly what it costs, and it is shared pro rata by all who contribute to the revenue. In the case of the sugar-cane growers, however, it is proposed to give them an advantage at the expense, not of the whole State, but of the consumers of the sugar. While I am willing to support an excise duty on the plea that it is absolutely necessary for the production of revenue, I do not think that those who are engaged in sugar-growing should receive a rebate of £2 per tonfrom those who have to use sugar. The evidence before us shows that those who are growing sugar are occupying the richest lands in Australia, and why should the occupiers of the richest land in the continent ask the occupiers of poorer lands to give them assistance? If sugargrowing does not prove profitable in any district, those who are engaged in the industry should turn to some other occupation which would be profitable. The honorable member for Richmond referred yesterday to his district,’ where something like 20,000 tons of sugar are produced every year. He omitted to tell us, however, that through the action of the present leader of the Opposition in reducing the New South Wales sugar duty from £6 to £3 a ton, that district received what was really a blessing in disguise, because most of the sugar-growers thereupon turned theirattention to an industry which is infinitely more profitable than sugar- growing, and to-day the district is three or four times as wealthy as it was ten years ago. I admit that much of its prosperity is due to the growth of population and to other causes, but there is no question that the wealth of the Richmond and Clarence River districts has been increased three or four times, owing to the fact that upon the reduction of the sugar duty the cane-growers turned their attention to more remunerative enterprises. So far as a great part of Southern Queensland is concerned, it would be a distinct advantage if many of the growers turned their attention from an industry in which the profits are so small that only low wages can be paid to industries which will be more profitable.
– I think the honorable and learned member for Werriwa has rather mistaken the cause of the evident listlessness which prevails in the Chamber. I do not think it proceeds from fatigue, but from the fact that we are now engaged in the consideration of a subject which does not involve the interests of a number of local manufacturers. Whilst we were considering the last division of the Tariff, the Chamber was, for about four weeks, in a state of almost continual ferment, and a considerable number of persons thronged the lobbies and other places open to the public. All that has now suddenly passed away, and we are engaged in the very languid discussion of a subject of vast importance and interest to the whole Commonwealth.
– We have a good number of members in the Chamber at all events.
– This only shows the unhappy effect which self-interest has when it comes into the sphere of active politics. We are now discussing a great subject, in which the business people of this great community of Melbourne are not specially interested.
– The opposition benches are nearly empty.
– The honorable member for Echuca must recollect that most members who sit on this side of the House have their homes hundreds of miles away, and that there is a tendency, towards the end of the week, to go away a few hours before the close of the sittings. However, I am glad that we have got over the ferment which used to involve us in almost a heated gluepot controversy.
– If the right honorable gentlemen had been here on previous Fridays he would have noticed the same thing.
– Notwithstanding the great importance of this matter I propose to only touch upon those points which stand out very prominently. If there were a proposal to tax the people of Australia to the extent of £6 per ton on sugar, amounting as that would to a total of £900,000 a year, the public feeling of Australia would be aroused and indignant, but this duty of £6 per ton, although it seems to be imposed for the purposes of producing revenue, is practically intended to destroy revenue. This raises a question of very large importance in dealing with the policy of taxation, because sugar is naturally one of those things from which a considerable amount of revenue can be produced within moderate limits. I confess at once that the subject is . embarrassed by a peculiar difficulty which the Government has had to some extent to recognise, namely, that arising from the question of coloured labour in Queensland. At the time the Government policy was announced I spoke of it with very great doubt and apprehension, and I do not take the responsibility of the scheme now before us. In fact, I fear it will work out very badly indeed. At the same time, I think there was a practical understanding when we were discussing the Pacific Island Labourers Bill, that something like this proposal of the Government should be accepted, and I, therefore, deal with it in that spirit. I feel that we are practically in the position that we must accept the proposal of the Government as far as it bears on the subjectof coloured labour. I know that we discussed the Pacific Island Labourers Bill in that light, and as I did not actively oppose the measure, I feel bound by the understanding then arrived at, and my influence will not be exerted in the way of disturbing it. Still, I am not unconscious of the heavy sacrifice this proposal will entail upon the people of Australia. Assuming that the Government of Queensland wished to make this a vital question, it would have been infinitely better if they had acted as some other people did, by dealing with it before federation was accomplished. I took that prudent precaution in my own State. But the mere fact that the Government and the people of Queensland did not make any stipulation, although their in- terests were vitally concerned, should not deprive them of the most generous consideration at the present time. I feel that Queensland deserves special consideration. We all looked upon it as a vital matter that she should come into the federal union, and the fact that she came in’ without making any stipulation, ought to almost heighten our desire to treat her - now that she is in the union - with the utmost fairness and generosity. It was in that spirit that I consented to abandon some very strong views I had in reference to this question of excise and sugar duty. I studiously avoid any reference to the course I took in another State, although I should like to say a few words in order to clear up misapprehension. I think, however, that our time is so valuable that I should not be justified in departing even for a moment from the immediate subject we have to deal with. The amendment before the chair is to remove the words “until 1st January, 1907,” and I would strongly suggest to the Government that these words are only a source of embarrassment. No one can know what the position of the Commonwealth or of the Government will be five years hence. If we insert these words they will have no -legislative force, that is to say, that the next Parliament can erase them. If the words are retained they may, on the other hand, prove embarrassing to future Parliaments and Governments. The abolition of the excise duty of 3s. per cwt. on sugar in 1907 will be looked upon by those engaged in the sugar-growing as the subject of an absolute compact with them. Of course it will not have the precision of a legal agreement which would be beyond dispute, but it will be looked upon as a compact. It may be that the exigencies of the revenue five years hence may make it impossible to spare the excise. Then again the- circumstances which have brought about much of our difficulty will then have disappeared. There will then be no kanakas employed, and there will be no bonus to hand back to those who grow sugar with white labour. The excise duty will become a purely revenue duty, which we may need, and the distinction between the £3 excise duty and £6 customs duty will afford a very substantial protection to the Australian sugar-grower against foreign competition. I think experience has shown that protection amounting to £3 per ton is thoroughly efficient. The excise duty of £3 which might be wanted in the interests of the revenue would then represent probably about £500,000.
– What does the right honorable gentleman propose - that the excise should be collected without any rebate at all ? ‘
– I wish to respect the policy of the Government for the five-year term, and I am speaking about the period subsequent to 1st January, 1907. ,
– Then’ the rebate will have to be limited.
– I understand the rebate is to cease at the end of 1907. If the words are eliminated they will not affect the sugar-planter, because he will get his bonus just the same as if the words were retained, and for just the period for which we have promised it.
– That would imply an understanding that the bonus provisions would not be repealed for at least five years.
– Yes, I feel bound to that, because I look upon that as an honorable compact that has to be observed.
– That is only in regard to the rebate ?
– The right honorable and learned gentleman would limit the rebate to five years 1
– Yes; that is the understanding at which we arrived. We did not understand that we were to go on giving the rebate beyond that period. I propose to fully respect the promise that was given, but I desire to omit the words which on the 1st January, 1907, will have effect. Every one agrees that we are to go on till then, and if the words are eliminated that action will not affect the compact. The Queensland sugar-planters will be paid their bonus until the last day of 1906, but on the 1st January it may be found that the £3 excise is vitally necessary to the Commonwealth. There would then be no bonus to be returned, and it would be a clear item of revenue, amounting to’ £500,000. At the same time, the difference between the £3 excise and £6 import duty would absolutely protect the sugar-planter.
– If production should in ‘ the meantime have overtaken consumption, the right honorable gentleman would not impose the excise duty.
– Yes, he would.
– It is always inconvenient to insert in a measure of this kind a date on which a provision is to lapse. The decision of the matter ought to be left to the wisdom of the Parliament in 1907. A provision of this kind is on the face of it objectionable. It
I is a good thing when it is part of a contract, but there is no contract that the excise duty is to be abolished in 1907. The contract is that the sugar-planter is to be paid a bonus until the 31st December, 1906, and I am quite agreeable that that part of the compact shall be set out in the Tariff Act. I shall not speak of the merits of the proposal, because what we have to consider is a matter of propriety. The point is whether we should attempt, in regard to a matter of revenue in which we are free from contract or obligation, to tie up the hands of future Parliaments. For instance, look at the thousands of duties we have been passing during the discussion of this Tariff. Is there one of these duties regarding which we have said, “ This shall end in 1907” ? If any honorable member had made such a proposition, would not the common sense of the committee have induced them to say, “Leave that to the wisdom of the Parliament in 1907. If it desires either to abrogate or retain the duty it can do so?” That would be the answer to such a proposition made in connexion with the thousands of items which we are passing through committee. In connexion with this one item, which is of great importance, why should we endeavour to discount the discretion of the Parliament and Government of 1907 ? - because we are attempting to discount them, and to make it as difficult as possible for the Parliament of that day to exercise a free hand. If the Parliament of 1907 desires to abolish this excise duty, it is a matter sufficiently important to come before that tribunal in a definite way. It involves hundreds of thousands of pounds of revenue, and, therefore, it is not a trivial matter. It is one which ought to be effected by the decision of Parliament when that time comes.
– Parliament might abolish the duty next year. Where, then, would be the guarantee to the growers.
– But surely the honorable member is sufficiently democratic riot to wish to bridle the Parliament of the future by placing a bit in its teeth. -I am quite sure my honorable friend has no desire to do that. The genius of our Constitution is that, as far as possible, short of interfering with compacts and obligations, Parliament should be perfectly free to administer public affairs, and to legislate according to the wisdom of the moment.
– That is quite right, if taken as a general rule, but this* is a special case.
– But since there is no contract involved in this matter of whether the excise should continue or cease in that year, any attempt to fix the date now is ah attempt to exercise, as far as we can, a controlling influence over the Parliament of 1907. Is that a proper thing to do? It is an unusual thing to do. What is the motive which prompts it? What is the object of the public policy which prompts it ? None, that I can see. I feel strongly that it is inadvisable to retain these words, but I would not take up that attitude if it impaired any obligation into which we had entered in regard to the people of Queensland.
– In supporting the amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, I wish to indorse all that the leader of the Opposition has said in regard to the unwisdom of tying the hands of Parliament, or of fettering its discretion in the future. But I think that the right honorable member has, perhaps, overlooked one point, namely, that to tie the hands of Parliament with regard to the rebate is equally undesirable. If the amendment of the honorable’ and learned member for South Australia is carried the duty will remain at 3s., and the rebate will be payable so long as that duty continues.
– No, no ; we can deal with only one thing at a time. Other words will have to be inserted limiting the payment of the rebate till the 31st December, 1906.
– I think that perhaps it would be better to allow both the duty and the rebate to be fixed at the discretion of Parliament in 1907.
– I do not mind that so long as it is understood that we are under no compact.
– It is quite possible that in 1907 an excise duty of £3 per ton may be required, and that the rebate may not be required, but whilst we are legislating to-day it seems to me that we should leave the whole matter to be dealt with by the Parliament of the future. So long as the provision for the payment of rebate is not limited to a specific period, but continues to be operative with the duty, I shall support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for South Australia, leaving the question of the rebate to be dealt with in the future. As the proposition of the Government now stands, hoth the excise duty and the rebate will continue till 1907, but if the amendment in favour of omitting the date is carried, the rebate will continue as long as the excise duty is operative. I feel disposed therefore to leave entirely to the Parliament in the future to decide as to the excise duty and as to the rebate.
Mr. REID (East Sydney) - lam thoroughly prepared, in view of my own argument on this subject, to fall in with the suggestion of the honorable member for Lang, and to abstain from limiting either the operation of the excise duty or of the rebate, upon the understanding that if, in the wisdom of the Parliament in 1907, the rebate is abolished, it must not be considered a breach of faith. Our understanding is up to the 31st December, 1906. I have no objection to leaving the matter so open that if Parliament wishes to continue this bonus it shall be absolutely free to do so. I have no objection to both dates going out without any interference.
– I have no wish to occupy the time of the committee in discussing the question of black versus white labour: That question has already been settled by this Parliament so far as the kanaka is concerned, and whether the legislation which has just taken place will prove to be wise or not, time alone can determine. But one result of that legislation is that in Queensland to-day a very large number of Hindoos, Afghans, and other aliens are making their way from the south to the north of that State.
– They were there before.
– Possibly some were there previously, but there are a great many more to-day than there were two or three months ago. While visiting Brisbane last December I saw parties of half-a-dozen or a dozen coloured aliens with their bundles upon their backs making their way to the north of Queensland. To my mind the presence of these aliens in Queensland will prove far more objectionable than did the presence of the kanakas. They will come into keener competition with the white worker, and in the near future none will regret more than the latter the deportation of the kanaka. But the question which I wish to discuss has reference to the duties to be imposed, and the rebate to be granted upon the production of sugar grown by Europeans in order to enable the planters to pay higher wages to the white workers, and to abolish black labour. In this connexion I wish to remind honorable members that the duties and the rebate proposed by the Government are not for the benefit of Queensland ; they are entirely in the interests of the white worker. I hope that the committee will bear that fact in mind. I understand from inquiries which I have made, and from letters which I have received from various parts of Queensland, that it is generally thought the proposed rebate will not be sufficient to enable the planters to successfully employ white labour. But if 6s. were granted, as suggested by thehonorable member for Wide Bay, it is very likely that they would be able to grow cane profitably with European labour. If we are earnest in our desire- for a white Australia, I sincerely hope that we shall not risk failure by denying the additional 2 s. which is sought. This is a great subject which ought to be generously dealt with by this Parliament. If we can by the expenditure of money bring about the employment of white instead of black men, I think it is well that we should do so. I venture to say that the people of this continent are willing to be taxed to a considerable extent, so long as we succeed in realizing their aspirations for a white Australia. When the Pacific Islands Labourers Bill was under consideration in this House it was generally understood that if the employment of the kanaka were prohibited, some compensation should be allowed to the planters in order to enable them to pay higher wages.
– It was understood that there should be a rebate of 4s.
– At any rate it was understood that some compensation should be granted.
– The Tariff had been introduced in the meantime to show exactly what compensation was proposed.
– It was understood by all sides of the House that some compensation would be granted to the planters. 1 think that 6s. is a very reasonable rebate to allow, and I intend to support that proposal. In this connexion I have received numerous letters from various parts of Queensland, from which I should like to read one or two extracts, to enable honorable members to appreciate the difficulties with which capitalists have to contend in regard to the employment of white labour upon plantations, not only in the northern’ but in the southern part of that State. The first letter which I shall read is from the manager of a large Queensland sugar plantation, which is situated near the border of New South Wales. He says : -
We finished crushing at the mill yesterday, and I am heartily glad, because we have been worried the whole season for the want of men - even in this southern part of the State. We have been even worse off on the plantation. It was my intention to have planted 200 acres of cane this season, but I failed to do so for the want of ploughmen. The scarcity of ploughmen is very marked. We pay 30s. per week and lodging, or 20s. and found. No one ought to grumble at these wages - not even a labour member. We managed by a great struggle to get 80 acres planted, but it is annoying, to say nothing of the loss in feeding horses, waiting for men. I shall be glad to know the decision of Parliament as soon as possible, as, if it is favorable to ns, 1 must take the steps to try and get some white labour together, but I fear very much it will end in failure. There is a considerable difference between the bonus or rebate to the grower as first published and what is in the Tariff now before the House. This alteration seems to have been made very quietly.
I understand that this gentleman and others whom I have met were under the impression that in the first instance 6s. had been intimated as the bonus proposed by the Government. I do not know how these gentlemen got that impression,’ but there the impression was. I have another letter here, from Mr. Angus Gibson, of Bingera Station, near Bundaberg, dated 11th November, as follows : -
I now wish to get your help on behalf of the white men now in the sugar industry. You will notice in the Tariff Bill that a duty of £6 per! ton is given to the sugar-makers, but the excise of £3, which is deducted from us is to be given to the white growers of the cane after the end of 1906, but in the meantime they get only £2, or equal to, say, 4s. per ton of cane. Now I have not much fault to find with this proposal, but the general feeling among us is that the £3 should be given at once as an inducement for the small white men to make the venture pay at once. At 6s. per ton many would give it a trial, and I have no doubt would make a success of the venture ; many more would fail I feel sure, but we have to try it and make the best we can. At present the main question with the farmer is - “ What is my position ? “ I have had the assistance of black labour to plant my cane, say, in 1900 and 1901, from which the cane of 1902 will be cut ; a little cleaning of the cane may also have been done by black labour up to the present time- the islanders or others having been under agreement. Will this work, should the kanaka be dispensed with by the grower, and the next nine months of the cultivation be done with white labour, entitle the grower to the bonus benefits under the new Act ? I fear not, so would propose that the Act take effect on the 1st January, 1902, and that all cane cultivated by white labour from that date should be considered as having been grown by white labour. Were the law so arranged no’ doubt would then exist as to the intentions of the Bill. Time would also be given for the small farmer to have his agreements with the kanakas or Hindoos cancelled. This, I think, is only fair to the men who are prepared to give the measure a fair trial. If it is not done the men will simply go on with the labour they have. I may state that in every case where the tenants of my firm have kanakas under agreement, they have offered to take over such labour. By this means no injury will be done to the labourers, and our tenants have the chance of availing themselves of the provisions of the Sugar Bill ; but this will not be. done unless the Act begins as from the 1st of January next, and every year, or from the the passing of the Act, as the case may be. . I feel sure this will induce many to give the venture a trial who now fear to do so. Might I ask you to advocate the 1st January as a starting point for white grown sugar cane, and that instead of the proposed 4s. per ton bonus, the sum be 6s. ; also, that the large estates be allowed to come under the operations of the Bill by the subdivisions of the estates and working portion by white labour. In this way we name our estates as follows : - Bingera Falls, 2 miles distant ; Hill End, 3 miles ; Cedars, 5 miles ; Watawa, 22 miles. You can see the difficulty we shall have in bringing all these estates into working order by white men, but one at a time could be brought into line as found convenient, and to assist the large estates to fall in with the altered conditions, some clause should be introduced into, the Bill, even to Bingera, it might be arranged to subdivide it into four parts, or even twenty as we find what the future will bringforth.
The Bill had not quite passed through the House when that letter was received, but I still hope that honorable members will today assent to the suggestion made by the honorable member for Wide Bay, and increase the rebate from 4s. to 6s. By that means the legislation which we passed at the end cf the year, in connexion with the deportation of kanakas, will possibly turn out a success. I fear that 4s. is not enough to enable planters to pay the higher wages which white men naturally expect.
– In this matter Queensland is entitled to certain consideration. We all recollect the circumstances under which that State came into the Federation. Without having taken any special part in the framing of the Constitution, Queensland demanded no alteration, but finally and gladly entered the Federal circle. It is. very noteworthy, as regards the item which is the particular subject of discussion, that Queensland, with the exception of New
South Wales to some extent, is the solitary instance in which Federation has not given the unlimited blessings of Inter-State freetrade. In the case of spirits and tobacco, we were accustomed to excise,; but no excise had previously been imposed on sugar in Australia. The position to-day is that Australian necessities require the imposition of an excise on sugar, and Queensland, being practically the great sugar producing State, bears the burden. In this connexion the Government have always felt that they ought to be particularly tender of the interests of Queensland. To deny specially to one great State, which entered Federation under the circumstances to which I refer, the chief blessing of interState free-trade in regard to one of its main industries, is to subject that State to a very considerable disadvantage as compared with other States.
– Ought that point not to have been considered before ?
– It has been considered;and what we have done in this connexion is that, whilst forced by necessity to impose a tax on Queensland sugar, we have made our proposals of as lenient a character as possible under the circumstances. At the same time, we have to deal with the great question of a “ white Australia.” The two questions are intimately associated ; and in our fiscal proposals dealing with sugar, consideration had to be given to both. The two questions - that of a “ white Australia,” particularly in connexion with Queensland, and the question of the sugar excise, which also specially affects that State - were intended to be dealt with as one matter by this Parliament. That was put in the clearest possible way; and if honorable members find that we have proceeded with legislation of a certain character which affects Queensland in regard to one subject, and to which that State might possibly object, we ought at least to give her the benefit of any other terms of the understanding on which we have proceeded, and’ not seek to cut down or limit it in any way. The position is that we have nearly completed the arrangement in regard to sugar excise and a “ white Australia,” and if I can satisfy honorable members that the greater part of the legislation has been assented to on the basis of a certain understanding, I know they will be very reluctant to depart from that understanding.
Mr.Glynn. - I do not think the abolition of the excise was mentioned.
– Just as yesterday I felt it my duty to point out, when representatives of Queensland were asking for an alteration of terms in favour of that State, that the understanding ought to be adhered to, so I venture to think that when a proposition proceeds from any other quarter for an alteration, which might be to the disadvantage of Queensland, the same argument should prevail, and that we ought not to lightly do anything of the sort. These two questions - time and again from the Government benches, and never more clearly and forcibly than by the Prime Minister when speaking on his “ white Australia “ proposals - have been referred to as inseparable. Honorable members will recollect that those proposals were not dealt with until after the Tariff was before us. They were postponed, the intention being that honorable members should have the two questions before them at the same time. “We undoubtedly dealt with the kanaka proposals on the basis of the proposals of the Government, which are embodied in the Tariff ; and I should like to read the observations of the Prime Minister when introducing the Pacific Island Labourers Bill -
I also intimated that the question of the treatment of the sugar industry was so closely interwoven with the fiscal question that I could not ask honorable members to go on to debate a Bill which dealt, however comprehensively, with only one part of the question, and that I must ask them to suspend their judgment until they knew what the Tariff provisions were, as well as the proposals with regard to the employment of kanakas. That, of course, is reasonable enough when one considers that this industry has from its inception been supported by import duties, and will, I think, for some time to come, require to be supported by similar duties, in connexion with the scheme which the Government will lay before the House on Tuesday. We can no more divorce the question of the maintenance of an industry, which is largely dependent upon black labour, from the question of its future under the Federal Tariff than Shylook was able to divorce the pound of flesh from the blood which accompanied it - the one thing must go with the other. Therefore, I ask honorable members to form their own judgment upon what I shall lay before them, and to form their own judgment upon this Bill with only one reservation - namely, that the Bill stands not alone, but the Bill and the support to the industry which must inevitably be given by the Tariff must betaken and must be read together. That is why I said all along that I did not ask any honorable member of this House to address himself to this Bill until he had seen what the Treasurer will lay upon the bible as applicable to the fiscal conditions of Australia.
– There is not a word there about the abolition of the excise.
– The honorable and learned member could not expect to find any word there about the abolition of the excise. The Prime Minister was addressing himself to the necessity of introducing proposals which were subsequently introduced by other Ministers. Not only was the abolition of excise provided for in the clearest terms in the Tariff, but one of the Ministers, who had the honour of speaking on the Tariff, called special attention to the matter. Here it is in the Tariff so plain that “he who runs may read,” - “3s. until. 1st January, 1907.” What does that mean? It means simply that the Government proposal was that there should be excise, but only until 1907. .
– It was announced for the first time in the Tariff.
– How else could it have been announced 1 Does the honorable and learned member say that these words are capable of being misunderstood ?
– The Prime Minister spoke of no temporary measure, which is only now being dealt with.
– We have had this proposal before us during the whole time we have been discussing these questions.
– Not in a debatable form.
– It seems to me that since we have passed certain legislation with which these proposals are intimately associated, Northern Queensland, against whom it it is said that legislation proceeded, is entitled to the ‘ full benefit of them, and in a form which I venture to say honorable members have assented to. Never until this morning have I heard the exception taken which is now raised, that, instead of the imposition of an excise duty upon Queensland sugar being purely temporary, it should be a permanent arrangement.
– Did not I raise the question in South Australia, and have a controversy with the right honorable mem- ber about it ?
– A controversy which I had with the honorable member in South Australia before this Parliament came into existence can have nothing to do with an understanding upon which we have proceeded in legislating in reference to Queensland industrial matters.
– We have been prevented by the forms of the House from debating the question until now.
– We have been reluctant to subject Queensland sugar to special treatment - we have been reluctant to select any industry as a special subject of taxation ; but we have been compelled to do so for the reasons I have given. We have done it in association with the legislation to which I have referred, and with which it has been declared to be so associated as to be incapable of divorce. Having proceeded upon those lines, and this objection never having been raised until the present moment, is it right that we should lightly depart from the understanding, and adopt a course which may be further detrimental to the interests of a State which the Commonwealth has insisted upon treating somewhat disadvantageously as compared with the other States ? I am inclined to think that the committee would be very loth to do anything of the sort. As regards the question whether the proposal was or was not understood, honorable members are to blame if they read the Tariff, and knowing of the proposal, did not complain of it ; and they are still more to blame if they did not read the Tariff. In referring to this matter during my speech of 8th October last, I said -
Australia will be pure white, and will be subject no longer to criticisms for the contrary that she encourages black labour by the 1st January 1907, when the excise will cease, and all sugar, being white, will be free.
How could the matter be putin clearer terms ? I venture to ask honorable members to consider the position in which we are placed to-day. Those were our proposals. That is the course upon which we have hitherto proceeded, on the faith, it seems to me, of an understanding. Ought we to depart from it?
– I deny that there has been any understanding, except between the Government and the labour party.
– We have been forced to adopt special treatment in regard to Queensland sugar. We are sorry to have had to do so, but we have promised that it shall be of a temporary character. Having done so, ought we to depart from the understanding ? I hope honorable members, recognising the reason for the action which we have taken, and the clearness with which our proposals have been put forward, will not be prepared to lightly depart from the course agreed upon.
Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - I think most of us will concur in the expressions which have been used this morning with regard to our duty to the great State of Queensland. I am sure we all consider that, in connexion with the extreme legislation which we have passed to regulate tropical labour conditions, she deserves our sympathy. But what is the bald statement made by one of the Ministers in charge of this Tariff? He says that, when we passed the Pacific Island Labourers Bill, we assented to the particular item of the Tariff which we are now considering. That is not correct. Many honorable members believed that a rebate upon the excise duty upon sugar was to be given to those who employed white labour, but the principle underlying the imposition of an excise duty upon sugar never entered into the question. It is all very well for the Minister to say that we had the Tariff in our hands ; but does he not know that there is nothing before honorable members until it comes before us in a constitutional way as the subject for debate? This is the first opportunity we have had for dealing with the question of imposing an excise duty upon sugar. ‘ The great danger, which has been overlooked in the discussion, is this : If we agree to the pro- ‘posal of the Government we practically decide - at any rate, for this Parliament - that the principle of imposing an excise duty upon sugar is entirely wrong ; that we have adopted it as a mere expedient, under particular conditions, and that if those conditions had not arisen we should have flouted the idea. I should like to know if honorable members are prepared at this stage of our federal existence, with all the contingencies of the future in respect to revenue unknown, to say that the imposition of an excise duty upon sugar is improper. If we say that the excise is to cease in 190.7, we practically settle the question, so far as we can, for all time ; and we have no right to do anything of the sort. It may be right for the Government to say that they have made this proposal on the ground of exigency, and that in the future they would like, if possible, to remove the duty ; but, having regard to the probable large and growing expenditure of the Commonwealth, and the difficulty of obtaining revenue from any source other than customs and excise duties, it would be improper for the committee to decide now that the principle underlying the imposition of an excise duty upon sugar is an absolutely wrong one.
– We do not say that.
– The Minister has practically admitted that this excise is proposed purely in view of the effect of the black labour legislation upon Queensland.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– Whilst I have the greatest sympathy for Queensland, it must be remembered that she will have practically the whole’ of the sugar market of Australia. I do not say that in any tone of disparagement ; but no doubt that advantage was a quid pro quo for entering into the union.
– But all the other States get the advantage of the whole Australian market in the same way.
– Yes, but the amount of sugar likely to be grown out-, side of Queensland is very small. I wish the committee, therefore, to look at the matter only from the financial aspect. In the beginning of our federal finance it is impossible to obtain revenue from land and income taxes. We must raise the whole of our re venue from customs and excise duty, and an excise duty upon sugar is a reasonable source of revenue, especially as we are giving an enormous amount of protection to an industry of which one State has practically the monopoly. The Government, however, want us to say that it is not a fair and legitimate means of raising revenue, except under the present exigencies of our position. What is the safe side for the committee to take ? It is to refuse to fix any period for the termination of this duty, because if we fix a period at which it is to cease, we shall in the first place be laying down a principle which I do not think we have any right to lay down, and, in the second place, we shall be creating, inferentially, at any rate, a sort of vested right by Act of Parliament so far as the sugar-growing industry is concerned. We may not be here in 1907, and we have no right to forecast legislation. I do not say that there are not occasions on which limits may be placed upon the operations of certain legislation - legislation which may affect the freedom of industrial life or the liberty of the individual. Some legislation is of such an experimental character, and so touches upon principles affecting individual or industrial liberty that it is necessary to limit its operation, but in this case we are dealing with finance, and we must be careful not to restrict the operations of the future or create vested interests. Another point is that the amount of revenue received from this duty will probably go’ on increasing, so that in 1907 Parliament may have to deal with an item of revenue of far greater value to the Commonwealth than is the sum the Government now expect to derive. It is just possible that the sudden abolition of this duty would then very much embarrass the finances of the Commonwealth. Considerations of moderation and of safe and wide statesmanship ought to induce us to pause before we commit ourselves to the course of action proposed by the Government.
– I do not follow the reasoning of the honorable member for Wentworth. He states that the effect of allowing these words to stand will be to convey an intimation to the Queensland sugar planters that at the end of 1 907 excise duties will cease to be collected.
– That is what is provided.
– It is not provided that excise duties shall cease altogether, but that the 3s. duty may cease. This is an intimation to the sugar planters that under reasonable circumstances, and in the absence of any dire necessity, no change will be made in the duty and rebate until 1907. We cannot bind Parliament for the future, and it would be quite competent to terminate the excise duty at any time. We have, however, to a certain extent entered into a bargain with the sugar planters who have employed black labour, and they have been promised certain consideration at our hands. I do not say that we are under any legal obligation, but there is a general understanding that the sugar planters are entitled to some consideration in view of the early total cessation of the employment of black labour. No honorable member is more anxious than I am to terminate at once the employment of black labour, but it would be dishonorable to suggest that those who have for years employed black labour under Government authority should be compelled at one fell swoop to dispense with that labour, and not receive any consideration at. our hands. I desire to assist in the employment of white labour, and, unlike the honorable member for Wentworth, I hope to see all the sugar required by the people of Australia manufactured within the Commonwealth. In carrying out our desire to encourage the sugar planters, we cannot do better than provide that they shall be called upon to pay only a certain amount of excise duty. I understand that there is a desire’ on the part of some honorable members of the” Opposition to increase the excise; but if any proposal is made in1 that direction I shall oppose it. The honorable member for Wentworth has spoken about the necessity for obtaining revenue, arid has referred to the enlarged expenditure of the Commonwealth. Honorable members who think with him on fiscal matters have told us time and again that every reduction they have made in the duties proposed by the Government has helped to increase the revenue. If that is true; it affords a very strong argument in favour of the reduction rather than of the increase of the excise duty. . Either the fears of the honorable member for Wentworth are unfounded, or he does not place much reliance upon the statements which have been made regarding the probable enormous increase of revenue that will result from the reductions of duties. We owe a duty to the sugarplanters.
– We also owe a duty to the people.
– Yes ; and I should be very glad to assist the honorable member in discharging that duty, by reducing as far as possible the cost of living. I hope he will be found voting against some of the revenue duties which have been’ proposed by the Government, and which honorable members on the opposition side will no doubt endeavour to increase. The sugar planters have been subjected to very drastic treatment at the hands of this Parliament - such treatment as many of those who live in Northern Queensland never expected. I had an opportunity prior to and during the last federal campaign of visiting Queensland in connexion with the federal movement, and I gathered that those who were engaged in the sugar industry did not believe that this Parliament would take such drastic steps as it recently resolved upon. They did not at that time realize what would happen, and the remarks of the Premier of Queensland up to the time of the referendum show that he did not anticipate that this Parliament would take such extreme action. From my own knowledge of Mr. Philp, I can say that there was no more ardent federalist than he throughout Australia, and that if it had not been for his individual action Queensland would not have entered the federation when she did.
– Quite true.
– I do not accept that.
– I had an opportunity, during several weeks of the Federal campaign, of conversing with Mr. Philp, and that is the conclusion at which I arrived.
– He belonged to a Government who would not send a representative to the convention.
– But he was not at the head of the Government. I repeat that there was no more ardent federalist in the Commonwealth than Mr. Philp, and no one gave up more time or spent more money than he did in order to consummate federation.
– Quite right.
– Even the honorable members belonging to the labour party, who are specially anxious that the employment of black labour should cease, must agree that a certain amount of hardship must be experienced by those who up to the present have employed black labour on the sugar plantations under Government authority, and that they should receive some consideration. “We cannot extend them encouragement more effectively than by assuring them that there is no probability of the excise duty being increased until 1907. The time is far distant when the Commonwealth will be able to do without excise duties altogether. I should be only too pleased to see the excise on sugar abolished, but we must have some regard for the revenue. The only inference to be drawn from the retention of the words “until 1st January, 1907 “ in the provision is not that the excise duties will cease altogether, but that they will possibly be reconsidered at the expiration of the period fixed. From time to time various Acts of Parliament have been passed in Victoria subject to a provision that they should cease to have effect upon a certain date. That, however, simply meant that, at the end of the term specified, further consideration would be given to them, and the provisions of such
Acts have, in several cases, been re-enacted with certain modifications or extensions of power. The sole effect of limiting the time for the operation of. these excise duties will be to give Parliament an opportunity to review what has been done, and if necessary to make alterations at the end of the term. (Committee counted.) Despite the fact that a limitation was placed upon the period during which the Victorian Factories Acts, for instance, were to remain operative, they have never been allowed to lapse, but have repeatedly been re-enacted. Under these circumstances, it is distinctly unfair to argue that those who are interested in the sugar industry will be placed at any disadvantage. I take it for granted that persons who are engaged in growing and refining sugar, and in placing the finished article upon the market, will be aware of the discussion which has taken place upon this particular item. They will know from the tone of the debate that there is not the slightest chance of any future Parliament failing to impose the excise duty. I feel that the only alteration which is likely to be made is in the direction of an increase.
– Does the honorable member really believe that ?
– I think that any alteration likely to be made after 1907 would be the result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances which placed the free-traders in power. Then we should find an increase in all these revenue duties.
– Why fix the date at all ?
– Because by so doing we impart a sense of security to those engaged in the industry. I think that honorable members generally will admit that even though an excise of3s. per cwt. may, perhaps, be considered excessive, the planters would rather have the rate fixed for five years than remain in a state of suspense.
– That is all the more reason why we should not insert a date.
– The honorable member will perhaps defer to those who are intimately acquainted with all the conditions under which this industry has to be conducted. If he can find a majority of representatives from Queensland to support his view I am willing to admit that I am in error. But I think that when the division is taken, a majority of the representatives of the northern State will be found voting for the retention of these words. The honorable member for Wentworthmade a great point of the necessity for safeguarding the revenue. That indicated a desire upon his part either to retain, the excise duty of 3s. per cwt., or increase it - preferably the latter.
– It was simply the principle of excise as excise, and not the rate, which I argued.
– The honorable member has repeatedly claimed that the reductions which he has been instrumental in securing will result in an increased revenue.
– They have been neutralized by subsequent action on the part of the Government.
– The Government proposals were based upon certain information at their command, and they calculated that a certain amount of revenue would be collected under those proposals. The honorable member for Wentworth repeatedly assured the committee that the proposals which he advocated would result in an increased revenue, and therefore he need not express the fears which he has mentioned concerning the loss that will accrue in connexion with this particular matter. I have taken a good deal of interest in this question ever since I entered public life. In the Victorian Parliament, in 1895, I proposed a resolution that Queensland and New South Wales sugar should be admitted to this State ata preferential rate, compared with sugar from other parts of the world. At that time it was pointed out that there was a constitutional objection to the course proposed, owing to treaties which existed between the old country and San Salvador, and other places. Those treaties have since been denounced. My anxiety at that period, as now, was to benefit those engaged in the sugar industry, and to make Australia self-supporting in this as in other respects. We have now an opportunity of conferring a distinct benefit upon the people engaged in this industry, and I hope we shall seize it. I ask the committee to pause before eliminating these words, because I feel that by their retention a greater sense of security will be experienced by the growers and others interested, than would be experienced if they were omitted. I acknowledge that it will be within the power of future Parliaments to repeal the action taken by this Parliament. But the very fact of our inserting these words after the amount of, excise which is to be imposed, will materially assist the industry, will impart a greater sense of security to the planters, and . be regarded as some compensation for the legislation which we have already enacted.
– I think that this question is of so much importance to the Commonwealth, and has such a far-reaching effect, that a little time devoted to its most careful consideration, especially from a financial standpoint, will be well expended. I do not think it matters very much to the committee whether we close the debate this afternoon, or whether it is prolonged for a day or two. When we come to consider that, the result of the votes which we shall have to give upon this question, may mean a difference of anything from. £300,000 to £600,000 per annum, its. importance cannot fail to impress the mind’s of the committee. The Minister for Trade and Customs said, a little time ago, in somewhat heated words, that an understanding existed in regard to the Government proposal in connexion with this matter, and that because that proposal had appeared upon the Tariff for some time it was to be taken for granted that the committee had thoroughly examined it. I venture to think that the enormous number of lines which have been introduced, considered, and reconsidered, even by the Government themselves, from day to day, has absolutely prevented attention being given to this matter by the committee. I have had quite enough to do in keeping upwith the work of the committee, in absorbing the information, which has been given upon all sorts of subjects, and in watching the constantly changing attitudes of the Government. One day we have seen them insisting upon the Tariff as printed ; the next we have witnessed them climbing down in the most docile manner at the instigation of some of their supporters. Over and over again, we have had exhibitions of this kind, so that the Minister, in stating that we ought to have known all about the matter because it happened to be printed long before the time arrived for discussing it, was somewhat, unfair.
– Surely it was discussed in connexion with the Pacific Island; Labourers Bill?
– I venture to think it was not, and I am sure the position was such that we had no right to discuss it at that stage. When that Bill was debated, we had no knowledge of what its fate would be in another branch of the Legislature.
– The honorable member has had four days’ notice.
– It may, of course, be possible for the honorable member, with the time at his command, to fully grasp these immense questions in four days’ notice. I am not bound by the statement of the leader of the Opposition, or any other honorable member, that there was any understanding, because I hold that the question remained absolutely for our consideration at the proper time. I am somewhat doubtful of the position of the leader of the Opposition in this matter. I listened to his remarks to-day, but I do not agree that there was any agreement between this side of the House and the Government in reference to the excise on sugar.
– It is a factor in considering the customs duties.
– I admit that the proposal was put forward by the Government as an arrangement with a certain section of the House, but that section was not the Opposition.
– What section was it ?
– Undoubtedly the labour party.
– The honorable member says what is not true.
-I say what I believe to be an absolute fact, which has been admitted by honorable members.
– The Opposition raised no objection.
– The Opposition were not in the counsels of either the labour party or the Government in regard to any agreement or understanding
– The leader of the Opposition said that he accepted the Government proposal.
– Although a free-trader, I am not responsible for, or in agreement with, any such understanding, even though it may have been accepted by the leader of the Opposition.
– We are now discussing the question of the period.
– But the general question has been discussed by every honorable member who has spoken, and in my opinion the proposal of the Government opens up the whole subject. We have had various suggestions, one that beet sugar should be added, and another by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, that an army of inspectors should be engaged ; and if the Chairman decides that I am going beyond the bounds of the question before the committee, I shall take another opportunity, of challenging attention to the matter. I do not want to make halfadozen speeches on this subject, but only to deal with it fairly. As to this question not having been raised before, I may say that I referred to it in South Australia immediately after the Prime Minister’s speech at Maitland, and pointed out that if the Prime Minister had inadvertently omitted to consider the question of excise on sugar, there would be an annual loss of £500,000 to the Common wealth. There is not much occasion to emphasize these facts, which were set forth in the published report of my speech to the electors. Controversy took place on the subject, and in proof that it was not part of the Ministerial programme to put an excise duty on sugar, no such intention was referred to by the Prime Minister in his Queensland speeches.
– In Queensland the Prime Minister said he would not put on excise duty.
– And further, the Prime Minister estimated that, by Inter state free-trade, there would be a loss of £1,000,000 odd, including the sugar duties, but not excise. It has been admitted that the expiration of the rebate and the excise go hand in hand, although it is not absolutely stated in cold print.
– We cannot allow a rebate of excise which does not exist.
– If the excise is abolished in so many years, the whole of the rebate will be equivalent to the excise, though it will not be called a rebate, but an allowance of £3, instead of £2, and instead of there being a loss of £300,000 to the revenue as at present, there will be a loss of nearly £500,000. We have had a good deal of talk as to a loss of £50,000 or £60,000, which it is said will be involved in connexion with certain distilling industries ; but to-day we have before us the question of a loss of £300,000 to £400,000.
– But the committee have acquiesced in that.
– That statement is absolutely contrary to fact, and unprovable from any journals of the House.
– The honorable member’s leader agreed to it,
– -The agreement of the leader of the Opposition, or even of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, does not mean the agreement of the committee. No doubt, so far as one honorable member is concerned - I will not say whom - he is apt to consider that when he has spoken he has pretty well expressed the opinion of the committee, but I am not inclined to agree to such a dictum, even when enunciated by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. A large number of honorable members on the Opposition side have given no such acquiescence, but have left this item to be discussed on its merits.
– There is a party compact.
– There is no party compact ; at any rate, I have not acquiesced in any such compact. It is all very well for honorable members on the Government side of the House, who wish to follow the Government closely–
– We want to get through with the Tariff.
– If the honorable member for Melbourne Ports had spoken as little as I have the Tariff might have been through earlier. The honorable member has made more speeches by way of interjection than the whole of the Opposition, and I do not think any honorable member has done more to waste time over the Tariff” though I admire some of the information he has placed before us. The question we are considering is no party question, and even if the leader of- the Opposition chose to vote with the Government, I am not so blind a follower of his as to support him in a matter like this. On the free-trade question I, of course, am with the leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member forgets salt and wine.
– I forget neither.
– I think the honorable member treated the Government very fairly on these two items.
– I think I have treated the Government fairly on a great many more items. 28 i 2
– I have not been complaining.
– The interjection as to salt and wine falls off my hide, not, perhaps, because my hide is as thick as that of others, after my parliamentary experience, but because my pronouncement before the electors was . so definite. I appeared before them as a revenue tariffist, determined not to play into the hands of a few manufacturers in any State, but to advocate the nearest Tariff I could get to a free-trade Tariff, having regard to revenue. While I would not kill any industry, I certainly refuse to bolster up industries that have had 30 to 40 years’ protection. I never absolutely bound myself to any free-trade Tariff ; and to the 20,000-odd people who recorded their votes for me I can justify my conduct when large and important industries in the district I represent were under consideration.
– It makes all the difference when the industries are in the honorable member’s own district.
– My district is the whole of South Australia, and the largest in the Commonwealth. The question of the excise on sugar is mixed up with three or four different matters. There have been many sound arguments used on both sides of the committee as to the advisableness of our tying the hands of future Parliaments in this connexion.
– We cannot tie future Parliaments.
– Then why make fools of ourselves by placing this stipulation in the Tariff? Why should we pretend to do what we know we cannot do. I agree with the honorable member for Moira that we cannot tie the hands of future Parliaments ; but the ‘honorable member for Laanecoorie asks us to pass this provision in order to give security to those employed in the sugar-growing industry for the continuance of the rebate for so many years. With an import duty of £6 per ton upon sugar, and an excise duty of £3 per ton, together with a rebate of £2 per ton, the growers have a protection of £5 a ton against the competition of importers, and surely that should be sufficient encouragement for their industry. But it seems to me to be very difficult to estimate the value of the proposed rebate to the growers in the tropical parts of Queensland. We have been told by honorable members who represent districts in which sugar cane is being grown, that there is no question as to the ability of white persons to work in the cane-fields. When the Pacific Island Labourers Bill was under discussion, most of those who were elected to represent the State of Queensland in tin’s Parliament expressed the opinion that black labour is not necessary for the production of sugar.
– It was stated that it was a question of wages.
– That statement was made only by one or two, whereas many instances were cited in which farmers on small areas did well by growing cane with the assistance of their wives and families. If we give a rebate upon cane grown by white labour, the planters in the northern parts of New South Wales, and the southern parts of Queensland, will have a protection of £5 a ton against the importers, and will be £2 a ton better off than those in the tropical districts who have to employ black labour, and whom we particularly desire to assist. I wish now to deal with the estimates of revenue which have been supplied to us by the Government. To judge by the remarks of the Minister for Trade and Customs, one would imagine that the Government had had this scheme in their minds before the Pacific Island Labourers Bill was thought of, and that they were quite satisfied that they could adjust the small wrong of which their consciences accused them by giving to the planters a rebate of £2 a ton upon the excise duty on sugar. But, according to the papers which have been laid before us, the Government expect to receive £120,000 from the import duty and £410,000 from the excise duty upon sugar. As the import duty is £6 per ton, a revenue of £120,000 presupposes an importation of 20,000 tons, whilst with an excise duty of £3 per ton a revenue of £410,000 presupposes the production of something over 136,000 tons of sugar within the Commonwealth, or a total consumption of 156,000 tons. But since there is to be a rebate of £2 a ton upon sugargrown by white labour, if all the sugar grown within the Commonwealth is produced by white labour - and those who supported the Pacific Island Labourers Bill firmly believe that that will happen - the consumption of locally-grown sugar must increase to 410,000 tons in order to return the amount which the Government expect to receive from excise duties. But do honorable members think that the Commonwealth can consume anything like that amount of sugar, seeing that our present consumption is between 170,000 and 200,000 tons?
– A certain amount of sugar will be produced by coloured labour.
– But coloured labour is to be dispensed with.
– Not all at once. Many of the kanakas are working under agreements which have some time to run.
– Yes; but are we engaged in framing a Tariff which is to last only for a year or two? Are we not rather dealing with a Tariff which we believe will last for a good many years ? I am sure that one and all of us hope that it will be many years before we have again to deal with a subject which excites so much controversy, and causes so much trouble and annoyance to the commercial and industrial world. It is evident that, when the Government estimated that they would receive a revenue of £120,000 from imported sugar, and £410,000 from locallygrown sugar, they did not intend to offer this rebate of two-thirds upon sugar produced from cane grown by European labour. It is not a small amount of revenue that is involved in this item ; it is an amount so large that nearly every State is affected. During the year 1S98, Queensland, in addition to what she consumed within her borders,’ exported 28,000 tons of sugar to New South Wales, 49,000 tons to Victoria and 15,000 tons to South Australia. Before the introduction of the Commonwealth Tariff, the South Australian duty upon sugar was £3 per ton, so that the revenue obtained from the 15,000 tons imported from Queensland was £45,000. Under this Tariff however, South Australia will obtain revenue from sugar under the excise duty only. If two-thirds of this excise is abolished owing to the fact that, the sugar grown by white labour is sent to South Australia, the revenue of that State from sugar will be reduced .to £15,000.
– What about salt? We will put the South Australian salt against the Queensland sugar.
– I shall be prepared to allow salt to go free,” and to fight its own way, if sugar is similarly treated. The whole Commonwealth will, under the Government proposal, have to pay for the little game that is being carried on in
Queensland. Although Queensland will have to pay the excise, the money will go into her own coffers ; but the other States will lose revenue if the duty is abolished under the rebate.
– We are all one now.
– We are not one as far as the finances are concerned, and that is a point which some honorable members seem to forget. We are one in large matters of national importance in which all the States contribute according to their population ; but we are not one in matters of Customs revenue, and are not likely to be so for years to come. So far as South Australia is concerned, the loss of £30,000 or £40,000 a year ona revenue item such as sugar is a matter of considerable moment, especially when the difficulties arising from the reduction in price of all that State’s primary products are considered.
– The honorablemember is disappointing me ; I thought he was a federalist.
– Does a man become any the less a federalist if he recognises his duty to his own State. Cannot he be a true federalist and at the same time try to protect the financial solvency of every State in the federation?
– This excise duty is a tax on the special industry of a particular State.
– I do not think the Minister puts the matter fairly. When we permit the sugar-growers of Queensland and New South Wales to introduce their sugar into all the other States of the Commonwealth, subject to a duty of only £3 per ton, whilst we charge £6 per ton upon sugar imported from Mauritius, Java, and other countries, we are giving a very handsome bonus to the local producers.We have been told on several occasions to consider the percentage which the duty represents as compared with the cost of production of an article. The duty of £6 per ton, added to the cost of bringing sugar from China, Java, Mauritius, and other places, represents more than 50 per cent, of the absolute selling value of the sugar.
– Freight is only16s. per ton.
– What ! 16s. per ton from Java? Does the honorable member know what he is talking about ? The cost of bringing sugar from Java to Australian ports amounts to £2 or £3 a ton.
– Does the honorable member know what wages are paid to those engaged in sugar cultivation in Java ?
– The wages are extremely low - about1s. per day.
– They are only 2s.10d. per week
– The honorable member is talking without accurate knowledge. I ought to know a little about the wages paid and conditions of labourin Java. I represented the Dutch-Netherlands Government for ten years, and was the agent for their line of steamers at Port Darwin, and I know that what the honorable member says is absurd. He must have left out of account the cost of rations, housing, and medical attendance, which has to be provided for. I may say, in passing, that a more happy and industrious race than the Javanese, since they have been under Dutch Government, are not to be found among the Eastern peoples.
– Their standard of comfort is not equal to ours.
– It is equal to that of many of our people who have to live in the back-blocks. We have to consider the loss that will be inflicted upon the Commonwealth if the Government proposals are carried. The Government suggestion will, involve a loss of something like £500,000 a year, which will have to be borne by the four millions of people in the Commonwealth. This is equivalent to 2s. 6d. per head for every man, woman, and child, and in the case of a family consisting of a man, his wife, and three children, the loss amounts to 12s. 6d. per annum, which will have to be made up by taxation in some other form. We are making the sugar-growers of Queensland a present of the difference between £3 per ton and £6 per ton, and I think that ought to be sufficient without any rebate. I contend that there is no necessity for retaining the words “ until, the 1st January, 1907,” and I shall support the amendment proposed by my colleague. The question of bringing beet sugar within the operation of the provisions as to excise duty will probably raise considerable discussion. I have not yet heard whether the Government are favorable to that.
– Yes; I said so. The excise will apply to beet sugar.
– No doubt ; but the question is whether the rebate should also apply to it. This question has been rather suddenly sprung upon us, because I do not think any one ever anticipated that it would be introduced in connexion with the consideration of the sugar duties. The rebate proposed by the Government is quite uncalled for, and as it would place the finances of the smaller States in a very unfair position it should be abandoned. The difference between the excise duty of £3 per ton, and the import duty of £6 per ton, added to the natural protection afforded by the freight and charges upon imported sugar, should be quite sufficient to encourage local growers. The question of establishing a “ white Australia “ has been considered by the committee so far as Queensland conditions are concerned, but the Northern Territory of South Australia, where we can grow sugar, and which has a growing liability of £70,000 a year, has not received any consideration at the hands of this Parliament. I shall have something to say about that later on. I shall vote for the excision of the limitation, and if I have an opportunity I shall propose to strike out the rebate provisions.
Mr. CONROY (Werriwa). - I was rather pleased to hear the Minister for Trade and Customs state that he recognised that these duties were a tax. When, however, he said that they would involve a tax upon certain people in Queensland, he omitted to mention that the real burden would not fall upon the people of Queensland, but upon the consumers of sugarthroughoutthe various States. In confirmation of that proposition, and to show how thoroughly he recognised it, I have only to turn up the miscellaneous Tariff papers which werefurnished to the committee under the authority of the Minister for Trade and Customs. There we find it recognised that out of a total excise revenue of £410,000 the contribution by New South Wales is £153,000, that of Victoria £114,000, and that of Queensland only £68,000. Now, as the Minister for Trade and Customs credits only that amount of income to Queensland, how can he possibly turn round and say that the tax will fall exclusively upon that State? If Queensland alone pays this tax the whole of the £410,000 ought to go to that State. If the Minister for Trade and Customs is correct, that is absolutely the course which he ought to follow. But did he not know that he was making a statement which was not in accordance with fact? I need only refer to page 7 of the excise duty tables to show how clearly he himself has recognised that. I hope that when the Minister for Trade and Customs rises he will make statements more in accordance with facts, and not declare, in order to catch votes, that the whole of this tax will fall upon Queensland, when he has shown by his own words’ that such is not the case. But, if the Government were so very anxious in regard to the excise duty upon sugar, there was one very easy means of overcoming the difficulty. Last evening they could have accepted the proposal which emanated from the Opposition in connexion with the excise duties upon spirits and beers, which would have yielded an additional £150,000. Had they done so, they could then have lessened the excise upon sugar by that amount. That would have allowed them to reduce the rate from £3 to £2 or 35s. a ton. If the Minister for Tradeand Customs is in earnest about this matter, why does he not adopt that course? I think it is reasonable to expect that the amount of sugar grown by white labour within the Commonwealth will approximate 30,000 tons a year. With an excise duty of £2 a ton operating, that would yield a revenue of £60,000. If we add to the receipts from wines and spirits another £150,000, we shall get about £310,000, so that we shall not need to raise more than another £100,000 in order to dispense with the whole of the excise upon sugar. If the Ministry are really in earnest, that is a proposition which they might very well agree to. As far as Queensland itself is concerned, the duty imposed under its State Tariff was clearly inoperative.
-And therefore was not a tax upon the people ?
– It was not a tax upon the people except that it was so fixed as to allow it to fall into the hands of a trust. That was one of the dangers in Queensland. If we imposed a duty of 10s. per lb. on wool it would not raise its price one farthing.
– All along, the contention of the honorable and learned member has been that a protective duty is a tax upon the people.
– When there is not a full local production it is a tax upon the people. I do not think that in order to favour any one State we ought to be asked to continue a condition of affairs which is injurious to the Commonwealth as a whole.
Mr. GLYNN (South Australia).- In looking more closely at the speech of the Prime Minister upon the Pacific Island Labourers Bill I find that he expressly refers to the question of the continued imposition of import duties in aid of the sugar industry in Queensland. He even puts a limit of time to the import duties. But the case for limiting the excise duty is surely much stronger. If this amendment is carried I do not intend to move for any alteration as regards the duration of the rebate, because when a legislative provision is enacted it is usually enacted without respect of time. If the necessity occurs for Cutting down the rebate under new conditions which may have arisen it can be done. If my amendment is carried the rebate will continue- till Parliament thinks fit to abolish it. Therefore I do not propose to make the limitation apply to only five years. I am content to leave that matter to be dealt with by a subsequent Parliament. It does not necessarily follow that there will be any contract for its continuance. It will stand in the form, in which Parliament usually expresses things - for an indefinite period. That is a fair way of viewing the matter, and I ask honorable members to support the amendment.
– I am in favour of the elimination of the date because I believe that that course is rather in the interests of the cane-growers themselves. They may get a rebate for a longer period than five years. I do not think that Parliament would commit a breach of the understanding, which, I believe, was implied, that there should be five years consideration’ extended to the planters.
– In connexion with what has been stated in regard to the compact I can only say that I take the same view as the leader of the Opposition. I recognise that we are not giving this concession to Queensland as Queensland, but are acepting a responsibility for all Australia which has been necessitated by the declaration for a white Australia. Therefore, I think that some remarks which have been made have been rather unfair to Queensland, inasmuch as it has been stated that the concession was one given entirely to the northern State. I accepted the position taken up by the leader of the Opposition, but did not consider that my action bound me to every detail. I accepted it in the spirit, but, of course, there might be differences upon matters of detail, one of which has been raised by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn. I would point out that the excise duty of 3s. per Cwt. until 1907 does not apply to cane sugar only. It applies also to beet sugar. Might there not be an honest difference of opinion as to whether we should embody in the Tariff an understanding that any excise upon beet sugar should cease at the end of 1906 ?
– Irrespective of whether it is produced by black labour or not ?
– Yes. Of course, it is not likely to be produced by black labour. But when there is an import duty of £10 per ton upon beet sugar, are we to declare that there shall not be any excise upon that sugar after 1907? I do not think so : and further, by adopting the amendment, we are giving all we have engaged to give. We leave to the Parliament of that day, which will have the opportunity for revising - and possibly there will be necessity for revision on other points - to say what is fair treatment for the sugar growers of Queensland. I should like the Minister for Trade and Customs to answer the question - when does this excise of 3s. begin to apply ?
– We have been collecting it.
– Was the excise meant to apply to sugar produced before- 8th October last?
– If in bond, yes.
– That is an extraordinary proceeding. Has the Minister cometo a similar decision in connexion with theexcise on tobacco and spirits ?
– If . tobacco is in bond’ excise will have to be paid before clearing.
– But surely sugar cannot be said to be in bond when it is in another State, to which it was removed prior to the abolition of the different State duties ?
– If the sugar has got out free we cannot get it in bond again.
– The object of excise is to apply the duty at the factory ; but this sugar had passed from the factory be fore the excise was imposed. -Are we making this sugar subject to duty by this resolution ?
– If the sugar has been cleared for home consumption, we cannot get the duty.
– But if the sugar has gone out of the State in which it was produced?
– I think the honorable member had better put that question on notice ; I cannot make out what he is driving at.
– I understand that the Minister for Trade and Customs has claimed excise on sugar produced prior to the date of the introduction of the Tariff, and has even claimed excise when the sugar has gone out of the State in which it was produced.
– And the excise has been paid.
– I suppose it has, because there is no other recourse just now. Is what I have stated the fact ?
– If the sugar has not gone into consumption, we can get the excise.
– That is treating this item differently from other items. I venture to say that the Minister has not acted in that way in regard to tobacco and spirits ; and I draw attention to this matter because I do not think it is the intention of the committee to proceed in a way quite unusual in connexion with excise. I do not think there is any precedent for treating sugar in an entirely different manner f rom tobacco and spirits when the excise is raised. I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, while I hold myself generally bound to the proposal of the Government, though not in matters of detail, of this kind.
– Under the present unhappy circumstances, Queensland is entitled to receive some consideration at the hands of the committee, and that State certainly expects consideration. We have had speeches to-day from both sides of the committee expressing the most charming sympathy with Queensland, and as a Queenslander I feel very grateful to the speakers for treating the subject in such a manner. But I am reminded of an old colonel at home, who by some misfortune was obliged to sell his commission, and who, having lost his wealth, and his position, was ultimately reduced to the humble occupation of selling pies in the streets of London. One of his old friends, whom he had known in the zenith of prosperity, expressed the greatest sympathy, saying - “Dear me, how have you come to this extraordinary position?” The poor old colonel explained how by a series of misfortunes, which were entirely beyond his control, he had fallen to that humble position, and the friend said - “ My heart is full of sympathy for you.” To this the old colonel replied - “ Hang your sympathy ! Buy a pie.” The sympathy expressed by the supporters of the amendment is different from that expressed by the Government, who are going to do something practical. I regard the retention of the words “until the 1st January, 1907,” as a “pie” for the sugar-planters of Queensland, whereas the other expression of sympathy I regard as so much empty talk. What the planters want is something definite - some promise or engagement that what is given to them will not be taken away suddenly, on the spur of the moment, and in obedience to popular impulse. I heartily support the Government proposal.
Question - That the words “ until the 1st January, 1907,” proposed to be omitted, stand part of the item - put. The committee divided -
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I intend to move, at a later stage, that the rebate be 5s. I put this forward as a fair compromise between the 6s. I previously indicated and the 4s. proposed by the Government.
– Compromise ! Surely the honorable member is satisfied with what has been given? There is too much bloodsucking.
– I move -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Tuesday next.
The Government, in reporting progress so early this afternoon, and in forbearing from asking for a sitting next Monday, are much induced to that course by the progress which has been made in the discussion of the Tariff this week.
– Unprecedented progress !
– It is unprecedented. I do not know whether the honorable member does or does not like it. At any rate, most important work has been got through this week, and particularly during yesterday’s sitting. I hope that honorable members will infer from our action that we are willing to make all ordinary and reasonable concessions, and that by way of return equally good work will be done next week.
– I wish I could indorse the remarks of the Prime Minister as to the credit due to honorable members for the more rapid progress in the consideration of the Tariff during the latter part of the week. I am sorry to feel, however, that the greater rapidity of progress is due to the fact that the play of rival interests, which was so keen while we were considering Division VI., and which caused the delay which was complained of, has ceased now that we have come to a part of the Tariff in which we are concerned in taxing only the poor consumer. Consolidated interest is behind us. Therefore, the reason for our progress is an unworthy rather than a worthy one. Still honorable members are always ready to get a day off, because, whether progress is or is not made, there is a considerable amount of hardship involved in sitting here , so long as we have to do. I wish to say, in all justice that the Government of late have carried on their business in a way which has been perfectly fair to all parties concerned, and while that line of conduct is. maintained, the Opposition will always be found to reciprocate. I congratulate the Government upon their good conduct of late.
– I am pleased that the House isnot to sit next Monday, but we should have been very glad to receive an intimation to that effect a fortnight or three weeks ago, because it must be perfectly evident to every one that we are now sitting far more than we should do. I am as strong and healthy as any man in the Chamber, but I have felt the strain, and I think that other honorable members also feel it. That is why upon many occasions when there has not been a quorum present I have refrained from drawing attention to the fact. No one can study the matters which come before Parliament unless he has a clear day or two every week ; and if we do not study them beforehand we are just in the same position when they come forward as anybody of men in the street who might meet to consider them. It ought to be a settled rule that the House shall not sit more than three days a week. That is quite often enough for solid work, and honorable members could say all that they have to say in that time, if they spoke sensibly and to the point. As it is, many of us have to give up the work of our professions entirely in order to attend here ; and to those who come from the other States the sacrifice is a very serious one. This arrangement must tend to turn men into professional politicians.
– The question before the chair is simply whether we shall adjourn until Tuesday next.
– Upon that questionI, for once, find myself in accord with the Ministry. It is not often that have the pleasure of congratulating them upon doing the right thing, but I can do so on this occasion.
Question resolved in. the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Motion (by Mr. Barton) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I should like to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to a statement to the effect that a number of Hindoos have recently been admitted into Western Australia upon passing a test in the English language. If I recollect aright, the Government undertook, when the Immigration Restriction Bill was before the House, that the test which they proposed would prove in administration as effective in keeping out people who were held to be objectionable as that supported by a number of honorable members who wished for a more direct method. If, however, the statement to which I refer is true, the Act is not proving so effective as it was said it would be.
– How many have been admitted ?
– Two, I believe.
– I do not see that that makes any difference. If only one had been admitted, it would be a dangerous precedent. I wish to know if the Act will be administered in that way in future, because, if so, there will be a dribbling into the Commonwealth of any number of educated Hindoos, who, I think I am safe in saying, are held by a majority of honorable members tobe even more objectionable than those without education, because of the greater ease with which they can compete with our own people. In any case, I should like to be informed what the policy of the Government is to be in regard to this matter, so that we may know where we stand. Unless the Act is more strictly administered, the wishes of honorable members generally in regard to the restriction of the immigration of aliens into the Commonwealth will be frustrated.
– During the discussion of the Immigration Restriction Bill, I made the suggestion that it would be only fair to those interested in shipping if facilities were given for the examination of undesirable immigrants, such as persons suffering from unsound mind, to be conducted at the ports of departure, so that captains of vessels might be sure that they were not bringing out persons who would not be permitted to land here. Of course, I did not mean that arrangement to apply to persons who are undesirable by reason of colour.
– I wish to point out that 31 Italians have been prevented from landing at Perth, and are coming on to Melbourne, and will probably have to return to their own country.
– That is because they came out here under contract.
– There is no evidence of that. It seems to me that the Act was_ passed upon a pretence, and is being administered quite differently from what was expected. Very many honorable members supported the direct exclusion of undesirable aliens, because they feared that if the Government method were adopted it might be applied in such a way as to exclude Europeans. I, in common with many other honorable members, am perfectly willing that immigration should take place to a certain extent, especially from European countries, when the men who come here are possessed of stout hearts and willing hands. If men are sufficiently bold and venturesome to leave their own country and come so far afield, they are likely to prove of the type which we should encourage.
– The Italians work for less than half the current rate of wages.
– Well, all that we need do is to make null and void any contract entered into outside the Commonwealth, and then the men who come here will soon demand the same rate of payment as other workmen are receiving. I am willing to encourage a certain number of immigrants from European countries, so long as so many do not come here as to prove a drag upon the amount of capital available for employment.
– I wish to point out to the Minister for Trade and Customs that there are shipments of carbide of calcium coming out here which the consignees find it impossible to bond, because no bond will receive it, and, therefore, they have to take delivery immediately upon arrival. This places them in a very awkward position, because it is almost certain that the duty .upon the article will be reduced when the committee come to deal with it, since it is so largely used in connexion with a new method of lighting, whereas the consignees have to pay the present high rate fixed in the Tariff. Will the Minister consider, between now and Tuesday next, whether those who pay the duty upon this article should not be allowed a rebate of any excess t
– Could not the American system be adopted with regard to undesirable immigrants 1 The practice adopted is to have intending immigrants examined by the United States consuls in foreign countries. It is a serious matter to allow people to pay their last dollar for a passage out here and then refuse them admission. It would be easy enough to utilize the services of British consuls in all parts of the world to ascertain whether intending immigrants are desirable or not.
– I shall look into the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Echuca. But I do not think it will be possible to treat cases such as he has referred to differently from others. A good deal of inconvenience has arisen owing to the delay in the final passing of the Tariff, and the sooner we get through it the better.
– It has been brought under my notice by some residents of Victoria who are’ shipping goods under Inter-State certificates to South Australia that a great deal of difficulty arises from the present practice. In regard to small parcels of goods in which the payment of only a very small amount of duty, or of no duty whatever, is involved, numerous sets of certificates have to be filled in, and when the goods arrive at their destination delay and trouble are caused by their being placed in bond. The question between the States in regard to the amount of duty which had been paid on certain articles is simply one of bookkeeping, and as to which State is to be credited with the amount. In the case of goods manufactured in Victoria and forwarded, say, to South Australia, it would be much easier if the amount of duty paid upon any portion of the articles was entered at the Custom-house in Melbourne, and credited to South Australia.
– We have given the power to do that. If I recollect aright, power to clear is given at either end.
– It would be a great convenience to all traders if the question of the amount of duty to be credited to the State to which the goods are being sent were decided at the port of shipment.
– As far as I know that was arranged before Christmas.
– Then the practice has not been followed up till very lately.
– A considerable amount of trouble is experienced in connexion with these Inter-State certificates. I had a case brought under my notice in which a lad)7 in business in Melbourne had to send some dresses to another State. She was called upon to sign, I think, seventeen certificates, and was occupied with two of her employes for three days in getting the goods away. The result was that the dresses were two days late in arriving at their destination.
– I should like the honorable member to give me particulars of any such case.
– In reply. - I echo what my right honorable colleague has stated, namely, that we shall be delighted toreceive particulars of any case in which a lady was occupied for three days over the signing of seventeen certificatesin connexion with the transfer of goodsfrom one State to another. As to the further extension of Inter-State facilities I can assure the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Solomon, that we have endeavoured to extend them as far as possible. Friction and difficulties sometimes, arise from the zeal of customs officers, for which it is very difficult to rebuke- them. We shall all be glad to see the day when Inter-State free-trade can be established in its fullest sense. We areall watching for this as one of the adjuncts of federation, and the sooner the day arrives when the goods which have been loaded up, so to speak, can be finally disposed of, the better all of us will be pleased. Although complaints may sometimes be made, arising out of the zeal of Customs officers, I am quite sure, from the information given to me by my honorable colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, that the officers are doing their duty in the best spirit, and in a thoroughly conscientious manner. Honorable members will see that the 92nd and 93rd sections of the Constitution impose certain obligations upon us. The 92nd section provides that goods imported before’ the imposition of uniform Customs duties, shall be liable to duty chargeable on the importation of such goods into the Commonwealth, less any duty previously paid, and there is a direction there from which it is difficult for any Minister or Customs officer to escape. This is more especially the case when the question of construction arises under the 93rd section, which mentions goods passing from State to State, as goods passing “for consumption.” With regard to the point mentioned by the honorable member for Bland, I believe it has been reported that two Hindoos were unexpectedly able to pass the English educational test in Western Australia. But why there should be moans and lamentations, and expectations of the failure of the Immigration Restriction Act on# that account, I cannot understand. Whatever precautions are adopted there will be some sort of filtering through of men whom it is desired to exclude, but we are endeavouring to administer the Act in the spirit in which it was passed by this Legislature, and in full compliance with the expressions made use of on the part of the Government when the measure was under discussion. AVe can do no more than that. We must not be guided by comparisons made between the number of men admitted into any particular State for any period prior to the passing of the Act, and the number of men who are admitted immediately after the passage of the Act. That would not be a fair comparison, but if we take the aggregateof admissions into all the States, prior to the Act, and compare it with the admissions Subsequently, we shall find evidence of a sensible diminution of coloured immigration. There is bound tobe some difficulty so far as Queensland is concerned, owing to the conditions of the Japanese treaty under which it is necessary to make a certain amount of concession, because without this it would be impossible to maintain reasonable relations with Japan. The position would’ not have been appreciably improved if the Act had been passed in the amended form that some honorable members proposed to adopt. The leader of the Opposition has spoken about affording facilities to captains of ships, at foreign ports, for protecting themselves against taking on board persons who would be considered undesirable immigrants. The means of observation, and the opportunities of judging whether- persons are likely to prove undesirable immigrants are just as much at the command of ships’ captains as they would be within the reach of ‘ any agents who might be appointed by the Commonwealth, and it would be quite idle for us to attempt to place agents at all foreign ports in order to teach the captains of vessels their duties in this respect. They must take the responsibility themselves. More than that, on the 2nd August the Immigration Restriction Bill was read a second time, and on the 23rd December it became law. The first of these events conveyed notice to all the local agents of these vessels, and the second event, as an act of legislation, conveyed notice to all the world. From these notices all thoseconcerned have been able ever since the dates mentioned to gaugee whataction they should take in order to prevent the ad- mission on board their vessels of persons who are almost certain to be refused admission at this end. If there be any hardship involved under the present conditions, it is quite infinitesimal, and it is far better to leave the Act in its present state than to make amendments, which would make it necessary for the Commonwealth to appoint an agent at every port in the world. We could not very well do this, nor could we relax the examination at this end, because our omission to appoint an agent at any one centre would enable undesirable people to be shipped there, and poured in here without hindrance. It is therefore necessary to maintain the same vigilance as at present at our own ports. Under the Act we cannot impose tests except at the gates of the Commonwealth, and I submit that if those tests are reasonably administered, as they are being administered, there is no danger to be apprehended. I am very glad that I have had an opportunity of taking part in the administration of this Act, because I have found that in one or two cases there has been either negligence or stupidity, which may be regarded as, to some extent, indicating the nature of past administration, and which has called for my reprobation and censure. I can only assure honorable members that if I find any repetition of such conduct I shall ask my honorable colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs to make other arrangements with regard to the officers who are involved. This Act must be administered in the spirit in which it was passed, and in the honest spirit which actuated this Parliament. I am bound to adopt that course by ray declarations before the passing of this Act.
– Is it understood that only the English language test is to be applied ?
– No. Every one knows, I presume, that primarily the English language test will be applied in the generality of cases. But there is no restriction, and if a case happens which in itself is suspicious, the customs officer has the power to apply other tests, and in fact he is instructed to apply them. I do not see any reason for the complaint that 31 Italians, who were brought to Western Australia under contract, were shut put from that State. They were shut out for this reason : The officer, on examination of the Italians, found that a number of them admitted that they all had come out under an arrangement or agreement. Afterwards some one came along and spoke to the men, and then those who had already committed themselves, withdrew their admission. That made the case more suspicious than ever, and I entirely concur in the action taken by the officer.
Question resolved in theaffirmative.
House adjourned at 3.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 February 1902, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020207_reps_1_8/>.