4th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.33 a.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher), by leave, agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral submit the grievances of the South Australian postmasters, who were taken over by Federation, in relation to emoluments, increments, and age retirements, to arbitration, so that the question may be finally settled by equity?
– The claims made by the postmasters of South Australia have been the subject of consideration and decision by many of my predecessors. The matter has been going on for some years, but, on the strength of the representations that have been made to me by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, I intend to look personally into the case, and will see what information I can give the honorable member, in about a week’s ‘ time, on the point that he has raised.
Sugar Commission : Colonial Sugar Refining Company - Importations
– I wish to know if the Attorney-General has any knowledge of a writ issued by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company against the chairman and members of the Sugar Commission to restrain certain proceedings recently taken against the general manager of the company? Has the honorable gentleman, as repre senting the Commonwealth Government, re.ceived notice of the intention of the company to apply for such a writ? Does he know whether the proceedings of the company have, or have not, been instituted with an eye to certain other prosecutions which may be instituted by the Commonwealth Government, or whether this action of the company is not an attempt to “hamstring” Parliament?
– I was informed yesterday that a writ had been issued, and .that the Chief Justice had fixed Monday next to hear an application for an interim injunction directed against the Commission pending the hearing of the case. The Crown was not present when leave was granted, nor was it informed of these proceedings, which were ex parte. It is the intention of the Crown to be represented on Monday, and to oppose the application. I am quite unaware of the motives that have actuated the company in applying for the writ. But I think that if the public are not altogether blind, they must see that there is something very much worth hiding when a company of this sort persistently decline to give any information to a properly appointed Commission of Inquiry, and still- maintain this attitude when the personnel of the Commission to which they took strong exception has been quite changed.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister and Treasurer whether, in view of the probability of this Parliament not being able to consider this session the report from the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the sugar industry, and in view also of the fact that there will.be a shortage in sugar production in Australia, he will consider the advisableness of the Commonwealth Government taking on the business of the importation of the sugar necessary for Australian requirements, especially seeing that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company will, in all probability, be. the only importer of sugar, and the only dealer in imported sugar.
– The question put by the honorable member for Capricornia raises an issue, not only as regards sugar, but as regards every other commodity which is not fully supplied by local production.
– It is the only monopoly, I think.
– It is an important question of policy. As Treasurer, of course, I should have to revise the accounts in some way, but as Prime Minister I must look at the matter in the light of the wider question of policy.
– Does the right honorable gentleman think that the Commonwealth Government is empowered by the Constitution to act as an importer of goods for private consumption ?
-I have not consulted the Attorney-General on the point, but I understand from various legal authorities that we can import, although we cannot sell.
Mr.W. ELLIOT JOHNSON. - In view of the likelihood of the shortage in the production, of sugar, and consequent increase of prices to the consumers, will the Minister of Trade and Customs take into consideration the advisability of abolishing the sugar duty ?
– The abolition of the sugar duty is a matter which would have to be considered by the Cabinet. It is not one with which I could deal on my own responsibility.
– Will the Minister of Home Affairs lay on the table of the House next Tuesday all the papers and correspondence in connexion with the purchase of the Moorak Estate, in South Australia, for the purpose of a rifle range?
– I shall place the papers on the table of the Library.
– In the event of the Government of New South Wales deciding to evict the King’s Commonwealth representative from the King’s residence in Sydney, does the Prime Minister propose to take steps to acquire some other residence for the Governor-General ?
– The King’s residence ! What are you talking about?
– It is, or was, Imperial property.
– There is still a further communication to come from the New South Wales Government to the Government of the Commonwealth, and I shall await its receipt; but I think that, on general principles, when a person receives a hint that his company is not desired, he does not remain.
– Can the Minister of Home Affairs say whether the contract for the supply of karri sleepers for the. Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway has been signed?
– I wish to ask the Minister of Home Affairs if it is the intention of the Government, in regard to the supply of steel rails for the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway, to give any preference to steel rails that are manufactured locally ?
– Will the Minister state what is the extent of preference that will be given to local manufacturers?
– We shall have to weigh that question very carefully ; but there will be a fair preference.
– As the New South Wales Public Works Committee are now sitting in Sydney to consider the advisableness of the extension of the railway from Bomaderry to Jervis Bay, where the Naval College is to be situated, is the Minister of Home Affairs prepared to submit to that body a definite statement asto the policy of the Government in regard to the construction of the railway from YassCanberra to Jervis Bay?
– I ask my honorable friend to give notice of the question.
– The matter is urgent, because the Public Works Committee will be closing their proceedings to-morrow. I should like to ask the Prime Minister a question on the subject. The right honorable gentleman is aware that the extension of the railway to Jervis Bay has been strongly advised by his officers, and that the consideration of the matter was postponed by the New South Wales Public Works Committee, pending a definite statement from the Commonwealth authorities regarding their proposals. I would like the Prime Minister to take this matter in hand, and I ask him if he will see that a definite statement of the policy of his Government, in connexion with the construction of a line from Yass-Canberra to Jervis Bay is placed before the Committee before its inquiry closes?
– The Minister of Home Affairs has charge of this matter. He is having a contour survey of the country between the Capital Site and Jervis Bay made, and the work, I understand, is proceeding as expeditiously as may be.
– Mr. Scrivener’s evidence yesterday was very indefinite.
– I am sure that the Minister of Home Affairs will see that all due information is made public.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are-
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether Militia officers attending the State Conference on Monday and Tuesday next will be allowed to state their views fully and without restraint, and with no fear of any consequence?
Mr. THOMAS (for Mr. Roberts).Yes.
Mr. TUDOR laid upon the table the following paper : -
Excise Act - Regulation - StatutoryRules 1912, No. 172.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Those who have been members of this Parliament since its inauguration are aware that it has on four separate occasions dealt with the bounty question in regard to the sugar industry. The first Bill was introduced, during the session of 1 901-2, by the lateCharles Cameron Kingston, and provided for the giving of a rebate to growers of cane employing white labour. That measure was amended in 1903, because it was thought that we had not the power to give an advantage to certain growers by allowing a rebate to them, and provision was made for the payment of a bounty. There were other reasons for the amendment of the law which I shall not go into now, because I have no wish to detain the House on this subject very long. I may say, at the outset, that the present Bill is not the result of the correspondence with the Premier of Queensland relating to the abolition of the sugar bounty and Excise recently laid on the table, it having been drafted before that correspondence commenced. In 1905, the law on the subject was again amended. The rate of bounty had been fixed on a sliding scale, under which it would have ceased to be payable in 1912. It was thought, however, that, were the bounty discontinued, the cane-growers and the workers in the industry would have no guarantee of the continuance of fair conditions, but would be handed over completely to the monopoly that is running the business to-day. It is not my intention to deal with that company now, in view of certain questions that have been asked this morning, but at any other time I should be prepared to say exactly what I think concerning it. If the bounty and Excise duties were abolished, this Parliament would not have any control over the sugar industry, which would then be in the same position as the other protected industries. When the amending Bill of 1905 was before the Senate, the present Minister of Defence moved an amendment providing that the Minister of Trade and Customs should withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable if he found that the wages paid by the growers were below the standard rate prevailing in the district where the cane was being grown. That was the first recognition in this Parliament of what has been termed the new Protection.
– What does the Minister mean by the new Protection?
– One phase of it is the securing to the workers of a fair share of the profits of the industry in which they are engaged. Previously, no conditions were attached to the payment of the bounty ; those growing the cane could pay their white workers less than the black fellows were getting if they could obtain assistance at such rates.
– I think that the Minister is mistaken.
– The 1903 Act contains no conditions regarding labour. In the Act of 1910, the conditions of employment and rates of wages were dealt with more fully than they had been in 1905. Now the obligation is laid on the Minister not to pay the bounty if the conditions of employment and rates of wages are inferior to those prevailing in the district ; and if, on his application, an Arbitration Court declares them not to be fair and reasonable, he may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty. At the present time, the position is this : The sugar is grown, the workers have been employed upon it, harvesting operations have been performed, the cane is turned into raw sugar, and the farmer can ask for his bounty. But the Minister can withhold it if he finds that rates of wages and conditions of employment have not been fair. Now that, in my opinion, is starting at the wrong end. The workers engaged in this industry are not permanent employes. In a great number of cases, they go to the sugar districts from the southern States, leaving again at the end of the season. Even if the Judge of the Arbitration Court found that the rates of wages and conditions of employment had not been fair, there would be very little chance of getting hold of the workers to insure that they would afterwards be paid the wages to which they were entitled. I have been told by honorable members opposite that I could have avoided the sugar strike of last year if I had chosen to fix wages. Many honorable members on that side have made the statement that the strike of 191 1 need not have taken place had I exercised the power which I have under this Act of fixing wages.
– Who said that?
– Many honorable members.
– What honorable members ?
– Senator Chataway in the Senate said so, at any rate, and several honorable members have done so here. I am positive of that. I think the honorable member for Franklin did.
– I never said so.
– The honorable member said that the strike of 191 1 need not have taken place if I had cared to fix rates of wages.
– I never said that.
– The Minister cannot name one.
– I can name more than one, and I shall not be like the honorable member for Lang, who said that it could not be shown that he voted for the “ gag,” though his name was immediately shown to be in the division list.
– That is an absolute misstatement of fact.
– The Minister should not let his tongue run away with him.
– What I am anxious to do is to assist the cane-growers. I believe the method proposed will be an easy way out of the difficulty, and will not have the effect of holding up the bounty.
– Come back to the point, and tell us who those honorable members were who made the statement which the Minister has alleged.
– I can look them up.
– The Minister says that the 1910 Act began at the wrong end.
– At whose instance was that Act passed?
– I was in charge of it, and I considered at the time that we were doing a good thing. But I did not fix a wage of 22s. 6d. a week and found, as it was fixed by a Ministry whom the honorable member supported.
– I never supported such a proposal.
– Order ! If honorable members behave in this unseemly manner the business of the House cannot be properly conducted.
– I rise to order.
– Order ! Although the honorable member for Lannecoorie, who has risen to order is speaking loudly, I am unable to hear him in consequence of the conversation which is going on.
– I wish to know whether it is in order for the Minister to make a statement regarding the support which a member of this House gave to a proposal, which statement is absolutely outside the fact?
– What is the point of order ?
– That is the point of order.
– It is not possible for me to know whether a particular statement is true or untrue. I cannot say whether the Minister’s statement was correct or otherwise. Therefore I cannot say that it was out of order.
– I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it was out of order.
– If the. honorable member for Laanecoorie considers that anything I said was a reflection upon him I wish to assure him that I had no such desire.
– It was a scandalous statement. The Minister said that I supported a wage of 22s. 6d. per week and found. I never did such a thing in my life.
– This is the third time that I have had to appeal to honorable members for order. I again ask them to cease conversation and allow the Minister to proceed with his speech.
– As I have already said, in my opinion, the existing Act starts at the wrong end. The honorable member for Laanecoorie asked me whether it was passed at my instance, and I said it was. If I make a mistake I am not afraid to own up to it. I do not desire to place the blame on any one else’s shoulders. I believe that the Act starts at the wrong eni for this reason : The whole of the operations are finished before the bounty can he claimed. It would then be difficult to find the men who had been employed-, in the industry, and who ought to have obtained fair conditions. I believe that honorable members are all anxious that they shall obtain fair conditions. No honorable member has’ suggested that the conditions set forth in the recent order are too good or the wages too high. As the Minister is not allowed under the Act to refer the matter to the Judge of the Arbitration Court, or to any Industrial Board or Court, the position is unfair to the worker, unfair to the farmer, and unfair to the Judge, who was expected to decide upon a matter which might have been concluded twelve months before. 1 looked into the matter, and found that I could have stopped the payment to some farmers recently on the bounty they claimed on last year’s crop, even though the work had been done twelve months before. But I determined that I would not do that. I would not stop ihe payment of bounty on cane which had beni! produced and had been turned into sugar last year. But this year I published rates of wages and conditions of employment dealing with the subject, and showing that I was anxious that the case should go before the Arbitration Court. I do not think that the Minister should be placed in the position of having to act as an Arbitration Court. He cannot judge the matter fairly. I am, therefore, anxious that the Minister should be able to refer it to the Judge. The Bill is a short one. By clause 2, section 9 of the Sugar Bounty Act is amended, and power is given to the Minister to make application to the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration or to any Judge of any State Court, or to any persons composing an Industrial Court.
– Is this Bill urgent?
– Yes; because the whole of the bounty will be hung up until the measure is passed.
– Why will the bounty be hung up?
– It will be hung up unless the wages set forth in the recent order issued by me are paid. If the specified wages and conditions of employment are observed, of course the bounty will be paid ; but I take it that no honorable member would desire that the bounty should be paid unless fair conditions are observed and fair wages paid.
– That is the reason why the bounty was granted by Parliament.
– That is so. The Bill gives to the Minister of the day the power to refer the question directly to a Judge for decision. At present, I have no further power than that given by the Act to withhold the bounty; and that can only be done after the investigation is complete. Such a position I do not consider desirable, because it is much better to have the matter settled once and for all, so that those engaged in the industry may know exactly where they stand. In the case of the harvester industry, an Act was passed in 1906 fixing a rate of Excise. It provided that those engaged in the manufacture of harvesters should pay £6 per machine to the Department of Trade and Customs, or give fair wages and conditions; but, in the meantime, a great number of machines had been turned out, and the manufacturers complained that they did not know what they had to pay. Under these circumstances, this Bill has been introduced ; and an important point in it is the definition of “ standard rates “ in paragraph b of proposed clause 4. The definition is contained in the following words -
If the Minister finds that the rates of wages and conditions of employment, or any of them -
Are below the standard rates and conditions applicable to the locality and agreed upon between representatives of associations of employers and employes registered under any Commonwealth or State Act, the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable.
We know that individuals may be persuaded to sign agreements to take less wages than are fair and just, and, in some cases, a few men thus got together may make it appear that a standard rate has been fixed. The two principal features of the Bill are, first, that it allows the Minister to refer the matter to a Judge as soon as possible ; and, secondly, that it defines the term “ standard rates.” I trust that honorable members will do their best to pass the Bill into law, so that the questions which arise under it may be settled by the most competent authorities.
– Will the Minister say what the Government policy is in regard to Mr. Denham’s proposal?
– That has not yet been considered by the Cabinet.
– When will it be considered ?
– I see by the letter that the Prime Minister suggested that the proposal might be dealt with next Parliament.
– Will the Minister not consider it before then?
– I am prepared to consider it at any time, because my desire is that the workers shall be safeguarded in this industry, as well as in every other.
– The Minister is a long while about it !
– I must ask the honorable member for Parramatta and other honorable members not to continually interject.
– Some honorable members opposite have made the statement that the strike of 191 1 need not have taken place had I exercised the powers I possess. In the debate on the Address-in-Reply, as reported in Hansard of 13th September, 191 1, page 413, the honorable member for Richmond said -
There was no reason for a strike, so far as the field workers were concerned, because, if the Minister believed, as he said he did, that their demands were not excessive, he had it in his power to fix the rates of pay at what they asked.
– Quite right - so the Minister had.
– The report in Hansard proceeds -
– The honorable member would have been the first to condemn him had he interfered at such a time.
– My point is that the Minister had determined, and was responsible for, the rates that were being paid, and had he been a man he would have insisted on the strikers going back to work at those wages. As for the mill hands, the regulation of their wages is within the power of the Wages Boards. There was, therefore, no reason at all for the strike.
The honorable member for Richmond and other honorable members said that. I ought-
– What other honorable members?
– The honorable member knows that I have lately been busily engaged with the Navigation Bill, and I have not had time to look up all the speeches made in this connexion. I am, however, quite safe in saying that several honorable members opposite stated that it was within my power to fix the rate of wages. That is a power which the Minister ought not to have, but one that ought to be exercised by an industrial tribunal, either by the employers and employes meeting together, or by the President’ of the Arbitration Court, or some person to whom he can delegate the duty under the Act. I trust the Bill will be passed into law, and thus give the workers better conditions than they have been able to obtain hitherto, and improve the position of all engaged in the industry.
.- The remarks I made on the AddressinReply in 191 1. 1 am prepared to make today; there is nothing I then said that is not in strict accordance with fact. The position I took up was that, when the men made a claim for certain wages, the Minister had the power to inquire whether or not the wages claimed were the standard rates applicable to the district, and, if they were, he could at once declare them to be the standard rates, and determine that no bounty should be given until such wages were paid. That is the position the Minister was then in, and it is the position he is in to-day.
– Does the honorable member say that I have the power to fix the standard rates?
– No; but that is what the Minister has done. What he has power to do is, when a claim is made by the men, to investigate and find out whether the claim represents the standard rates, and, if he determines that it does, he may there and then, under the Act, withhold the bounty until the wages are paid. Under the regulations recently issued, the Minister has taken it upon himself, without any claim being made by the men, or without being approached in any way by the growers, to set up what he declares to be the standard rate of wages ; and in this he has done what is absolutely illegal. Honorable members, whether, like myself, they have been only a short time in the House, or have been in this Parliament for along time, know that, from the inception of this Parliament, the sugar industry hasbeen peculiarly cared and legislated for. Whether that care and legislation have beenbeneficial to the industry, or whether the legislation was designed to be beneficial to the industry, is another question; but T venture to say that it has not been designed, or thought to be, or desired to be, for the benefit of the industry, but for a very different purpose altogether.
– That is a great reflection on this Parliament, and on some honorable members opposite who supported the legislation.
– Not at all. I maintain that the primary object of the legislation this Parliament has passed from time to time in connexion with the sugar industry has not been to the benefit of the industry. It has been passed for an ulteriorpurpose.
– For the purpose of securing: a decent wage for the people employed 17’ the industry.
– No; that was not the purpose. What has really been the object of this legislation? Honorable membersknow it as well as I do. It has been togive effect to a plank in the platform of all political parties in Australia for many years, namely, the White Australia policy.
– Is the honorable member against’ that?
– No, I am for it all the time. I say that what Parliament setout to accomplish by this legislation waste enable sugar to be grown by white labour throughout the Commonwealth, and to dispense with the black labour, which waslargely engaged in the industry at the inception of the Commonwealth. What wasit that Parliament did to give effect tothat White Australia policy? It had not the power to do directly what it desired. What it did was to manipulate two legislative powers which it possesses, and,, by the imposition of an Excise on the onehand, and the granting of a bounty on the- other, it was enabled to bring pressure to bear on the grower in such a way that he was practically compelled to abandon black labour and employ white labour in its stead. Honorable members have only to look at the figures of the Budget-papers to see what has been the effect of this legislation. It has had the effect we all desire of gradually reducing the coloured labour employed in the sugar industry to a very small percentage indeed. That was the primary object of our legislation with regard to the sugar industry, and it has been accomplished. But that legislation was never of the slightest benefit to the sugar-growers, and never will be of any benefit to them financially, and it was not intended to be.
– They have been given the benefit of Protection.
– I shall deal with that presently. In the manipulation of the powers of legislation we possess, we imposed an Excise of £4 per ton on all sugar manufactured. But who pays that Excise? Is it the consumer? Does the manufacturer, after he has paid the Excise, pass it on to the consumer?
– The honorable member should ask the honorable member for Franklin.
– Without asking anybody, I will tell the honorable member for Denison, if he does not know.
– The honorable member should have some knowledge as to who pays it.
– The manufacturer deducts the amount of the Excise from the price he pays to the grower for his cane. I can prove that down to the ground.
– Under the ground, the honorable member means.
– No, I do not, because were it put under the ground where the Attorney-General would desire to see it, it would be out of sight and out of the way, and I desire that it should be put where every one can see it. If the AttorneyGeneral had not been so anxious to put it out of sight he would have read the evidence already given before the Sugar Commission, but which we, unfortunately, are not yet in possession of. He would have seen that it has been proved before the Commission in open Court, on the sworn testimony, not only of growers, but also of manufacturers, that the whole of the Excise which this Parliament has imposed on the manufacture of raw sugar is charged to the growers. It has been given in evidence that the Excise at present collected from the manufacturers has resulted in the following deductions from the prices paid for cane in the several sugar districts mentioned. Honorable members are, no doubt, aware that the sugargrowing districts have been divided into four for the purpose of the bounty, and our sugar legislation. In the case of No. 1 district, the amount deducted on account of the difference between bounty and Excise is 2s. 6d. per ton; in No. 2 district, the deduction is 2s. 4d. ; in No. 3, it is 2s. 2d. ; and in No. 4, it is 2s. per ton. Honorable members are aware that the sugar-growers are under an arrangement or agreement with the manufacturers in most districts for the purchase of their cane at certain prices. I have, unfortunately, mislaid a copy of an actual agreement, which I should have been glad to produce for the inspection of honorable members. In that agreement, it is stipulated, year by year, what the price to be paid for cane shall be; whether in a lump sum, or on the sugar contents of the cane supplied. The agreement goes on to set out that, in the event of the bounty and Excise coming to an end, there and then the amounts of the deductions which I have quoted shall be added to the price which, under the agreement, the manufacturer stipulates to pay to the producer for his cane. There is, in black and white, on the face of these agreements, the most definite testimony that it is the growers who are paying the Excise upon the manufactured sugar. All the manufacturers of raw sugar who have appeared before the Sugar Commission have given unequivocal testimony that, the moment the Excise and bounty cease, they are willing to pay to the growers the amounts to which I have already referred in excess of the prices which, under their agreements, they are now paying for cane. So that, if this Parliament, in its wisdom, sees fit to repeal the bounty and Excise, it will add these amounts to the growers’ proceeds from their cane.
– What has that to do with this Bill?
– It has everything to do with the Bill. Suppose that, instead of imposing this Excise on the manufacturer, Parliament had imposed it upon the grower direct, and had then paid the bounty, it would have done what was illegal, and the High Court would have declared it so. Parliament happened to be in the position of having an intermediary upon whom it could impose the Excise duty, and it let that intermediary pass it on to the grower. Having imposed the Excise upon the manufacturer, Parliament granted the bounty to the grower of the cane. The bounty was fixed at £3 per ton, and, consequently, there was a difference of j£i per ton between the Excise which was charged to the grower and the bounty which was granted to him by this Parliament. So far as the operation of the bounty and Excise is concerned, the cane-growers have nothing for which to thank this Parliament.
– Not even for the import duty ?
– I will deal with that question in a moment or two. I find that, since the initiation of this policy, the Excise which has been charged against the sugar manufacturers, and by them passed on “to the cane-growers, amounts to .£5,879,148 ; whilst the bounty which has been paid to the growers aggregates £3>71>5’93-* Deducting the latter sum from the former, we get .£2,100,555. I wish honorable members to reflect upon these figures, because they will then see that, as the result of the operation of the bounty and Excise system, the growers have actually paid into the Consolidated Revenue no less a sum than .£2,100,555. For the privilege of securing this precious bounty, they have actually paid that amount into the Consolidated Revenue.
– How much have they taken oat of it?
– Is it quite fair to dissociate the import duty from a consideration of this question?
– That is the amount which has been paid by the growers. So far as they are concerned, the bounty, therefore, is a sham, a fraud, and a delusion. It was never intended to be anything else. This Parliament never intended that it should be a bounty in the same sense that it granted a bounty upon the production of iron and steel, for example. It was merely designed to prevent the employment of black labour in our canefields. As a matter of common honesty and of fair dealing, this Parliament has no right to impose any conditions other than those which were laid down in the Sugar Bounty Act of 1905.
– This is very good evidence against the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
– Section 9 of that Act reads -
Every grower of white-grown sugar who claims the bounty payable under this Act shall, in making such claim, certify to the Minister the rate of wages paid to any labourer employed by him other than the labour of members of his family. If the Minister finds that such rate of wages is below the standard rate paid in the district in which the sugar is grown, to similar white labour engaged in that industry, then the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable.
In other words, this Parliament wished to insure that the cane-grower, when once the bounty had been granted, should not use his position to sweat the white labour which he was bound to employ, down to the rate which was formerly paid to black labour. It was stipulated that the Minister, through his officers, should ascertain what was the ruling rate of wages paid in any district in which sugar was grown, and that the bounty should be withheld incases in which that rate of wages was not paid. The Minister, I think, made a most unfair remark to the honorable member for Laanecoorie. He stated that the Minister of Trade and Customs, behind whom the honorable member for Laanecoorie sat - and behind whom, he might have added,, he himself sat at the time - had fixed the rate of wages at 22s. 6d. or 25s. per week, with keep. As a matter of fact, the Minister did nothing of the sort. He did not fix the wages at all. He merely did what the Act directed him to do. He ascertained what was the ruling rate of wages in a particular district, and declared that that rate should be the standard upon which the bounty should . be payable. Now I come to the question of the import duty. It is perfectly true that a Customs duty of j£6 per ton has been imposed upon sugar. I wish to refer to certain countries where animport duty is levied on sugar, and compare the wages and conditions which obtain there with those obtaining in Australia. But first let me point out that, although the people of Australia pay an import duty of £6 per ton on sugar, yet, owing to the operation of the bounty and the Excise, the effective duty to the grower is only ^5 a ton. I have a table which I propose to read, because it will give honorable members a certain amount of useful information as to the amount of duty collected in other parts of the world, the wages paid, and the nature of the labour employed -
Although I admit that a duty of £6 a ton may seem a good deal for the consumer to pay, yet, when the rates of wages paid here are compared with the rates of wages obtaining in other countries where sugar is grown, I think it must be perfectly plain to honorable members that the amount of effective protection -£5 a ton - is really not sufficient to enable the growers to pay these wages.
– Have you touched upon the price per ton which is charged for sugar in those low-waged countries?
– No, I have not the information here, but the honorable member will find, I think, that in the “United States sugar is quite as dear as it is in Australia. I am not absolutely conversant with the figures, and I do not desire to make a haphazard statement. I now come to the regulations which the Minister has promulgated, and which, I venture to say, have given rise to this Bill, although he did not say so. Of course, he has discovered that the action he took is illegal.
– No, it is not. None of the barristers says that it is illegal. They say that they know of no means by which it can be attacked.
– As the Minister has referred to the matter, I may as well quote a little of the opinion given by Mr. Stumm, K.C. He says -
I have no doubt whatever that it is not within the power of the Minister to prescribe the rates of wages or the conditions of employment.
– Hear, hear ! I have always said that, too.
– I understand that the Minister has prescribed-
– I have always said that I have not done that.
– In a negative way.
– Mr. Stumm says I have not done it.
– I know that he does. I might as well read this paragraph.
– You might as well get into Hansard what he says.
– Mr. Stumm says-
The intention of the Act seems to me to be clear. The onus was thrown on growers who wished to claim and receive payment of the bounty to pay the standard rates, and conform with the conditions of employment prescribed by the Commonwealth or State industrial authority, or, in the absence of such standard, the standard rates and conditions of employment obtainable in the locality in which the sugar was grown ; or, in the absence of any such standard rates, then what, on a reference by the Minister to the proper authority, would be declared to be fair and reasonable.
That is the position which I have always taken up.
The Minister’s functions do not arise until a claim is made and the finding by him is, in my view, a judicial act.
He gives certain facts which I will not read.
He should, before determination against the claim, make proper inquiry, first, as to whether there is a standard rate of wages and conditions of employment, and if not to refer to the proper authority to have it determined whether those which obtained were fair and reasonable. The growers concerned should be given an opportunity of attending the inquiry. All these considerations, in my view, show clearly that the general order which the Minister has issued is quite beyond his proper function and power.
– Why not challenge it?
– I believe that they are going to do so. The Minister issued his regulations without endeavouring to ascertain their probable effect, and without giving the growers an opportunity to put their views before him ; it was a one-sided action done solely for political reasons.
– Finish the quotation from Mr. Stumm’s opinion.
– Mr. Stumm says-
I do not know any legal procedure by which the general order can be attacked.
The Minister has done an illegal thing, but shelters himself behind the quibble that there is no direct means of exposing the illegality. He knows that the growers will be put to enormous expense and trouble to bring the matter before the Court by indirect means, and he is aware what those indirect means are. It has been asked over and over again : Are the rates fixed too high ? Personally, I do not say that they are, and I do not know a grower of cane who is unwilling to pay them ; but I know that the growers have not the money with which to pay them.
– I shall show that presently. The Minister knows that if the Cabinet liked to equalize the bounty and Excise, the Government could retain its control of the industry, but greatly benefit the growers, or it could hand the control of the industry over to the State Governments, and dispense with the bounty and Excise altogether as suggested by Mr. Denham; but he will not lift his little finger to help the growers, and says that he does not intend to take any action until next year. He has imposed on them regulations which, as I shall show, will beggar them, and will, if insisted on, ultimately destroy an industry for the maintenance of which the people of Australia have been paying heavily by means of duties for many years past. Briefly, the Minister has altered the conditions which have obtained for two years under the present Administration.
– They were determined after a careful investigation on the spot by the right honorable member for Swan and myself.
– Exactly. I have dealt with that, and I do not wish to go into it again. In the middle of the season, without investigation or inquiry, as his answers to me the other day showed clearly, the Minister suddenly changed the conditions under which the industry must be carried on. In reply to my questions, he said that he did not know whether the growers could or could not pay the new rates which he had fixed; that he did not know whether they were under an agreement to sell their cane at prices already fixed upon; and, although he did not say it, what he meant was that he did not care. He has altered the rate of wages from 25s. a week and keep to 36s. a week and keep, and the hours of employment from fifty-eight or sixty to forty-eight a week. I have never grown cane, except for fodder, but I have been informed that, prior to the alteration of conditions made by the Minister, 75 per cent. of the amount received for the cane had to be spent by the grower in the payment of wages. The process of cultivation is a long one. In my district, two years elapse between the planting of the ratoons and the harvesting of the crop.
– Did the honorable member ever see ratoons planted?
– Then he is an extraordinary man.
– In my district, I believe they call the short lengths of cane that are planted in the ground ratoons; in the honorable member’s district, they may have another name for them. After the planting, chipping has to be done continuously to keep the young cane free from weeds. After that follows the trashing, and finally comes the harvesting. In any case, the cost of cultivation absorbs a large part of the sum obtained for the cane; and sugar-growers tell me that, as the result of the change made by the Minister, the cost of growing cane will be increased by 6s. 6d. a ton. This year, the crop is very light, because of droughty conditions ; but, even on that crop, the additional cost imposed on the growers by the Minister’s arbitrary action is £450,000.
– That is an absolutely ab surd statement.
– It is for the Minister to prove that. I make the statement on the authority of those most conversant with the sugar industry in Queensland.
– On the authority of the Sugar Journal ?
– No. I have not seen it in the Sugar Journal. On the authority of men who know, I say that the cost of the change made by the Minister to the growers of cane is 6s. 6d. a ton. I believe that it is true. It must be. When you take into consideration the price pe.ton that is given for cane> and remember that the existing cost of working is 75 per cent., and that these orders have added practically 60 per cent, to the cost of production, the increase must be, at the very least, 6s. 6d. per ton. I fail to see how it can possibly be less. The order of the Minister has taken ^450,000 out of the pockets of the growers, putting it into the pockets of the workers, I admit, but leaving the growers in the position that they simply cannot carry on. The Minister has it in his power to-morrow, if -he so desires, to equalize the bounty and Excise, and put 2s. per ton of that money back into the pockets of the growers. But he will not move.
– This Parliament has to do it. I cannot do it.
– But the Government will not move in the matter. The Minister has told us that he will not lift his little finger this session to help the grower’s. He says that he will not do anything till next session, and that then he will consider the matter.’ By the time next session comes the new sugar season will hive come along, and probably the whole sugar season will be over before the question is dealt with. I have shown in such a way as to bring it home to honorable members that what has been, done has been done in the most unfair way. It has been done solely lor political considerations. If there had been any attempt to investigate the question from the growers’ stand-point in order to find out the true position so far as they were concerned, I should have had nothing whatever to complain about, but there has been no such attempt on the part of the Minister. He has himself confessed in answer to questions that I have addressed to him that he did not make inquiries, and that he does not know the facts. That is an absolutely wrong and unjust position for the Minister to take up. All I have to tell him is that the growers, right through the two southern districts, have determined that they will plant no more cane, for the simple reason that they are not going to plant it only to find themselves on the wrong side of the ledger when they are finished. I am told by all the growers in my own district that that will be the result if they have to pay these wages under existing conditions. They do not complain of the wages themselves, but they say that, if they have to pay them and still have placed upon them by this Parliament the charge of £1 per ton on the sugar they produce, they must give up planting cane. They cannot carry on the industry at a loss, and I do not blame them. I would point out to the House the further fact that, unless the Ministry are prepared to deal with this question in a fairer spirit, to go into it in such a way as to enable the growers to carry on, not only will these people be deprived of their means of livelihood, and the workers find themselves without a job m the sugar-growing industry, but there will be another result. If this land goes out of cane cultivation - and a great deal of it is suited for nothing else - the peculiar values which have been created in cane land will disappear. Thus, not only will the settlers themselves lose their means of livelihood and the workers lose their employment, but the owners of the land will find their lifesavings’ swept away owing to the destruction of their land values. While the. Minister may desire to do everything for die benefit of the workers, I only hope that he will remember that there is another large body of men who are entitled to his fullest consideration, but whom so far he has not considered in any way. They simply ask from this Parliament an investigation of the whole position so far as they are concerned, and expect us to do ordinary common justice by them.
– I hope from what the Minister has said this morning that he has not made up his mind .finally upon the position of the sugar industry. From the very beginning all parties in this House realized that they had a very serious problem to deal with. When Federation was accomplished, this Parliament took over as one of its responsibilities the question of the preservation of the large tropical industries of Australia. Protectionists and Free Traders alike worked with a common aim, which was to see that in any legislation introduced to carry out our policy the great industries of Australia, wherever they existed, should be preserved for the Australian people. In that undertaking, our first problem was that of a White Australia. We found that this was closely interwoven with the- sugar industry ; and, in order to do justice to the industry and those who had invested their capital and practically their lives in it, it was essential that some special form of legislation should be passed. When we enacted the ideal of a White Australia, the men who had to carry out the practical working of it were not the Federal members from different parts of Australia, but the canegrowers of Queensland and New South Wales, and those engaged in working in the industry in those States. I think we can honestly say that it was the canegrowers of Australia who translated our ideal into practical politics, and made it possible to carry on the sugar industry under white-labour conditions. This was the first time that experiment had been carried out in any part of the world, and to those men was intrusted the task. They had the courage, the pertinacity, and the determination to make a success of it ; and if any one deserves the gratitude of Australia, so far as the White Australia policy is concerned, it is not those who proclaimed their theories from the platform, but those who by their practical operations translated our theories into practice, and preserved the policy as a heritage of which we might well be proud. The great problem of working it out fell in the first instance upon the cane-growers of Australia, and they had working with them, under conditions which have greatly improved, the white workers of Australia. Whenever we faced this problem, we realized that we had to look at it from several points of view. It was a national problem. We had first to see what we could do to keep the industry in existence. If the cane-growers did not occupy the land, and grow cane to supply the mills, the industry would not exist at all. There would be nothing for the workers, nothing for the manufacturers, and nothing for the refiners. Therefore, the first thing we had to do was to conserve the existence of those engaged in the practical work of growing. While considering their interests, we knew also that the interests of others had to be equally considered. The worker engaged on the farm or in the mill was entitled to fair consideration. If he was asked to work under tropical conditions, we had to insure to him fair and reasonable rates of remuneration. If those two things were secured, the matter of the manufacturer and the refiner followed on afterwards. Mern.1)ers on both sides of the House tried fairly and equitably to work out the prob- ]fm. We were then faced with the question of the expiry of the existing legislation. We were faced with the problem of what was going to be done with the sugar industry. We all have to admit now that to day it is a white man’s industry, and is carried on practically the same as any other Australian industry. It was always understood that this legislation was purely provisional. The present Prime Minister, speaking in 1905, said -
There is no justification either for the Excise or bounty, except the fact that white men are struggling in an industry which is not carried on by white men in any other part of the world.
Later on, he said -
Every increase in the Excise duty upon sugar diminishes the price paid to the labour engaged in its production. Every additional £1 that we impose by way of Excise means that £1 per ton less is paid to the producer of raw material.
He added -
In the very first communication that I had with the Government I stated that, in my opinion, the whole of the Excise duty should go to the white grower, and I believe that if the electors of Australia were polled, that would be their view.
He said, further -
I ask the Committee to give full consideration to the matter, and, if possible, to allow a rebate of 5s. per ton in the interest of Queensland growers particularly, and, in my opinion, in the interests of Australia generally.
The present Minister of Trade and Customs also said, in 1905 -
I am willing to extend to the growers of white sugar in Queensland a fair amount of protection, and if we are not prevented from doing so by the Constitution, I should be in favour of increasing the Excise duty on black-grown sugar and abolishing it altogether so far as the whitegrown product is concerned.
The Minister further said -
It has been often stated that we are giving a bonus to the sugar grower. But that does not fairly represent the case.
– I have always said that.
– The Minister has always contended that we talk of this bounty as though it were given to assist the sugar industry, but that that does not fairly represent the case. We were arranging our Excise and Customs Tariff with a view of securing the production of white-grown sugar in Australia. The Minister went on -
As a matter of fact the planters are paying the Excise duty upon their product.
– The Minister does not say that now.
– He certainly has not withdrawn his statement ; and I should say that, with the increased knowledge which he has gleaned from practical experience of administration, his conclusion has been confirmed. He said, further, that the planters -
Are receiving three-fourths of the amount back in the form of a bounty. If honorable members had to pay their £400 a year into the Treasury and had only ^300 returned to them they would not consider they were receiving a bonus.
I want to make it perfectly clear that the growers have no objection whatever to granting fair and reasonable conditions . of labour.
– Are not those imposed fair?
– My view is that, while we are raising the standard of wages, it is also our duty to see that we create such conditions as will enable the growers of cane to comply with requirements, and, at the same time, carry on the industry on terms remunerative to themselves. We must consider all interests. In fixing these wages, the Minister must take into consideration the position of the growers. I am not saying that he is wrong in considering the workers’ point of view, but it is his duty at the same time to consider every factor connected with the industry. The information that I have received is that this increase means an increase of 40 per cent, on the average price of the product.
– The honorable member for Richmond said 60 per cent.
– He may have been speaking of a different district.
– Does not the honorable member think that that is an absurd statement?
– If the Minister is in possession of facts which disprove the statement, he will give them to the House, but the evidence before me shows that at least a 40 per cent, increase in the cost of production is involved, if the present course is to be persisted in.
– The conditions must have been bad before.
– They were not so very bad, though perhaps they might have been better. Has the Minister taken any evidence, from the growers’ point of view, to show how this increased cost of production is to be met? As a practical business man, he must know that a grower who is suddenly faced with an increase of at least 40 per cent, in the cost of production may have a difficulty in adjusting himself to the new conditions, and, in some instances, may find it impossible. It is the Minister’s duty to look at the matter from the point of view of more than one section.
– He has been looking at it from one side too long.
– I do not want the Minister to look to any one interest in particular. It is his duty to consider every factor affecting the industry, so as to do justice to all. Is not the cane-grower a worker, just as much as any one else? Does he not work on his farm with his hands just as hard as any person whom he employs? Is he not in many instances merely a worker who has had the courage to become a cane-grower on his own account? Do we not know from our own experience in the working out of our legislation that one of the effects of it has been to split up large holdings into small farms ? I think the Minister was present, as I was, some years ago, on a visit to Mourilyan, not far from the Johnstone River. At that time, there was not a white grower on the place, which was held by a big company. The next time I went to Mourilyan, two or three years later, I found that the whole of that big plantation had been divided up, and was held by small farmers, some of whom had been workers. They saw Ihe chance of making homes for themselves, and had entered into this sugar-growing industry on their own account.
– Does the honorable member say that cane-growing does not pay?
– I do not say that at all, but I do say that when you increase the cost of production in an industry you must consider’ all the factors, so far as to insure that it will pay. It is an obligation on us all to see that fair consideration is given to all those connected with the industry. I will give a practical illustration. It is the case of Mr. E. Hicks, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, and ,who is one of the chief canegrowers of the Nerang Mill. Giving evidence at Southport, in March last, he said that during the last four years he had received ,£1,585 for sugar cane, including the bounty, and had paid away in wages, during that time, £1,134. His total income was at the rate of £112 15s. per year, and, with increased wages, he said there would be nothing left for him. I put this as a typical case.
– It is certainly not typical.
– Did the Minister, before he framed the regulation, consult the growers or ask for their opinions as to what was fair? After all, a Minister in administering a Department has a judicial duty cast upon him. The Minister has to weigh and consider the evidence on all sides, excluding no interested party; and, if the cost of production be increased something must be done to give relief to the grower. My suggestion is that, during this Parliament, we should repeal the bounty and Excise, and leave the sugar industry in the same position as that of all the other industries in Australia, accepting the Queensland Government’s offer to pass legislation to insure that this shall be a white man’s calling. This would give all that is asked for by the most rabid of Labour men, or the most rabid of white labour advocates who are to be found in all parties.
– I shall not repeal the bounty and Excise.
– Has the honorable member for Darling Downs any figures showing the average cost of production per ton?
– I do not wish to go into that matter, but I have here a document, which the honorable member can see, giving every detail of the cost of working, and so forth, of the Queensland Central Sugar Mills, from the factory pointof view.
– The best Central mills have been taken over, and the worst left on the hands of the Government.
– That allegation does not settle the problem. Assuming that. the high standard of wages is to remain, I ask the Minister to do something to give immediate relief to the grower. I have in mind only what is fair to all parties, and I am not asking the Minister to reduce wages; but, while the Excise and bounty remain as at present, something must be done to secure the continuance of the industry.
-If the bounty and Excise are wiped out our powers disappear, and the growers may pay what they like.
– No; the sugar industry will only be put in the same position as that of any other Australian industry.
– The Minister desires to keep control of the industry?
– I do.
– In Victoria, for instance, there is Chinese-made furniture.
– It is a shame!
– It may be a shame, but does the Minister propose any Excise and bounty in that industry?
– No; because the High Court said that was beyond our power.
– The Minister could give a bounty; and I ask why the sugar industry alone continues to be singled out in this way ? No doubt the sugar industry was so closely interwoven with the coloured labour question that we had to legislate specifically for it in order to get free of the colour taint.
– I said at Bundaberg, in 1904, that I would get rid of the Chinese workers if I could.
– However that may be, the growers require some relief in their present position. Many of them live under very hard conditions ; and we know that the great problem we have to face is the settlement of the northern parts of Australia.
– Would a wage of 15s. a week encourage men to go there ?
– The northern portions of Australia will never be settled until the industrial conditions are such as to attract people. The workers ought to have a fair rate of pay; and in our Public Service regulations it is recognised that the remuneration ought to be higher in the north than in the south. From the defence point of view alone, it is essential that encouragement should be given to cane-growers ; and I am sure that the Minister would rather see 150 farmers thus employed on one area than have the work undertaken by some big corporation on a big estate.
– That is quite correct.
– I am asking the Minister to so regulate his fiscal policy as to give consideration to small growers. There is no doubt that we shall have to encourage people to engage in the sugar industry in the Northern Territory ; and it is to be hoped that the Minister has not made a final declaration of policy this morning. I take it that he has expressed only his own opinion - that the question has not been considered by the Cabinet.
– I said so.
– I understand that the Minister’s remark about the matter being considered in the next Parliament represents his individual opinion?
– The Bill will not make the position of the growers any worse, but rather improve it.
– When does the Minister expect the Bill to become law, seeing that the Senate will not meet until the 25th of this month?
– It should become law in about a fortnight.
– The 5th of October is the earliest date on which the Royal Assent can be given,
– At any rate, a considerable time must elapse ; and, in the meantime, the season is passing over, and many of the planters are refraining from extending their operations. The whole position is so uncertain that the work of planting, cultivating, and so forth is being retarded, and in some instances abandoned, and the very continuation of the industry threatened. This is too serious a subject to be made the sport of party politics, and no one ought to desire that it should be; and we have to consider the position of men who have put the savings of their lives into their holdings, and whose existence depends on our legislation. If the Minister desires to act fairly and justly, he must consider the case of such men. I have in my possession a letter from some cane-growers in the Wide Bay district to the effect that they were prepared to agree to cultivate more cane, but that, since meeting Dr. Gibson on the 4th of June last, the regulations issued by the Minister of Trade and Customs have so altered the conditions that “ until all things are equal we refrain for the present from signing the agreement.” The Queensland Government are anxious at the present time to extend the industry. Acting on the report of a Royal Commission, they propose to advance more money for the extension of sugar-mills. The effect of this regulation upon the growers has been to induce them, for the time being, to stay their hands, and to hesitate to sign agreements for extending their operations. I should like to remind the Minister that there are at present in Queensland fiftyone sugar-mills, employing 700 men. The mill machinery is valued at£2,000,000, and land and premises at£400,000. The Queensland Government is also seriously interested in the industry, as some of the mills are indebted to the Government for outstanding liabilities to the extent of nearly£350,000. The Minister should bear these facts in mind. It is clear from them that the success of the industry is of vital importance to Queensland. Upon it depends, to a great extent, the development and progress of some big towns. If the industry in the Mackay district should be destroyed, the town of Mackay would probably dwindle until it became a little village. In the same way, if the industry failed in the Bundaberg district, the prosperity of that district would be seriously affected. Anything which is done to imperil the success of the sugar industry must seriously affect the whole of the shipping industry in the north. In the circumstances, the Minister, I am sure, will realize that the success of the industry is a most important factor in the commercial prosperity, not only of Queensland, but of the whole of Australia. I wish now to refer to the Bill itself. Under the Sugar Bounty Act of 1910, it is provided, in section 9, that -
Every grower of white-grown sugar-cane or beet who claims the bounty payable under this Act shall, in making his claim, certify to the Minister the conditions of employment and the rates of wages paid to any labour employed by him, other than the labour of members of his family.
Then, in sub-clause (2) of the same section, it is provided that -
If the Minister finds that the rates of wages and conditions of employment, or any of them -
are below the standard rates and conditions of employment 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 and conditions of employment obtainable in the locality in which the sugar is grown ; or
in the absence of any such standard rates and conditions of employment 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 matter, the Minister may withhold the whole or any part of the bounty payable.
This means that, if in Queensland at the present time, there was an industrial award by a State or Commonwealth authority, the grower would have to comply with the conditions of that award in order to secure the bounty. In the absence of such a standard, the Minister may refuse the bounty if the rates of wages and conditions of employment are below the standard rates and conditions of the locality in which the sugar is grown. In the event of the Minister being unable to come to a decision upon either of these bases, he has the power to refer the matter to the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, to a Judge of the Supreme Court of a State, or to a State industrial authority, upon whose decision he may act. The Minister proposes to repeal these provisions and to substitute for them the following : -
Then sub-section 4 of the proposed new section 9, which is the critical provision, reads -
If the Minister finds that the rates of wages and conditions of employment, or any of them -
are below the standard rates and conditions of employment prescribed by any Commonwealth or State Industrial Authority -
That is exactly the same as in the existing Act, but the Minister proposes new paragraphs (b) and (c), as follow -
The position really is that the honorable gentleman is proposing the repeal of the existing power to grant the bounty upon payment of the standard rates and conditions of employment prevailing in the locality in which the sugar is grown. He substitutes for paragraph (b) sub-section 4 of section 9 of the existing Act a provision that, to secure the payment of the bounty, there must be compliance with the standard rates and conditions applicable to the locality, as agreed upon by collective bargaining between representatives of associations of employers and employes under an agreement to be registered under a Commonwealth or State Act.
– The Minister is doing more than that ; he is repealing paragraph (a) of sub-section 4 of section 9 of the existing Act.
– No,; that paragraph is to be retained.
– Yes ; but there is now only the power to go to the Arbitration Court where there is not a local award, and in this Bill the Minister is proposing to go to the Arbitration Court in spite of a local award.
– The Minister is taking power under this Bill to say, “I do not care what are the standard rates and conditions of employment prevailing in a district ; I shall send a Judge into the district to prescribe what he believes to be fair and reasonable rates and conditions.”
– The Minister proposes to go further. He says, “ I do not care what the standard rates are, or what the local award, if any, may be. I shall send a Judge into the district, who may ignore the local award.”
– That is so. What we always required was that no grower should pay less than the standard rates prevailing in his district. We decided that if an award were made by a State industrial authority, its conditions must be complied with to secure payment of the bounty, but the Minister is proposing to take a new power under this Bill, and to say that, even although the grower is paying the standard rates prevailing in his district, he will send a Judge to the district, who may fix a standard above that of the local rates as fair and reasonable, and there must be compliance with the decision of the Judge to secure payment of the bounty. The Minister has affirmed that he is doing something to assist the cane-grower. I ask him to point out in what way the canegrower will be helped if his cost of production is increased, unless he is provided with a means of increasing the price of his commodity ?
– The Bill will not increase the cost of production.
– It will do so if it results in the wages paid in the industry being increased above the standards which prevail in the different districts. We know, from information which we have received, that the regulations issued by the Minister have already had that effect. All Isay is that, when we increase the cost of production to the grower, we ought to make it possible for him to comply with the conditions which are laid down, and at the same time enable him to enjoy the same standard of living as is enjoyed by the worker. I raise no objection to improving the condition of the worker. But I say that the grower, being a worker, is entitled also to be secured in getting reasonable standards of living. He is as much entitled to consideration as is the worker. This should not be madea party question. Any legislation affecting big industries of this kind ought to be considered in a fair and impartial manner.
– Is the honorable member of opinion that the grower pays the Excise ?
– The honorable member is such an authority upon this subject that I confidently leave the matter to him. But I do say that the cane-growers are the only persons engaged in the agricultural industry who are taxed in this way. When we come to carry out our White Australia policy-
– There is more than a White Australia policy involved here. There is the question of the granting of fair conditions to the workers.
– I am in favour of granting the workers fair conditions ; but I ask the Minister why he should refuse to extend similar conditions to the growers?
– Nobody wishes to refuse that.
– No matter what may be our preconceived opinions, when we come to deal with the problems which affect agricultural production, it is our duty to face the facts squarely, and to do justice between man and man.
– Evidence has been taken by the Sugar Commission upon this question for the past twelve months, yet we cannot get a decision from it. Why?
– Does the Minister imply that the cane-growers have not treated the Commission fairly?
– They are not to blame for any delay in the presentation of the report of the Sugar Commission. That Commission was appointed to take evidence in respect of every factor connected with the industry, in order to enable us to do justice between all parties. But the Minister has issued regulations dealing with only one factor connected with it, before the Commission has presented its report. That being so, I ask him to, at least, exhibit a desire to do justice tothe other factors as well. In saying this, I am pleading for justice for the producers, for the occupation of our lands, for the settlement of the northern parts of Australia, and the building up of a body of white settlers, who, in the hour of need, will be a source of strength to the Commonwealth.
– I desire to remove an erroneous impression which may otherwise be created by a statement which was made by the Minister of Trade and Customs this morning in regard to my attitude in this House. During the course of his remarks, he frequently referred to the Sugar Bounty Act of 1910 in such disparaging terms that I felt impelled to ask who was the author of it. In reply, he vouchsafed the information that he was its author. He then proceeded to make a most unfair attack upon me by affirming that he did not fix the rate of wages payableto men engaged in the sugar industry at 22s. 6d. per week, as a previous Minister did, who was supported by myself.
– The honorable member only supported the Government which did it.
– That is all that the Minister said.
– Every honorable member who speaks from this side of the Chamber is accustomed to receive assistance from the Labour corner. Scarcely an interjection can be uttered by an honorable member upon the Opposition sideof the House which is not immediately replied to or tortured into something to which it never bore the slightest resemblance by a member of the Labour party sitting in that corner.
– The honorable member is not now telling tales to the Women’s National League.
– At any rate, I am not waiting for an honorable member’s absence before attacking him. And the honorable member is not exercising that calm and discretion which should characterize one of his professions outside the House. We expect those who teach the people their duty to themselves set an example. If the honorable member did that, we should have less of the unseemly interjections to which he is so partial. I trust that I may be permitted to exercise the inalienable right of every honorable member who is charged with a thing which he abhors, to repel the accusation, and to show how baseless it is. I know there are some honorable members who, when an election is imminent, are anxious to fasten upon their political opponents statements which may be found useful during the election campaign. I am not going to allow the statement of the Minister to be fastened upon me. I have never heard of a proposal in this House to pay 22s. 6d. per week to persons engaged in the sugar industry, either in Queensland or New South Wales. I have never known any Minister to make such a proposal. I am unaware of any Minister having made it whilst honorable members were in their places in this Chamber. That a Minister, by an administrative act, may have fixed that wage, is, however, quite possible. But I point out to the Minister that it is not playing the game to endeavour to fasten upon individual members the responsibility for such Ministerial action. Although honorable members do support Ministers iri their positions, it would also be manifestly unfair to compel every member to be responsible for the administrative acts of a particular Minister.
– Your party made us responsible.
– If there is any blame to be attached to me- any contumely to be hurled at me - the honorable’ member himself is susceptible of exactly the same amount, because he was supporting the same Minister as I was supporting on that occasion.
– We gave him a pass out check without a return ticket.
– I hope that it is made perfectly clear to the House that I have never had anything to do with supporting any proposition such as that mentioned. In the first place, it was never made to the House.
– Silence gives consent, though.
– Then the honorable member himself is a supporter of the proposition, because he also was supporting the Minister who made that award and gave that direction.
– I do not know whether I was or not.
– I am sure that the honorable member was.
– I know that you were.
– I understand that this happened while the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was Minister oi Trade and Customs, and I think that the honorable member for Gwydir will acknowledge that he was a supporter of the Government of the day.
– No; I was supporting the Labour policy only, not the Government.
– According to the honorable member’s . own statement that silence gives consent, he consented by hU silence. I decline for myself to accept that statement ; and I wish ‘it to be distinctly understood that I repudiate any responsibility for the administrative acts of a member of the Government which I was supporting. With reference to the measure before the House, I, as a supporter of the White Australia policy, do feel that we have scarcely treated fairly the men who have loyally carried out the wish of Parliament and of the country. It has been a matter for wonderment in some circles that, notwithstanding the prophecies that were so frequently made that they would be utterly incapable of doing it, these men have been able to keep this industry going, and employ white labour. But, as the Minister and those associated with him, as well as_ honorable members on this side have pointed out, the payment for the work done is not regarded as- anything like adequate. That possibility was recognised by the Government as early as 1905. When the Bounty Bill was first passed, it was passed - like other Bounty Bills have been passed - with as few restrictions as possible in order to make the working of the bounty easy to those concerned ; and the House was anxious - it was talked about over and over again at the time - that the employers of black labour should be encouraged by every means to substitute white labour. They have done this, and done it undoubtedly at great loss to themselves. I was very much struck with the statement made by the honorable member for Richmond regarding ‘ the rule in the sugar districts, whereby the grower has submitted to him at the beginning of a season, or, at any rate, at regular periods, the price that is to be paid by those who will take his cane or raw sugar from him. I think that the honorable member there placed his finger on a tender spot. I believe that the grower is entitled to every consideration and all the sympathy that we can possibly give him in this House.
– The honorable member did not say that they get 18s. out of every increase of £1 in the price of sugar.
– No; I do not think that he did say that, and I am not aware that it is so.
– That is so.
– After a certain point; but how often do they get it? .
– Have they not had it for the last three years?
– My ambition is to see the men who are employed in this industry become growers themselves. I would like to see the Northern Territory properly settled, and I believe that, at the beginning, one of the readiest means of settling that country will be to give facilities to men who are acquainted with cane- ‘ growing to employ themselves there. But if the position of a grower is to be made inferior to that of an employ^, we cannot expect the men to have any ambition to become growers. We, therefore, have to consider the two great bodies of people who work in this most important industry. We should see that the grower shall not have placed in his way any stumblingblock to properly carry out the industry, but that he- shall receive every assistance which we can possibly give him.
– Is not the grower the victim of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company ?
– If he happens to be, why should we make his condition worse by Act of Parliament?
– Relieve him.
– If a man is a victim of circumstances, or of another body of men, there is no better work on which Parliament can be engaged than that of relieving him from the victimization to which he is subjected. But are the proposals contained in this Bill likely to secure that? The honorable member for Richmond, who speaks with the voice of authority, and whose district very largely contributes to the sugar supply of Australia, maintained, with a great deal of force - and, of course, we have heard nothing to the contrary since he spoke, because all the speeches have come from this side - that the position of the grower will not be advanced, that there will be no benefit .it all, but rather the reverse, from these proposals ; and he offered to the Government, as I believe, a practical solution of the difficulty, and that is a re-arrangement of the bounty and the Excise. Surely, when we passed the Sugar Bounty and Excise Bills, we did not intend that they should be like the laws of the Medes and the Persians; but we realized that we were trying an experiment. The experiment of ridding Australia of the employment of alien labour has been successful. But surely the. instrument whereby we accomplished that success is entitled to some consideration at our hands. I would, therefore, urge upon the Government that this question of a re-adjustment or rearrangement of the Excise and the bounty should be taken at once into their most careful and sympathetic consideration. If that be done, I believe that we shall secure a longer lease of life for those who are engaged in the industry, and at the same time make it more possible for the industry to be started under favorable conditions in the Northern Territory, thereby securing what honorable members on each side, I feel sure, desire. We need population there, but cannot expect to get it unless we make it profitable for people to engage in industries, and assure them that the Legislature will always be ready to give them the assistance and support without which they could not succeed. In conclusion, I wish to again say that I hope there will be no misconception regarding my attitude respecting the wages and conditions paid in our industries, especially in those assisted by duties. However strenuously the coming contest may be fought, I trust that there will be a sportsmanlike recognition of what we owe to each other, and of the ethics of fair play, which will save it from the blots which would otherwise ‘disfigure it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Bamford) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) proposed -
That this House do now adjourn.
– I desire to correct a statement made by the Minister’ of Trade and Customs when moving the second reading of the Sugar Bounty Bill, when he very unfairly and unnecessarily cast upon me an undeserved reflection, ignoring an explanation which I had made regarding a speech I delivered the other day. He interjected then that I had voted for the “ gag.” I made a personal explanation, but the Minister entirely misrepresented my remarks.
I thought at the time that it might have been possible that, by a slip of the tongue, I had conveyed an impression which I did not intend to convey; but, on receiving a proof of the Hansard report, I found that my statement was perfectly clear, and that what I was alluding to was the introduction of the “gag” into our Standing Orders. I told the Minister this afterwards, and was surprised when, to-day, he returned to the attack, although it was he who had made the mistake. He said that he was willing to acknowledge mistakes, and “ was not like the honorable member for Lang, who, having made a mistake, would not acknowledge it.” I think that honorable members on both sides will admit that, whenever I have found myself in the wrong, I havebeen ready to acknowledge the fact. On this occasion, I was not in the wrong. I did not make the mistake; it was the Minister and his colleagues who were mistaken. I do not for a moment say that they wilfully misrepresented me, but they misrepresented me under a misapprehension.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.55p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 September 1912, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1912/19120912_reps_4_66/>.