4th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
CONTOUR Survey : City Designs.
-. H. CATTS. - As the press has announced the completion of the maps of the contour survey of the Capital Site, will the Minister of Home Affairs kindly inform the House whether he has called for competitive designs for the laying out and building of the city? If the designs have not been called for, when does he propose to take action, and what will be the value of the prize offered ? *
– The maps are now in this building, and will be exhibited as soon as Mr. Speaker sees fit to sanction it. We shall try to make the calling for designs a Cabinet matter next week, when we hope to decide what the value of the prize. to be offered shall be, and as soon as possible shall invite the whole world to submit designs.
– I wish to know from’ the Acting Treasurer what the Postal Commission has cost to date?
– I was dealing with the matter this morning. The total cost has been ,£5,333 13s. 7d., exclusive of printing.
– Will the honorable gentleman inform the House how the money has been spent, and who has received it ?
– As the preparation of the information will entail considerable work, I ask the honorable member, in accordance with the suggestions made last week by the Acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, to move for a return if he desires the information referred to.
– Is there any truth in the statement in to-day’s Argus that it is intended to introduce a measure to provide for the appointment of two more Justices to the High Court Bench ?
– The Government is not making such a proposal.
– Can the Acting Treasurer say whether arrangements for the issue of Commonwealth notes are sufficiently advanced to allow the issue to commence on the date originally contemplated ? Is it true that it is proposed to change the denomination of £5 and other notes by merely printing across the face of them other denominations?
– The institution of the note issue is now seriously engaging the attention of the Department, and it is expected that the notes will be issued about the first week in December, the time originally contemplated. It is the intention of the Government to take over from some of the banks unused paper, and to print across the face of it “ Redeemable in gold at the Treasury at the Seat of Government.” Notes of the denominations of £1, £5, £10, £20, £50, and £100, will be issued; but it is not intended to alter the denomination already printed on a note by adding another imprint.
– As the Government has had the war ships now on their way to Australia named after the rivers Parramatta and Yarra, and other vessels are to be constructed to be named the Swan and the Barwon, I ask why the Murray, the longest, most navigable, and practically the only river in Australia worthy of consideration, has been forgotten?
– I shall have pleasure in placing before the Minister of Defence the honorable gentleman’s question. Only two vessels of the river class have been constructed, and they have been named the Yarra and the Parramatta, on the advice of the late Government, I believe. Perhaps in time we shall have enough vessels of that class to be able to find a name from each of the principal rivers of Australia.
– Has the Victorian Government been able to provide accommodation for the Yarra and the Parramatta?
– The matter is now engaging the attention of the Defence Department, and I hope to be able to reply to the question to-morrow.
– On Friday last, the honorable member for Lang asked the following questions : -
With further reference to the subject of questions asked on 31st August last-
Is it a fact that line inspection work within the metropolitan area, in New South Wales, is carried out on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, or during the annual leave period of officers?
Are officers, other than engineers, em ployed on the work of line inspection within the metropolitan area. If so -
What class of officers is so employed ?
What is the test of their efficiency ?
What is their rate of remuneration ?
To what division of the service do the officers belong who supply the details as to route, length of line required, cost of poles, &c, requisite for the compilation of estimates of line construction ?
(a) Who makes up the estimates of cost, and. what means are taken to check the data supplied, upon which the esti mates are based?
Does the actual cost of construction of telegraph and telephone lines generally approximate to the Departmental estimates for same?
What surveying work is carried out by the Departmental Surveyor in connexion with lines?
The following information has now been received from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Sydney : -
The officers who supply details as to route, length of line, &c, in the case of short unimportant lines are line inspectors and district linemen of long experience in connexion with line work; they belong to the General Division. All costs furnished by these officers are checked by assistant engineers. No important lines have been erected for many years past, except those on existing poles- The principal constructional details in connexion with these lines were available in the Electrical Engineer’s Branch. 4. (a) The assistant engineers prepare engineers mates of cost. The data supplied by country officers ate checked with the records of costs kept in the Electrical Engineer’s Branch; these records are complete for all districts as regards timber available, price of poles, existence of roads, distances separating settlements, &c.
Sale of Liquor by Auction.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
For all of which items permits to import had been given by the British Resident Commissioner in the New Hebrides.
The Department has no information as to spirits having been sold by auction in the New Hebrides.
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1.£11,850 per annum. The service covers the Lord Howe, Norfolk, New Hebrides, Marshalls, Gilbert, El lice, and Solomon Islands.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence - upon notice -
– The following particulars have been furnished in answer to the honorable member’s questions -
In calling for applications for the temporary positions of “Area Officers” the duties of the appointment were laid down as follows : -
Applicants must possess the necessary quali fications for the above duties.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs upon notice -
– The Public Service Commissioner reports -
Motion by Mr. John Thomson (for Mr. W. Elliot Johnson) agreed to -
That a return be laid upon the table showing -
The number of letter-carriers and messen gers respectively employed in each of the post-offices in the Illawarra suburbs inclusively from St. Peters to Hurstville, New South Wales.
The hours worked by such officers, and the nature of the duties performed by each.
Whether letter-carriers in any of the Illawarra suburban offices have to perform night work in addition to their ordinary duties, performed in the day time. If so, number of extra hours they work, and the nature of their night duties.
In connexion with night work (if such is now performed by officers engaged during the day), whether the appointment of an additional messenger would obviate the necessity for extra night duty on the part of officers employed on day duties.
If so, whether an additional messenger will be appointed to offices where such conditions exist?
Motion (by Mr. Thomas) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Post and Telegraph Act 1901.
Debate resumed from 6th October(vide page 4264), on motion by Mr. Tudor -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I had expected the honorable member for Richmond to continuethe debate this afternoon, but, in his absence, I propose to take up the discussion. It is not my intention, however, to speak at any length, since several honorable members have already dealt very fully with the question. The honorable member for Capricornia, the honorable member for Darling Downs, and the honorable member for Moreton, have given very valuable information, showing the importance of the sugar industry in northern New South Wales and Queensland, and little remains for me to do but to emphasize what has already been said as to the necessity of placing the industry on the footing occupied by other protected industries in the Commonwealth. It is most desirable that the policy of the Australian Parliament with regard to the future of the sugar industry should be determined with as little delay as possible. For some time there has been in Queensland a strong feeling of uncertainty and unrest regarding the attitude of this Legislature. The planters desire to know at once the policy of the Government and their intentions with respect to this great industry, which belongs wholly to New South Wales and Queensland. At the present time sugar is not being produced in any other part of the Commonwealth, although I understand that another attempt is to be made in Victoria to produce beet sugar. We have in Queensland some of the largest industries in the Commonwealth, and that of sugar-growing is second on the list. It gives employment to many thousands of white men, and, taking into account their wives and children, provides a livelihood for a large section of the population. If we had anything like permanent legislation, we might look forward with every degree of confidence to the development of this industry by leaps and bounds, but certainty and permanency are undoubtedly required to insure its prosperity. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the soil and climatic conditions of Queensland are most suitable for the production of sugar in its best form. It is scarcely necessary to remind the House that if anything happened to destroy the industry, the people of Australia would still require to be supplied with sugar. It is a commodity that is used in every home. Every man, woman, and child is a consumer of sugar in some form or other, and it is a good thing for them that they are. Should the industry be injured or hampered in such a way as to cause the local production to be insufficient for our requirements, a supply would have to be obtained .from other lands ; and there, are, within easy distances of our shores, countries producing sugar equal to any that is grown in Australia, but producing it entirely by coloured labour. Sugar is grown largely in Fiji, the West Indies, Formosa, and Java, ‘and 1 think I can safely say that in all those countries only coloured labour is employed in .its production. We know that in Fiji the labour employed consists of South Sea Islanders, Javanese, or Malays and Hindoos,, .and that the wages they receive are a mere pittance. Doubtless, the same remark will apply to the industry in the West Indies. Java is rapidly becoming a great sugar and coffee producing country. Its soil and climatic conditions are very similar to those of Queensland, and, consequently, it is peculiarly fitted for such crops. Java is not many days’ steaming from Queensland, and it would be able to supply the whole of our requirements, should it be found necessary to obtain sugar from abroad. The honorable member for Capricornia, in his speech on this subject, referred to Java as follows : -
Jaya is only a few days’ sail from the coast of Australia, and there are some 30,000,000 Javanese, many of whom are employed in the sugar industry at wages of 3d. p.er day. Mr. Frank Green, of Queensland, who visited Java not long since, is fully convinced that the Australians cannot compete in sugar production with the Javanese, whose labour is surprisingly cheap, *eld workers receiving only 10 cents, or 2d., per day, and artisans in the sugar house, only 15 cents, or 3d., per day.
Although the honorable member gave us some very valuable information with regard to the sugar industry in various parts of the world, he was somewhat in error as to the wages paid on the Java sugar plantations. I visited Java twice during the last two years, and, knowing that the island was a competitor with Queensland in the production of sugar, I made inquiries regarding the wages and other conditions of the industry there. In not one instance did I find that labour was paid less than § of a guilder, or about 7½d. in our money, per day. The honorable member was, therefore, in error in stating that the wages were only 3d. per day. Sevenpence halfpenny a day is small enough, but is about 150 per cent, more than the figure given by the honorable member. I also found on each occasion that the Java Government were offering every encouragement to people with anything like a reasonable amount of capital to take up land on 99 years’ leases. The land is being rapidly taken up on those terms, particularly for sugar and coffee growing, and in some districts for rice. For the first five years no rent is expected from the lessee, that term being allowed him to clear the land, and get in one or two crops. I do not- wish to take up much time on this measure, because I think that honorable members have already made up their minds to pass it, and I hope it will be determined to place the sugar industry on the same footing as other protected industries throughout the Commonwealth. I hope also there will be no delay in making it law.
– Would the honorable member explain how it is necessary to continue the bounty, when less than 10 per cent, of the sugar used is grown with coloured labour?
– We want to bring it about that there shall be no coloured labour. The real object of the Excise and bounty was to bring about what is known as a White Australia. We had a great fight over the question in the first session of the first Federal Parliament, which was willing to give almost anything to achieve that object. The legislation then passed has very nearly brought about that state of things, and I think we must still continue to give some help to those who are producing sugar for us, in order to make the policy complete, and assist in the employment of nothing but white labour in the industry in New South Wales and the tropical portions of Queensland.
– What is it proposed to do with the coloured labour which is already in Queensland, and which cannot be sent away?
– I said some years ago, without wishing to be irreverent, that I was inclined to think, after listening to the members who then composed the Labour party in this House, that the Almighty had made a mistake in creating anything but white men; and that I felt sure that when He created black men, He had not consulted the leader of the Labour party in Australia. That remark sounded somewhat irreverent, but I did. not mean it in that way. I thought it was unfortunate that we, who considered ourselves white outside, although we were not always, perhaps, white inside, should look down upon coloured men. The question of labour, white or coloured, does not come into the matter to-day. The sugar planters of Queensland have accepted the White Australia policy, and have no desire to go back to the old order of coloured labour. I believe there is less talk about coloured labour in Queensland than in any other State, .and no man there would think of suggesting that it should again be employed; but all those in the industry expect some finality with regard to legislation. The feeling of uncertainty in the past has prevented many from going in for sugar-growing. I hope the Government will appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the industry, particularly with regard to the conditions of labour in it. I hope the motion on the notice-paper will be carried, and, by bringing about the appointment of a Royal Commission, lead to the Federal Parliament placing the industry on a sound footing for many years to come.
– Will not the Government say what they propose to do?
– Can the Government give any intimation as to whether they will appoint a Royal Commission?
– We are going to get this legislation passed first.
– What will follow then? I shall not press the question, for I think the Minister realizes the importance of getting all the information possible. I hope he and his colleagues will see their way clear to appoint a Commission, to inquire into the position of affairs generally. The Excise and bounty should be equal ized, so as to encourage the further employment of white people, particularly in the tropical portions of Queensland. The Queensland Government have already advanced large sums of money for the erection of central sugar mills. There are many more districts that require mills, and the industry will not be a complete success until those are erected ; but the Queensland Government will not advance any more money for the purpose under the present condition of things. In the Brisbane newspapers of Saturday last it is distinctly stated that the question whether the Queensland Government will grant money for the establishment of additional central sugar mills depends on the passing of the Bill. Honorable members will therefore see the importance of passing the measure with as little delay as possible, because we are told that the idea of advancing more money cannot be entertained until that is done. I ask honorable members to keep in view the importance of the industry, not only to the northern portion of New South Wales and to Queensland, but to the Commonwealth at large ; and I hope there will be no difficulty in putting the measure through both Houses.
– It is fitting, perhaps, that I should say a word or two as one who was the Minister responsible in the last Government for the administration of the Act. I desire that the subject should be approached with a wide outlook. I am not disposed to regard it simply as a question of the sugar industry of Queensland, but rather as an important factor in the consideration of the much greater problem of the settlement and development of tropical Australia. From that stand-point we must be prepared to grant this industry most generous consideration. The industry has already been established; some millions of money are invested in it, and about 40,000 persons are already engaged in it. This in itself is an earnest of the stability of the industry. The old plantation conditions have passed away, under which it was customary for a proprietor to own vast plantations, and, with a mill of his own, be prepared to work it for his own individual interests quite irrespective of the interests of those immediately employed by or associated with’ him. At present large areas of country suitable for the production of sugar have been settled on by small farmers, who are now the real sugar cane producers of
Queensland. Under the circumstances, we must have the most generous and mindful regard, not only to the interests of those who have capital invested, but also to the interests of other persons connected with the industry. It is with some degree of disappointment that I find that the Ministers who succeeded us cannot see their way to continue the policy initiated by the late Government. This question is full of difficulties and complexities ; it has to be considered, not only from the stand-point of those immediately interested, whether capitalists or employes, but also from the stand-point of the consumers. After having given a considerable amount of attention to the subject, I felt, when Minister, that I was not competent, and that this Parliament was not competent, to fully and effectively deal with it without further information, having regard to the special complexities of the position., Under the circumstances, the late Government determined on the appointment of a Royal Commission, consisting of a Judge of a Supreme Court as chairman, with two experts, men of great experience, associated with him. We laid down three basic principles, the first of which was that the policy of a White Australia should be regarded as completely accepted by the Commonwealth, and that it was generally considered that it should not be assailed or weakened in any shape or form. We recognised that the community, at the instance of former Liberal Governments, had shown clearly their objection to the presence here of a servile race ; and that the result, by a process of Excise and bounty, had been the substitution of white for black labour. I am satisfied that that policy has been completely established ; and I am further satisfied as to its future success, having regard to the likelihood of developments in modern machinery and the further introduction of scientific methods in the working of the industry. The second basic principle was that the industry should provide employment at a fair and reasonable living wage; and the third, that due .regard should be paid to the interests of the consumer. Having laid down those three basic principles, we delegated to the Royal Commission the duty of considering the industry in all its bearings, and, after investigation, making recommendations to Parliament, with the object of its permanent establishment on a more satisfactory basis. That policy, I submit, is the true policy to be pur sued, in the interests of the industry. While I intend giving full support to the Bill, I venture to say to the Minister of Customs that the measure is simply evading the whole question. It should be a more comprehensive measure, based on the result of inquiry. I am supporting the Bill because, with others, I desire to give the fullest assurance to the people of Queensland that we are determined that the industry shall be permanently established, and that we recognise it as a great factor in the prosperity of Australia. I desire the fullest encouragement to be given to those in the industry, and that effect should be given to the intention of Parliament to treat the industry with the most generous consideration. But this Bill will not satisfy the industry itself, nor will it satisfy the people of Australia, who have a right to see it placed on a better and more scientific basis. Therefore, I hope that the Minister of Trade and Customs is prepared to give the House an assurance that it is the intention of the Government to proceed with the appointment of a Royal Commission. Nothing short of that will satisfy Parliament. After looking into the question, the Minister will, I think, be one of the first to admit that we cannot permit the industry to remain on its present basis - that more is required to be known concerning it, with the object of dealing with’ it more effectively. It was my duty, with the right honorable member for Swan, to visit Northern Queensland, and make close investigation on the spot; and I came away, as he did, fully impressed with’ the idea that there was a strong feeling that’ the interests of the industry would be fully served by proper protection at the ports, coupled with the establishment of Wages Boards in connexion with the industry., The system of bounty and Excise has, no doubt, proved useful, resulting, as I have said, in the substitution of white for coloured labour.
– When did the honorable member visit Northern Queensland?
– About three years ago, I think. Since then the matter has on several occasions been mentioned by those interested in the industry - not by any particular class of people, but by growers and others. Speaking broadly, we found no large exception taken to effective protection at the ports. I do not regard £6 a ton as an excessively high protective rate. It was stated, some little time ago, by a gentleman identified with the industry - I think a Mr. Gibson - that a protection of £5 a ton would be enough if the kanaka were abolished; while, on the other hand, it has been said that, allowing coloured service, the protection could be reduced to j£i. However, if we are determined to maintain the White Australia policy, it is useless to consider the conditions under which sugar might be produced with black labour. . As I am of opinion that ,£5 may not be sufficient, I shall support a duty of £6 a ton. The object of the protective policy is to make Australia self-contained, and the encouragement of the sugar industry will greatly help to settle and develop tropical Australia. The local consumption of sugar is something like 210,000 tons a year ; and the supply is not yet equal to the demand, though I think that it soon will be. Having regard to the competition of the sugar produced in Java, Fiji, Mauritius, and other places where cheap coloured labour is used, we may have difficulty in establishing an export trade; but the supply of the home market must mean a big business. I hope that the Minister will not be satisfied with the passing of this measure, which is an earnest of the Parliament’s generous goodwill towards the industry, but will give us and the country the assurance that the policy of the last Government will be continued. I cordially support the proposal of the honorable member for Capricornia for the creation of a Royal Commission to investigate the whole matter.
– We are indebted to Queensland representatives, and especially to the honorable members for Capricornia, Herbert, and Brisbane, for the valuable information which they have given to us, enabling us to deal with this important question. In my opinion, it would be a mistake to reduce the duty on sugar. We should build up an industry strong enough, not only to supply our own wants, but also to export. At the present time, we are sending sugar to South Africa; but that may be done merely as one of the means of the Sugar Combine to keep up local prices. I think, too, that we are justified in retaining the Excise. We must have revenue, and this is one of the means by which we can get it. If we returned £4 to the grower, it is doubtful whether the money would really .reach him ; probably, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company would reap the whole benefit. I hope that the Minister of Trade and Customs will give earnest consideration to the question of wages. I understand that now about 22s. 6d. a week and rations is the average remuneration.
– The Bill creates three tribunals to which labourers can appeal, the fixing of wages not being left to the Minister.
– I am glad to hear that, because the rates now paid are altogether too low, considering the conditions under which labour has to be performed in northern Queensland. At least 5s. a day should be paid for all harvesting, whether in the cane-field, the wheat-field, or in any other industry. I congratulate some of the honorable members opposite on their conversion to the White Australia policy. On one occasion, the honorable member for Oxley said that if coloured labour were abolished, green grass would be seen growing in the streets of Brisbane. Were I in order, I should like to contrast the predictions of some of those who opposed the White Australia legislation with the actual conditions of the present day. We now produce more sugar than we have ever produced before, the production this year being over 200,000 tons, while in 1902, when there was coloured labour, it was only 98,795 tons. I hope that the time will come when I shall be able to congratulate the present opponents of the land tax on a similar conversion.
– We introduced the White Australia legislation.
– I recognise that the honorable member has done much for Australia; no one who has heard of the Coolgardie water supply would deny that. In my opinion, the honorable member for Franklin is wrong in thinking that the fruit-growers of Tasmania would get more were the price of sugar reduced. The honorable member for Moreton has shown that 2 tons of jam worth £54 can be made with a ton of fruit costing £4, and a ton of sugar costing £22, leaving a margin of ^28 to cover the cost of manufacture. The figures seem to show that the fruitgrower would not benefit were sugar lower in price, the jam industry, like the sugar industry, being controlled by a combine. The monopoly of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company can only be cured by nationalization. The annual profits of that company are not generally known, because its stock has been watered times out of number. According to that great newspaper, the Bulletin, it pays huge dividends. The Queensland Government has spent more than ,£500,000 on the erection of mills for the crushing of cane, which, of course, has encouraged cane-growing; but the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has benefited more than any one else from the expenditure.
– How does the honorable member /propose to nationalize the sugar refining industry? Would he buy out the Colonial Sugar Refining Company ?
– I am not of opinion that the company should be bought out. If it would not sell at a fair price, I would place State refineries alongside its refineries. No doubt we could buy the company’s business at a much reduced figure if we threatened to erect State refineries. Assuredly the only way to deal with combines and trusts is to enter into competition with them, and when we secure the increased power that we hope shortly to obtain, I trust that we shall be able to deal with this important question of sugar production in Queensland. I understand that in the southern States of Victoria and Tasmania a great impetus has been given to the growth of beet for the manufacture of sugar.
– By this Bill.
– By this Bill. If the Bill is successful in that respect alone the Government will have done a good work for Australia. As local production increases prices must be decreased, and if we can keep this commodity beyond the control of one company the position will be all the better for the people of the Commonwealth. I am deeply indebted to the honorable members to whom I have referred for the information they have given, and which will enable me to cast a straight-out vote in support of this Bill.
– The more I hear this question debated the more I am convinced that the House needs an independent, expert investigation to place further information before it. I am also satisfied that at the present time this is primarily a political question. Only in a secondary sense is it a commercial and industrial one, and I feel that in dealing with many big Australian subjects the political element is allowed to predominate to a far greater extent than is desirable in the interests of the general taxpayers. The honorable member for Oxley asked the Minister of Trade and Customs this afternoon to definitely inform him whether the Government proposed to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole ques tion of the sugar industry, and the reply he received was that they were going first of all lo secure this legislation. What does that answer mean? If we are to legislate so as to make permanent the concessions that have already been granted, would it not be better from every point of view to have a Commission appointed prior to such a determination being arrived at? Honorable members would then know on what ground the concessions were to be made. In the interests of the sugargrowers, and particularly of those people whose capital is invested in the industry, it would be infinitely better for Parliament to insist upon an investigation being made before any legislation dealing with the question takes place. The Australian Sugar Journal, in which the well-being of the industry, I assume, is dealt with from an impartial point of view, holds that, before any legislation is passed, a thorough and independent investigation should be made. It advocates such an inquiry in the interests of the permanent well-being of the industry. A previous Government did the right thing when it determined that an independent Commission, presided over by a Justice of a Supreme Court, and comprising a representative of the growers and a representative of the general public, should be appointed. An impartial consideration of the whole question - a review of the history of sugar production in Australia without any political bias - would thus have been placed before honorable members. In that way not only would honorable members have had an opportunity to deal equitably with the industry, but the people of Australia whose general interests are particularly affected would have been’ satisfied. As it is, they are by no means satisfied to-day. The honorable member for Denison sought to raise the question of coloured labour as against a White Australia. That question, however, cannot be appropriately raised to-day. In the determination of this legislation it is not at issue, and it is idle to raise an issue that’ does not apply in any sense of the term. It is, however, of supreme importance that the people of Australia should know how far the encouragement given to sugar growing in Australia has been justified. I do not think that any honorable member desires to injure the industry. On the contrary, I am satisfied that honorable members on all sides of the House wish to see sugar growing in Australia made, if possible, an unqualified success. We desire, however, to satisfy the people of
Australia that what has been done up to date has been amply justified, and that the prospects are sufficiently bright to encourage a continuance of the policy laid down by a previous Parliament. The most ardent advocate of the extension of the bounty system must admit that the growing of sugar in Australia so far has not been an unqualified success, although the decline has. not been so great as to discourage a desire on the part of this Parliament to tackle the question fairly and squarely, and to place the future of sugar growing in Queensland and other semi-tropical parts of Australia on a sound, solid and permanent basis. The Queensland sugargrowers, above all things, desire to know whether they are to be subjected to a policy of uncertainty. If I thought that the Government of the day were determined, after securing this legislation, to refrain from any further investigation of the subject, I should resist this Bill to the utmost of my ability. I wish to warn them that they have to satisfy, not only honorable members, but the people of Australia, and that the latter are by no means satisfied to-day. The Australian Sugar Journal is issued in the interests of the industry in Queensland, and I take it that in advocating as strenuously as possible an impartial and thorough investigation, it knows what it is doing. It is to be assumed that those whom it represents are satisfied that a thorough investigation instead of imperilling the industry would tend really to benefit it. I should therefore like to have from the Government a more definite assurance than has been given that when this Bill is passed, they will make the investigation which was promised by a previous Administration. I wish to have a promise that with the passing of this Bill the matter is not to be dropped altogether. Failing such an assurance, I must inferentially believe that the Government are going to deceive Parliament into passing this measure, and, having secured all that they hope to accomplish, are not going to take any further risk by providing for such an investigation as ought to take place. During this debate, statements have been made that the local production of sugar is decreasing rather than increasing. Doubtless the decrease may be explained. Last year there was a very considerable falling off, but it is confidently anticipated that a better crop this year will bring the production back to high water mark. The decrease may be accounted for by a com- parative failure in some districts of the sugar crop. Sugar-cane, like all other crops in Australia, is subject to variations, and the fluctuations here are probably greater than they are in other countries. The right honorable member for Swan made a comparison of the results of black as against white labour, when he read to the House a quotation showing that white men had been producing 4J tons as against a production of 7 tons by coloured men. I have no information to guide me in accepting or rejecting that statement, but the right honorable member, who has held office as Treasurer, made the statement in Queensland some time ago, and, so far as I know, it has not been contradicted.. I should like to know whether it is correct.
– If it were true, would the honorable member advocate a return to black labour conditions?
– No; but I should not advocate the permanence of a policy which means that Australia has to give 30s. in order to receive 20s. I recognise that many of these new industries are surrounded with difficulties, most of which I hope will be of only a temporary character, and I am prepared as readily as is any honorable member to vote money to assist an industry where an immediate return is not secured, but rather an immediate loss, if ultimately its successful establishment is to be brought about. In other circumstances, I should not do so. If there is to be a permanent concession, and a permanent loss on the lines hitherto made manifest, it would be better for us not to introduce coloured labour, but to let our sugar be grown by some other country which can cultivate it more effectively than we can, and apply the energies of our own people, now devoted to an industry which is not productive in the truest sense, to some other occupation that would be productive and better serve the interests of the Commonwealth.
– Does not the sugar industry at present pay more in Excise than it receives in bounty?
– Undoubtedly j but the points I raise are points on which I want information, and on which the people of Australia require, and have a right to get, information. I wish to know why the Ministry are so diffident in stating to the House their policy on this question of inquiry. I may take st wrong view of it, but in some fifteen or sixteen years or more of parliamentary experience I have never known information withheld from a Parliament as it has been withheld from this Parliament during the brief time I have had a seat in this House. When big questions of this kind are under consideration, any information in the hands of the Government, or that may be secured by the Government for the benefit of honorable members, ought to be readily placed at their disposal.
– We are legislating in the dark.
– We are legislating in the dark, and upon principles which do not commend themselves to those who know how business of this nature should be undertaken. This kind of legislation cannot continue, and this kind of policy does not commend itself to the people of Australia, who have a right to know, through this House, as we have a right to know first hand, what has been done on all the points mentioned. The Acting Treasurer has raised the question whether the people are paying the Excise. It is freely stated in the House that they are not, and that the Excise, so far as it operates, together with the bounty, does not involve the people of the Commonwealth in any extra taxation. That is perfectly true directly, but is by no means true broadly, and I decline to accept the statement as a general principle. Directly and immediately there is not an extra burden of taxation put upon the people of the Commonwealth to pay the tax, but I do say that it would never do, in the interests of the Commonwealth, to continue the principle indefinitely, because the people are penalized continuously in the excessive price they have to pay for sugar. I know that the price of sugar in the Commonwealth is determined, not by local conditions, but by the world’s markets; but, while that is so, I do say that in our internal system, by which sugar is manufactured, refined, and distributed, and its production encouraged by the Excise and bounty, it ought to be possible to distribute it among the people at a lower price than the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are able to extract from them to-day. I do not blame the company. They are a commercial concern, and not an institution run on benevolent lines. The company, with their shareholders behind them, naturally expect the largest price for their commo dity that the competition of the world’s markets will allow them to get. They get that, and nothing more. As one who, in business for the last twenty or thirty years, has known a great deal about the distribution of this commodity, 1 admit that, while the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in the discharge of their business are as honorable and high-minded as any other company, and in some respects lean to the side of generosity, they get as much as the world’s markets will allow them to get, and there are ‘very few other companies in the world, and none in Australia, making such enormous profits as they are. The company have so grown in affluence, and have such far-reaching interests, that it is impossible to locate where their enormous annual profits are actually made, or ascertain how far they are made out of handling the immediate products of Queensland and New South Wales, and how far from the interests of that big concern outside the six States of the Commonwealth. I am, however, convinced that such a good thing is made by the company in immediately handling the products of the Commonwealth that, if some pressure were brought to bear in the form of a healthy and proper competitive rivalry, it ought to bring down the price of sugar distributed within the limits ot the Commonwealth, apart from the world’s markets altogether, by at least ^£2 a ton.
– Would the honorable member suggest that the Government should do that?
– I am coming to that point.
– How about a Commonwealth refinery?
– The honorable member for Denison has suggested the nationalization of the sugar industry. I do not believe, and believe less every day I live, in nationalizing any industry. Where private enterprise with healthy individual competition can be brought into play in the development of Australian industries, I say, *’ Keep the Government out of it every time.” There are times when the Government have to come in, but the developments of recent times, and, in fact, right up to date, ought to be as a red flag warning the people of Australia against undertaking too much nationalization of big industries. If politics could be kept out of the question, it would be a different thing altogether.
– Hear, hear.
– I am glad to hear the honorable member indorse that sentiment, because these nationalized concerns would be run, not by highly trained, independent experts, but by politicians, and would ultimately be ruined by politicians.
– Is the honorable member speaking from experience?
– I am, and my experience has led me to a conviction which grows stronger every day, and which before long will extend to the other side of the House, or, if not to them, to the people who sent them here, because things are soon going to be intolerable on account of many of the influences which are crushing the workers of the community, in whose interests these particular principles are supposed to be advocated and established.
– I heard that twenty years ago.
– Then the honorable member ought to have benefited by hearing it. Although the good seed sown some twenty years ago fell on stony, unproductive ground, I believe there is still hope even for the honorable member for Maranoa on these questions. I am sufficient of what he may be pleased to call a State Socialist to believe in some sort of intervention by the Parliament of a country to correct the evils of monopolies. . The question of the sugar supply of the Commonwealth is altogether too big to be in the hands of one company, whether that company be absolutely independent of restrictions or not. That is why I wanted to see an independent, expert, non-political Commission appointed to obtain information and make recommendations as to the conduct of the industry in the future in the interests of the sugar growers themselves and the great body of consumers. If by some form of cooperation the sugar growers of Queensland and other parts of Australia can be assisted to thoroughly establish their industry, and to deal with the product without being at the mercy of one big combine or company, we ought to know it, and I for one would cheerfully assist to pass a very substantial vote, if we had proper authoritative information and advice on the point. The question of jams and preserves, the manufacture of which requires such enormous quantities of sugar, is also affected. It has been stated by two or three honorable members that if sugar were produced at a lower rate it would not benefit the jam fac tories, because they would not accept a less price for the jams that are distributed throughout the Commonwealth. It is merely an assertion, of which no .proof is offered. I am prepared, from my knowledge of the business, to believe otherwise. From every point of view it is more likely that the jam manufactories of Australia would secure a larger distribution, to the almost entire exclusion of jams or preserves from outside countries. I believe the jam- making industry of the Commonwealth is sufficiently well established and in a sufficiently good condition, generally speaking, to hold its own against all comers. I do not so much desire distribution in Australia to be increased as I desire to see a big export trade. I believe that, practically, we have the monopoly of the distribution in Australia, excepting” as regards a few of the finer and more expensive sorts.
– The Tasmanians will not use our. sugar !
– Tasmanians, I am afraid, are a very slow people, but I think they are improving, and are likely to still further improve. InTasmania there ought to be a jam industry as large in proportion as the sugar industry is in Queensland ; indeed, the same may be said in regard to other States. In South Australia, jam production could be developed in almost every direction to an unlimited extent. I question whether there is any part of the world where natural conditions in regard to soil, climate, and so forth, are more favorable for the production of jams and preserves of every kind; than in Australia. This industry at pre: sent, though large, is only in its infancy, and it ought to run side by side with the sugar industry. The jam industry depends very largely on the price at which sugar can be supplied, so as to bring about the: great end to which I have alluded, namely, a big export trade. I hope the position will be urged on the Government incessantly and unweariedly until they promise the House and the people to have an investigation entirely free from political influence. I do not desire an investigation by members of this House, but an investigation by the best and most independent experts, presided over by a Supreme Court Judge, who will let us know, apart altogether from’ political, local, or district considerations, exactly what the industry has done, what it is worth to-day, and what its future may be. I am sure that the House would be prepared to indorse the recommendations of such a body, and we should not care whether or not it did involve the continuance forsometime to come of considerable expense, so long as the result was the establishment for all time of a great and successful Australian industry.
.- The honorable member for Wakefield has left me very little to say, for he has “ stolen my thunder.” The ways of the sugargrowers are, to say the least, remarkable. They are not satisfied when they have a “ real good thing on,” but, like the horse leech’s daughter, are continually asking for more. In this connexion I should like to read an extract from the “ Sugar Notes “ in the Daily Mercury of Mackay, of Tuesday, 4th October. Many honorable members say that Queensland members are bound hand and foot to the existing sugar bounty and Excise. I, for one, desire to see the industry carried on by means of white labour, and to that end I am prepared to give every assistance possible; but there is such a thingas straining the rope even to breaking point. I represent a constituency in which there is not grown a single piece of cane, but my constituents are great consumers ; and it is to their interests I am looking, as well as to the interests of the grower. I desire honorable members to realize that the Daily Mercury is not one of those “ Labour rags “ of which we hear so much, but is an organ of the capitalistic press. It says -
Some very heavy crops are reported in various parts of the district, plant-cane going as high as 84 tons and ratoons 25 tons to the acre. The improved varieties of cane grown are largely responsible for the better crops generally.
If that be the case in the Mackay district, we may take£1 as a fair average price, and this means£84 per acre.
– The honorable member knows that is not possible - the statement is not borne out by experience.
– This is a paper printed in the heart of the sugar district, and devoted to sugar interests; and if the report be false, why has somebody not taken the newspaper to task?
– Has the honorable member himself ever seen such a return ?
– I have seen cane growing, but I really could not say off-hand how much cane grows to the acre.
– Has the honorable member seen the next issue of that newspaper?
– There has not been time to contradict the report.
– Will the honorable member for Herbert tell me how often this paper is published?
– Is this Senator Chataway’s newspaper ?
– Then honorable members may inquire from Senator Chataway, who will tell them whether the report is a correct one. Senator Chataway prides himself on his newspaper giving particularly up-to-date information in regard to the sugar industry ; and the issue I hold in my hand devotes a whole page to “ Sugar Notes.” Is Senator Chataway a man likely to injure the industry by giving unduly inflated results? Our experience in the past has been all the other way; and in any case, I point out that the statement in the newspaper is not mine.
– What mills pay£1 a ton for cane?
– It is stated that the price obtained is 22s. ; but if the honorable member will give notice of his question I shall make inquiries by wire and let him know to-morrow. Such a return is equalled nowhere in the world, except it may be from flowers, or other plants which require intense culture, and are sold at high prices. Yet the people engaged in this industry are asking for more. Surely such insatiable greed should not be encouraged? I think the sugar-growers are doing “ a big thing,” and I am satisfied that they should ; but I would not allow them to have a monopoly, nor would I agree to this Parliament insuring them an increased price.
– They ask to be placed on a permanent footing.
– I have been ten years in Parliament, and have heard the cry for a “permanent footing” all the time. What more “ permanent footing “ can be given than there is already ? There is Protection against the outside world ; no other industry has more, and some have even less. Then we have the Excise and bounty.
– That is to secure a White Australia.
– I am prepared to give the Excise and bounty, in order to secure a White Australia, but I am not prepared to give increased bounty and Excise. When there is such a return as 22s. per ton for cane, I am satisfied that either the Colonial Sugar Refining Company or others are making a “ jolly good thing,” though I know the growers are not getting too much. I do not wish the honorable member for Moreton to think I am actuated by any sort of jealousy. I have no interest in the industry, except as a consumer, and I have not taken sugar for at least twenty-five years. I should now like to point out that some three or four weeks ago a quiet, secret little deputation waited on the Minister of Trade and Customs, and, though nobody had any knowledge of the meeting, it was supposed to represent the great sugar industry of Queensland. When I say that nobody had any knowledge of it, I mean that nobody had except the honorable member for Moreton, who introduced the deputation. I venture to say that there is infinitely more sugar grown in the districts represented by the honorable member for Herbert, the honorable member for Capricornia, the honorable member for Cowper, the honorable member for Richmond, or by the Pr ime Minister, than in the district represented by the honorable member for Moreton; and yet not one of those honorable members was asked to attend this holeandcorner conference.
– I wish to know why; and, perhaps, the honorable member for Moreton will explain.
– He is a monopolist !
– The honorable member may say so; but I do not think the honorable member for Moreton is a monopolist, except, perhaps, in the matter of deputations.
– I think the honorable member himself is giving good evidence why he was not at the deputation !
– Why ?
– The honorable member is opposed to the whole movement !
– I am not; and I shall not allow the honorable member for Moreton to put words into my mouth. I am not opposed to the bounty and Excise, but desire to keep both, so as to maintain the White Australia policy; although I do not favour an increase of the bounty. The honorable member for Moreton cannot twist my words so as to cause it to be believed by the House, or by the public, that I am opposed to the system of bounty and Excise. A Mr. Swayne, a member of the Queensland Parliament, came down here, and the honorable member for Moreton did not even take his cronies, the honorable members for Darling Downs and Oxley, into his confidence; much less did he men tion the matter to the other representatives of the State who are of a different brand of politics. I ask the Minister if he does not think that when a deputation is introduced to him from Queensland, some members of his own party should be present ? If a deputation came from my electorate, and the Minister did not let me know what was going on, I should make a fuss about the matter. Why did he not let the members of his party who represent sugar districts know of this deputation? Personally, I do not mind having been left out, because I am not concerned with the sugar industry.
– I could not know who was coming with the deputation.
– I should like the Minister to tell us whether the Bill is the outcome of the representations of this great deputation of one, or whether it was framed before ?
– It was introduced two months before the deputation interviewed me.
– The deputation was the outcome of the Bill.
– Although the sugar industry is being “ boosted “ up by means of bounties, Excise, and duties, the wages paid in it are the worst in Queensland. I know that from what I saw just after the last elections.
– Are they not as good as the squatters pay ?
– No; and the men are not housed any better, except, perhaps, in a few instances, than the kanakas were. There may be some model employers; but I have seen men housed like pigs, and forced to improve their accommodation by their own exertions. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and other big companies possessing plantations in Queensland, have indented labour from the south ; but when the men found that the arrangements were not conducive to their wellbeing, and that in many instances they were working for lower wages than were being paid to Queenslanders, they were haled to the Police Court under that humanitarian law, the Queensland Masters and Servants Act ; and, because they would not carry out their agreement, were sent to gaol, and herded with all sorts and conditions of prisoners. We are asked to perpetuate the present arrangements.
– We desire permanency.
– Does the honorable member desire that the Excise and bounty shall continue for over?
– The honorable member desires that the industry should be protected unconditionally.
– No Queensland representative is now game to pat the kanaka on the head, and say what will happen without his help, about which we heard a great deal in the first Parliament. I wish to see finality in our legislation for the sugar industry, .legislation which will deal fairly with growers, refiners, and manufacturers, and will not overlook the consumer.
– The present legislation will expire in about two and a half years, and no arrangement has yet been made for the future.
– Honorable members are taking time by the forelock.
– And rightly so.
– There must be finality, whether this Parliament or some other tackles the subject. What the deputation of one introduced by the honorable member for Moreton desired, no one knows. The honorable member for Moreton does not know, neither does the Minister, nor do you, Mr. Speaker. I am like the young recruit learning the goose-step - “ as you were “ - in the matter, and shall resume my seat to give the honorable member for Moreton an opportunity to say what took place during the secret interview with the Minister.
.- We have a most difficult problem in applying White Australia conditions to the sugar industry, and dealing fairly with the interests of all concerned. It is not easy to reconcile, by legislation, interests which are so conflicting ; but we have gone so far that we must discover some solution. The Government suggest that we should continue the present legislation. Without this measure, the bounty would disappear in 1913, and the Government propose that it shall be paid indefinitely. That is rather a weak proposal. I should like it to be stated definitely that the whole matter will lie investigated by a Royal Commission of experts, or that the question will be tackled seriously in some other way. Apparently, the Government position is that this legislation is to be put through, and that at some indefinite future time further consideration is to be given to the whole question. By passing this measure, we are playing into the hands of the monopoly. It is said that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company takes ail the profits made in the sugar industry; and if that be so, it is likely to continue to take them, supposing that the conditions continue unchanged. My suggestion is the appointment of an expert, or of a body of experts, to obtain reliable information on which we could act. At the present time, the consumers are paying ,£1,000,000 a year to support the sugar industry, our consumption being, roughly, 200,000 tons a year, for which we Pav £5 a ron more than is .paid in other parts of the world for sugar of the same quality.
– Is the honorable member serious?
– I state it as a fact.
– It is a good old Free Trade argument.
– It is not an argument, but a fact, and it is one that convinces me that we cannot continue the present haphazard system.
– Would the honorable member prefer Australia to consume sugar produced by slave labour?
– I am not urging that we should consume sugar grown by slave or free coloured labour ; but if the industry is to be permanently established in Australia, I hope that it will be on lines that are fair to the taxpayers generally. The people of Australia are the greatest consumers of sugar in the world, the consumption per head being about 113 lbs. per annum. Notwithstanding the statement of the honorable member for Denison, many persons, in addition to the cane-growers, are interested in this question. Fruit-growers, and those engaged in the preserving industry, for instance, are seriously affected by it. I read recently in the Melbourne press a statement to the effect that a local factory had closed down, throwing out of employment about 350 hands, and that the reason assigned for its closing down was that sugar could not be obtained at a fair price. It ‘was stated that the proprietors could have obtained sugar from abroad at a cheaper rate, but that, as reliance could not be placed upon the permanence and regularity of the supply, they had to close down.. I cannot say that that is the true explanation for the shutting up of this factory, but it was given in the newspapers as the reason assigned by the proprietors. Whilst one company continues to hold the industry in its hands, it must have a great controlling effect over the price of sugar. The fruit-grower and the producer of honey and treacle cannot control the price of their products in the same way, and surely these people are deserving of some consideration. The production of sugar in Australia to-day is not equal to the local consumption. In this connexion, we need only consider the position of Queensland, and it seems to me that that State has about reached the limit of its production. If we are to understand that Queensland is not going to produce sugar in much larger quantities than she does at present, then the prospects for the grower are not very hopeful, and our anticipations in regard to the development of tropical areas in northern Australia are not to be realized. If that is the position, the policy which this Bill proposes to continue for an indefinite period will not be of very material benefit to the growers. I understand that cane-growers in Queensland receive but a very small proportion of the£22 per ton that is paid for the refined article. We have it on the authority of the honorable member for Capricornia and others that the great bulk of that amount is going into the pockets of the mill-owners, and chiefly into the coffers of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The grower sells his cane to the mills, which, in turn, sell to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and the company refines the sugar, and parcels it out amongst Australian buyers. The growers are not receiving year in and year out anything like what they deem to be a reasonable price for their cane. It must be remembered in this connexion that even the richest parts of Queensland, where sugar-cane is cultivated, will not stand cropping for all time without being properly fertilized, for this crop takes a great deal out of the soil. The cane-growers declare that without the bounty system it would be impossible for them, in many instances, to continue their operations. If there is any truth in that statement, it shows that the grower is working on a very small margin, and that this policy does not hold out to him the prospects that he might reasonably anticipate. Viewing the question from every stand-point, we must come to the conclusion that the Government ought to tackle it in earnest, and to endeavour to place the. industry on a sound footing, whilst at the same time doing justice to the taxpayers generally. According to the honorable member for Capricornia, cane-growers in the Bundaberg district receive only£5 4s. 6d. per ton for their sugar, and it is only because of the rebate of £31s.9d. per ton in addition that they are able to keep going. If the industry hangs on so slender a thread, it must be in a perilous condition. The people of Australia desire to see Queensland producing, not only sufficient for our own requirements, but a large quantity for export purposes. Unless they see that - unless they see great areas of the continent being placed under cultivation - they will become tired of keeping the industry going. Undoubtedly the prospects of sugar-growing are excellent. All that is necessary is that we should secure the best information to enable us to frame a policy that will place the industry on a sound basis. Whether the Governnment can do anything in the matter may be questionable, but if we made advances to growers enabling them to co-operate and erect refineries, which would secure to them the full reward of their labours, a great impetus would no doubt be given to the industry. In this way the farmers would be able to obtain a very substantial profit, and to extend their operations. I have heard it said that the industry will do no good until it is nationalized ; but if the Government are to establish mills in competition with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and others, they will have a hard row to hoe. They will have to take all the risks incidental to a great enterprise, and the probability is that if they did not run the industry with a little more business aptitude than is shown in connexion with some of our State sendees, the people would not submit very long to such a system. On the other hand, if the Government are prepared to advance money to those who are capable of doing this work for themselves
– Oh !
– I thought the honorable member was an advocate of cooperation.
– So I am.
– There is nothing to prevent that being done.
– I am merely suggesting that this might be a solution of the difficulty; but I would sooner see a Commission consisting of reliable and independent experts appointed to thoroughly investigate the whole question. The debate has clearly shown that the House is in full sympathy with the industry. No honorable member has suggested that he would like to hack and slash at it, and in order that we may do the right thing I think it highly desirable that experts should be appointed to give us full and necessary information for our guidance.
.- Those who have listened to this debate must have come to the conclusion that the late Administration were proceeding on right lines in proposing to appoint a Royal Commission free from political influence, and with a Justice of a Supreme Court as its president, to inquire fully into the industry. I recognise that the industry is of great importance to the Commonwealth for various reasons, the most important of all being that if encouraged it must tend more than any other to people the tropical portions of Australia. It is most important for the adequate defence of Australia that this Parliament should do its utmost to settle people with success in the tropical regions of the continent, and the sugar industry, of all which we have considered, seems most likely to help us in that direction. That being . so, in the early days of the Federation I was as sympathetic as I am now towards the industry. I shall do nothing likely to bring disaster upon it, or to lead to a state of affairs in tropical Australia different from that which I have just urged as being highly desirable. The Bill now before us is’: designed to continue the conditions laid down in the Act of 1905. The provisions of that measure would have expired in 1913, and I take it that the object of the Minister is to continue them. We have had experience of the industry under Commonwealth legislation for eight or nine years now, and there must be a vast amount of information floating about somewhere which the Minister ought to have had ready to place before this House before he asked us to indorse the legislation that he has laid on the table. I have found the greatest difficulty in getting definite information, and for that reason, when a member of the previous Government, I stronglyindorsed the action of my colleagues in appointing a Royal Commission. The present Government would be very wise if they took the same course. It must be evident that very mixed ideas are prevalent amongst honorable members with regard to the position of the industry. The Minister submitted figures relating to production, employment, and so forth, but they have been seriously questioned, particularly by the honorable member for Franklin, who has gone specially into the matter on account of the large jam making industry of Tasmania. The honorable member for North Sydney also questioned them, and I freely confess that I do not know where I stand with regard to the contentions of those honorable members and the figures laid on the table of the House by the Minister. The Minister certainly gave us no information at all to induce us to support the legislation which he has introduced, lt was a pity that he did not take a little more trouble to place before the House information which would guide honorable members to a correct conclusion on the subject. We are told that the legislation already passed by this Parliament has failed in three important particulars - first, to produce sufficient sugar for the requirements of Australia ; secondly,, to produce sugar at a cost which will not inflict an injustice upon manufacturers and consumers generally ; and, thirdly, -to people the tropical portions, of Queensland to the extent reasonably anticipated by those who passed it. We must’ always bear in mind that it is not only the growers of sugar for whom we are concerned. That may be the special interest of honorable members representing the districts in which sugar is grown, but those of us in whose constituencies the industry is not established ought to be specially careful of the interests of those who use the sugar as the raw product of their manufactories, and also of the great consuming public, who we are told are such large consumers of sugar as compared with the rest of the world. I have here figures with regard to the effect of our legislation on cul’tivation. I shall not quote the experience of New South Wales, because a large proportion of the sugar lands in that State have been turned into dairy farms, as that industry has been found much more profitable. In Queensland, in 1906, there were 134,134 acres, and in 1909 only 125,023 acres, under sugar cultivation. That shows a big decrease, notwithstanding our legislation.
– Does not the honorable member think it was because of the fact that this legislation was about to expire?
– That may have a good deal to do with it. Other reasons advanced are the exhaustion of the soil and adverse climatic conditions, such as frosts, in recent years. The figures submitted to the House with regard to employment have been declared by honorable members who have gone into the matter to be absurdly wrong, . but the Minister has given us no explanation. The policy of the Government may be well described as a policy of drift. From the statements of honorable members, and the information which we are able to collect, it is my belief that the working people of Australia are to-day being unduly taxed to support the sugar industry, and the only thing that could possibly reduce the price of sugar to those who use it would be the reduction of the import duty. We were told by the honorable member for North Sydney that the extra price paid by the consumers may be estimated at £1,269,288, being £6 per ton on 211,548 tons. The same honorable member quoted the latest figures to show that, after deducting
L355,148, the amount that reaches the 1’reasury, the amount which the people have to pay in excess of the world’s price, is £914,000, calculating again at the rate of £6 per ton on the sugar used. Whether those figures are correct or not I am sure I do not know, but they do not at all correspond with information supplied to me by a gentleman who has taken a lifelong interest in the matter. His figures show that we are not paying anything like that amount, and the difference between the two statements is another strong reason for a full and independent inquiry into the whole industry. The statement supplied to me is as follows -
Comparison of Prices of Australian Sugar and British and Beet Sugars Landed in Australia.
It would therefore cost the consumer ^4 14s. 64d. more if he imported sugar of equal value with the C.S.R. Co.’s iA and paid £6 duty.
But the Australian sugar contributes the difference between bounty and Excise, namely, £1, therefore the actual benefit of the £6 duty to the Australian industry is £6 less £4 14s. 6½d. plus £1, or 5s. 5£d. per ton. Or, put it this way : -
In the case of German beet sugar, the figures are as follow : -
Value of £6 duty to industry … 3 o s£ Note. - This beet sugar analyzes about 96 per cent, as against 99.5 per cent. Australian sugar.
That quotation illustrates the wide difference between the various statements that we have to guide us. Everything points to the necessity, before we agree to the extension of this legislation, which has already failed in three specified directions, for the appointment of an independent Royal Commission. I hope the Ministry will consent to that course, so that, instead of honorable members voting in the dark, with no reliable information before them, the fullest investigation may be made, and we may know exactly what we are doing.
– Having spoken on the motion of the honorable member for Capricornia for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the sugar industry, I had not intended to deal with the subject again, but since the Bills dealing with the Excise and bounty have been before the House, a number of statements have been made which go to show that honorable members are somewhat confused in their ideas about the growth of sugar and its value to the country. I am inclined to think that the confusion arises from the different means which have been taken by previous Governments to encourage the industry. It has been recognised, not only since, but before, Federation that the growth of sugar cane was of considerable importance to Australia, as it would create an industry of considerable value, while the country in the northern parts of the Continent was so suitable for it that the industry would help to solve the question of populating our tropical and sub-tropical regions. One of our troubles in developing those parts of Australia is to discover industries which can be carried on successfully under the difficult conditions obtaining . there, and bring the lands, which are there in abundance, under cultivation to the same extent as lands in other parts of Australia are used, for growing wheat. At the time of Federation, nothing had been done further than to try to establish the industry by protective duties ; and, though the efforts had largely succeeded, it has fallen to the lot of the Commonwealth Government to encourage its development under white labour conditions. To this end, Acts were passed levying an Excise, and at the same time giving a bounty on sugar grown by white labour. With a Customs duty of £6 per ton, there was an Excise of £4; while a bounty was given on white-grown sugar of £3 per ton. This arrangement may be confusing to the average person who does not closely study the question; but the Bill on which we are now engaged has for its object the amending of the Sugar Bounty Act of 1905. Section 6 of that Act provides -
The rates of bounty payable under this Act shall be as follows : -
In the case of sugar-cane - six shillings per ton calculated on cane giving ten per centum of sugar, to be increased or decreased proportionately according to any variation from this standard ; and
in the case of beet - sixty shillings per ton on the actual sugar - giving con tents of the beet.
Provided that the rates payable on all such cane or beet delivered during the years 1911 and 1912 shall be respectively two-thirds and one-third of the aforesaid rates.
The amending Bill seeks to strike out that section, in so far as it is restricted to the years 1911-12, thus providing that the Excise and bounty shall continue at the same rates as hitherto. As I have mentioned, the object is to increase the quantity of sugar grown by white labour; and the figures available show that the results of the Acts already passed have been exceedingly satisfactory. There is opposition in some quarters to these measures, on the ground that they tend to increase the price of sugar, not only to the ordinary user, but to those who require it as a raw product, particularly jam manufacturers. During the year 1909-10., the Excise collected amounted to £548,923 on 137,231 tons of sugar. This Excise, as honorable members are aware, is collected from the growers, every one of whom contributes.
– Only as consumers !
– No; the amount is paid on the sugar manufactured, and the amount I have stated has been contributed by the growers. In the same year, growers of white sugar received as bounty . £407,779, and the expense of collection was £5,648. These figures show that the bounty received by the growers of sugar did not reach the amount they contributed in Excise by £135,291 ; and this is a matter really closely associated with the growers, and not so much with the consumers. During the year, the Government made a profit, as I have said, of £135,291.
– What Government?
– Any Government which happened to be in power.
– I know that the honorable member is now referring to the distribution of revenue between the States and the Commonwealth ; but that is a matter which can hardly be debated now ; and, at any rate, the arrangement referred to by the honorable member does not prevail now. During 1909-10, the sugar imported - and this, perhaps, more concerns the consumer - was 78,957 tons, and the duty collected, at £6 per ton, was £473,745. The honorable member for Swan can, if he choose, say that this was paid by the consumers within the Commonwealth ; but, as a Protectionist, he, I should rather expect, will say the opposite. The Customs revenue and balance of Excise show that the total revenue received was something over £600,000; so that if we desire to see what the cost to the consumer is we have to take the difference between the two, namely, £338,454. The figures I have quoted show, I think, that, while the Excise and bounty have resulted in white-grown sugar, they have, at any rate, been self-supporting. Several statements have been made as to the effect these measures have had on the industry, and figures have been quoted with a view to showing that the production of sugar has not increased. The fairer point of view would be that of the acres under cultivation; and I find that, while in 1901-2 there were 132,840 acres, there were, last year, 143,115 acres. In the latter year there was produced 1,294,570 tons of cane, or an average of of tons per acre ; and I compare that figure with the return quoted by the honorable member for Maranoa, a little while ago, of something like 80 tons to the acre. In- 1909-10, the estimated number of persons engaged in the industry was 32, 855, showing one man to every 4^ acres. We have here an industry which requires considerable labour, seeing that it requires one man to every 4J acres, and that the average yield per acre is 9 3/4 tons. In Queensland, the production ranges from 9.85 to 16.29 tons per acre, or an average of 14-53 i and here again I remind . honorable members, of the figure quoted by the honorable member for Maranoa. The Excise and bounty measures had a further object besides that of providing for the employment pf white labour, inasmuch as they gave the Minister of Trade and Customs the right to control the rates of wages paid. I have in my possession a letter which I received some years ago, when I first entered Parliament, from the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who was then Minister of Trade and Customs, fixing the rates of wages to be paid in the district which I represent. I refer to this letter because several honorable members have spoken of low rates paid as compared with those earned by station hands. The wages fixed by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, as Minister of Trade and Custons, were, in the off season, 22s. 6d. per week and found, and in the harvesting season 25s. per week and found ; for boys under sixteen, 10s. to 15s. and found ; youths, from sixteen to eighteen, 15s. to £1 and found; and old and infirm men, 15s. to £1 and found. There was no deduction to be made for wet weather, and the hours of labour had to be fifty-three to sixty per week. It will be seen, therefore, that not only have the growers to do away with coloured labour, but they are called upon to pay certain rates of wages. Unless the Bill now before us is carried, the advantages which the growers have ‘ enjoyed hitherto will cease during 1911-12.
– There would still be the duty.
– I understand that the honorable member for Moreton intends to submit an amendment providing that the Excise and bounty shall be made equal.
– The Government cannot accept that proposal.
– At any rate, honorable members will be given an oppor tunity to debate it. The introduction of this and another measure by the Government certainly gives the growers security under ^present conditions. It has been asked why should those concerned in the sugar industry be treated differently from others. In reply, I would point out that sugar-cane takes years to come to perfection, and is not an annual crop. Parliament has practically made a contract withthe growers ; and we shall be acting wisely in continuing the conditions under which they now carry on their industry. But the debate has shown that further information is desired by Parliament and the public. The position of the industry has been discussed from various points of view. Honorable members have spoken of the application of the White Australia principle to it, others have referred to it as an instance of a successful tropical industry, and others, again, have pointed to the existence of a monopoly in connexion with it. I approved of the action of the last Government in appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the sugar industry, to determine how the growers, the wageearners, the manufacturers, and the consumers, should be treated. The represent tatives of each of these parties at present’ claim. for those whom they represent, that they are the most hardly dealt with. A Commission is needed to ascertain the best conditions for the industry and for those engaged in it. We wish to know whether the labourers receive their fair reward, and whether the Colonial Sugar Refining Company treats the growers reasonably, and! charges fair prices for its sugar. For these reasons, I hope that effect will be given t© the proposal of the honorable member for Capricornia. The appointment of a Supreme Court Judge as chairman of the Commission would inspire public confidence.
-45J– It must have been impressed upon Ministers that the introduction of this measure- ought to be supplemented with a statement as to future action. I do not remember an instance in which, when a measure was sogenerally supported, and al! parties were prepared to extend the fullest consideration to the interests concerned, there- was- such auniversal demand for fuller information. It is unnecessary to elaborate the proof of our need of more evidence regarding the conditions under which- sugar is now being produced in Australia. The position of the industry has been discussed from many points of view, the speaker, in most cases, imputing to others an extensive ignorance of the whole subject. The Minister, by reason of the departmental sources of information now to his hand, should be able to offer a more comprehensive and lucid statement than cm be made by any private member; and it is puzzling that he should hesitate about doing so. What has any one to fear from an investigation ? Ever since the establishment of this Parliament there has been a strong desire for the development of every Australian industry, and particularly of all branches of agriculture, with a view to increasing the settlement of the country as speedily and profitably as possible. With our eyes open, we have been making large sacrifices for the sugar industry, in the hope of settling a white population in the northern parts of the continent; and there is no diminution of sentiment regarding the need for this. Representatives of the most important “ and prolific sugar districts in Australia are among those who press for inquiry ; they have no apprehension that investigation can be injurious to their constituents. Others who contend that in the south there is a possibility of producing beet sugar also court inquiry. One searches in vain for the grounds of the apparent reluctance to sanction the fair, open, and searching investigation which all parties demand. Furthermore, the sugar industry has been associated with our White Australia policy. The nonoccupation of great stretches of territory in the north creates a danger which increases every month and almost every week, and among the means for lessening it the employment of white labour in tropical agriculture is most important. The sugar industry is of vast importance, having regard to the value of its production, but that is as nothing compared with the opportunities which it offers for proving the possibilities of employing white labour in the tropics without danger to health.
– It affords a pioneer object-lesson.”
– Yes. The further medical science advances, the more certain it becomes that most ailments from which white races suffer in the tropics are due to the reckless neglect of the necessary processes of adaptation, and not to inherent disabilities. Healthy existence in the tropics depends on diet, proper clothing, housing-
– That is first and foremost, though only of late years properly appreciated.
– And a little drop of whisky now and again.
– That prescription, popular though it has been, has proved one of the most dangerous. Temperance has won no greater victory than in the torrid zone. Despite the prophecies made when, ten years ago, we gallantly undertook to grow sugar by white labour, we have been more than justified by a success which should encourage us to go further and faster, and to seek by means of other tropical industries the further development of northern Australia. Many problems connected with sugar production need investigation. The grower, besides dealing with the difficulties of culture, is not certain that his cane realizes the prices which should be paid for it. Many other parties connected with the industry press for an inquiry. A wider investigation is also desired by other districts in which sugar is never likely to be produced, either from cane or from beet. The whole Commonwealth has the larger interest in our subtropical area to which I have referred, and the inquiry should be made as searching as possible. The key by which the door which seemed to close so great a portion of the continent against men and women of our race can be opened is to be found in tropical industries.
– Could not the information which is desired be obtained from departmental officers?
– Their evidence will have to be taken, and it will be necessary to know whether they agree in their reading of the present conditions.
– It should be. taken by a Commission.
– And it would require to be backed up by the necessary data, attested, and sifted in the ordinary .way, so that when we have clone the work, we shall have done it once and for all.
– Does the honorable member think that a Commission would settle the matter ?
– lt would settle a greatmany difficult questions relating to the sugar industry about which the most conflicting statements obtain. It would also take a long stride towards determining the question of white settlement in the tropics.
– And tropical culture.
– And tropical culture generally. That, too, would be valuable. It would also react upon our Papuan experiments, and would enable us to determine under what conditions sugar cultivation could be encouraged there.
– Then there is the big monopoly said to exist in connexion with the refining of sugar. That is a subject for inquiry.
– Yes. During the last ten years the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has been referred to more frequently by the Labour party than any other section of the House; yet its Ministers are most reluctant to inquire even into that phase of the question.
– We know enough without any further inquiry.
– Enough to act upon?
– I should act if I had a show.
– The honorable memher has been a man of action in his time, and has not lost the habit. Our astonishment is that Ministers should lag behind their own followers in their zeal to investigate this or any other branch. No one ought to draw a veil over that, or any other portion of the subject.
– If a proposal were made for an inquiry into tropical culture generally, it might catch the Government.
– I would not object to an inquiry into tropical cultures generally, but should hope. the Commission would make our sugar industry the first subject of its investigation. It is certainly the most important; but no one on this side of the House would object to the Commission considering any other form of tropical culture possible by white labour. I place the sugar industry first in order of importance, because of its pressing urgency, the unrest on the part of the cane-growers, the great amount of money invested in it, and the number of people dependent upon it. Having disposed of that question, the searchlight might be turned on to every Other subject relating to tropical production.
– Rubber could be cultivated in northern Australia.
– With splendid promise. I wish to impose no limits to the inquiry. On all the important features of this subject, the House is eager, anxious, and urgent for inquiry, yet, although Ministers must realize that they cannot keep on postponing the inquiry, that they must face the question, and deal with it, they do not appear to be prepared to go on with the investigation. The House will be dissatisfied until they do.
– This unanimity cannot last unless they do.
– I think the unanimity will last, and that both sides will say presently to Ministers, “ This must be done.” No one wishes to do that now, because this is a time for argument ; but when no relief is forthcoming, one becomes a little impatient. Still we have to wait.
– We must trust the Government as the pilot of the ship.
– Even so.
– We have a right to information as to what they intend doing.
– We have. I do not think I have overstated the case, although it permits of much elaboration. It is necessary that we should act, and if the Minister does not propose, in reply, to make any statement, the first question put to him in Committee should be one asking, if not for some undertaking to make this inquiry, at all events, for some statement as to the Ministerial reason for delaying it, and when we may expect to hear from him.
– Put him on the gridiron as soon as we get the Bill into Committee.
– I trust that will he unnecessary. But, since Ministers have a unanimous House - those in front of them as well as those behind - anxious to support them in undertaking an important inquiry the benefit of which will react on the whole of Australia, the only puzzle is why, with all these inducements, they do not go on. I hope they will.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee .-
Clause i agreed to.
Clause 2 (Amendment of section 3).
– I wish to move an amendment providing for an alteration in section 2 of the principal Act, so that it will declare that “ Whitegrown cane or beet “ means sugar cane or beet produced on a white plantation, and in the production of which - and all preliminary work connected therewith, such as clearing, grubbing, and preparation of cane for planting shall have been performed by white labour only during a period of twentyfour months prior to the delivery of cane for manufacture.
I also desire to amend paragraph b of section 2 of the principal Act by substituting the words “ twenty-four “ for the word “ twelve.” Mr. Speaker has informed me that such an amendment can be proposed on this clause.
– I suggest that the honorable member embody his amendment in a new clause.
– Very well, sir, I accept your suggestion.
.- Just before we reached this stage, the Minister interjected, across the table, that he did not favour Royal Commissions.
– I am not favorable to Royal Commissions as a rule, but I will bring the matter before the Cabinet, and will say that the unanimous opinion of the House is that a Royal Commission should be appointed.
– If it is the form, and not the substance, to which exception is taken - if the Minister would prefer some mode of inquiry other than by a Commission, which would yet be independent, searching, and expert, that is purely a matter for the House to consider. The experience behind the Minister - the experience of his Department, or the opinions of his colleagues - might well be taken into account. I understand that the feeling of the Committee is simply for a searching, expert, independent inquiry. That can be obtained by a Royal Commission, or some other means that it will be for the Minister to propose, but the request is for an immediate inquiry.
– Whilst I am not favorable to Royal Commissions as a rule, neither I nor the Ministry, as a whole, are averse to an inquiry with respect to this particular matter. I shall inform my colleagues that the Committee is apparently unanimously of opinion that an inquiry should be made into the industry. I am not permitted to refer to a motion on the notice-paper, but I may be allowed to say that it goes a long way further than the proposal previously made for a Royal Commission. The Government desired that this legislation should be got out of the way before any announcement was made with respect to the projected inquiry. I do not think that the Ministry are averse to an inquiry, but we certainly thought that this legislation should, first of all, be disposed of; otherwise if an inquiry were proposed, it might be held that this measure should remain in abeyance until the investigation had taken place.
.- If that is one of the reasons for the reticence of Ministers, it is very curious. Such a statement as the Minister has made satisfies us for the present, and we shall be content to allow this measure to pass with any amendment that may be necessary.
– We have said so.
– We have said so over and over again. The difficulty has been to obtain from the Government an assurance that an inquiry will be made. That assurance having been given, we shall not occupy much of the time of the Committee.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section six of the Sugar Bounty Act 1905 is amended by omitting therefrom the following proviso : - “ Provided that the rates payable on all such cane or beet delivered during the years 1911 and 1912 shall be respectively two-thirds and one-third of the aforesaid rates.”
.- This is the most important clause in the Bill, since it will alter the whole of the provisions of the original Act. The primary object of that Act was to abolish black labour, and in order that planters who employed only white labour, and complied with other conditions imposed by the Bill, should be given an opportunity to compete with those who employed black labour, the public were prepared to assist the industry. It was never intended, however, that the industry should be made a means of raising the excessive revenue now drawn from it. It is estimated that the Excise revenue from this source during the present year will amount to £802,756, and, after payment of bounty, there will be a net gain to the Commonwealth of £229,654. White growers, it is estimated, will produce I74>397 tons of sugar, and it will cost about £175,000 to level up the Excise and bounty. I do not think there will be any objection to the grower who complies with the labour conditions imposed in this legislation benefiting to the full extent of the Excise.
– Does the honorable member want the whole. of the Excise?
– I want the whole of the Excise contributed by those who grow cane by white labour to go back to the grower.
– Why not reduce the Excise?
– That suggestion will come in much better in relation to another Bill. I wish to test the feeling of the
Committee as to whether the Excise and bounty on white-grown sugar shall be the same ; that is, whether the j£i per ton difference between the Excise and bountyshall go to the grower.
– Would the grower get it?
– Does he get the bounty at present?
– Seeing that he gets it now, I do not know why he should not get it if we increased it. In order to test the feeling of the Committee, .1 move -
That after the word “ following,” line 2, the words “ words and “ be inserted.
The clause would then read -
Section 6 of the Sugar Bounty Act 1905 is amended by omitting therefrom the following words and proviso ….
The words that I desire the Government to omit from section 6 of the principal Act are the word “ six “ in paragraph a, and “ sixty “ in paragraph b, in order to insert in lieu thereof the words “eight” and “eighty” respectively. I am, of course, prevented as a private member from moving the insertion of those figures myself, but I trust that the insertion of the words I have indicated in the clause now before us will be regarded by the Government as a direction from the Committee to them to amend the principal Act accordingly.
– The honorable member’s suggestion is to increase the bounty to £4?
– That is the suggestion in a concrete form. This request was put before the Minister by a deputation that waited upon him on the 20th of last month, and which I had the honour, by request, of introducing. Up to the present, we have had no definite reply from the Minister. The deputation consisted of Mr. E. Swayne, M.L.A., of Queensland, representing several sugargrowing associations, Mr. Easterby, of the Victorian Department of Agriculture, and Senator Chataway, who was asked to represent the Mulgrave sugar mills.
– Why did not the honorable member invite other honorable members who represent sugar districts?
– I had nothing to do with it. I was simply asked to introduce the deputation, which I did.
– It had nothing to do with the honorable member’s electorate. It was cheek on the part of the honorable member to interfere with another man’s preserves.
– I was not aware that the honorable member for Maranoa had a special monopoly of this business.
– I never interfere with the honorable member’s business. I have often been asked to interfere in the honorable member’s electorate, but I have always replied that I was not its representative.
– It has been stated in the discussion that the growers of cane are in a very prosperous position. I shall deal only with the growers in my own electorate in which, notwithstanding the remarks of the honorable member for Maranoa, I think I have more mills than are to be found in any other electorate in Queensland. I do not say that the output is greater; but there are sufficient growers in my electorate to give me a very keen interest in this important question; and it is on their behalf that I am moving this amendment. According to the annual report of the Department of Agriculture and Stock in Queensland, the returns for sugar in the southern portion of Queensland are as follow : - Average number of tons of cane crushed per acre, 12.56; yield in tons of sugar per acre, 1.18; tons of cane per ton of sugar, 10.62. That is slightly lower than the average for the whole State, which is as follows : - Tons of cane crushed per acre, 14.53 i tons of sugar per acre crushed. 1.68; tons of cane per ton of sugar, 8.65. It will be seen, therefore, that the average return per acre is about 1^ tons of sugar. The grower, according to figures given in this House, receives for that about £9 per ton, including bounty. In my electorate the price for cane varies from 9s. to 12s. per ton; and seeing that one man, if he devoted the whole of his time to sugar-growing, could not cultivate more than about ro acres per annum, there is, with a yield of rj tons to the acre, even at the price quoted by the honorable member’ for Maranoa, rather a poor living in it. I hope the Committee will, by carrying the amendment, give the grower the benefit of the bounty which is now being paid to encourage the carrying on of the industry under white labour conditions.
– The honorable member for Moreton informed me of his intention to move this as a perfectly friendly amendment, and in perfect friendliness, I desire to oppose it. The honorable member for Ballarat asked me how much would be involved if it were carried. It would mean about £180,000 odd this year to be paid to the growers of white-grown sugar. It has been held by some that we should not enforce the Excise against the white grower. I am not prepared to debate that question now, but I would point out that the only reason for bringing in this legislation was to allow the existing Acts to stand. The intention was to allow the £3 per ton bounty and the £4 per ton Excise to continue.
– In fact, a Conservative proposal.
– It was; but I do not think it is a Conservative proposal in the direction that some gentlemen would desire. These Bills were introduced simply to allow the existing legislation to remain in operation, with some limitations relating to wages and conditions of employment. I trust the honorable member will not press the amendment, or, if he does, that it will be defeated. The right honorable member for Swan asked, Why not reduce the Excise and reduce the bounty, too?
– No. Why not reduce the Excise, and make them equal ?
– I do not think the honorable member for Moreton would agree to that proposal. I prefer to see the existing legislation remain, without the sliding scale. The object of the Bill was to abolish the sliding scale, but to keep the Excise and bounty.
– The same as every other provision that is made in the Tariff, without any date being fixed for their termination.
.- The sugar grower has been deluded by the Sugar Journal and by certain honorable members, of whom the honorable member for Moreton is one, into the belief that he is paying Excise to the extent of £4 per ton on sugar, or a relative price on the cane, getting only £3 per ton back in the shape of bounty, and, therefore, being mulcted to the extent of £1 per ton. I have always taken up the opposite contention, although I represent a sugar-growing district with the largest output in Australia. That view contains an economic fallacy. The consumer is the person who pays the Excise, as he pays every tax. The secretary of the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association, who represents a large body of the larger planters, from whom this movement has really emanated, took up the view put forward by the honorable member for
Moreton, and was at one time to have been my opponent at the last election. Knowing that the main feature of his policy was to be the contention that the farmer was being robbed to the extent of at least £1 per ton on his sugar, when I went north last May twelve months to get ready for the election, and, as it were,” to get a blow in first, I challenged him, the biggest man I could find in the industry, to debate the matter with me on the public platform. He declined to do it. Another sugar grower was selected to contest the electorate a few months ago, in the belief that he, being a practical sugar grower, had a better chance than one who was only a theoretical grower. I issued the same challenge to him to debate the question, as he took up the same ground as the honorable member for Moreton. I said, “ If you refuse, then, if there are any smaller fry who choose to come along and tackle the subject, I am perfectly willing to meet them.” But they never had the courage of their convictions ; and it is an absurd contention that any producer pays the Excise. Has any one heard of the tobacco-grower complaining that he pays the Excise? Some time ago an argument was advanced, but dropped, to the effect that, because the whole of the sugar was grown in Queensland and New South Wales, these two States contributed the whole of the Excise, and, consequently, that the whole of the revenue from this source should be returned to them. The Treasurer of Queensland, at that time, was Mr. Robert Philp, a business man of considerable experience, followed by Mr. Kidston, while in New South Wales there were Sir John See, Sir Joseph Carruthers, and Mr. Waddell; and vet- not one of those ever put forward such a claim. It might naturally be supposed that, as I represent many sugar-growers, and as I obtained a majority in five sugargrowing centres, an equal vote in a sixth, and was beaten by only a small majority in a seventh, I should be in favour of the contention now. put forward by the honorable member for Moreton. But I never heard any grower ask for such a concession. Further, on a previous occasion when an increase in the Excise and bounty was proposed, I had just come from the north, and I had not heard any expressions of opinion in favour of it.
– It was a secret deputation that wanted the extra £1 !
– Of course, I do not know what goes on behind the closed doors of the Minister’s room. I never had an invitation to the deputation referred to ; and 1 certainly cannot understand the omission.
– There is nothing about a deputation in this clause.
– I apologize for transgressing, but I believe that a request was made to the Minister of Trade and Customs to grant an extra L1, and to hurry this legislation through. If the amendment goes to a division I shall certainly vote against it.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I followed very closely the statement of the honorable member for Herbert, and I quite agree with him that it is an economic fallacy to suppose that the sugargrowers provide their own bounty. I do not intend to traverse the question, to which I referred during the second-reading debate ; but the discussion simply emphasizes the necessity, urged again and again, for a thorough review of the whole position. Nothing supports that view more strongly than the statement made by the honorable member for Herbert as to how the alterations in these measures were brought about. I do not wish to do the honorable member an injustice, but if I understood him correctly, he said that, when a previous alteration was made, it could hardly be held to be the result of any very general request from the sugar-growers themselves. At all events, in the most populous, and certainly the biggest producing district, there was no request ; and that confirms my opinion that the question is very much more political than otherwise.
– Political ? What is that?
– It is political in the sense that, in certain districts, there are votes and interests to be conciliated ; and that is bad for the people, though it may be good for’ individuals ; at any rate, it is not as it should be.
– That is a pretty heavy indictment of the honorable member’s leader !
– It does not affect me.
– I do not think that any honorable member on this side depends on sugar-growers for his return, though the Prime Minister might possibly be said to be on thin ice.
– The sugar-growers in the Prime Minister’s district are a comparatively small consideration.
– But the Prime Minister has under his wing a tew friends who come from districts where sugar-growers are pretty numerous. I hope, however, that this question will be put above party consideration, and that we shall arrive at a solution, in the interests of the growers and in the interests of the people of the Commonwealth. I am sorry that I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Moreton; and I cannot help thinking that he himself fancies he is conducting a forlorn hope, such, indeed, as I hope it may prove to be.
.- I am sorry I cannot support the amendment. I dare say it is not the right way to raise revenue by taxing consumers in the way we are doing; but I am satisfied that if we pay £4 instead of £3, the extra £1 will find its way into the pockets of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the millers. Prior to Federation, the sugar farmers were getting a certain price for their cane, in some cases 7s. 6d. per ton; and when die bounty and Excise legislation was passed the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the millers endeavoured to get a portion of the bounty, succeeding so well that the Government found it necessary to provide that only to the farmers direct should the money be paid, and only by them could a receipt be given. I am not satisfied, however, that the sugar farmers are getting the whole of the bounty; that is to say, I am not satisfied that they are getting for their cane the price that they ought to get, plus the bounty.
– Who gets it, if they do not?
– The millers and the company - the manufacturers.
– They grow cane, as well as manufacture.
– There are some growers who do not manufacture, and there are some millers who manufacture and also grow, while the Colonial Sugar Refining Company makes raw sugar, refines, and also grows cane. I do not think that the request of the honorable member for Moreton arises out of any general demand by the growers ; as a matter of fact, the Bundaberg sugar farmers refused to join in the demand for the extra L1. Until we have some method of compelling the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the millers to pay the farmers a fair price for the cane I must object to the Commonwealth increasing the bounty. The opinion of the sugar farmers in the Bundaberg and Maryborough districts is that the bounty ought to be raised to £fi, and. the Excise to £6, the millers to receive £2 of the bounty only on condition that they pay’ a fair price for cane.
– Is there any method of arriving at what is a “ fair price”? The term is very vague.
– The sugar farmers think that it is possible to ascertain the sugar contents of the cane, and from that to arrive at what is a fair price. It is, no doubt, somewhat difficult to ascertain what is a fair price.
– Cannot the cane be paid for on its saccharine density?
– The farmers claim that it should be paid for in accordance with its sugar contents, and Parliament should be able to determine what is a fair price for this, as well as for other commodities. Of course, the yield varies a good deal, crops sometimes being abundant, and at other times being very poor because of droughts or frosts. But, as we can declare that a sovereign shall be always worth 20s., we should be able to say what is a fair price for a ton of cane, or a ton of sugar. Even the value of a sovereign varies. Sometimes one can purchase eight bushels of corn for a sovereign, and at other times only four. I am sorry that I cannot support the amendment; but, as the honorable member for Denison says, we should not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs ; and there may be a danger of doing that, although the Committee is almost unanimous in its support of this legislation. I should like to provide that the millers and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company must pay a fair price to the farmers for cane, but I do not see how it is to be done. The real remedy seems to be for the State Governments, or the Commonwealth Government, to establish sugar refineries.
.- At the present time the cane-grower pays £4 a ton in Excise, and gets a rebate of £3, the intention of the honorable member for More: ton being to abolish the Excise altogether. While I am sympathetic with the sugar industry, I cannot see my way to support that proposal. The Government, in introducing a Bill to extend the operation of the bounty, which would otherwise expire in a little over two years, are treating the industry generously, and it is not opportune now to go further. If the growers are only just struggling, the effect of giving them another £1 in bounty might be to deprive them of any incentive to make the most of their opportunities. If they are only just managing to live now, they might be content to remain as they are if they receive another £1 for their cane, whereas it might really be better for them to turn their attention to some other crop.
– Sugar is the most profitable crop that can be grown at present.
– Then surely the Government have gone far enough in extending the operation of the bounty. From the remarks of the honorable member for Capricornia and others, the cane-grower would seem to be in a very bad position. I am glad to hear that the industry has such good prospects.
.- The honorable member for Capricornia, who represents a district in which cane is grown, says that the Bundaberg farmers have refused to join in the demand for an extra £1 of bounty which was made by the deputation referred to by the honorable member for Maranoa. The honorable member for Capricornia has also told us that he has been unable to obtain from the farmers a satisfactory reply to’ his question : What is a fair price for cane? According to him, we shall have ultimately to fix the price of a number of commodities. In the dairying industry it was at one time the practice to pay for milk received according to quantity ; but experience suggested a more scientific basis, and we now pay for quality. The honorable member for Hindmarsh suggests that cane might similarly be paid for on its saccharine contents. That seems a better arrangement than the present one. But everything points to the need for the fullest inquiry. The farmers, who in this and every other industry of the kind have all the hard work, should be properly remunerated. Dairymen are now getting what is due to them, and I hope that cane-growers will soon be in the same position. But, in view of the statements which we have heard, and particularly of that of the honorable member for Maranoa, that the industry is a most profitable one. I cannot vote for the amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section nine of the Sugar Bounty Act 1905 is repealed, and the following section substituted in lieu thereof : - “9. - (1.) Every grower of white-grown sugar who claims the bounty payable under this Act shall, in making his claim, certify to the Minister the rates of wages paid to any labour employed by him, other than the labour of members of his family. “ (2.) If the Minister finds that the rates of wages, or any of them -
are below the standard rates prescribed by any Commonwealth or State Industrial authority ; or
in the absence of any such standard applicable to the case, are below the standard rates payable in the locality in which the sugar is grown ; or
in the absence of any such standard rates respectively, are, on application by the Minister to the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, declared not to be fair and reasonable by him or by a Judge of the Supreme Court of a State or any person or persons who compose a State Industrial authority to whom he may refer the mailer, the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable. “ (3.) All the provisions of the Excise Procedure Act 1907 and of any regulations made thereunder shall apply in relation to any application under paragraph (c) of the last preceding sub-section as if the application were an application as defined in that Act, and the application shall, for the purposes of that Act, be deemed to be an application under that Act:
Provided that section four of that Act shall be read as if the words ‘ claimant for bounty ‘ were substituted for the word ‘ applicant.’ “
– I move -
That after the word “ Minister,” lines 6 and 7, the words “ the conditions of employment and “ be inserted.
If the clause be amended in this way every grower of white-grown sugar claiming the bounty will have to certify to the Minister not only the rates of wages paid, but the conditions of. employment observed. It will be necessary to make consequential amendments in other paragraphs wherever reference is made to “rates of wages.” Under this clause, we provide as under the Excise (Agricultural Machinery) Act that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, or a Judge of a Supreme Court of a State, or any person or persons who compose a State industrial authority, may be asked to determine whether, in the absense of a standard, the wages paid are fair and reasonable, and, if they are not, the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable. We propose that the question of conditions of labour shall also be dealt with. The whole matter will be taken out of the hands of the Minister, and placed under the control of a State industrial authority, if the people concerned so desire, and I think that that is the best course of procedure to follow.
.- In paragraph a there is a reference to the rates prescribed by any Commonwealth or State industrial authority, and under paragraph c an application may be made to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, or a Judge of a Supreme Court of a State.
– That is in the absence of any standard applicable to the case. I am given to understand by the. AttorneyGeneral’s Department that this is practically a repetition of a provision of the Excise (Agricultural Machinery) Act.
– The honorable member refers to an Act which, for certain reasons, was declared to be ultra vires. Is there in the principal Act a definition of “ conditions of employment “ in relation to the sugar industry?
– I . do not think so.
– Is there any provision under which contracts of employment are registered ?
– Contracts are made in Queensland, but I cannot say that they are registered.
– Agreements are made under the Masters and Servants Act of 1 86 1, but I do not know that they are filed.
– I have no doubt that the phrase “ conditions of employment “ is sufficiently general to cover anything and everything, but wish to know whether these possess any uniformity. I presume that conditions of employment “ would cover hours of labour. I have seen on plantations the housing erected for the men, and also the food supplied, which would also come under the term “-conditions of employment.”
– If the men were to receive so much per ton, and rations, then rations would be taken into consideration, I presume, as one of the conditions of employment.
– Rations, hours, and, possibly, housing, would probably be taken into consideration.
– And any other conditions.
– I do not know that any objection can be taken to the phrase since it is wide enough to cover anything and everything, but understand that in Queensland agreements differ very often as between plantation and plantation, as well as locality and locality. That would make the task of comparison rather more onerous, but I do not know that it must have anyother ill effect. Is it part of the duty of inspectors to make themselves acquainted with the conditions of employment, or is it the position that when both parties are satisfied, no one else is concerned ?
– That has hitherto been the case.
– Men complain through the inspectors of a variety of matters, and hitherto everything has been left to the Minister. Under this clause, the matter will be taken out of the hands of the Minister, and dealt with by a local tribunal, which should be better able to deal with it.
– No doubt the Minister in Melbourne is at an enormous disadvantage as compared with men relatively on the spot in Queensland, and moving amongst the people concerned. I think the alteration that is being made in the existing administration ought to be greatly to the advantage of those concerned. It may relieve the Minister of what must be an arduous task, because he has to rely only on written reports, and it may give the people concerned a chance of taking the evidence in some cases to a local court familiar with the whole surroundings, and able to deal with the matter in the light of practical knowledge. That seems an improvement, though I do not see where Ministerial responsibility will begin or end.
– - The only difficulty is that one does not know what it means.
– Is it not wide enough to cover everything?
– It may be inconsistent with subsequent provisions. The various tribunals might not have taken certain conditions into consideration.
– I understand that this need not, and probably will not, mean the observance of the same conditions under different conditions. The persons concerned will make a bargain amongst themselves as to wages and conditions of employment. In the case of two or three different agreements, there might be a question as to whether one was fair as compared with the others.
– Under the principal Act the Minister had to determine whether the wage was below the standard in the district, and the difficulty was to ascertain the standard.
– The Minister had to take the statement of his inspector?
– I do not know how otherwise he would ascertain the standard. The amendment seems vague, but I presume that there must be some risk.
.- I fully recognise the object which the Minister has in view, and think it most laudable; but, as the result of some accident, the matter might have to be determined by some one not so sympathetic as he is.
– Under this clause these questions may be determined by a local authority.
– There is no local authority -at present which would be competent to take the questions in hand.
– Are there not Wages Boards in Queensland?
– I believe that a Wages Board relating to the industry is contemplated, but, unfortunately, the State Ministry are desirous of classing all engaged in the industry - canecutters, mill hands, carpenters, and blacksmith, &c. - under the one tribunal. That is very objectionable. If there were a Wages Board applying to each section, the matter would be. easily settled ; but under the existing conditions there are innumerable difficulties in the way of carrying out the Minister’s desire. There must be some local body created for the special purpose of dealing with these matters, in order to assist the Minister. The provision may act beneficially, but there are many difficulties in the way.
Mr. HIGGS (Capricornia) 18.37]. - T appreciate the manner in which the Minister has approached the difficult question of endeavouring to secure for the worker in the cane- fields fair remuneration for his labour. There is no doubt that the Minister in Melbourne, 1,500 miles from the plantations, is not in a position to judge what is a fair wage to pay, and what are fair conditions; but he would have little difficulty, I imagine, in deciding that the rates paid at present are too low, and the conditions too onerous for any Australian to be expected to work under. While many of the sugar farmers who are merely growing cane, and are not manufacturing sugar, are not in a .position to pay their labourers a much higher wage than they are now giving, certain people engaged in the industry, such, for instance, as Messrs. Gibson and Howes Ltd., of Bingera, who are manufacturers, are in a position to pay much better wages. I propose to read portion of the printed agreement that Messrs. Gibson and Howes Ltd. prepare for their labourers, and I think honorable members will agree that it is very one-sided.
– Is it a voluntary agreement between the two contracting parties ?
– The labourer on the sugar-fields is perfectly free to go somewhere else; but if he looks for employment elsewhere, he will probably find himself in an overstocked labour market. He has freedom, but only in name, and must accept this agreement, no alteration of which will be agreed to by the firm -
Memorandum of Agreement made the . . . day of one thousand nine hundred and ten between Gibson and Howes Ltd., of Bingera, hereinafter called “the employers” of the one part, and the undersigned labourer of the other part, whereby it is agreed as follows : -
This agreement is under the Masters and Servants Act of 1861 of the State of Queensland.
The labourer agrees to work as a caneharvester during the whole df the crushing season of 1910 to 191 1 upon any plantation or farm in connexion with or supplying sugar-cane to the employers’ sugar mill at Bingera, the commencement, duration, and termination of such season to be determined by the employers, the work to be performed by the labourer from time to time on such plantations and farms, and in connexion with such blocks of cane as the employers shall from time to time direct.
The duration of the season is to depend entirely on the employer. He can also decide on what particular farm or plantation the employe shall work, and what work shall be done, although I suppose there is not much objection to the latter -
The work to be performed shall consist of cutting and topping sugar-cane, cleaning it of leaves, roots, or shoots, and loading it on to drays, trucks, or other such vehicles as shall from time to time be provided for the purpose by the employers, coupling and chaining up trucks in the field, lifting and laying portable tram lines in the field, also points of main tram line as and when required by the employers, and all such operations shall be’ performed in a proper and workmanlike manner, and conformably to the provisions, rules, and regulations herein contained.
I have quoted that clause to show that the work expected to be done by the labourer is of a pretty general character, and requires a considerable amount of skill and physical strength, but he is expected to do it for a very moderate wage, to say the least of it -
The earnings of each gang shall be made up monthly to the end of each calendar month, and shall be divided between all the labourers who shall have been working in such gang during the month proportionately according to the period worked by each labourer, and shall be paid on- the second Saturday in each month in respect of the earnings for the previous month, provided always that -the employers may retain out of the labourer’s earnings for the first two. months the sum of £2 10s. per month, which sum shall be paid to the labourer at the end of the crushing season, provided he shall continue his work under this agreement up to the end of such season, but, otherwise, the labourer shall, at the employers’ option, forfeit all right and claim to the amount so retained, and the same shall, in that event, be paid to and divided between the labourers comprising the same gang who shall be working at the end of such season proportionately to the period worked by each member thereof. A certificate, in writing, from the employers or any person in their employment as to the period worked by the labourer shall be conclusive evidence on that point.
In the first place, the employer is at liberty to deduct from the employe’s earnings in the first two months the sum of £5, and the forfeiture of that is held over the latter as a sword of Damocles that may fall on him at any time if he has a difference of opinion with the employer.
– Does not the agreement define how he shall spend his money, or what time he shall go to bed?
– There is a clause dealing with that matter, which I shall read later on -
The employers will supply the labourer with ordinary rations and with firewood at cost price,, each gang to provide a cook for and at the expense of such gang, such cook, however, to be subject to the employers’ approval.
The agreement does not say that the labourer shall be supplied with rations at ordinary cost price. Evidently it is only the firewood which is to be furnished in that way, and the supply of rations appears to put into operation the very objectionable truck system which was employed’ in a disgraceful way in the past in the United States of America. I believe the truck system is in vogue in the Bundaberg district. I cannot give the names, but a storekeeper informs me that if an employe of the mill goes to his shop he islikely to lose his billet at the end of the week. The storekeeper on the big plantation will say to the labourer, “ Your bill at the store is not very big this month,” that being an intimation, of course, that he ought to deal with the store on the plantation. If the employer on the big plantation is permitted to charge whatever he likes for the rations, honorable members will see what a very easy method he has at his disposal to further reduce the wages of the employes. The clause in the agreement, which refers to how the employ6 shall spend his money, is as follows -
The employers may discharge the labourer if he be found drunk, or if he brings to or has about his camp any intoxicating liquor or otherwise misbehaves himself or if he does not work in all respects to the satisfaction of the employers or their representatives, or if he wilfully disobeys or disregards any orders or instructions of’ the employers or their representative, or if he commits any breach of any provision contained in this agreement, in which event he shall forfeit all right or claim to the amounts retained under clause 6 hereof.
No one would object nowadays to an employe being penalized because he gets drunk. Unfortunately, some- of the workers employed on the sugar plantations in Queensland to this day take more drink than is good for them, but this clause seems to go further than it ought to go, and really interferes with the liberty of the subject, who cannot object, because he stands a chance of being discharged, and losing the £5 which has been deducted from his wages.
– Is there much disagreement up there between employes and employers ?
– Let me finish reading the agreement, of which clause 19 is as follows -
If from any cause the employers shall at any time deem it advisable to suspend or .reduce delivery of cane to the said mill the labourer shall if and when required by the employers cease work, under this agreement, for such period as the employers shall direct, and shall resume work when directed by the employers, and the labourer shall not be entitled to any compensation from the employers from any loss he may suffer in consequence thereof.
In the printing trade compositors if kept waiting for copy get what is called “ standing time.” When I was in the Sydney Morning Herald office we were paid “ standing time “ at the rate of is. 6d. an hour if kept waiting for work. We were piece-workers, and considered it right that if we were kept waiting about the composing room for the benefit of the employer it was his duty to pay us. Consider, on the other hand, the position of the sugar labourers. The employer can, whenever he chooses, suspend operations, and the employ^ must wait’ about for the employer’s convenience to start again and receive no compensation for the time he has been waiting.
– Have those men no organization ?
– They have an organization, ‘ but it is powerless, because, owing to our invitations to people to come to Australia from other parts of the world, there are any number of men walking about Queensland seeking employment. In a letter to me, the secretary of the organization, Mr. Harry Hall, asks that this Parliament should abolish the weekly rate of 22s. 6d. per week, and have only a daily rate of 5s. and keep adhered to. He says that the men do not average more than from 12s. to 15s. per week during the off season, and the more rain that falls over the cane area the better for the farmer and planter and the worse for the toiler. It is a singular fact that when rain, which is of such great benefit to the farmer, falls, the labourer has to cease work, and under this agreement gets nothing. If honorable members who boast about our great Empire cast their eyes over a portion of it they would find that a great many people in it are being very badly treated.
– I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question.
– I am afraid we cannot help Mr. Hall and the members of the union in this Bill to a greater extent than the Minister proposes. Until we get larger powers from the people of Australia by an amendment of the Constitution, the Minister is doing all that is possible by making arrangements by which he may withhold the bounty if the rates of wages and conditions of labour are not deemed to be fair. I hesitate to speak about another matter, because I am not in a position of my own knowledge to say whether it is true. Mr. Hall asks this Parliament to provide that children of 12 years of age shall not be allowed to work in the canefields. He says -
A great number of young girls are employed cutting cane and doing field work. In many cases the children are under 12 years of age. Of course, the father owns the farm on which they work, and his farm is just outside the school radius. I think the coming Bounties Bill should be so framed as to stop a father sweating his children in the cane-fields, and more especially young girls of 16 or 17 years.
I am not in a position to say to what extent it is true that sugar farmers employ children of the tender age of 12 years in cutting cane, but if children of that age are able to do that work in the fields, it is a striking commentary on the assertion of those who favoured black labour that white men could not do the work. I do not doubt Mr. Hall’s word for a moment. He is a’ reputable citizen, and has done a great deal of unselfish and devoted work in the interests of the cane labourers whom he represents. I do not know how we can prevent the evil by means of this measure, but there is no doubt mat some parents are so blind to their duty as to compel their children at a tender age to undertake, very laborious work. We have only to read the reports of school inspectors throughout Australia to see that on many dairy farms children are employed at a very tender age.
– The inspectors do not know what they are talking about when they say that !
– There is not only one case, but many.
– The honorable member should go to the dairying districts, and see for himself !
– I would not for a moment suggest that dairy farmers, as a class, are guilty of such conduct.
– Some . people do generalize.
– It is wrong to generalize, but, no doubt, there are instances. It is impossible for the Federal Parliament to deal with such a” matter ; but the electors ought to see that the State Parliaments do their duty. Perhaps it is the duty of the school inspectors themselves, if there are such cases, to see that the children are sent to school instead of working in the cane-fields. All these statements show the necessity for an inquiry; and I hope that this legislation will be followed by the oppointment of a Royal Commission.
. -I am satisfied that the Minister is trying to find some satisfactory solution of a difficulty which presents itself in administration; at the same time, I think that, in the proposal he has now made, there will not be found a summary means of assessing the rate of wages, but that he is opening the way to much delay if the parties concerned choose to take advantage of it. According to the present administrative practice, and, indeed, the law, it is competent for the Minister to withhold the bounty if he is satisfied that the standard rate of wage has not been paid. That necessarily created some anxiety on the part of the growers in regard to what the standard was to be, and, in order to meet the difficulty, a sort of tariff was formulated by the Department. There was, to begin with, much difficulty in fixing the rate, but, once fixed, it had the effect of giving a feeling of certainty to the growers, and assuring the labourers of a reasonable rate under the circumstances. In actual administration, this practice has been found very useful, though I admit it was surrounded with difficulty, and was subject to much legal exception. Instead of that practice, which afforded the Minister much discretion, it is proposed that the rate of wages prescribed by any State industrial tribunal shall be accepted, or, if it is not accepted, a most elaborate machinery shall be resorted to, which may involve the parties in litigation, and ultimately bring them to the High Court. In any case, this elaborate machinery will have the effect of creating an undue amount of uncertainty and delay. In the past, the Minister, no doubt, has been guided by any Wages Board or other industrial authority, but in their absence lie fixed the rate himself. That discretion it is proposed to practically take away; and, in my opinion, that is a mistake. It is most desirable to give every encouragement to the creation of Wages Boards in this industry ; but if there does not happen to be a Wages Board, and if the wages are below the standard rates payable in the locality, I suggest that the Minister should have proper legal authority to fix what he thinks is a reasonable rate after full inquiry.
– Does not sub-clause b practically give the Minister all the power that he now has under section 9 of the Act?
– It does, and therein lies the mistake. My predecessor in office and my successor acted on that section, and fixed the rates ; and, though there was no legal power to do so, the practice proved very useful ; and I now suggest that the Minister should take legal power to act in the same way, having behind him the lever to withhold the bounty. As a matter of fact, sub-clause b takes us no further than does section 9 ; and, as I have already suggested, the Minister should now take the necessary legal power to act. Such a provision would prove infinitely more summary and be more certain than the clause now proposed. Sub-clause c provides such an elaborate piece of machinery that if it were resorted to it would cause most serious delay, uncertainty, and injury to “the industry itself. It is essential that the means of ascertaining the rate of wages should be of a summary character j and nothing can be more summary than the discretion of the Minister. Under sub-clause c, however, the Minister has to go to the Arbitration Court, the President of which has power to appoint assessors, one representing the employers and the other representing the employes. It is probable that constitutional objections would be taken to the exercise of the power, and the case would ultimately find its way to the High Court. Even if the case did not get so far, the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court would seldom find himself in the northern portions of Queensland. It is true that the power may be delegated lo a Judge of the Supreme Court, but a Judge may visit Cairns or Townsville four times in the year at most; and thus the expense and delay would place it outside the power of the parties to obtain the benefit of the bounty.
– The President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, like the King, is supposed to be present always in every part of his dominion.
– Yes, of course, that is the fiction. This elaborate machinery, by reason of the delay and expense involved, may result in the bounty being sacrificed. I speak with experience as an ex-Minister, and I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs to consider the advisableness of amending the Act so as to fix the rate of wage by regulation. The growers and others concerned could then work their plantations free from fears and risks that the rates paid might subsequently be held inadequate. The only other point is in reference to the introduction of the doubtful words “ conditions of employment.” I confess I do not know what they mean, but they may prove a source of considerable embarrassment.
– Does the honorable member think that we should provide only for rates of wages?
– If the Minister will tell us what “ conditions of employment “ mean, I might meet his argument from his point of view.
– Is the phrase not well known in our Conciliation and Arbitration Courts in reference to certain holidays, hours of work, and so forth?
– It might be well known within a metropolitan district, but in an industry like that now under consideration, which has its own special conditions, that common meaning may not have application.
– Among the most fruitful causes of discontent is the stoppage of pay during wet weather.
-Yes. But various employers have different agreements with their men. Does my honorable friend wish to be supplied with copies of all these agreements ?
– No. They are governed by a local Act.
– Then this provision is unnecessary.
– The agreements vary.
– In that case, the words which the honorable member wishes to insert would have no meaning. If the agreements are governed by the law of Queensland, it would be a mistake to insert here words whose meaning is doubtful. Local Wages Boards would deal, not only with wages, but also with hours and conditions of labour. Instead of striking out section 9, the Minister would do better to amend it, to obtain power to prescribe rates by regulations embodying the current rates as ascertained by him.
.- I am glad that the Minister is attempting to see that those employed in cane-growing are paid fair wages, and worked under proper conditions. All honorable members are ready to maintain the Australian record for fairness in this particular, those on this side differing from Ministerialists, not in regard to objects,- but iri regard to the methods to be employed to effect those objects. The words “ conditions of employment “ may be hard to define, but with discretion can be applied satisfactorily. Conditions which were fair in one district might have to be varied in another, and I see nothing in the provision under discussion to prevent a sensible man from using his discretion in this matter. Some trouble may be caused if conditions running counter to the existing contracts are insisted on. A little while ago the honorable member for Capricornia read some of the clauses of existing agreements between employers and employes, which seem to place the latter in an unfavorable position. Should any of these agreements be nullified in the attempt to administer this measure, difficulty may arise ; but I do not see that that need happen. If the right persons are chosen to administer the measure, we shall find that we have taken a step in the right direction, and one in keeping with our industrial policy. I shall support the amendment.
.- I have no objection to the specifying of conditions of employment which must be observed by persons desiring to qualify for the bounty, seeing that we have already laid down conditions regarding rates of wages. To make a standard only in regard to wages would be to leave the door open to serious abuses. In the sugar industry the conditions of employment are very often very bad. The honorable member for Capricornia has shown how the employer has the employe at his mercy. The latter (has to accept whatever conditions the former may choose to impose, and may have his money withheld, or taken away, for breaches of his agreement. I am pleased that it is not left to the Minister to decide in the first case what shall be fair conditions of employment, just as he has not to determine in the first case what shall be fair rates of wages. For some reasons, I should like to have it enacted that reasonable rates of wages shall be not less than a certain specified sum. The present rate of 22s. 6d. is altogether too low. In my opinion, not less than 5s. per day with rations should be given. There is a strong and increasing desire in the sugar districts for the appointment of Wages Boards, which must arbitrate, not only in regard to wages, but also in regard to conditions of employment. The honorable member for Swan interjected that the men ought to be put into glass houses, but, notwithstanding his attitude, it is our duty to see that they are given proper accommodation.
– The Constitution does not empower us to interfere in these matters, except by giving or withholding, bounty.
– That is all that i<= proposed. Local Boards are much more likely than we are to fix reasonable hours and conditions, because of their local knowledge. All the Minister asks is that there shall be a recognition of standard conditions of employment and rates of wages before bounty shall be paid. If the honorable member for Swan had to spend some time on a sugar plantation, he would be more sympathetic with the men. They do not ask for carpeted rooms and fireplaces, but they desire accommodation suitable for the climate, and no doubt the Committee is willing that they should be properly housed. All the amendment provides is that the awards of the local authorities regarding proper accommodation shall be observed by those who claim bounty. The same thing may be said in regard to food. Millers and others have repeatedly claimed that it costs them from gs. to 10s. per man per week to feed their employes, but they will not give that sum to the men so that these may “ find “ themselves, although the men say that they could obtain better food for less money. They do not ask for threecourse dinners or high teas, but as they are expected to do good work, they should be well fed. I do not say that they are badly fed, but the food could be greatly improved. There is no complaint regarding the accommodation or the food supplied by the small farmers. Too much cannot be said against the practice of some planters who call on their men to cease work directly rain falls, and pay them only for the few hours that they have actually laboured. I have knowledge of a case where a man, after working for one hour, was knocked off, and received 4$-d., which constituted his week’s wages. We are not asking for anything unreasonable or extravagant from the point of view of the employers. We simply ask that the workers shall be treated as white men, and given something better than was given to the kanaka in the matter of wages, housing, and the food they are expected to eatt Whilst there is no definition of “ conditions of employment,” and no standard by which we may come to a decision, in a very short time Wages Boards in Queensland will impose conditions of employment in the industry, and we shall then have a standard on which to act. I think it very wise for the Minister to take to himself this power, so- that when Wages Boards standards are fixed, and local’ industrial legislation is brought into effect, he will be able to exercise it for the purposes of this Bill. It would be wrong to refrain from taking action until something is done in Queensland to fix a standard. It will tend to the advantage of the sugargrowers and the workers generally for the Minister to have this power in reserve. Unless it is taken, we shall find that, so far from being able to assist workers by securing to them fair rates of wages, we shall leave them at the mercy of the employers, and that their future condition may be worse than it now is. If the conditions of employment are not satisfactory the Minister may be able to take action, and I am strongly of opinion that this provision, while being of much advantage to the employes, will not operate disadvantageously to the employers. Many employers in the sugar industry in Queensland are treating their men in a fair and reasonable manner, and all that we ask is that that treatment shall be continued. We do not wish to see one employer disadvantaged because he treats his men well, whilst another is placed at an advantage because he is able to impose conditions which leave employes entirely at his mercy.
– Honorable members seem to overlook the fact that it is only because the Commonwealth has granted a bounty to growers of sugar-cane by white labour that the Minister has any power to interfere in the question of wages or conditions of employment. The control of industries is not vested in this Parliament, and there is no reason why we should elaborate a system of control that is really foreign to our powers. The provision in the principal Act with regard to the payment of a standard minimum wage was introduced to remove uncertainty with respect to payment of the bounty. It has been stated several times during this debate that one reason why the industry has not progressed in the way that was anticipated is the uncertainty as to the continuance of the bounty under the Act which we are now amending. If that is so, will not hampering conditions respecting the payment of the bounty be likely to do more injury than good ? The system now in force, and which we propose to continue, has existed for some years. I think that it was in 1905 that the standard minimum wage was fixed, and I have not been told by the Minister that in administering the bounty any difficulty has been experienced in regard to the payment of wages.
– It has not been satisfactory.
– Whilst I held office as Treasurer I did not hear of any serious complaints. There might have been internal complaints in the Department, but I was not informed of them, and I fail to see why we should anticipate that complaints will be more frequent than they have been. We must not forget the existence of a State Parliament in which the cane-growers and the workers in the industry are represented. One would expect them to be complaining to their representatives in that Parliament if they were not being properly treated.
– So they are.
– If they are appealing to “members of the local Parliament they are appealing to those who are capable of redressing their grievances. We have no power to redress them, except by bringing about a state of uncertainty as to whether the bounty should be paid or not.
– It is better to prevent than to remedy.
– My honorable friend seems to assume that we are the sole authority - that there is no other Legislature - to look after the interests of those concerned in the industry. He seems to forget the existence of the local Parliament, which has full power to deal with questions of this kind. I agree with the honorable member for Kooyong, that- an appeal to the High Court in matters of this kind seems a cumberous procedure, but the proposal to ‘give local Boards power to settle these matters meets with my approval. They are in a better position than is the Minister to judge of the surrounding circumstances. That being so, I take no exception to these provisions. I think it unwise to administer the industry from Melbourne, which is so far removed from the field of operations, and I am loth to place upon the Minister the obligation of looking after the labour conditions of any enterprise. I do not know why the sugar industry should be treated differently from any other, save for the fact that we’ give a bounty to the grower. Apart from that, I do not think it desirable that the Executive should be mixed up with an industry in any part of the Commonwealth. I do not know where we shall end if we have the Commonwealth or even State Executives controlling the wages and conditions of labour all over Australia, and that seems the direc-tion in which some honorable members would lead us. We should leave these matters to the local tribunals, but the proposed reference to the High Court is not quite practical.
– That is only In the last resort.
– At all events, I prefer it to a system under which this duty is thrust upon the Minister. It throws the responsibility where it ought- to be placed, and does not mix up the Executive of the Commonwealth with questions of labour connected with the cultivation of the soil in any part of Australia. I do not know why so much should be said of the sugar industry. I do not know that the land devoted to sugar cultivation is so sacred that we should be called upon to remove our shoes before we tread upon it. Why should there be such a strong desire to interfere with it in a way in which we do not interfere with any other industry? The local authority that controls all other industries may fairly control this. Wages Boards and Arbitration Courts control industries all over Australia, and I fail to see why such tribunals should not control the wages and conditions in the sugar industry in Queensland. Whilst I express no opinion as to the amendment before us, I certainly prefer the provisions of paragraphs a and b to the procedure now in force. I was Acting Prime Minister when the standard wages were fixed. We had a good deal of trouble in arriving . at a minimum, but a minimum was fixed so as to remove the uncertainty that existed as to whether the bounty should be paid or not. Together with the honorable member for Kooyong, I visited northern Queensland for the special purpose of obtaining local knowledge, and was surprised that the wages, which seemed to me to be very moderate, having regard to the- climate, and the work to be performed, were objected to in some places as being too high. In one case a deputation, which complained that the wages Were too high, was accompanied by the member for the district. I thought they were very moderate, having regard to the work to be done, and the conditions of labour, and upon our return we promulgated them as the minimum rate. I suppose that many pay higher, but none can pay lower, wages and obtain the bounty. The industry has gone on fairly well, but I prefer that the wages should be fixed by local tribunals - by Wages Boards, or, in the case of disputes, by the Arbitration Court - rather than that they should be arbitrarily determined from time to time by the Minister.
.- I wish to express my entire sympathy and concurrence with the Bill in continuing the bounty rates instead of gradually tapering them off and abolishing them. At the same time, I think it is the right and duty of Parliament, in continuing the bounties to the sugar industry, to insist upon condi tions for the protection of the workers who engage in the production of the raw material for those who receive the bounty. Objection has been taken to the three alternative methods of determining the rates of wages and labour conditions. I see no objection to conditions a and b. Condition a provides for the rates to be prescribed by a Commonwealth or State industrial authority. The phrase “ Commonwealth authority “ is somewhat vague. It is hard to conceive how a Commonwealth authority can be called into existence under any law of which we are at present aware, for the determination of rates of wages in any particular district. A State industrial authority would be more applicable, and would be useful for the purpose. Attention, however, ought to be drawn to the fact that this is a bounty applicable not merely to Queensland, but to all parts of the Commonwealth, including Victoria. Probably honorable members will be glad to be reminded of the fact that the beet sugar industry is being started in Victoria. Under the provisions of the principal Act, the growers of beet in Victoria will be entitled to share in the bounty so long as they comply with the conditions demanded by law. Therefore when the expression, “ State industrial authority “ is referred to, it is to be understood that it is not only a State industrial authority within Queensland, either in existence or in future, but that it is intended to mean a State industrial authority in any district or locality or State, in which the raw material is grown, and the bounty is claimed. Is that understood by the Minister?
– That is so.
– The Bill does not say what State authority is to be taken.
– Then the Minister might insist upon the award of a State industrial authority in Victoria regulating the rates to be paid in Queensland, or vice versa.
– The difficulty has been that in most cases, as the honorable member for Swan has just said, the wages paid have been too low.
– It is not a question of the rate. I want to know which authority is to prevail. Would the Minister recognise the award of a State industrial authority in Victoria to determine the rates of wages to be paid in Victoria to earn the bounty?
– Yes, for beet sugar. If there was an award covering that industry, it would be taken; if not, if there were average rates paid in the district concerned they would entitle the employers to the bounty.
– That would be a reasonable construction, but we may have to deal with unreasonable people. People in Queensland, for instance, might insist on Victoria paying the same rate of wages as were paid there in order to earn the bounty.
– The chances are that the Victorian rates would be higher.
– I do not think so, because the conditions prevailing in tropical Queensland ought certainly to call for a rate of wages higher than would be paid in Victoria.
– I am confident that the rates paid in Victoria would be higher than those paid in Queensland.
– That is news, and a great surprise to me. It shows the necessity of some supervision in Queensland before the bounty is paid. I see no harm in the Minister utilizing the decisions and awards of any State industrial authority applicable to the industry, and applicable in the locality, as a condition precedent to the distribution of the bounty. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the wording of the clause. It says, “ Every grower of white-grown sugar.” I notice that anomalous expression several times in the original Act, but it hardly expresses the intention of the Legislature. It is not the grower of the sugar who is to claim the bounty, but the grower of the sugar cane or the beet. The original Act says in section 6 -
The rates of bounty payable under this Act shall be as follows : -
in the case of sugar-cane, 6s. per ton. (i) In the case of beet, 60s. per ton. . . .
Section 8 provides that all bounties shall be allowed at .the time of the delivery of the “ sugar-cane or beet,” but then comes section 9, with the anomalous and new expression, “ every grower of white-grown sugar who claims the bounty.”
– Does the honorable member suggest that it should be “ every grower pf white-grown sugar-cane or beet”?
– Yes, to make it harmonize with the rest of the Act, and carry out the original intention of the Legislature. Otherwise, people who grow or produce the sugar may claim the bounty,, when the growers of the raw material, thesugarcane or beet, ought to claim it.
– I am prepared to withdraw my amendment to let the honorable member move in that direction.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Sir John Quick) agreed to-
That after the word “ sugar,” line 4, the words “ cane or beet “ be inserted-.
Amendment (by Mr. Tudor) agreed to -
That after the word “ Minister,” lines 6 and 7, the words “ the conditions of employment and “ be inserted.
-. - Is it advisable to retain the words “Commonwealth or” in paragraph al There is no Commonwealth industrial authority, and we ought not to anticipate what may exist some time hence, or what may never be. I am not aware of any. power to create a Commonwealth industrial, authority.
– We have a Federal’ Arbitration Act. If there were a dispute in the Northern District of New South Wales, that could extend into Queensland, and become an Inter- State dispute coming under the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court.
– That would cover it.
– If that is sos I am satisfied. .
Clause consequentially amended.
Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) [9-53J- - When speaking just now, I omitted tosay that I have not changed my opinion, since I was in northern Queensland in regard to the payment of the bounty. I expressed myself clearly on the matter when speaking on .this Bill some weeks ago, and I have not heard one good reasongiven by the Minister or any one else why they are determined to retain the bountyand Excise. I was informed by a deputation at Brisbane four or five years agothat the farmers did not want either, and would have been quite content with an import duty to protect their industry. I cannot see why we should retain the cumbrous system of paying out £3 a ton, and drawing in £4 a ton, whilst at the same time placing a burden of over £6,000 a year on the people of the Commonwealth for expenses. Neither the Minister nor any other member has shown why it is desired to retain that clumsy method.
– To encourage the employment of white labour.
– As I showed, there were only about 2,000 coloured men out of the 30,000 men formerly engaged in the sugar industry; and it seems to me, seeing that they have a legal right to remain in Australia, there is no more reason why these men should not be employed in the cane-fields of Queensland than there is why they should not be employed in the great cities and suburbs. There are quite 50,000 coloured persons in the Commonwealth, and it is difficult to understand why a coloured man should not be as suitable for work in northern Queensland as he is in the gardens in and around the cities of Australia? We were always given to understand that honorable members opposite were a humanitarian party; but I do not see much humanitarianism in a party which seems unwilling to allow a man to earn his living in a country in which he is legally entitled to reside.
– Half the cane-fields in Queensland are manured with kanakas’ bodies.
– I do not know that that has anything to do with the question.
– That is the sort of humanitarianism the honorable member’s party goes in for.
– The honorable member has no justification for associating me with those who may be cruel or even unkind to either black people or white people. Why is there this great objection to a coloured man earning a living in the tropics of Queensland, while there seems to be no objection to his earning a living elsewhere in Australia? Probably, if we look deep enough, we shall find there is some political reason, as there generally is. This make-believe “ humanitarianism “ is very often a cloak for political humbug. I can see no reason why this, or any other Government should, for a longer period than is absolutely necessary, continue the present cumbrous method when the sugar industry can be protected equally with other industries by an import duty. I have an objection to this coddling of any industry. It seems to me that those employed in the sugar business are prejudiced so long as there is any uncertainty as to the reward for their labour; and there is uncertainty when it is in the power of a Minister to put difficulties in the way of the payment of the bonus. Of course, my remarks have no personal application to the present Minister.
– For the first time, there is now a proposal to take the power out of the hands of the Minister.
– It is not good that any one in authority should be able to do as he likes in regard to the rewards of industry. This Bill is being passed now by force of numbers ; but, if I had the power, I should reject it, and allow the import duty to be the protection of the industry.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
– I move -
That the following clause be inserted : - “ Section 2 of the SugarBounty Act 1905 is amended by inserting after the word ‘ employed’ the words ‘ Provided that all preliminary work in connexion therewith, such as clearing, grubbing, and the preparation of cane for planting, shall have been performed by white labour only, during a period of twenty-four months prior to the delivery of cane for manufacture.’ “
Notwithstanding what we have heard about the loyalty of the planters to the White Australia policy, there are, unquestionably, many breaches of the law in spirit, if not in letter. I know, from my own personal knowledge, that land is cleared, and, in some cases, I am told, fenced, and all the preliminary work prior to planting done by coloured labour. A man may plant by any labour he chooses in April, May, June, and as late as July, and have the cane cut in August of the succeeding year ; thus being able to claim the bounty, because twelve months have elapsed. That was never intended ; and I have taken exception to it on previous occasions.
– This will operate in a certain number of cases where people have already taken action.
– It may; but not to a great extent.
– It ought to begin to apply only from the day the Bill becomes law.
– I am quite willing that the amendment should operate in next January, because that would attain the end I have in view, and protect the revenue.
– I was just about to point out the very effect referred to by the honorable member for Ballarat, namely, that the amendment may shut out bona fide growers who had registered under the existing Act, understanding that the ground had only to remain “white” for twelve months. It would mean that they might have to harvest one crop by white labour, without obtaining any bounty, and then keep the ground “white” for a second twelve months before obtaining the advantages of the Act. If I remember rightly, we had to amend the 1902 Act in this very direction.
– We were too liberal !
– If the honorable member for Herbert will consent to withdraw his amendment, I shall have the matter looked into ; and, if it be practicable, have a clause to the effect inserted in another place. It was fully understood that the Government did not propose to enforce any new conditions, but merely to keep in operation the bounty and Excise as fixed by the Act of 1905.
.- I point out that the honorable member for Herbert has no desire to make this clause retrospective, as he has shown by expressing his willingness that his amendment shall come into operation next January, if the Government so desire. His only desire is to protect the growers and the revenue.
– In considerationof what the Minister has said, I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report, by leave, adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause1 agreed to.
Section two of the Excise Tariff 1905 is amended by omitting therefrom the following proviso : - “ Provided further that the duty of excise payable on sugar produced from cane delivered for manufacture in the years One thousand nine hundred and eleven and One thousand nine hundred and twelve shall be respectively two-thirds and one-third of the aforesaid rate.”
Amendment (by Mr. Tudor) proposed -
That after the word “ amended “ the follow- . ing words be inserted : - “ (a) by omitting therefrom the words ‘ until the first day of January, One thousand nine hundred and thirteen,’ and (b).”
– I hope that the Government do not intend to perpetuate the present arrangements, and that during the recess the Minister will consider whether the clumsy Excise provisions, which cost£6,000 a year to administer, cannot be abolished, and some other plan devised to attain his object. The present arrangement gives the Department an immense amount of work and trouble, and if we could get rid of both Excise and bounty, and do what is desired in some other way, it would be a great advantage.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
– Shall I be in order in asking the Minister if he will ascertain from his colleagues whether, on an early date, an opportunity can be given to discuss my motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission?
Bill reported with an amendment ; report, by leave, adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate with an amendment.
That the Senate’s message be taken into consideration forthwith.
– The Senate desires to add to clause 3 a sub-clause to the effect that the interest payable in pursuance of it shall be paid to, and form part of, the Australian . Notes Account. The desire is that when moneys are taken from the Trust Fund, and, at the direction of Parliament, used for some other purpose, interest at the rate of 3 per centum per annum should be allowed. I move -
That the amendment be agreed to.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Fuller) agreed to -
That the resumption of the debate on the second reading of the Banking Companies Reserve Liabilities Bill be made an Order of the Day for Thursday next.
House adjourned at 10.18p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 October 1910, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1910/19101011_reps_4_58/>.