12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and offered prayers.
– Has the Prime Minister read the following statement in to-day’s Sydney Morning Herald in regard to the experts’ report to be submitted to the Loan Council at its meeting in Melbourne next week: -
It is understood that the experts will suggest numerous economies, many of a drastic nature, which may be made by the Government.
Will the Prime Minister assure the House that in no circumstances will he be a party to a reduction of old-age, invalid, and war pensions, the maternity bonus, and other social services?
– I have not read the article, nor seen the report of the experts. That report will be carefully examined, but the policy of the Government will be as I have previously announced.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What was the number of invalid pensions, old-age pensions, and soldiers’ pensions respectively granted by this Government during the past twelve months?
– The number of pensions granted during the twelve months ended the 30th April, 1931, is as follows: - Invalid pensions, 10,102; oldage pensions, 28,831; soldiers’ pensions (including dependants), 12,771.
Removal of Damaged Plane
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– I shall have inquiries made, and furnish a reply to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
How many strikes have occurred in Australia in industries covered by Federal Arbitration Court awards during the past twelve months ?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister for Health and Repatriation, upon notice -
– The replies are contained in the following table: -
Issue of Defence Surplus Stores
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
What military stores, clothing, &c, have been issued by the department for the relief of indigent people, showing the total number of each article?
– I shall obtain the information desired, and furnish a reply to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for
Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
What were the profits made and what was the allocation of such profits by the associated banks for the past ten years?
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
– The in formation sought by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Long) in regard to the procedure following the death of a purchaser of a war service home is being obtained, and will be furnished to the honorable member as early as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What was the cost of the State Governors during the past. five years?
– The following figures have been furnished by the Commonwealth Statistician’s office. These figures are obtained from the States and published annually in the Commonwealth Year-Book. The figures generally include salary of Governor, salary of official secretary, clerks and messengers, travelling expenses, cost of cablegrams, &c, and wages of housemaids and stewards; furniture, stores and stationery: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What aTe the names of the industries which received tariff protection from this Government, and have since joined in the applications for the 10 per cent, wage cut ordered by the Federal Arbitration Court?
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice- -
As the Government of the Dominion of Canada is satisfied that the timber and other goods being imported to Canada from Russia were the result of forced labour, will he take action similar to that taken by Canada with regard to goods being imported into Australia from. Russia?
– The value of the goods imported from Russia into Australia is small, the trade balance being greatly in favour of Australia. If on inquiry it is found that any goods produced by forced labour are being imported, the Government will consider what steps can appropriately be taken to meet the case.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
What steps have been taken by the Government to constitute the proposed Basic Wage Commission of Inquiry?
– Owing to the ill-‘ ness of the Commonwealth Statistician (Mr. Wickens) consideration of this matter has been postponed.
– The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) has given notice of a series of questions relating to the supply of material for the East-West railway. The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained.
– The information asked for by the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), regarding the costs, employment, and finances of Commonwealth Railways is being obtained, and will be furnished to the honorable member as early as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he consider increasing the amount of the payment by the Federal Government to the Australian Travel and Tourist Association, with a view to stimulating the flow of tourists to Australia, thereby increasing the revenues of railways, tourist hotels arid guest houses?
– The Government fully appreciates the desirableness of encouraging tourist traffic to Australia, but, in view of the financial stringency, it is regretted that no increase can be made in the Commonwealth contribution to the Australian National Travel Association.
asked the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
Will he direct overseas publicity to bring under more prominent notice the opportunity for egg exports from Australia?
– At the recent conference convened by me of representatives of the egg industry throughout the various States, the Government was requested to impose a levy on all eggs exported in order that a fund might be established for advertising Australian eggs in Great Britain. This request is under consideration, and it is hoped that an early decision will be arrived at so that any publicity arrangements that may be agreed upon may apply to the next season’s eggs.
asked the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
Will he convene a conference to consider the eucalyptus industry, and to evolve proposals for the disposal of this primary product?
– As a result of representations made to me by the_ honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane), and information supplied by him regarding the importance of the eucalyptus oil industry, I have already taken steps to convene at as early a date as possible a conference of producers and others interested in the sale of Australian eucalyptus oil, -with a view to evolving a more orderly method of marketing, and a wider system of publicity in overseas countries.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he confer with the State of New South Wales with a view to the introduction of State legislation to provide for the appointment of licensed gold-buyers, so that full encouragement and selling facilities will be afforded the gold-miners and prospectors in that State?
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has already been in communication with the Premier of New South Wales with a view to the introduction of State legislation to provide for the appointment of licensed gold-buyers. The Premier has replied that it has not been practicable to introduce such legislation, and has urged that the Gold Bounty Act 1930 be amended in this respect. It is proposed to- submit an amendment of that act as early as possible which will widen the definition of a licensed gold-buyer, and meet the situation in New South Wales.
Wages of Station Hands
– On the 6th May the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked the following question, upon notice -
Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to the decision of the full Arbitration Court, which has varied the Australian Workers Union award by ordering a 20 per cent, reduction of the wages of station hands, to operate from the 4th May; if so, will the Government allow this wholesale slashing of wages to continue while the greatest burden on industry, namely, interest, is allowed to remain? If the Government intends to take action, will the AttorneyGeneral indicate the nature of it?
I have inquired into this matter, and find that on the 5th May, 1931, the Full Court of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court delivered judgment on an application by the employers to delete or suspend the provisions of the pastoral award relating to station hands, or, alternatively, to reduce their wages by 50 per cent. From the reasons for judgment it would appear that the court was impressed with the evidence that the majority of station hands do not belong to the Australian Workers ‘Union, and that many of this’ majority are willing to work and are actually working for wages below those prescribed by award in order to retain their employment, this being considered unavoidable on account of the depressed condition of the pastoral industry. The court considered that many members of the Australian Workers Union would probably lose their employment if existing award rates were continued during the depression, and in the opinion of the court there was. ai manifest, necessity for reducing in all directions the cost, of production if the industry was to be maintained. Tha court refused” to delete or suspend the provisions of the award relating to> pastoral employees, but; in view of the foregoing considerations, it thought it necessary to- reduce the rates for station hands by 20 per cent, in all (inclusive of the 10 per cent, reduction- made by the order of the 2.2nd January, 1931). The variation was, made to operate from the 8th May, 1931. The Government is opposed, to a. wholesale slashing, of wages, but I do not think it desirable to discuss the general policy of the Government in regard to arbitration under cover of an answer to a question- relating, to a particular case.
.- by leave - The Opposition has considered’ the proposal made by the Prime Minister on Thursday 1’ast for a non-party parliamentary conference. We have discussed it in the first place from the point of view of’ the gravity of the national’ emergency, and with a desire to make any contribution within our power towards the solution of the problems now confronting Australia. Consideration- has been given also to the practicability of the procedure suggested by the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), to the radical differences between, the policies of the two sides of the House, which have become- apparent during this year, and to what the Opposition regards, as the present disastrous policy of the Government - a policy which, has been strongly re-affirmed by both the Prime Minister and. the AttorneyGeneral’ (Mr. Brennan) during the last few days. We do not think that the conference of members of Parliament, which has been suggested, by the- 1.rime Minister, would, assist the financial and economic position, of the country: Wethink it better to say this- directly rather than to accept the right honorable gentleman’s proposal subject to conditions which, it appears to us, theGovernment could not sincerely accept. lt, however, the Government will’ abandon its policy of inflation and political con trol of banking, and will submit to Parliament proposal’s to- bring the expenditure of the Government within its income within a reasonable time, such proposals will be supported by the Opposition. We are unwilling to- leave any avenue unexplored that offers- reasonable hope of assistance; but it is- our view that there is only one way of arriving at a real solution of. the present difficulties. We accordingly make the following offer: - We are- prepared to validate the tariff proposals as they now stand, for a period of six months, and to give Supply for a period of three months, in order that there may be a prompt appeal to the people and> a. general election.
.- by leave - The- Country party is prepared to extend co-operation in a non-party spirit with other parties m Parliament,, in an endeavour to arrive at agreement upon a general policy in the interests- of Australia which will provide a way- out of our present difficulties.. It believes,, however, that the basis of discussion outlined by the Prime Minister for- the- proposed’ conference, in which no decisions are- to be arrived at, and no guarantees given- by the Government, is impracticable. The Country party is prepared to take part in a conference of both Houses if the Government will, agree to carry out without delay the decisions arrived’ at by that conference. If the Government is not prepared to accept the decisions of such a conference, the Country party considers that the present intolerable position can be terminated only by an immediate general election.
– by leave - I very much re’ gr et the attitude, that has- been adoptedby the Opposition on this, issue. A week ago to-day I- made a proposal in this House, very genuinely placing certain, suggestions- before honorable members. It has. been, said that when I was abroad a similar offer was- made by. the then. Leader, of the- Opposition (Mr. Latham-), that it was- rejected, and that I ‘ confirmed the- rejection on. my return, to Australia.. The only comment that I made on the subject after my return was’ that I would take’ no, part in. considering anyproposal that had as- its- basis the formation of a. coalition government. I have at no time rejected an offer of a nonparty conference. On the contrary, I have suggested the” holding of such a conference.
It has been said, as mere political propaganda, that the suggestion that I made last week was a kind of death-bed repentance, consequent upon the result of the Tasmanian elections. My reply to that is that my offer was made eleven days before the Tasmanian elections were held. That fact is recorded in Hansard. It is claimed that my proposal was put forward simply because the Government desires to cling to office. Actually, a similar proposal was made by me when in Opposition. Obviously it could not then have been actuated by a desire to cling to office. Such suggestions are unworthy of those from whom they emanate, and are not in keeping with the suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) made to-day, that he and his followers are prepared to do their part towards meeting the grave situation that confronts Australia.
Whatever may be the opinions of honorable members in any part of this House as to the desirableness of having a general election within the next few months, we are faced with a very pertinent question that was put to me by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) when I announced that the Government could not proceed with the Wheat Bill because of the action of another place in throwing out the . Fiduciary Notes Bill, the only measure that the Government believed could finance the wheatgrowers and unemployed of this country. When introducing the Fiduciary Notes Bill the Government made it clear that that measure had been brought down only because we had failed to get the banks to make advances to meet the situation in which our wheatgrowers and unemployed are placed. After that measure had been rejected by the Senate, when the Government was asked in this House what it would do in the interval that must elapse between the rejection of that measure and the bringing about of a double dissolution, when the people would have an opportunity to decide the issue - whether it intended to let the wheat-growers and our 300,000 odd unemployed starve, or to take some other action pending the determination of the existing stalemate - we again surveyed the position, and met the Loan Council. That body reaffirmed the necessity to go on the market for a loan to relieve the immediate situation.
It is true that the various sections in this House are divided by fundamental differences of opinion, and that I have made a definite pronouncement, which I repeat, that the Government refuses to endeavour to balance its budget by cutting down pensions. Declarations have also been made by the Opposition which I do not ask them to repudiate. Yet surely there are some things in between that we could unitedly consider with advantage to the people of the country, even if the result were only the formulation of a temporary remedy for the evils that confront a large section of our community.
The Country party has met the situation in a somewhat better spirit than the official Opposition. However, the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) departed from the spirit which should, permeate a conference, by laying down conditions. No conference would be possible if preceded by conditions. Every year, and sometimes more frequently, conferences are held among the representatives of the great nations of the world, but it is never laid down beforehand that certain decisions must be accepted. We are looking forward to a memorable conference on disarmament early next year. Is there a nation that would go into that conference if the condition were laid down that every nation that participated in the gathering must abide by majority decisions? The whole principle of conference is that you make no decisions; but that you endeavour to come to an agreement. For six weeks I attended the Imperial Conference, and for days we conferred in order to obtain agreement, when only one nation was standing out. No decisions were recorded that were not unanimous.
I said quite frankly, when asked the question last Thursday, that it was not proposed to divide the House, to take votes, or to register decisions at the suggested conference. What- ever agreement could be arrived at after frank discussion, and whatever details could be worked out by the committees that would be appointed, would have to be implemented by Parliament subsequently, and the Government and Opposition would then take their respective share of responsibility for the determinations arrived at. It is quite impracticable to lay down conditions beforehand, to agree blindly to decisions, and to give an undertaking that these will be carried out before it is known what they will be. It is also absurd to ask for a conference of the combined members of the Senate and House of Representatives - which would give the Opposition a majority of about fourteen - and to ask the head of this responsible Government to give the undertaking that whatever the conference might decide would be carried out. It is obvious that these have been put forward as impossibleconditions. It would have been more frank had the proposal been rejected straight out. The Government might as we’ll be asked to give an undertaking that it would carry out all the decisions of the party meeting held in the Opposition room this morning.
This proposal was put forward with an earnest desire to reach an agreement on a number of most important and urgent questions, and not with the desire to embarrass any honorable members of the House, nor to make political capital out of anything said at the conference. Surely if honorable members opposite have a policy which they consider to be an alternative to our proposals, they will make it known to the people some time. I assume that they do not intend to wait until after the election before revealing their policy. Can there be any real fear that anything they might say at the conference would be used against them during the election campaign?
– I accept that denial. If there is no such fear, how can a frank and open discussion of our proposals and their alternatives do anything but good? Why should there be any fear?
– There is fear of the want of sincerity such as has been shown in the past.
– I am disappointed.
– And so are the people of the country.
– I cordially agree with the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr), that the people will be disappointed when they hear of this decision. The suggestion is that we should go to the country some months hence. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Lyons) has also suggested that we should bring our expenditure within revenue. We are striving to do so, and we want the assistance of the Opposition. If a conference were held, the suggestions made could be considered and discussed. We shall have to balance our budget, and bring our expenditure within our revenue ; and surely there are practical proposals to that end which could be considered at a conference. If honorable members opposite, in their wisdom, have suggestions better than our proposals, I invite them to come to the conference, and let us discuss them.
Apart from the general subject, there are certain specific questions of immediate urgency that the conference could consider without sacrificing any vital principles.
– What are they?
– One has relation to the meeting of the £5,000,000 worth of treasury-bills due on the 30th June. The Government will have to introduce legislation to deal with this subject, but it would be well if we could have a frank and friendly discussion in the atmosphere of a conference before any such measure were drafted.
– Would it not be desirable that such a discussion should be of a private nature?
– That subject is one that would be on the agenda paper of the conference. If, after a general discussion of the problems facing us, without, perhaps, disclosing private communications between our overseas advisers and ourselves, it were deemed desirable that we should set up a committee on certain problems, I should be quite willing to agree to that. It would be necessary, however, that there should ‘be a full discussion of our problems in the atmosphere of a conference. If certain delicate negotiations were necessary subsequently, and a suggestion were made that we should go into committee, I would readily agree to the proposal. We cannot meet our obligations on the 30th June without legislation, and we cannot pass legislation without an agreement between both Houses of the Parliament. If for no other reason than that, we should hold a conference in order to discuss ways and means of saving the honour of this country.
– Why postpone the introduction of this friendly atmosphere into this House until after the holding of a conference ? Why not at once introduce that atmosphere into our parliamentary deliberations?
– I have often heard the honorable member plead eloquently for the introduction of such an atmosphere into this House, in order that we may face our problems in a different spirit ; but I suggest to him that it would be much easier to obtain that spirit in a conference than it is to secure it in a Parliament which is required to deal with measures introduced by a Government which has already determined its policy. It is hard to get that atmosphere after legislation has been introduced, but easier to get it at a general conference beforehand.
Another question of immediate urgency is: What is to be done for the unemployed and the wheat-growers of this country while we are fighting our battles before the electors? I return to the very pertinent question asked me on this subject by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). When we dropped the idea of raising a £6,000,000loan for the assistance of the wheat-growers and the unemployed, it appeared that under the conditions which then prevailed, it would be almost suicidal togo on the loan market.
– Has the Government absolutely dropped the idea of raising such a loan?
– We did drop it, because we believed that an attempt togo on the loan market at that time was foredoomed to failure. We then introduced the Fiduciary Notes Bill to provide money to relieve distress. Honorable members know what happened to that bill in another place. We then came back to the Loan Council, and suggested the raising of a loan, the details of which are now beingworked out. But without the co-operativespirit that loan may be a failure.
– It will be if the Treasurer’s name is associated with it.
– The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) is not helping the country by making such interjections.
– The Treasurer is not helping the country by remaining where he is.
– But the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) is helping the country by remaining where he is - in Opposition !
– Whatever opinions honorable members may hold about other honorable members of this House - and there may be personal spleen and personal vendettas in politics which are very objectionable - I suggest that these should be subordinated with the object of helping the country in this time of crisis. Indulgence in recrimination will not help us to obtain the money necessary to assist the wheat-growers and the unemployed. I ask honorable members not to allow their personal and political feelings to thwart the efforts, not of this Government only, but of seven Labour and Nationalist Governments throughout Australia, to raise a loan immediately for the benefit of the wheat-growers and the unemployed.
I have referred to two urgent questions which the conference could discuss and come to agreement upon without sacrificing any. principle. There are others. Certain measures have been introduced into this House which could be discussed. One of these has relation to the control of interest on bank advances and deposits. A very useful contribution to the debate on this subject was made by the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham). He made certain definite suggestions. I have not yet had time to consider these to see how far they are acceptable to the Government; but I believe that they were put forward in a constructive spirit. I believe that in a conference such as I have suggested more of these constructive ideas could be discussed in a better atmosphere than obtains in an ordinary parliamentary debate. Another measure is that providing for a tax on interest. Everybody admits that interest should make its contribution to the national funds. There may be differences of opinion as to the methods to be adopted in apportioning sacrifices. We could consider these measures in a right spirit, and refer them to a committee. There is a basis on which an agreement could be arrived at on both those bills, and there is surely a basis for co-operation in the matter of a loan for local purposes and also on legislation to meet the situation that will arise in London on the 30th June next. I have indicated only some of the measures which I have in mind.
– The Prime Minister could refer as many measures as he liked to committees.
– Before sending anything to committees we ought to have a frank exchange of views.
The overtures of the Government have been rejected. Nevertheless, the Government will go on, and submit to the Parliament the proposals in which it believes. My suggestion for a conference was made in all sincerity; there was no trap laid, and there can be no trap if honorable members opposite are prepared to face the people openly with their own ideas.
The following papers were presented : -
Wheat - International Conference held at Rome, March-April, 1931 - Report by F. L. McDougall, Australian Representative.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1931 -
No. 3 - Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia: Australian Postal Electricians Union; Australian Workers Union; Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks Union; Common wealth Legal Professional Officers Association; Commonwealth Medical Officers Association ; Commonwealth Postmasters Association; Commonwealth Public Service Artisans Association; Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association; Commonwealth Telegraph Traffic and Supervisory Officers Association; Commonwealth Telephone Officers Association; Commonwealth Temporary Clerks Association; Federated Public Service Assis tants Association of Australia; Fourth Division Officers Association of the Trade and Customs Department: Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists Union; Line Inspectors Association, Commonwealth of Australia; Meat Inspectors Association, Commonwealth Public Service; Postal Overseers Union of Australia; Postmaster-General’s Department State Heads of Branches Association : Professional Officers Association, Commonwealth Public Service.
No. 4 - Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers Federation of Australia.
No. 5 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers Union and Commonwealth Naval Storehousemen’s Association.
No. 6 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair - resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 26th March (vide page 744), on motion by Mr.
That the papers be printed.
.- The control of the sugar industry of Australia is a highly controversial subject, and opinions differ with regard to it on, I think, both sides of the House. I desire to make it clear, at. the outset, that I am addressing myself to this question not as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, nor as the Deputy Leader of the United party, but as a private member, without binding in any way those whom I have a share in leading in this Parliament. We are discussing this matter upon the basis of the majority and minority reports of a committee of inquiry set up by the Government for the purpose of investigating the conditions in the industry. It seems to me that that committee was appointed entirely upon a wrong basis. It consisted, substantially, of representatives of the interests concerned. It was not a body constituted in such a manner as to arrive at an impartial judicial determination of the facts, or in such a way as to reach a recommendation of policy independent of the particular interests concerned. A committee such as that is apt to degenerate into a bargaining body. Such an inquiry cannot be of a judicial and impartial nature. Those who represent the various interests on such a committee necessarily and naturally regard themselves as the advocates of those interests. No doubt, they endeavour to keep an open mind, but they are on the committee for the purpose of looking after particular and specific interests. Therefore, it is almost hopeless to expect that such a body will present a report which can be regarded in the same way as a report presented by a disinterested investigating tribunal.
The proposal of the Government is that the existing sugar agreement should be renewed for five years, upon its present terms, almost entirely; but with a provision for the review of prices, and for assistance to the fruit industry after three years. There is also a provision for preference to unionists, and a rather complicated, and not too clear, method for attempting to provide for the problem of the surplus production of sugar.
The sugar industry of Australia is a great one, and it must be considered in relation to the national interests. “When the White Australia policy was introduced, its first application, and, indeed, at all times its most substantial application, was in relation to the sugar industry of Queensland and northern New South Wales. When this policy was adopted by the Parliament, it was well, and, indeed, universally, known that the black-labour industry in Australia was the sugar industry, and it was realized that the immediate result of the application of the White Australia policy would be to destroy that industry, unless some special provision were made for it. I believe that it is the general will and desire of the people of this country, as a whole, that the undertaking in effect given to the sugar industry in the early years of the Commonwealth should be carried out in good faith, namely, that the industry should be placed in such a position as will enable it to maintain itself under reasonable, white-labour conditions. That undertaking is the basis of my examination of this subject.
I am not prepared to compare our Australian sugar industry wilh that in Java or the West Indies, and to ask our people in Queensland to compete on even terms with the sugar industries of those countries. That being so, one still has to inquire what is a reasonable basis for the protection of the industry, and it does, not follow, from what I have said, that any conditions for which the industry likes to ask should be granted; or, indeed, that any particular existing conditions should be maintained. I wish to make it plain that I appreciate with, I think, most other honorable members, the value of this industry to Australia, and the obligation of this Parliament and the whole of the people to make it possible for the industry to carry on under reasonable, white-labour conditions.
There is in the report a very interesting statement setting out the general benefits which, it is claimed by the representatives of the sugar industry, have been conferred upon the people of Australia as a whole by the existence of the industry. With one or two modifications which I shall mention later, I accede almost entirely to what is claimed. The general benefits are set out as follows in the Minority Report : -
The points to which I believe further consideration should be given are, first, whether the rates at which the best refined sugar is supplied at present are reasonable, and secondly, whether the introduction of £2,000,000 annually into Australia as payment for the 215,000 tons exported is of economic benefit to the country. That surplus sugar is uneconomically produced, and if we are to regard the £2,000,000 received for it as benefiting Australia, the same argument might be applied in. support of any industry which in part or whole was conducted uneconomically, but the surplus product of which could be sold overseas at any price. If it is to be regarded as a sound principle that export is desirable whatever the cost of production, and whatever the price obtained, we have to consider how far that principle can be safely extended. It may be applicable to a limited number of industries, but surely it could not be applied to an indefinite extent to all industries. Finally, the report uses the phrase - “Prevention of exploitation of the consumer “. That of course raises the main issue with which this House has to concern itself.
The report also sets out the results which would be likely to follow the removal of the embargo. It states - what is obviously true - that if the removal of the embargo entailed the destruction of the industry, there would necessarily follow enormous and widespread loss. I agree that such an event would entail the almost total destruction of such towns as Bundaberg, Ayr, Ingham, Innisfail, Mackay and other North Queensland sugar centres. It would also involve the loss of vast sums of capital which have been invested in the industry.
I had an opportunity of visiting Queensland recently, and I saw for the first time the operations of the sugar industry there. I agree that there is a virile, and, I add, a prosperous race of Australians engaged in the industry, without anything like the generally supposed proportion of aliens. The industry is well-run and well-managed, and, speaking generally, is one of which Australia may well be proud. That, however, does not absolve this House of the responsibility of considering in detail the particular conditions upon which it is proposed to give this industry an advantage over all other industries at the present time.
It seems to me that the sugar industry is often unjustly criticized. There is no doubt that the industry, as carried on in Queensland and northern New SouthWales, saved the country very large sums of money during the war, and immediately afterwards. The prices which were then paid by Australians for sugar, at a time when the production of sugar did not equal the Australian consumption, and when the growers were in a position to demand their own terms if uncontrolled by legislative interference, were considerably lower than those then being paid in other countries. While we in Australia were paying 6d. per lb. for sugar, people elsewhere were paying from1s. 2d. to1s. 6d. per lb. It is only fair to remember that. The present price of 4½d. per lb. retail is not relatively high, having regard to the price obtaining in practically all the other sugar-producing countries in the world and general comparative price levels. As will be learned from Appendix No. 8 to the report, very high import duties are imposed in all the sugar-producing countries, with the possible exception of the West Indies and Java. The duties range from £2 16s.8d. in Switzerland to £20 18s. 4d. in Czechoslovakia, where a large quantity of beet sugar is produced. In other words, sugar is a protected commodity in practically every country in which it is produced.
– Is that done with the idea of protectingwhite-grown sugar against black ?
– It is protection against all externally-grown sugar. There is a world surplus of sugar to-day, and the producing countries recognize that if they allow this surplus free entry to their markets, it would be impossible for the local industry to maintain itself, having regard to the tremendous fluctuations in quantity and price.
– What are the retail prices of sugar in the various sugarproducing countries of the world?
– That information appears in Appendix No. 9 to the report, which sets out the prices as follow: -
The report rnakes it clear that the industry is efficiently conducted. The men engaged in the fields are piece-workers, and they work well and hard. The question whether there should be an embargo rather than a duty on external sugar has been considered by the’ committee, and the effect of their finding, upon which I think both the majority and minority are in agreement, is well expressed in the minority report, which sets out in detail the duties imposed by various sugar-producing countries. Reference is made to the tremendous variation of prices from time to time, and this is the conclusion in the minority report -
It would seem, however, that no fixed duty (imposed to secure for the industry a fighting chance against foreign competition and stimulate it to greater efficiency to fit itself for such struggle) could cope with the fluctuations of the world price for sugar unless it were designedly fixed at a prohibitive rate.
Having regard to this wide fluctuation of prices, it is very difficult to suggest any duty, short of a prohibitive one, amounting practically to an embargo, which would adequately safeguard the industry.
One of the serious problems is that of excess production, and this raises a very important economic question. Of a total production in 1930 of ‘535,000 tons, the home market consumed 315,000 tons, or 59 per cent., and 219,000 tons, or 41 per cent., was exported at a loss, estimated in the report at £9 a ton. The exportable surplus was sold for about £2,000,000, and the majority report says, that the introduction of this money into Australia, is to be commended as assisting to redress the adverse trade balance. By parity of reasoning we could export all sorts of commodities to all places in the world, and delude ourselves into the belief that we were improving the economic position of the country by introducing more money, although we sustained a loss on every lb., cwt., or ton exported. We cannot accept as a general principle that it is advantageous to produce and dell at a loss.
– What is the loss on our exported butter ?
– I have not investigated butter production costs, but I believe that there is a loss in connexion with the export trade in butter, and also in dried fruits, wine, and canned fruits.
It is obvious that the principles applied in respect of those industries cannot be incorporated in the general economic organization of the Commonwealth.
– None of those industries costs the people of this country between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000 annually.
– The principle is the same, although the amounts differ.
– We have also to consider the relative service to the community rendered by each industry.
– I have often read the statements that Australians are paying between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 a year more for butter than would be necessary if the loss on the export trade had not to be made good. As to the wine and dried fruits industries, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), as an expert on these subjects, knows how much is paid by the Commonwealth to assist them. That there must be some limitation of the production of sugar is recognized in the committee’s report, and a rather complicated system is proposed for discouraging further production.
– It is less now than it was in 1925, which- was the peak year.
– The cost of ‘production is accepted by the minority to be £18 7s. a ton of raw sugar, and by the majority at £22 7s. 9d. a ton. The Government has adopted the estimate of the majority. The return over all is said to be £18 7s. 6d. a ton. Some of the statistics regarding the returns to growers and millers require careful examination, and it is difficult to work out the results satisfactorily even with the aid of the information given in the appendices. From the appendix on page 62 it appears that the grower’s profit is only 2.02 per cent, on the capital invested. The profit of the grower and the miller, excluding the refiner and distributor, is stated to be 3.72 per cent. These estimates of profits are made on the basis of capital involved and costs incurred, and my main criticism of the report is that the committee seems to have assumed that the cost of production and the values assigned to land and plant are to continue and be unaffected by the general economic conditions of the Commonwealth. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding the very small percentage of profit, the industry has not retrogressed in recent years in respect of either the number of growers or the area under cultivation. If the profits are so unattractive as the report states, one would think that there would be small temptation to newcomers to enter the industry or to existing growers to extend their cultivation. According to an appendix published at page 50, the production of raw sugar in 1925 was 485,585 tons, and in 1930 it had increased to 512,000 tons. That increase may have been partly due to a better season and a greater yield of raw sugar from the cane, but the area of cane crushed increased between 1925 and 1930 from 189,466 acres to 230,567 acres; an advance of more than 20 per cent. There was a similar increase in the area under cultivation.
– Increases hare occurred in respect of acreage planted, yield of cane per acre, and percentage of sugar obtained from the cane.
– Yet we are told that the returns to those engaged in the industry are only from 2 to 3 per cent. The extension of the industry is remarkable if those figures are correct. Many of the calculations by the committee are based upon estimates of land values, and the minority and majority reports agree that the improved values of the land used in the industry vary from £22 an acre in the central districts, to £25 in the southern district, and £29 in the north. This portion of the report is fairly open to criticism. It is common knowledge that these land values represent, in a large measure, capitalization of the policy of this Parliament. Land would never have been sold at such prices unless this Parliament had imposed an embargo upon imports, and guaranteed a certain price to the producer. The continuance of the guaranteed price cannot be justified by reference to land values which have been created only by the maintenance of a guaranteed price in the past. This principle of valuation could not be applied to the land used in any other industry. If, in connexion with any form of rural production, a fixed price were guaranteed in respect of the local market, and an embargo were placed on imports, and these conditions were sufficiently attractive to induce the cultivation of an increased acreage, land values would immediately rise. The fact that land values in the Queensland sugar areas have reached the level mentioned by the committee cannot be fairly regarded as an argument for maintaining the policy which has produced them.
– Probably, as the exportable surplus increases the land values will
– Yes. Indeed, the industry has already been responsible for some decrease of land values by producing in excess of the requirements of the local market. The values of land would have been higher had there been no surplus to be exported at a loss. In the wheat areas land has been bought at from £12 to £20 an acre, but we know that those values cannot be maintained to-day. Take also the land devoted to the growing of wool, or city lands, the values of which depend mainly, in the ultimate analysis, on rural productivity.
– Sugar lands have declined in value from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent.
– I am pointing out that these values are taken upon the average of market transactions, which depend upon the policy of this Parliament. Therefore, the more fact that land values have reached a certain point cannot in itself be advanced as an argument why values should be maintained at the level that they have reached at the moment.
The report is based on the assumption that present costs of production, which are calculated on. land values, wages and the like, are to continue. That is a proposition which cannot, in justice to the community as a whole, be accepted. After all, the community is paying for the benefits conferred on this industry. I have already agreed that we ought to pay something to maintain the sugar industry as a white labour industry, and I am now examining what is fair, having regard to the interests of the community as a whole.
– If the surplus sugar production is necessarily sold at a loss, should not the policy be to restrict pro duction to home requirements ?
– It is proposed by the Government to introduce a system which will discourage the production of surplus sugar, at least to a certain extent. I now come to the subject of wages in the field, particularly of those paid to cane-cutters. Those workers are highly efficient, their labour is strenuous, and they operate at piece-work rates. It is found that the average cane-cutter earns 26s. a day while he is working, which is over a period of about five months in the year. That is a high rate of pay for such work. [Leave to continue granted.] Irregular workers in Melbourne receive 14s. a day. when they are able to obtain employment. The rate for cane-cutters is fixed on the basis that the industry provides work only for certain months of the year.
– Also in view of the fact that they work at very high speed, much the same as shearers do.
– The principle followed when fixing such rates is similar to that adopted by Mr. Justice Higgins many years ago when determining an award for .waterside workers. He made the rate such that it allowed employees in the industry to earn the basic wage by working 30 hours a week. One can quite understand the humanitarian impulse that leads to the fixing of wages of this character, but I am not at all su?e that a mistake is not being made by paying specially high rates for casual work. It appears to me that there are large bodies of unskilled men in Australia, who, taking their wage rates relatively to those paid to skilled men, are very generously treated, and that in recent years our craftsmen have been losing their margins. It is far more important to encourage the skilled than the unskilled men. This system of fixing specially high rates for casual labour is not one which ultimately will be for the benefit of the country as a whole. It is well-known that many men work in a number of casual occupations. I know some who earn high rates of wages cane-cutting, and later earn similarly high rates shearing. Later, during the wheat season, they earn more money on the wharfs, also at high rates. I do not say that such men do not earn their money on the basis oh which their wages are fixed. Of course they do. But they are paid all the year round, at special rates, and the point at issue is whether the country is able to afford such rates of pay, and the effect of the practice on the skilled men.
These reports are founded upon the basis that present costs will continue all round. Honorable members will find some interesting information at pages- 74 and 75 of the report. Speaking generally, the return on the working capital, invested by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is reported to be 5^ per cent. That is regular, secured,, beyond any risk. And all others in theindustry enjoy a similarly satisfactory return, unless they cut their own throatsby over-production. It is very difficult indeed to justify exempting one industry from the general economic conditions of the country. I am glad to know that the sugar industry is doing well, but it must, be remembered that the benefits which that industry receives are being paid for by the rest of the community. They donot come from nowhere. I agree with the substance of what appears at page 84 of the minority report, where the fluctuations in prices of other commodities are set out, and this is stated -
The sugar industry cannot be considered apart from the other primary industries of Australia. To contend that the Australian price for sugar must be maintained because of the low returns from export is not sound. In other industries reductions in world prices lead to reduced prices in the Commonwealth. The sugar industry is dependent upon the other industries of Australia for its present Australian price, and, just as it has enjoyed a fixed price in the Commonwealth, made possible by the embargo and Australia’s prosperity, so it must bear a share of the burden resulting from depression. Wages have been substantially reduced and price levels have fallen: the people rightly expect a reduced cost of living, and the sugar industry, which is benefiting from such changes, should contribute towards the reduction; otherwise it could not sustain its claim on the Australian people for continuity of absolute protection.
I exercise the right of challenging the basis of the report. I do not concede that those land values, wages, or the returns of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, must remain unchanged. It seems to me that the sugar industry ought not to expect to continue in the same prosperity as it has enjoyed in the past two or three years. That is what the proposal of the Government means. Of course, if that could happen without it being paid for by the rest of the community it would be a very nice thing. The proposal of the Government means that all conditions in the sugar industry, and rewards to all engaged in it, are to be maintained this year in the same manner as they have been for the past five or six years. Speaking generally, there is no other industry in Australia in which that position obtains. I contend, therefore, that it would be a proper thing to reduce the price of sugar upon a basis in which all engaged in the industry would share. Honorable members ought to realize that the fact of continuing this agreement will be that the sugar industry will be absolutely untouched by the depression which is affecting the rest of Australia.
– If the honorable gentleman examines the subject carefully, he will find that that is not correct.
– If I am wrong, I shall be interested to have my error pointed out. I have examined the various elements, land values-
– Land values are not based upon the profits that were made in past years.
– They are based upon the return that can be obtained from the product of the land, and that depends upon the policy adopted by this Government.
– It depends upon the price obtained abroad for sugar. As a matter of fact, the land was valued on the bush valuation, plus the cost of clearing.
– I can find nowhere in the report any suggestion that any of those who enjoy an income from the industry are to receive less in future than they did last year.
– Last year they lost money.
– That is stated in the report. I have pointed out that the basis of the past and present cost of production is not a proper one to adopt at the present time. I also showed the returns at 2 per cent. and 3 per cent.
Having regard to the economic effects which world and local conditions are producing upon all other industries, it is not proper to exempt the sugar industry entirely - and it appears to me that that is the result proposed by the report - from the effects of those conditions, and generally from the results of the depression which is affecting the rest of Australia. I am prepared to do what is necessary to maintain the sugar industry as a white labour industry; but I contend that it should not be in such a tremendously superior position to all other of our primary and most of our secondary industries.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer - the introduction into the agreement of the provision that there shall be preference to unionists. Where there is discrimination against unionists as such, I agree with the principle, but apart from that I propose to oppose it on every occasion. It is a principle which, except in the circumstances to which I have referred, appears to me to be one of the most fatal conditions which can be introduced into industry in the interests of industry itself and of those engaged in it. It means in practical effect that the union secretary determines which men shall, and which shall not, be employed. I object, on that ground, to a general provision for preference to unionists. I except only the cases in which there is a discrimination against unionists as such.
I was a member of a government which renewed this agreement without reference to Parliament. I was doubtful at the time of the wisdom of doing so, but it had been the practice to do it. It might have been said at that time that there were special conditions which justified the adoption of that course, though when I try to think of them now, I admit that I am unable to bring them very prominently before my mind. Having regard to the importance and magnitude of these proposals, it would be proper to refer the agreement to Parliament, for it to decide whether the agreement should be renewed and what the terms of renewal should be. Before many years pass I believe that action will have to be taken to alter the present practice under which, although the smallest duty must be approved by Parliament at some time or other, absolute embargoes against importations may be imposed by executive action. In the last eighteen months this matter has become important in relation to other subjects than sugar. Parliament will have to find a way to re-establish its control over these very important matters, and to ensure that all proposals for embargoes must receive parliamentary approval.
.- As the Minister who is charged with the control of the sugar policy of the Government, I speak on this subject quite impartially, and have in mind the interests of the whole of the people of Australia. The Government, in formulating its policy, endeavoured to be fair to every section of the people.
The Deputy-Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) said that he was not satisfied with the kind of committee that was appointed to inquire into this industry.
– I spoke as the member for Kooyong, and not as the DeputyLeader of the Opposition.
– I do not think that there was any just ground for complaint about the nature of the committee.
– “Why was a Queenslander, who was not a fruit-grower, appointed to represent the fruit-growers?
– Mr. Young is not a Queenslander.
– He is a Victorian.
– To my knowledge, Mr. Young was never in Queensland until he went there as a member of this committee representing the fruit-growers of Australia.
– He has interests in Queensland.
– He has no interests whatever there.
– Mr. Young is a very fine type of man, and it is most unfair to suggest that he was biased. I believe that he acted in a very capable and impartial manner.
– I hope the Minister will recognize that I did not suggest that any member of the committee was biased. I objected only to the general principle adopted in making the appointments.
– I recognize that the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition did not suggest bias. In my opinion, the committee of inquiry was well balanced and capable. The members of it were: The honorable John Gunn, Director of Development, chairman; Mr. A. R. Townsend, an officer of the Commonwealth Public Service and accountant of the Trade and Customs Department, who has been the sugar advisor of successive Commonwealth Governments for a number of years ; Mr. W. J. Short, a Queensland public servant, who isgeneral manager of the Government Central Sugar Mills, and represented the Queensland Cane-growers Council; Mr. C. G. Fallon, who represented the employees in the industry; Mrs. Eliza Morgan, who represented the domestic consumers of sugar in Australia; Mr. F. C. Curlewis, who represented the Australian Sugar Producers Association ; Mr. William Young, who represented the Australian Fruit-growers; and Mr. F. A. Dutton, Melbourne manager of MacRobertson’s Limited, who represented the Australian manufacturers who use sugar as a raw material in their products.’ Mr. Young is a man who stands very high in the estimation of the fruitgrowers of Australia. These persons, having been chosen and nominated to represent the various interests to which I have referred, were appointed by the Government.
– The nominee of the fruitgrowers of Tasmania was turned down.
– That is not so. Another person who was nominated was chosen to act as the representative of the fruitgrowers. A Mr. Boardman, editor of a newspaper in Melbourne, was also among those nominated to act in that capacity, and I understand that certain interests in Tasmania wanted him to be appointed; but his nomination was not sustained. Mr. Young has been connected with the fruit-growing industry for a life-time. He is not associated in any way with the Labour party. I think he is a supporter of the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill). At any rate, he was not selected because of his political leanings.
The Government was faced with the responsibility of deciding whether the sugar embargo should be continued, or whether some other system of sugar control should be adopted. We had to bear in. mind that the industry is worth £10,000,000 a year to Australia, and gives direct employment to 23,000 workers and 8,000 farmers on the raw sugar side, and 2,000 workers in the refineries. In appointing a committee to make a report upon the subject, it did more than previous governments had done, in order that it might be thoroughly informed about the position. It realized that it was necessary to have up-to-date information on every aspect of the industry. I am certain that all who read the majority and minority reports of the committee will agree that the inquiry was made carefully and systematically.
While the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) did not suggest that the members of the committee were biased, he did suggest that the price being paid for sugar by the consumers of Australia is too high. I shall be able to show that that opinion cannot be substantiated. It has been said that there has been an increase in the acreage under sugar cane during the last four or five years; but the increase is infinitesimal in comparison with the increase of the acreage under wheat.
– There has been an increase of 40,000 acres on 180,000 acres.
– My information is that the increase in the area crushed is 40,000 acres, and that 300,000 acres are now under cultivation.
– My figures are quoted from the report, and refer to the acres crushed. Acres under cultivation is, of course, a different thing. We have never had 300,000 acres under cultivation in one year.
– I quoted from page 50 of the majority report. But even if there has been an increase of 2 per cent, or 3 per cent, per annum in the acreage, this has occurred as the result of the sugar-farmers of North Queensland putting in a few additional acres of permit land in order to find employment for their sons. It is not easy to find employment for a growing family in North Queensland, and sugar-farmers, in some cases, lease or purchase a few additional acres of farming land, which is known as “ permit “ land, and put their sons on it to work. That is known as “ buying a job “. I think it will be agreed that, in view of the limited possibilities of work for a growing family in North Queensland, there is justification for an increase of acreage that occurs under these conditions.
It has also been argued that in arriving at its valuations the members of the Sugar Inquiry Committee took sale values; but in both tho majority and minority reports it is made clear that inflated sale values were disregarded, and that the valuations of the officers of the Federal and State land tax departments were adopted. All the members of the committee agreed that £28 per acre was a fair average valuation, and all costs were based on that figure. A maximum value of £5 per acre was allowed for uncleared forest land, plus the average cost of clearing. This is a very moderate figure, and much lower than the average value of fruit or potato land in Victoria. It cannot, therefore, be said that excessive values were adopted.
I desire to elaborate some details of the sugar policy of the Government to which the Prime Minister referred in the House some little time ago. It is proposed to deal separately with each condition of the extended sugar agreement and embargo. The Government has decided, on the unanimous recommendation of the eight members of the Sugar Inquiry Committee, to continue the sugar embargo for five years from 1st September, 1931. In coming to this decision the Government kept in mind not only the interests of the consumers of sugar, but also those of the manufacturers, fruit-growers and all sections of the people. The system of government control of the sugar industry by means of an embargo has been in operation since 1915. The Fisher Government, of which the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Attorney-General, under arrangement with the Ryan Labour Government, first imposed the embargo. Successive governments have pursued the same policy with certain variations. The eight members of the Sugar Inquiry Committee, as I have indicated, represented the fruit-growers, the domestic consumers of sugar, the manufacturers, and the employers and employees in the sugar industry. In both the majority and minority reports cogent reasons are given why ‘ the embargo should be continued. It is considered that it is the simplest and most effective means of protecting the industry. It was pointed out in both reports that if an attempt were made to protect the industry by means of customs duties, the wide fluctuations in the world’s price of sugar would seriously penalize Australian consumers when prices were high, as during the period of the war.
The Government of the United States of America attempted to protect this industry by means of a sliding scale tariff; but the effort was unsuccessful. If that policy had been adopted in Australia, a feeling of instability would have been introduced into the industry, large users of sugar for manufacturing purposes would have been in an unenviable position, and the Government would have been involved in almost interminable and costly investigations to ascertain the foreign cost of production for the purpose of making necessary adjustments in our duties. The committee, in referring to this aspect of the subject, reported -
Under tlie embargo system, with which is involved the sugar agreement, it is possible for the people of Australia, through the Commonwealth Government, to impose conditions on the sugar industry that make for continued efficiency in production and distribution, and also prices that will stabilize the industry and yet not be unfair to consumers.
Later, the following statement was made : -
The embargo should continue to be renewed, subject to proper safeguards for the various classes of consumers in relation to manufacturing and retail selling prices, and to effective control of production.
That was a unanimous recommendation. In. both the majority and minority reports, high tributes were paid to the industry for the excellent position now attained in regard to efficiency. Australia is now pre-eminent in efficiency among the world’s sugar-producing countries. That is saying a great deal, and it is something of which the industry may well be proud.
– We have the most efficient sugar industry in the world.
– Does the Minister intend to speak all day on this matter?
– As Minister in charge of the sugar policy, I have been speaking for about five minutes, and seeing that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has spoken for an hour upon it, the interjection comes with bad grace.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) merely desires an assurance that an opportunity will be afforded to members generally to discuss this matter.
– Ample opportunity will be given.
The Australian sugar mills have a milling recovery second only, and almost equal to, that of the famous Hawaiian mills, which are looked upon as the most efficient in the world in that respect. The cultural operations on the Queensland farms have recently been the subject of exceptional commendation by visiting experts from other sugar-producing countries. Were it not for the all-round efficiency practised in the Australian industry, it would have been impossible for it to continue operations at the present time, because of the great overproduction of sugar, and the greatly reduced average price, which has dropped from £30 6s. 8d. per ton for raw sugar - the price fixed some years ago, when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was in office - to about £19 per ton to-day. Java sugar is produced with male labour costing from lOd. to ls. a day, and female and child labour costing from 4d. to 5d. a day of twelve hours, compared with the ruling Australian wage of 16s. to 18s. a day of eight hours, fixed on the same basis as that on which wages are determined in the Southern States of Australia. The serf conditions operating in Java permit of field wages amounting to about 4 per cent, of the Australian rates, but the more efficient methods of cultivation and manufacture in Australia, and the superiority of white labour over thu coloured labour of other sugar-producing countries, substantially counteracts the enormous disparity in wages. It is important, also, to note that the first material advance in Australian efficiency commenced under the embargo system in 1921, six years after the embargo was introduced. Further improvement has been brought about since then, and this is due to the stability occasioned by the sugar embargo, which enabled producers to introduce and develop long term improvements with confidence and security, knowing that they would be protected against the imports of cheap-labour countries.
On the question of proper safeguards to consumers, I refer honorable members to Appendix No. 7 in the majority report. This is a return of comparative retail prices, and the basic wage from 1911 to December, 1930, supplied by the Commonwealth .Statistician. The year 1911 is the starting point for the Commonwealth cost of living index system. It represents normal pre-war conditions at a time when the Australian national policy of arbitration and wage-fixation, according to the cost of living, became general. The relative figures for December, 1930, are the latest available, and they reflect practically the whole of the fall in prices that has developed during the past fifteen months. This return proves that, except butter, sugar is now relatively the cheapest important food product compared with pre-war prices, and has advanced in price since 1911 by less than the basic wage. Intermediate three-year stages in the return show that, in every instance, sugar was either the cheapest, or the second cheapest commodity, compared with 1911 ; in most cases, it was easily the cheapest of all.
Three important points emerge from this return. Iri the first place, the Government’s decision to renew the sugar agreement at existing prices does not put sugar in a specially-favoured position, so far as domestic consumers are concerned, compared with the prices they are now paying for other important food products. Secondly, the fact that current retail prices of sugar are not being reduced, whilst many other food products have fallen in price recently, merely indicates that other products have fallen from relatively high price levels between 1915 and 1926, which sugar, by virtue of the Commonwealth control, was not allowed to reach. This industry had to accept the pegged price, while other prices soared sky high. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, in some European countries, sugar rose to as high a price as ls. 6d. per lb., while the maximum price in Australia was not more than 6d. per lb., and for a period of ten years the average price did not go beyond 4£d. per lb. During that period of Commonwealth Government control, the Australian consumers were saved over £16,000,000 as the result of the price of sugar being pegged.
– Have not the growers been paid for that since?
– They are entitled to, and have enjoyed, the benefit of an Australian market, and the manufacturers in the southern States have found valuable markets in Queensland. The third point that emerges from the return to which I have referred is that, as the present retail price pf sugar is only 66.9 per cent, above the 1911 level, as against the relative basic wage increase of 71.4 per cent, and that of meat ranges from 86 per cent, to 130 per cent, it is clear that the sugar price is not unfair.
While the Government proposes to renew the present selling prices of refined sugar for the first three years of the new sugar agreement, it has given due weight to the present tendency in regard to falling costs, and is including a clause in the agreement providing for selling pricey to be altered as and when costs alter sufficiently. A reduction in the cost of production or in the retail price index number equivalent to ½d. per lb. in refined sugar, will be passed on to the consumers at any time, if such a situation is brought about.
The agreement will also contain a special clause- restricting the basic average price of raw sugar to £22 per ton, so that if the present phenomenally-low world’s prices rise considerably, thus enhancing the value of surplus raw sugar exported from Australia, the sugarproducers will not obtain more than the limited basic average return on their total production.
– In what way does the Minister suggest that the cost of production can be reduced?
– I am not suggesting any way, but if the cost of production falls, the consumers in Australia will benefit, because, after allowing for a cost of £22 per ton, any saving over and above that sum will go into a trust account, and when the fund is sufficient to reduce the price to the public by -Jd. per lb., it will be used for that purpose; the extra money will not go into the pockets of the sugar-producers. This new provision is deemed to be essential, as a recurrence of unduly profitable returns would result in inflated land values and increased production, to the ultimate detriment of both producers and consumers in Australia.
The basic average price for raw sugar has been fixed at £22 per ton for an annual production of 500,000 tons or over.
This basic price will be increased by l½d. per ton for every 1,000 tons by which the total production in any season falls below 500,000 tons, but a maximum return of £23 per ton is imposed in this connexion. The maximum of £23 per ton would be equivalent to the estimated Australian home consumption requirements of 340,000 tons of raw sugar per annum. This increase of £1 per ton in the basic price has been provided against the increased overhead costs that will occur if the volume of production is reduced. Witnesses before the Sugar Inquiry Committee claimed that if production were reduced to the home consumption level of 340,000 tons, the present cost of production would increase, because of larger overhead expenses, by a total of £3 3s. 9d. per ton of raw sugar. However, the Government considers that the allowance of £1 per ton that has been decided upon is all that can be justified in the prevailing circumstances, including the depression that is affecting Australia. The basic average price of £22 per ton, or up to £23 with a lower production, will also be varied each season to the extent of any alteration in sugar wages or working hours that may be made. If the production fell to 340,000 tons, the growers would be in a bad way.
– In how bad a way?
– They would be growing sugar at £3 3s. 9d. per ton below the cost of production.
– Who would be carrying that?
– The growers.
– Would the millers get exactly the same?
– No, some reduction would be made in the amount paid to the millers.
– What about the workers ?
– The Government does not enter into the fixation of wages; that is left to arbitration. Finally, a trust account under the joint control of the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments will be created to deal with adjustments made on the lines just mentioned. Each season this account will be credited, on behalf of sugar consumers, with the excess return for any raw sugar over and above the adjusted basic price for that season calculated as I have described - or the account will be debited, on behalf of the sugar producers, with the deficiency, if any, in the actual return for raw sugar below the adjusted basic price so calculated. Any net surplus in the trust account at the end of any season will require to be made available by the Queensland Sugar Board for the purpose of enabling an effective reduction in the selling price of refined sugar to be passed on to manufacturing and domestic consumers, for such period as the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments may agree to be sufficient to exhaust the net surplus. The new agreement will also provide for the first three years that the sugar industry shall contribute £315,000 per annum for the benefit of the fruit industry on the lines recommended in the majority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee. For six years the sugar industry has been providing up to £205,000 per annum for the fruit industry by way of the home consumption rebate of £6 5s.1d. a ton on refined sugar used by fruit processors, and the export rebates paid on the sugar content of fruit products exported from Australia.
– Is it proposed to constitute that committee as recommended?
– Is there any prospect of having representatives- from each of the States on that committee?
– That, I think, would be too cumbrous. The additional £110,000 per annum decided upon is more than the additional £65,000 recommended in the minority report; but the Government considers that the present necessitous state of the fruit industry, into the products of which sugar enters so largely, justifiesthe adoption of the larger amount. Both the majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee recommended that the money for the assistance of the fruit industry should be disbursed by a special committee, comprised mainly of experts elected by sections of the fruit industry itself. This committee will be named “ The Fruit Industry Concession Committee “, and will consist of one representative of each of the following: -
The Commonwealth Government - To be nominated by the Minister for Trade and Customs, as tlie Minister controlling the sugar policy.
The Queensland Sugar Board - To be nominated by the Sugar Board.
The growers of jam fruits - To be elected by growers supplying jam fruits to manufacturers, at a conference fully representative of such growers.
Hie growers of canning fruits - To be elected by the Australian Canning Fruit-growers Association.
The proprietary manufacturers of fruit products - To be elected by a conference of proprietary manufacturers to be called for that purpose.
Tlie co-operative and State manufacturers at fruit products - To be elected by the o-operative and controlled canneries. lt will be seen that every important phase of the fruit industry will be represented on the committee, and fruit experts will number four out of the total number of six.
– The fruit-growers’ representatives will be nominated by Victoria.
– I do not think that the honorable member is justified in saying that. I believe it to be possible to secure the nomination of a good Australian who will represent the growers in all- parts of Australia, and not those of any particular State. Surely we are not so parochial as the honorable member makes out. The constitution of this committee should ensure the wisest expenditure of the money available, and the plan is accepted by the many witnesses for the fruit industry who supported it before the Sugar Inquiry Committee. They expressed their confidence that it would help to remove tlie difficulties now confronting the industry. The present home consumption rebate to fruit processors of £6 5s. Id. per ton will continue to be paid by the committee out of the £315,000 per annum, but the committee will be empowered to fix such prices to be paid by fruit processors for fresh fruit as the committee considers reasonable. The present export rebates will also be continued on the existing basis. The committee will disburse the additional contribution of £110,000 per annum in such manner as it thinks will best assist the fruit industry. The committee will be required to submit an annual report to the Minister for Customs, accompanied by a statement of receipts and expenditure, which statement will be submitted by the Minister to the Auditor-General for certification. Certain honorable members of this House have always advocated that those engaged in an industry are the best judges of how money for the assistance of that industry should be spent. They should, therefore, approve of the method devised by the Government, recognizing that the operations of the committee will be under proper supervision. Certain jam manufacturers, notably those who are members of the jam combine, have expressed opposition to the proposed fruit benefit scheme. [Leave to continue granted.] The real reason is that it will compel them te pay a reasonable price to the unfortunate fruit-growers. The growers claim that this has not been done during the last few years. The principle is exactly the same as that applied in the wine bounty legislation. It is of “no use leaving the matter of price to the processors ; they will not pay a reasonable price unless they are tied down by an agreement. On a previous occasion a gentleman’s agreement was arrived at between them- and the late Mr. Pratten, but it was found that after a year or two the processors failed to adhere to the agreement, and bought their fruit in the cheapest market. As one of the growers described it, they were dynamited by the fruit processors. The Government is continuing the export rebates on the sugar content of all manufactured goods exported from the Commonwealth. These rebates reduce the cost of Australian sugar used in such goods to the Australian equivalent of the world’s parity price. The industries which have enjoyed the benefit of this provision are those producing condensed milk, jam, canned fruit, confectionery, beer, leather and bacon. The agreement will also provide that a general review of the selling prices of sugar and the fruit industry assistance plan shall be made before the end of the first three years in the light of the circumstances then existing, and that prices shall then be fixed, and the terms of assistance determined, for the remaining two years. Another condition of the embargo is that award conditions and preference to unionists are to be continued in respect of any industry receiving direct benefit under the sugar agreement. Award conditions are still provided by the State law in Queensland. Preference to unionists was voluntarily agreed upon by the various sugar employers’ and employees’, organizations concerned nearly twelve months ago, and during the past fortnight an extended agreement was made between those organizations concerning preference to unionists for the next five years.
– What is the rebate allowed on the sugar content of such exports as condensed milk, canned fruits, &c. ?
– I shall furnish the honorable member with that information later. [Quorum formed.] The Government has also adopted a recommendation in the’ minority report of the committee that an allowance of 4s. 9d. a ton be made on all sugar sold in Hobart to cover certain disabilities regarding wharfage and cartage existing in that city as compared with other capital cities, but this allowance will, of course, have to be passed on by wholesale merchants to retail grocers. The Government also has under consideration other aspects of (he grocery trade in Hobart, whereunder retail grocers are at present required by wholesale merchants to pay more for sugar than the amount paid by retail grocers in the mainland capital cities. It is hoped that this matter will be satisfactorily adjusted in the near future. The Government is also including a clause in the new sugar .agreement giving it power to call upon the Queensland Government to establish a sugar depot at Hobart if at any time it finds that the present system of making extra supplies of sugar available to Hobart purchasers under a bank guarantee - such extra sugar to be paid for only when used - does not prevent a shortage of supplies in the city.
– Surely that is not fair to the merchants?
– If the present system does not work satisfactorily, provision has been made for meeting the situation. Of course the Commonwealth Government will first have to be satisfied that the shortage of sugar is not due to Hobart purchasers making inadequate use of the bank guarantee system. The merchants can obtain supplies of sugar from Sydney, and store them, paying for them only as they are used.
– They have to store the sugar at their own expense. That does not apply elsewhere.
– Well, if the system does not prove satisfactory, the Government has made provision for substituting another. An important aspect of the new sugar agreement is that provision will be made for the Queensland Government to take, or cause to be taken, such action as may be necessary to enforce rigidly the peak year scheme, the system of assignment of sugar cane lands, and any other plan that may be devised by that Government or the sugar industry, having > as its object the control of the production of raw sugar. The peak year scheme is a system by which no mill will be allowed to put into No. 1 pool sugar in excess of its highest output prior to 1930. In future any such excess will be paid for only at the export value, which being so much below the No. 1 pool price, will act as a strong deterrent to over production by any mill. This provision, which in effect is linked up with the limitation of the average prices for sugar I have already mentioned, is intended to strengthen the effort to prevent, for the time being, any further increase of production which, it is generally recognized both inside and outside the industry, would be unwise. At the same time, having regard to the present state of unemployment in Australia, and the urgent need for maintaining exports as a vitally important means of meeting our overseas obligations, the Government is convinced that this is not the time arbitrarily to reduce the production of sugar, especially as from the exportable surplus £2,000,000 a year is obtained. It is on this point that a vital difference of opinion existed between the majority and minority reports of the sugar inquiry committee. The minority report recommended that the sugar industry should take definite steps to reduce the surplus production. However, it made no suggestion as to how the reduction should be carried into effect, what should be the extent of it and the rate of reduction per annum; or as to what other vocations the dispos- sessed sugar-growers and workers might economically enter. The last-named consideration is vitally important; if 14,000 persons were driven out of the industry in what other avenues could they be placed ? The majority report declares that there is no justification for any further increase of the Australian production for many years, and that every effort should be made by the authorities to keep production within the present limits. On examining the whole position, the Government came to the conclusion that it was in the interests of Australia generally at this stage of its history, that the recommendation of the majority report should be accepted. That report stated -
That means that about 14,000 workers and growers or, including wives and families, 60,000 persons would be deprived of their livelihood.
In these circumstances I cannot imagine any responsible public man or political party advocating a deliberate reduction of the output of the sugar industry.
As has been pointed out, the direct saving of½d. per lb. that the consumer would effect if over-production were eliminated would be attended by a loss at least equal to that amount, because of the immediate stoppage of the purchasing power of the sugar producers in respect of all sorts of commodities produced in the Southern States. Some large manufacturers in the Southern States have said that Queensland is the best market for their products. Obviously, if Queensland’s biggest wagepaying industry were to be cut down by 40 per cent., manufacturers and others, who now do a big business in the sugar districts, would lose an equivalent amount of business.
As a side light on the question of overproduction some interest attaches to a recent deputation of the Sugar Federation of the British Empire, which waited upon the Financial Secretary of the British Treasury to ask for assistance to meet the grave financial difficulties of the sugar industry in such black-labour countries as Mauritius, British Guiana, and the West Indies. It was pointed out that, although these countries can produce sugar at a price well below the world’s average cost, they are losing money seriously because of the present phenomenally low price in the world’s market. The Right Honorable L. M. S. Amery, formerly Secretary of State for the Dominions in the Baldwin Government, led the deputation, and stated that a serious impediment to British trade with Australia, and, indeed, to the whole fabric of Australian finance, had been created by the collapse of the Australian exchange, principally because of the heavy fall of wheat and wool prices. Mr. Amery further stated that an increase of the Australian sugar price would be a substantial factor in meeting the exchange position. That is a very important declaration by a man of such eminence. It shows that there are thinking people in the United Kingdom who would like the Mother Country to purchase greater quantities of Australian sugar.
In renewing the embargo the Government is merely continuing the policy followed by various governments since 1915. Incidentally, on all of the six previous occasions on which the sugar agreement was renewed, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Pearce) was a member of the Government concerned, and when the last agreement was made the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) was a member of the Commonwealth Government. Nowthey both criticize the renewal. of the agreement under consideration. Notwithstanding the adverse criticism that has been directed against the present Government, and the opprobrium that has been heaped upon Ministers for having decided to continue the embargo and the present system of control of the sugar industry, I .am .convinced that we have done right by Austria, and have conserved the interests of the consumers as w,ell as of the growers.
.- L realize that one day is insufficient for a full discussion of the important sugar industry, and as many members are interested on behalf of either consumers or producers, and desire to speak, F. shall abbreviate my remarks in order that they may have an opportunity to do so. The sugar industry is one of the most important in Australia,, and has been one of the most criticized during the last ten or fifteen years. That criticism has been virulent and sustained, and it is remarkable that an impartial committee, representative of the Government, the producers, and the consumers, including housewives and dependent industries^most of whom had no personal interest in sugar-growing and some of whom had a definite bias against, the industry - should have reported unanimously that the industry is essential, and that an embargo on imports is the only effective means of protecting it. The majority and minority reports differ in only minor respects, particularly regarding the price to be fixed. That is a remarkable vindication of the industry, and shows how unjust past criticism must have been.
We should ask ourselves - 1. Is the sugar industry essential to Australia? 2. If so, is it one which should be encouraged by the Government? 3. Is an embargo the best means of encouraging it? 4. If an embargo is imposed, what assistance should the sugar industry give to other industries of which sugar is the raw material, to enable them to produce competitively?
That the sugar industry is essential was abundantly proved during the ‘ war. Because we did not give to our producers the encouragement to which they were entitled prior to the war, the production at the outbreak of hostilities was less than the local consumption. Under earlier embargoes producer.s were placed in such a position that, the industry did not assure a living to them, and thousands of acres of cane land went out of production. ‘The result was that .during the latter years of >the war, when Java sugar .w,as selling at £100 per ton, the Commonwealth was forced to buy hundreds of thousands -of tons of blackgrown -sugar, -which -cost in one year £6,000,0.00.
– That is very ancient history.
– It is; but it emphasizes the need for encouraging the sugar industry. At the time when we were paying overseas £100 ,a ton for sugar, the Australian grower was receiving only £21 a ton, equal to about 2£d. per lb., awl sugar was retailed in Australia for a couple of years at 6d. per lb. when sugar in England was realizing ls. per lb. retail. I am convinced that we should aim at making Australia self-supporting in respect of sugar, .and .seek also to ensure a surplus above the ordinary requirements of the local market, lest in some years, owing to seasonal ‘ conditions such as cyclones or droughts, production here and in other countries should be seriously reduced, and we be compelled to pay very much more than the price fixed under the agreement into which the Government has entered. The report shows that in three years prices fluctuated from £36 10s. 8d. to £10 6s. 8d., a variation of £26. If we had been buying sugar outside Australia we might have been paying for it £36 a ton, plus the cost of freight.
The sugar industry is essential, and should be encouraged because of many circumstances associated with it. I do not propose to discuss the White Australia policy, the importance of which is realized by all; but one reason why the industry should be fostered is that although an embargo was imposed in 1920, and the highly profitable price of £36 9s. 8d. was fixed, the industry did not stagnate, but set its house in order,, and acquired greater efficiency- Both the majority and the minority reports record a distinct improvement in the industry. Not only has the sugar content of the cane been increased until it is almost the highest in the world. hut the mills have been transformed beyond recognition, and their efficiency has been increased enormously. The refining processes also have been improved, so that the production is 220 tons per employee per annum as compared “with 185 tons in Canada. That shows that the benefits given to the industry have been deserved, and that growers, millers, and refiners have all striven to increase the output and achieve greater efficiency.
The second reason why the industry should be given encouragement and support is that it has become an exporting industry of no mean magnitude. Last year it sent overseas some £2,000,000 worth of sugar. Every industry that can export £1,000,000 of its output in times such as these is of extraordinary value to Australia. The loss with regard to that export is really carried by the growers themselves. Though the pride of sugar was fixed many years ago, when the industry was unable to provide sufficient sugar for local consumption, the fixed price has steadily decreased, and continues to do so, even though our exports are now on a considerable scale. The remarkable thing is that though the returns have fallen because of the prevailing lower prices, efficiency in the industry hits increased. It is that factor that has enabled those concerned to carry’ the loss in connexion with their exportable surplus.
The third reason that marks out the industry for special assistance is that, throughout, it is distinguished by a system of payment by results. The cane is cut at a certain definite rate a. tony and the growers are paid on the sucrose content of the cane, which has been raised consistently, until now it is not surpassed in any other country in the world. The mills themselves are paid according to their efficiency. If the sugar extraction is below a certain point, the mills do not obtain the same remuneration that they otherwise would.
The fourth reason why the industry is worthy of consideration and special treat* went by Parliament is that during the past ten years, when prices of other commodities have been very high in Australia, the retail price of sugar has advanced in a less degree than has that of practically any other household necessary.
In the appendix attached to the report it is shown that the proportionate increase on . the 1911 price is lower than that of any other commodity except butter. [Quorum formed.’] It will be found that during every one of the triennial periods from 1911 to 1930 the price of sugar has been comparatively lower than that of any other commodity that appears in the household budget. So it is evident that sugar prices do not penalize the public. It must be remembered that this report has been made by an impartial committee. We must also remember the valuable assistance our sugar industry rendered the country during war time. Every other sugar producing country has a big protective duty that practically amounts to prohibition. Czechoslovakia, for instance, has a duty of £20 18s. 4d. a ton, Turkey, £17 3s. 4d., the United States of America, £11 10s. We in Australia should, therefore, be willing to do something for an industry that has helped the country so materially.
The next point for the consideration of this House is that though the sugar industry is subsidized by the general public through the existing embargo,- it places no handicap on pur export indus-tries. Throughout the existence of the embargo it has always been possible for export industries to obtain their sugar at the lowest price prevailing overseas quoted c’.i.f. Australian ports. At the same time, an export rebate is given to dependent export industries. I notice that something is being dime to provide an extra bounty of £110,000 to assist the sale of our canned fruits overseas. I remember that away back in 1923 a bounty of £140,000 a year was given’ to our canned fruits industry, so enabling Australia to sell millions of cases of that product on the London market, which otherwise would not have been possible. I believe that the suggested bounty will have very beneficial effects on our canned fruit industry, and prevent great quantities’ of fruit being left in out orchards, unpicked, as has happened in the past.
– Had not the price that those people were forced to pay for sugar something to do with that state of affairs ?
– The price for sugar used in connexion with exportable products could not have affected the issue, as sugar is available at’ world’s parity, quoted c.i.f. Australian ports. Our canned fruits also enjoy a preference in Great Britain, because of their Australian sugar content. However, I shall allow honorable members who represent fruit districts to elaborate that subject. Sugar-growers have certainly had a lower price for their product as a result of the assistance that has been given to dependent manufacturing industries.
The sugar industry carries its own surplus, and the handling of that surplus lessens the overhead charges for the whole industry. If we had no surplus, dependent industries would be compelled to pay very high prices for imported sugar.
The next question is: is the embargo essential? Various inquiries have been made to ascertain the best method of protecting Our sugar industry. Every committee of inquiry or royal commission has admitted that the sugar industry is entitled to some protection, but not one has suggested a method more satisfactory or stable than the embargo. A sliding scale duty was recommended in 1910, but that is most difficult to operate. I believe that it has been adopted in the United States of America. The system has very serious disadvantages, in that it favours those who operate on an extensive scale. They are able to purchase large quantities of sugar when prices are low, and to hold them until high rates come into operation. The small man is unable to do that. The embargo places everybody on a similar footing, and gives the industry stability. This impartial committee was so impressed with the advantages of the embargo that it decided to recommend its continuance. There is no question that with a fixed duty the industry will always be in difficulties. Fluctuations would have an unsettling effect, not only on the sugar industry, but on all associated industries. It must be remembered that the efficiency of the sugar industry has increased continually since the embargo was imposed. Those concerned have not been content to laze, under the protection given by the embargo.
Regarding the assistance given to other industries, I believe that the principle that was recommended in 1922, and which resulted in the embargo of 1923, is the right one. It provides some definite arrangement for co-operation between the sugar and associated industries. It was my suggestion at that time that in fixing the price of sugar, associated industries should have representation. That, I believe, is the best method that could be adopted.
To-day we have heard certain statements with regard to the high value of land used for sugar-growing. It is true that the prices are high, especially for land sold with the entire crop on it. However, anybody who cares to examine the position over the past two or three years will discover that there has been a serious decline in land values, as has been the case in other industries. That is particularly noticeable in the Clarence River and Tweed districts which, by the way, have observed the spirit of the original embargo and declined to put additional acreage under crop, and so add to the surplus, to the embarrassment of the Commonwealth. I am glad to see that an arrangement is being made whereby the growers who declined to add to our surplus are to receive the consideration to which they are entitled.
No suggestion has been made that sugar land is three times the price that it ought to be. A profit of 2.02 per cent, on the capital invested is disclosed for last year’s operations. If the land were brought down to one-third of existing values, that would show a return of only 6 per cent., which is not an excessive one.
– I suppose that is why there is such a small land tax in Queensland.
– It is my opinion that the Queensland land tax is exceptionally heavy.
The final point that I wish to make is that this co-operation of the sugar industry with other industries is very valuable. Undoubtedly, the production of sugar in Australia has helped to stabilize associated industries.
I object to the suggestion made in the report that preference to unionists should be one of the conditions of the agreement. That, I believe, to be an absolutely wrong method to adopt. Some considera-tion should be given to the fact that during the next three or four years we may see great alterations in the conditions that now exist in Australia. It is only reasonable to ask that if such an alteration takes place an inquiry should be made into the industry before the expiration of five years.
All previous embargoes have been imposed by the Government in power without reference to Parliament. The Government of which I was a member was guilty of doing that on two separate occasions. I have never been ashamed to defend the actions of the Government in that connexioneither in the country, or in Parliament. I feel, however, that, after the way in which this power to place embargoes on imports to thiscountry has been exercised during the last eighteen months, the motion that all embargoes, whether on sugar or any other product, should be subject to the will of this Parliament, is reasonable and wise. I am satisfied that the embargo on sugar, when put to the vote, will be carried by this Parliament for the reasons that I have already given, and consequently the industry has nothing to fear in that connexion. On every occasion when embargoes are proposed, the pros and cons should be thoroughly discussed, and Parliament should have the final’ decision.
– I desire to address myself to this subject as the representative of an electorate which produces probably four-fifths of the sugar produced in the Commonwealth. I wish first to reply to one or two statements of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). He said that the basic wage in the sugar industry should not be a fancy wage. The basic wage for casual workers in Victoria is 14s. a day, and the basic wage in the sugar industry is 15s. 4d. a day, but I think that even the honorable member will admit that the conditions of employment in tropical Queensland are totally different from those in Victoria. There is a difference between the wages in those States of1s. 4d. a day for casual employees. That is, of course, for day labour. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested that a wage of 26s. a day on piece-work was money well earned. Taking into consideration the nature of the work of canecutting, I say that the workers engaged in the sugar industry earn every penny of their wage, and those honorable mem bers who are not aware of the skill that is required in this industry would be welladvised to leave that subject alone. It is difficult to know where the skill begins and ends. There is no more highly skilled worker than the cane-cutter. He is an exceptionally skilled man. Honorable members who have witnessed the operations in a shearing-shed must realize that the shearer is the human part of the shearing machine. So it is with the canecutter. He is the human part of the cane knife. Almost in one movement he cuts the cane at the root, tops it, and places it on the truck. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that many of the canecutters, when they have finished their work on the cane-fields, engage in shearing. As a matter of fact, there are few cane-cutters who engage in shearing, and few shearers who engage in cane-cutting, because the greater part of cane-cutting is done during the shearing season. There may be a few cane-cutters who, when their work is finished, engage in the shearing industry, but generally speaking, cane-cutting and shearing are two separate classes of work, and require different kinds of skill.
I come now to the minority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee. That report, on page 17, contains statements of the alleged costs of the production of sugar in various countries, as published in the report of theWest Indian Sugar Royal Commission of 1930, and it then draws a specious comparison of the position in Australia. According to the report, the cost of production of raw sugar is as follows : -
The Australian cost, according to the West Indian Royal Commission, is £23 per ton, whereas, according to the minority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee it was £20 10s. per ton in 1925- 28, about £19 in 1929, and only £18 7s. in 1931. The misleading character of this section of the minority report lies in the fact that the minority members of the committee have deleted the vitally important footnotes attached to the table of posts in the West Indian Sugar Commission’s report, as actually supplied to the Sugar Inquiry Committee. These footnotes plainly pointed but that none of the various costs of production included depreciation or interest on capital. However, the alleged present cost of production in Australia of £18 7s. per ton does include both depreciation and interest on capital. When these two elements of expenditure have been deducted from the costs set out by the minority committee, the result is a bare cost of production in Australia of under £14 per ton, which is about equal to the cost in coloured-labour Hawaii, and ia actually less than that in black-labour South Africa, serf-labour Germany, and Chinese-labour Formosa. That result is, of course, ridiculous to any one who has any knowledge of the position in Australia and of the extraordinarily lowpaid labour conditions applying in all the other sugar-producing countries of the world. The West Indian Sugar Commission, in its report, quoted the cost of beet sugar in the United States of America without depreciation or interest on capital, at £18 13s. 4d. per ton, which is nearly £5 per ton more than the minority members’ idea of the comparable cost in Australia. Perhaps they are prepared to have repeated in Australia the conditions of labour in the beet fields of the United States of America, which would be essential if their fantastic ideas of the costs in Australia had to be realized. In this regard I would invite the attention of honorable members to a publication in the Parliamentary Library, entitled Sugar in Relation to the Tariff, by Philip G. Wright, of the United States Institute of Economics. At page 24 of this informative volume, the author deals with the character of the labour employed in the sugar industry in the United States of America, and ;his remarks are as follow: -
Much of the labour in the beet fields of the United States is performed by women and children. In Louisiana (cane sugar) the field operations are conducted by both white and coloured labour, about 62 per cent, white and 3S per cent, coloured; both white and coloured labour is also used in the factories. In Hawaii the labourers are of various races and nationalities - Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, native Hawaiian, Portuguese, and others, the Japanese greatly predominating.
In the beet-sugar industry the labourers are generally foreign - Mexicans, Poles, Germans, or Russians.
A report issued through the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labour, relating to “ Child Labour and the Work of Mothers in the Beet Fields of Michigan,” for the crop season of 1920, shows conditions which may be summarized as follows: Five hundred families were studied in which a child under sixteen or a mother of a child under six worked in the fields. Of the children between six and sixteen GT per cent, were found at work in the sugarbeet fields. One-fourth of these workers were less than ten years of age, and only one-fifth had reached the age of fourteen.
Such family labour was secured by agents of sugar companies from Detroit, Chicago, Ohio cities-., the mining districts of West Virginia and even from Texas and’ Mexico. Among the labourers’ families, 90 per cent, of the mothers having children under six years of age worked in the fields and half the children under this age were usually taken by their parents to the field. The babies are sometimes kept in boxes or baskets without shelter of any kind. Contract labourers are usually assigned as many acres on which to thin, hoe, and harvest the beets, at a fixed rate per acre, as they mid their families together can take care of. Thinning is a process which must be dene before the beet plants grow too large and, therefore, is usually performed under pressure The family working day at this time was found to begin about six a.m., and to continue, with the shortest possible time .for meals, until six, seven and sometimes eight o’clock, or later, in the evening. Three-fourths of the children of school age had been absent from school on account of their work.
The sugar companies usually rented ancient farmhouses for their workers or furnished small portable houses, which wore frequently crowded and sometimes in bad repair. In many of the beet-fields, families of from three to ten persons were obliged to sleep in one small, ill-ventilated room. Occasionally, a shack of tar paper or tin, or a caravan wagon to be moved about as the work required, was the only shelter provided. One child told the agent, “The family has to take turns going in, as there isn’t room for all of us at once “.
An important social problem is raised by the induction into American farming communities of the type of labour and the agricultural methods which have been described as associated with the cultivation of the sugar beet.
The minority report contains a considerable number of glaring mistakes which are readily apparent to any one familiar with the sugar industry, but which, unfortunately, would not. be noticed by the average citizen. One such mistake appears in pages 16 and 17, in which reference is made to the import duties on sugar entering Great Britain. Here the minority report refers several times* to the fact that the value of the British preference is £6 18s. and £5 16s. Sd. respectively to the British dominions, whereas the report states that Australia gets a preference value of only £3 lis. lOd. for raw sugar, as against the alleged correct amount of £6 18s. per ton for raw sugar. This statement is a plain suggestion that the Australian sugar authorities have fallen down on their job, and aTe losing £3 7s. per ton on the present export of 200,000 tons each year - a total of nearly £700,000 per annum - to the detriment of Australian consumers, who are, to this extent, forced to pay a higher price for home consumption. Or perhaps it is implied that the British refineries who buy Australian sugar are exceptionally grasping individuals. It is strange that the minority members were unable to understand the fairly simple sugar tariff rates in Great Britain, and had they only taken the precaution to inquire of any customs officer, or of several of their colleagues, notably tlie chairman of the Sugar Board, who is actually responsible for selling Australia’s surplus raw sugar, they would have easily ascertained that the full normal value of the British preference on raw sugar of the Australian polarization is ‘ only £3 18s. 10d., of which the Australian sugar industry secures the very creditable amount - having regard to ordinary British conditions - of £3 lis. lOd. per ton. Among other aspects overlooked by the minority members was the important fact that part of the full duty in Great Britain on sugar of 98 degrees polarization and over is an amount of £2 6s. 8d. per ton, which has been specially given by the British Government as a protection to the British refineries. Another error for which there is little, if any, excuse appears iii page 41, where it is stated that the retail price in Australia was 6d. per lb. from March, 1920, to June, 1920, and 5d. per lb. from June, 1920, to June, 1923. Actually, the price of 6d. obtained from March, 1920, until 1st November, 1922, from which latter date the price became 5d. per lb. until October, 1923. Another strange mistake is the statement on page 42 that the export rebates on the -sugar contents of manufactured goods exported from Australia were £21,000 in 1930. Actually, the rebates paid for that year amounted to £84,000, and for the previous year the total was nearly £110,000. This mistake of the minority members would mislead the public into assuming that the assistance given by the sugar industry to manufacturers of goods for’ export is very much less than it is. There are quite a lot of discrepancies in the minority report to which one might refer; but I shall deal briefly only with one other matter. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) spoke of the acreage under cane cultivation, and his figures were correct. But the increased production has been brought about, not so much by the additional acreage, as by the more efficient methods that are being adopted to-day in the extraction of sugar from the cane. As a matter of fact, a table on page 24 of the minority report bears out the statement of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in respect of the increase in sugar produc-tion, The quantity of cane required to manufacture a ton of sugar a few years ago was more than 10 tons, but to-day, it is less than 7 tons. That has made a material difference to the industry. As a matter of fact, the sugar content has been improved by approximately 33-J per, cent. That has been made possible because of the adoption of ‘ more efficient methods. Manures of various kinds are being used to force the growth and to obtain better results under cultivation. The workmen are enjoying better conditions. It has been stated this afternoon that the sugar industry of Australia is nearly as efficient as that of any other part of the world; but there is only one country in the world, and that is Hawaii, in which the methods of cultivation and production are more efficient than those of Australia. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) interjected this afternoon that there had been a lot of propaganda on this subject. Let me say that there has been some fairly tall propaganda on the question of sugar, and in that connexion I wish to insert in Mansard a circular issued from Templet Court, Collins-street, Melbourne, on the 8th September, 1930, even before the committee which inquired into the sugar industry was appointed.
This circular was issued by the Sugar Consumers Association, which is also the Town and Country Union. Both organizations have the one office. The secretary of the Sugar Consumers Association is Mr. W.F. Gates, and the chairman is Mr. Hagelthorn, M.L.C. They hold similar positions in the Town and Country Union. The letter reads as follows : -
Knowing how interested you are in the question of the sugar embargo I desire to give you a brief outline of the campaign that it is proposed to conduct, if the funds we anticipate materialize.
The Herald Newspaper Proprietary Limited has promised to print for us 30,000 pamphlets condemning the continuance of the embargo. These pamphlets will be available for distribution throughout the States.
We shall be pleased to send you a supply which will doubtless be of use to you.
I trust that the organizations in your State will make every effort to secure the abolition of this burden that is seriously threatening the financial and economic position of the people of Australia.
If the public succeed in abolishing this embargo it will make other economic reforms much easier to accomplish.
Kindly advise me if We can assist you in any way in the movement in your State.
I shall be pleased to hear from you from time to time.
It is expected that the Inquiry Committee will begin its sittings about the 20th inst.
It looks as if a special session of the Federal Parliament will shortly be held to deal with our serious financial position. The appealing by associations and individuals to their parliamentary representatives in both Houses may have considerable effect.
I am, Yours truly, .
The effect of appealing to members would depend entirely upon how they were approached. If the sugar interests have spent some money in propaganda, it has been necessary in order to reply to the propaganda of such bodies as that to which I have just referred. Mr. Short is a man who has a very wide experience of the sugar industry. He is a Queensland public servant, and a most able man. Those who set out to criticize this industry remain discreetly silent when Mr. Short is about.
It was suggested in the minority report that the price of sugar should be reduced by £2 8s. per ton, but no method was proposed of giving the consumers the benefit of any such reduction. If the price of sugar were reduced by¼d. per lb., a family would have to use 4 lbs. of sugar a week to obtain an advantage of1d. Ten tins of condensed milk, or 18 tins of jam, would need to be used in order to save1d. if the price of sugar were reduced by¼d. per lb. People who bought sugar by the bag would make some saving on such a reduction ; but the ordinary consumer would obtain no benefit from it.
– The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) is a good old free-trader, who is at least consistent; but he would like to see the conditions which obtain in Belgium, Formosa and some other countries, applied in Australia.
– He would like to see the kanakas brought back into Queensland,
– The honorable member forKooyong (Mr. Latham) quoted the price of sugar in a number of countries, but, generally speaking, the prices do not show anything like the variation that one would expect when the conditions of the industry in those countries are compared with Australian conditions.
Some reference has been made to the White Australia policy and its influence upon the sugar industry. In this connexion I quote paragraph 39 of the majority report, which is as follows: -
There is more merit in the protection of an industry in the outlying .States as compared with one which, is centred in large capital cities. On the whole’ I think there is some merit in spending some portion of our national income in protecting, say, the sugar industry, because of its great geographical and national importance, than spending a similar amount of money in the great congested capital cities. 1 think that is a thing that should be taken seriously into consideration. I cannot give any indication as to what I think should be done. To take away any substantial amount of the support which is now given to the sugar industry would have very serious repercussion on Queensland, and on the rest of Australia. 1 agree with the sugar producers on that. That is to say, the benefits that are going to be derived from cheaper sugar will not be felt so ‘intensively as the effects are going to be felt.
Professor Brigden is an authority frequently referred to by honorable members opposite, and his evidence on this point should carry influence. Paragraph 40 of the report is also interesting. It reads as follows: -
Being only one example it would be most inequitable to take it out and treat it specially as -though it were the most glaring example. My point of view is that sugar is one of the things in which we have been rather uneconomic. We are imposing a cost on the community for a great number of industries which in more prosperous times we could afford to pay. At present the burden is greater than before. I do not know whether sugar, in the proportion of service it renders to Australia, is the most costly of the industries, but the effects of sugar are plain for every one to see. In the case of other industries, the effects are much loss plain. It would be most inequitable to take action in respect to sugar alone.
– Professor Brigden expressed a diametrically opposite opinion in evidence given before the royal commission on the Constitution.
– I am interested in the evidence which he gave before this committee.
I now wish to make a quotation which includes an opinion expressed by Professor Giblin. It reads as follows: -
If they abolish the sugar embargo, what were they going to do with all those persons engaged in the industry? To provide them with employment in the wheat and wool industries would mean that another 80,000,000 bushels of wheat, or a corresponding amount of wool, would have to be provided annually, and it was fantastic to think that anything approaching that amount could be produced by switching the bounty of £5,000,000 a year now paid to sugar over to either of these industries, as such action would only reduce their cost of production by S per cent., at the most. It would therefore be seen that it was very doubtful whether they could economically switch over the sugar-growing to other kinds of production and save anything for the public
The majority report, in commenting upon these opinions expressed ‘ by Professor Brigden and Professor Giblin, states -
We concur in the foregoing opinions, and would add that, as the sugar industry is vitally important to the effective development of the vulnerable coastal regions of the tropical far north, it is entitled, subject to reasonable efficiency and fair selling prices to local consumers, to adequate protection from foreign competition just as other primary and secondary industries are entitled.
Reference has been made in this debate to the Australian worker, and it has been said that if he worked as well as workers in other countries, there would not be the need for this embargo. This point is referred to in paragraph 174 of the majority report, from which I quote the following figures : -
Reference has been made to the overproduction in. this industry. Three main reasons, given by Mr. P. H. Goldfinch,
General Manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, why over-production has occurred are interesting. They are as follows: -
Another reason why a certain amount of over-production has occurred is that the sugar producers of North Queensland desire to provide work for the right type of man, and this means that they must have a sufficient area under crop to give regular employment. I point out, however, that the greatest increase in acreage has occurred in No. 1 area. The increase in other areas has been negligible.
I referred a little earlier in my speech to the amount of raw sugar required to produce a ton of refined sugar. The exact figures are given in paragraph 310 of the majority report, which reads as follows: -
The sugar-growers of Queensland realize that it is necessary for them to carry on their operations by the most efficient methods, and these figures show that they are operating on sound and progressive lines.
It has been suggested that it is uneconomical to produce more sugar than we need for home consumption ; but we are producing more than we need of other commodities than sugar - dried fruits and butter for instance. I do not think the honorable members who have complained about the over-production of sugar would agree to restrict the production of dried fruits and butter.
Reference has been made to land values in the sugar districts, but as the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) pointedout, land values are decreasing there as elsewhere. The value of land depends, of course, upon the value of the production obtained from it. When the value of production decreases it is natural that the value of the land should decline. But I believe that if the honorable members who lightly criticize the Queensland sugar industry would visit North Queensland, they would be surprised to see how highly-developed many of the sugar holdings are. When Mr. Bruce was Prime Minister he visited North Queensland. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) have also visited our sugar areas. Each of these gentleman returned south with a greater appreciation of the value of this industry to the Commonwealth.
I do not believe that the renewal of the sugar embargo will inflict any hardship upon the general community. It would be. impossible to protect this industry adequately by means of a tariff, for the fluctuations in the world price of sugar are very great. In recent years they have varied between £6 and £26 per ton. If we had been relying upon a customs duty to protect this industry our sugar-growers would have had a sad experience. When prices were low, wealthy people would have bought large quantities of sugar abroad, imported it, and held it until prices recovered. In view of the fact that a royal commission, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Sugar Inquiry Committee have all, at different times, recommended an embargo as the most satisfactory means of protecting the industry, I am satisfied that the Government is acting wisely in renewing the embargo for a further period of five years.
.- While I agree that the sugar industry should be amply protected, I amof the opinion that the cost of the protection now given to it is excessive. In a publication entitled, The Australian, Tariff: an Economic Review, by Professors Giblin, Copland and Brigden and others, it is estimated that the cost of the sugar industry to the consumers is ?4,000,000; but many other authorities put the cost down at as much as ?8,000,000.
– Perhaps it is about ?7,000,000.
– That figure is, probably, near the mark. Last year, the Minister for Trade and Customs said that the world’s parity price of sugar was approximately ?11 per ton, and the average price in Australia was ?36 per ton. In view of the fact that the consumption of sugar in Australia is about 300,000 tons, a calculation will show that the annual charge to the Australian people over and above the world’s parity is about the amount mentioned by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), namely, ?7,000,000. When we take into consideration freight, landing, and other charges, that figure may be somewhat reduced. Nevertheless, a tremendous burden is placed on the shoulders of the people, and they are asking that the embargo be removed, and replaced by a reasonably heavy customs duty on foreign sugar.
Another aspect of the embargo is that the excessive price paid for sugar in Australia benefits a section of the people residing in one State only. It is contended that that is a distinct violation of the spirit of federation. Section 92 of the Constitution reads -
On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.
Section 99 reads -
The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.
Under the embargo, the people have to pay for their sugar a price fixed largely by the sugar interests, with, of course, the sanction of the Commonwealth Parliament. It will be admitted that the federal compact provides for absolute freedom of trade between the States. The members of the Federal Convention expressed themselves in this regard in no uncertain terms. Mr. Deakin said -
I would vigorously enforce the principle embodied in the clause, “ Trade and commerce shall be absolutely free.”
Sir GeorgeReid remarked
This bill is full of declarations which go to show that there is to be an absolute equality of trade and commercial intercourse. . . The keen point of federalists throughout all Australia is absolutely this - the rising of the Commonwealth is to be the death of these local struggles to get an advantage for one colony over the others, or for one colony to place its producers in a position of advantage over the producers of other parts of Australia.
Sir Edmund Barton, the Leader of the Federal Convention, said -
I think it should be laid down in terms which no Parliament can over-ride that there shall be absolute unrestricted trade between all parts of the Commonwealth.
I claim that preference should not be given to an industry in one State, unless other industries in other States receive exactly similar treatment. I have already suggested that the sugar agreement, violates the federal compact, and if it does not do that, it certainly.strains.it to the utmost limit.
I agree with the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). I was very disappointed over the personnel of the Sugar Inquiry Committee. After all, it was largely representative of the sugar interests, and the people of Australia will not be satisfied until this vexed question is settled, by an absolutely independent tribunal. I agree, to some extent, with the findings recorded in the minority report. I concur, particularly, in that portion of it in which it is claimed that the production of sugar in Australia should be reduced to the requirements of this country. In 1929, the excess production amounted to 33 per cent. of the total output, and in 1930 it represented 41 per cent. It is estimated that this year the surplus will be 45 per cent. Last season’s production of raw sugar amounted to 535,000 tons, and the local consumption was 315,000 tons, leaving an excess production for export of about 220,000 tons. The minority report states -
The causes and results of over-production, as mentioned . in the above review, may be summed up as follow: - (1.) It is a natural result of the embargo against the importation of foreign sugar and relatively high pricepaid for raw sugar in Australia. (2.) It is rebounding upon the producer in the shape of reduced returns for output owing to the losses on over-, seas sales. (3.) The producers’ organizations do not desire further expansion, and in. conjunction with the Queensland Government they are voluntarily submitting themselves to measures designed to preclude expansion beyond a fixed output. (4.) The ability of the producer to withstand such financial loss on overseas sales has been rendered possible mainly by the price paid by the Australian consumer for his sugar.
The question is whether, having regard to the costs of production, the Australian consumers are justified in continuing to guarantee security to the sugar producer and pay for the commodity a price which has overstimulated production; and continue such a policy in order to enable the sugar producer to set off his returns from local’ sales against his loss oil sales of such surplus sugar overseas.
A heavy burden is undoubtedly placed upon the people when they are called upon to maintain such a high price, and to enable a surplus to be sold overseas at a loss of about £9 per ton. The industry has been under government control since 1915, when agreements were made between the various governments concerned and the company, providing for a definite price for sugar. The fixed price from 1915-17 was £18 per ton ; from 1917-20, £21 per ton; from 1920-23, £30 6s. Sd. per ton, and up to- the end of August next, it will be £27 per ton. When renewing the agreement in 1920, the price of raw sugar was increased from £21 to £30 6s. 8d. per ton, or by £9 6s. Sd. That induced a great number of persons to grow sugar cane, and the production has increased enormously since 1923, leaving a considerable surplus for export. [Quorum formed.]
The export of sugar from Australia is regarded by many as desirable, but I take the opposite view. To enable the growers to produce, a surplus for export, the people of Australia are obliged to pay many thousands of pounds extra for their sugar, in order that the excess production can be sold on a world parity basis at a loss of about £9 per ton. It has been claimed that the sale of sugar overseas is of advantage to the Commonwealth, because of the fact that it gives us credits amounting to £2,000,000 in London ; but if that ‘ costs the people approximately £5,000,000, it is a very expensive method of finance, and in private business it would be regarded as disastrous.
– What about the 100,000 persons in Australia, for whom the industry provides employment ?
– With the money that Australia has to find to maintain this industry, those persons could be employed profitably in other industries. Therefore, I agree with that section of the report of the minority committee which says that the production of sugar here should be reduced to Australia’s requirements. The consumers are paying an excessive price, and the sugar companies have been making a large profit. I am given to understand that it is practically impossible to get the companies to place their cards on the table. Even the minority report makes that assertion. It states -
It is interesting to note that although the actual amount of share capital subscribed in cash amounted to only £2,425,000, the present paid up capital is £5,850,000 (292,500 fullypaid £20 shares) made up as follows: -
These figures also show that the company has made very large profits in the past inasmuch as the company has not only been able to increase its capital out of profits to the extent stated, but has regularly paid dividends, after providing for an inner reserve designed to meet unusual or unforeseen circumstances. The suspense accounts or inner reserve amounted to more than £3,000,000 on 31st March, 1930.
In. this connexion the following extract from Ryde’s Business Journal, regarding the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, is interesting: -
The nominal capital is £7,000,000, of which £5,850,000 has been issued and fully paid in shares of £20 each. Progress and still greater progress describes the past history of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Shareholders have come in for their share of the organization’s prosperity. To what extent may be gauged . from the fact that, in addition to an excellent dividend record, £11,225,000 has been distributed to members either by way of bonus shares issues or cash returns of capital.
From the following table it will be seen that, invariably, there is a substantial margin between earnings and distributions, allowing appreciable periodical additions to the company’s reserves: -
Reserves in the table at £1,405,489 look rather formidable, but, in addition to that figure, there is a replacement and depreciation fund” of £2,189,883. Since the September, 1929, balance, £185,196 has been allocated to that fund, while for the half-year prior to that £16,079 was dropped into this receptacle. Again, suspense accounts have figured around £.’(.000,000 for the last few years, so that, all things considered, it does not appear as if the company had to make any special effort to write profits at the figure as shown in the table above.
Those figures show that the company has been making reasonably good profits, largely at the expense of the consumers, who have had to pay an excessive price for sugar. The minority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee contains the following paragraph : -
The sugar industry cannot be considered apart from the other primary industries of Australia. To contend that the Australian price for sugar must bc maintained because of the low returns from export is not sound. In other industries reductions in world prices lead to reduced prices in the Commonwealth. The sugar industry is dependent upon the other industries of Australia for its present Australian price, mid just as it has enjoyed a fixed price in the Commonwealth, made possible by the embargo and Australia’s prosperity, so it must bear a share of the burden resulting from depression.
I agree with that, and I believe that the sugar industry should be asked to bear its share of the losses resulting from the depression. The minority report also recommends that the price of sugar should be reduced by £2 6s. 8d. a ton, which would result in a saving of £750,000 a year to the consumers. Another anomaly is that the Colonial Sugar Refinery quotes A.l sugar in New Zealand at £16 10s. a ton, while in Australia the very same sugar is quoted at £37 6s. 8d. a ton, more than double the price. That is regarded as exploitation of the worst kind by many persons outside this Parliament. It has been said in defence of the embargo that it enables Northern Queensland to support a white population, and tends to preserve our racial purity. Surely that contention has been exploded long ago. It is surprising that Australians have for so long been blind to the falsity of such a claim. It is altogether misleading. There is no reason why white people, even without an embargo, should not carry on the sugar industry just as they are carrying on other industries in Queensland. The mining industry at such places as Mount Morgan, Charters Towers and Gympie, has for years been carried on by white persons, without any special pampering such as is given to the sugar industry by means of the embargo. I think that it will be agreed that the bogy of coloured labour, with which the people of Australia have been constantly threatened, has cost them many millions of pounds. This money has been extracted from them on the pretence that it is a necessary charge to keep Australia white. That contention can no longer .be supported. The Government has practically ignored the minority committee’s report, and if the matter comes to a vote, I shall be compelled to vote against the printing of this document as a protest against the action of the Government in ignoring the findings of the minority, and largely accepting the report of the majority.
– I move -
That after the word “ printed the following words be added: - “and this House desires to affirm the principle that there should be no taxation of the people without the approval of the Parliament, and that no embargo on the importation of sugar nor any agreement entered into between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of Queensland and any other party shall, after the thirty-first day of August, 1931, have any force or effect until first approved by the Parliament of the Commonwealth “.
I take this action because I have received numerous protests from all parts of Australia against the continuation of this embargo. I have before me a telegram from South Australia stating that 30,000 members of the Housewives Association stand behind us in opposition to the embargo.
– Whom does the honorable member mean by “ us “ ?
– The reference is particularly to Senator Colebatch and myself. I also have a message from the Housewives Association of Western Australia, and one from the Western Australian National Council of Women, asking me to convey to the House of Representatives their objection to the renewal of the sugar embargo.
– On “what grounds ?
– On the grounds that it is a most cruel imposition upon the people, - and that it represents taxation without the consent pf Parliament. It has been stated that this embargo costs the people £5,490,000 a year. M’y own estimate is that it costs them nearly £7,000,000 a year. Very early in English history the people objected to the imposition of taxation except by their own elected representatives. It is recorded in Anson’s well-known text book, Law and Custom of- the Constitution, that in 1640 i t was, - . . ‘declared and enacted that it is and hath been the ancient right of subjects of this realm that no subsidy, custom, impost, or other charge whatsoever ought or may be laid or imposed upon any merchandise exported or imported by subjects, denizens, or aliens, without common consent in Parliament.
The method adopted in dealing, with the imposition of thi? embargo is really an effort to dodge the issue- Instead of Parliament being allowed to decide what assistance shall be given to the sugar industry, the Government assumes this responsibility itself, and then takes every step to prevent members from having to . record where they stand on the matter. Under section 56 of the Customs Act, power is given to the Minister to do certain things, but as has been made clear by decisions of the High Court, it was never intended that the Minister should have power to impose a general embargo upon the importation of goods.
– The honorable member sat behind the last Government, which did the same thing.
– The first time this embargo was imposed was just after the war. I recognized then that the sugar-, growers had not gained the advantage of war-time prices; that they’ had suffered somewhat.
– :They suffered to the extent of £16,000,000 by having sugar prices pegged.
– -I am not disposed to accept the Minister’s figures in regard1 to anything. The position now is altogether different from what it was after the war, and the events of the last eighteen months have made, clear the dagger of allowing any government to declare an embargo upon ‘the importation of goods, and even to be in a position practically to prevent fie discussion of its action. Sugar COUld be imported from Java to-day at about £10 a ton
– r-Would the honorable member favour doing tha,t ?
– I am not suggesting what I would do. This is not the time to deal with that. If the. Minister will study the report of the first Sugar Commission he will see that at. that time a duty of £6 a ton was imposed on imported sugar, together with an excise duty of £3 a ton on sugar grown locally by white labour, and £4 10s. a ton on sugar grown by- black labour. Then political influence was brought to bear, and the excise duty was removed, allowing the import duty of £6’ to remain, and under these conditions the industry made good progress. [Quorum formed:] The Government should bring down a bill for the purpose of. ratifying the sugar agreement. In years gone by Parliament fought for and won supremacy in matters, of taxation.. Are we now to abandon those privileges so dearly won and allow the Government to make agreements and impose embargoes, thus taxing the people^ without consulting Parliament? M.y amendment will enable the legislature to assert its rights; by requiring- the Government to bring- down a bill for- the validation of the agreement. As the honorable member foi* Bass (Mr. Guy) pointed out, sec-, tion 99 of the Constitution provides that there shal’t be no Commonwealth law or regulation of trade that gives preference to one State over another. Although the sugar agreement may be legally valid, it is undoubtedly contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, for it declares, in effect, that in order to confer an advantage on the planters in Queensland, the. people of Western Australia shall not trade with Java by. an’ exchange of products. Unless we insist upon. Parliament and: not the executive, deciding- this great issue, we shall not: be true, to the> principles- of the Constitution and responsible government-, or to our’ constituents. Probably; many members would prefer not to. be obliged to vote on this matter; but I hope that ait opportunity will be afforded by the amendment for members, to declare whether they believe that Parliament should be. ignored and. executive control, of which we have had too much, already,, should continue. The members of the Co.untr.yr party have declared that their object is to reduce! the cost of living,, and thereby lower the cost of production. If we. ar,e sincere, we should take every opportunity to bring that- about. Evensome secondary industries, could export competitively if their costs were reduced ; birt to the great basic industries - wheat; wool, butter, and fruit - lower costs of production are essential, because they have to compete in, the markets- of the- world.
– The sugar industry is to assist the fruit industry to the amount nf £350,000 a year.
– The Sugar- Investigation Committee estimated that the Government’s policy will” cost the consumers £5,490,000- a- year; my estimate is approximately £7,000,000. During the. last five years- the. Commonwealth exported, S57,940 tons ; the cost of producing- that sugar’ was; £17-,158,800; and- it realized £9657,719, showing a dead: loss to. Aus. tralia of £7,501,081. The; Minister forTrade and Customs boasted that the expert of sugar produces! annually. £2,000,000, which is- a contribution, towards rectifying- the adverse trade balance. But that return- is less than, the cost of: the sugar we sold, and the Australian people have to be taxed’ by: an amount between £5,000,0,00 and £7,0O0,OOO a year to make good -the -loss1.
– That is> wrong: Even according to the- minority report the amount is only £5,490,000; and thatcomputation is- based on wrong costs. The correct figure, is nearer- £2,000,000.’
– The Minister is notorious1 for misrepresentation, so I am not’ prepared to accept- his; statement.
When the investigation committee, was appointed; people naturally; expected that as all other sections of the community are making sacrifices, in this; time of depress sion, the- workers, by- accepting- lower wages, the sugar-growers also would bear their share of the burden. That- belief was indicated ‘ by the fluctuations in the market quotation, of shares, in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. In February of last year they were quoted at £46, . and they ga-a dually declined till in- October they were down to £29 2s. 6d. That fall showed’ that’ the investors expected that because of the depression the Government’ would vary the sugar agreement in accordance with the altered economic conditions of the community. But in March of’ this year- the shares, rose to £35, and they are now £42. It is clear that whatever sacrifice is to be made by other sections of the community, those engaged in the sugar industry are to continue to enjoy exceptional prosperity. Those who defend the sugar industry invariably bring to the support of their cause, the policy of a White A’ustralia. They say that the sugar industry must be safeguarded, because it helps to populate the vulnerable north. Is that argument more applicable to the sugarindustry than to the dairying industry, which employs more people, or- to maizegrowing?
– The dairymen are rereceiving an extra 4d. per- lb. for theirbutter to cover the loss on export, and in that way are receiving from- the people a subsidy of £3,500,000 a year. I do not object to that.
Sitting- suspended- from 6.15 to 8- p.m.
– The amendment which I have moved provides that no embargo shall be imposed; or agreement entered into,, without parliamentary approval. I have moved it as a member of a party whose principal object is to reduce the cost’ of living- and of’ production: Undoubtedly, the. sugar agreement will, increase the cost of living, and’ of production. So long as we keep on increasing the Cost of: production, so long shall we delay the return of prosperity in this’ country. I1 appeal to honorable members to- fight for the great’ principle that no taxation sha’H be imposed on the people of Australia without the approval.- of ParTliament having* first been obtained! T have already quoted certain authorities on the subject of taxation without the approval of Parliament. I desire now to quote from The Constitutional History of England, by Professor Maitland -
In 1340 a statute was obtained which declares that the people shall be no more charged or grieved to make any aid or sustain any charge, if it be not by the common consent of the prelates, earls, barons and other great men and commons of the realm, and that in the Parliament.
That principle should be the policy of every member of this Parliament. The fight now taking place in the Senate is a fight between the executive and Parliament. The Executive insists upon its right to govern by regulation as in the wharf-labourers’ case, and wishes to ignore the Parliament and do the same in this instance. I maintain that if concessions are to be given to any class of workers, only as a result of legislation passed by Parliament, it is just as important that no taxation shall be imposed without the consent of Parliament. There should be no embargo on the importation of commodities, nor imposition of penalties on the people of Australia, without the endorsement of Parliament.
– How long has the embargo operated?
– That is not the point. I recognize that the sugar-growers of Australia suffered considerably through not being able to make war-time profits. My point now is that taxation should not be imposed by the executive; that it is the function of Parliament to impose taxation. The Chief Justice of England has pointed out the danger of government by regulation in ordinary matters. This is no ordinary matter. For about eighteen months there has been an embargo on the importation of many articles, including agricultural machinery, and other commodities required by the farming community. There has been no parliamentary authority for that embargo. It is time that the Customs Act was amended to make such action impossible. The people of Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria are preparing to petition Parliament against the continuation of the sugar agreement. At a time when farmers, wool-growers, miners, workers, and others are making heavy sacrifices, the sugar interests are to enjoy the same privileges as hitherto ! Special consideration has been given to the sugar-growers of Australia because it has been alleged that such assistance is necessary to preserve a White Australia.
– Is that not so ?
– It is not, as the honorable member well knows. Does the honorable member suggest that the position of the sugar-growers of Queensland is in any way different from that of the 20,000 dairy-farmers of that State, the value of whose product is about £9,000,000 per annum? Does he urge that assistance should be given to the maize-growers of Queensland in order to preserve the ideal of a White Australia? What concessions are granted to the miners at Mount Isa, or others who toil in inhospitable outback country? I remind the honorable gentleman that the bulk of the work in the sugar industry is done between June and December, which, in Queensland, is the best part of the year. We are asked not only to prohibit the importation of sugar from other countries; we are also asked to agree that in the sugar industry preference shall be given to unionists. People are to be compelled to subscribe to the funds of trade unions ; and we in this Parliament are expected to accept such conditions without offering any protest, because, allegedly, they are necessary for the preservation of a White Australia. I do not say that I would vote for the abolition of any protection. I should want to be better advised than I now am before I should go so far as that; but I say that Parliament should decide whether an embargo is necessary, and under what conditions it should be granted. When we set out to protect the sugar industry in the interests of a White Australia we placed on sugar an import duty of £6 a ton, and an excise duty of £4 10s. a ton, or £3 a ton if white labour was employed. Later the excise duty was removed. Now there is an embargo on the importation of sugar, and the industry is given the right to charge any price that it likes.
– The honorable member knows that is not so.
– When political influence comes into industry, as it has done in the case of sugar, there is a danger of wrong practices creeping in. The committee which investigated the sugar industry estimates that it costs Australia about £5,000,000 per annum. I submit that the cost is more like £7,000,000 per annum. Sugar could be imported into Australia for about £10 a ton.
– Less than the cost of production.
– Sugar can be grown profitably in Java for about £7 10s. a ton. With duty added, that would mean from £10 to £12 a ton landed in Australia. I do not wish to go into details in this matter, at the present time. If my amendment is carried a bill must be brought down to validate the agreement, and we can then deal with it on its merits.
– The honorable member cannot do so.
– I have only a short time left in which to speak, and I desire, in that time, to impress on honorable members their obligations to the country as a whole, and to urge that they shall insist on the rights of Parliament being exercised in so important a matter. In order to show how we are pandering to the sugar interests, I desire to quote some home truths to which the Bishop of North Queensland recently gave utterance at Malanda -
Did their only hope lie in a continued embargo, restriction of areas, and refusal of permits to grow cane? How could that be just when at the present moment sugar lands were selling at £150 the acre or more? Some men were making great fortunes at the expense of the whole country. And where was the justice in forbidding a land-owner to grow cane when values of that kind were being obtained, in order to secure a monopoly to his neighbours? Give a permit to “A” and refuse it to “B” ! No industry thus controlled could survive. The palpable injustice would discredit the thing.
That is the opinion of a man who lives in the sugar district, and would at least endeavour to tell the truth about the industry.
– I do not blame the Bishop; but evidently he was misled.
– If what the Bishop of North Queensland said is correct, the embargo and other conditions operating in the sugar industry are not in the best interests of Australia. Throughout Australia the housewives are rising in protest against the sugar agreement. As the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) has pointed out, the sugar agreement probably contravenes the constitution, in that it grants a concession to one State at the expense of the other States. The amendment which I have moved contains nothing about the embargo itself, or the price which the sugar-growers should obtain; it merely outlines the principle that we do not agree to the executive imposing taxation on the people without first having obtained the authority of Parliament. We shall probably be appealing to the electors before long. 1 hope that they will insist on candidates saying whether they are in favour of Executive control or Parliamentary control, and whether they approve of an agreement of this kind being entered into. I doubt whether the Government has the power to enter into an agreement of this kind. Even assuming that it can legally do so, I shall use every influence at my disposal to prevent the endorsement of the agreement until it has the approval of the Parliament and of the people.
Mr.RIORD AN (Kennedy) [8.16].- The attitude adopted by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) on this subject is surprising. I have been informed that he has been a member of the Federal Parliament since about 1910. From 1916 on he has sat behind a party that refused to give this House an opportunity to debate the sugar embargo. Notwithstanding a close perusal of Hansard over that period I have been unable to find any objection being taken by the honorable member to the taxation of the people without the approval of the people first being obtained. The honorable member should be termed “ Mr. Swan-f acingbothways “, as his political opinions change as he changes from one side of the House to the other.
Evidently, the honorable member ignores both majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee. He and his type are opposed to the granting of an embargo on sugar, which enables employment to be given directly to 22,000 people, populates the northern parts of the continent, and makes possible the maintenance of the White Australia policy. The honorable member is prepared to take away employment from those 22,000 Australians-, and’ add1 then* to the 300,000’ odd already out of work. Obviously, the: end o£ “production ia consumption. If the people of Australia cannot afford to- consume their products, it will- be- a bad day for- our primary producers. The honorable member for Swan- advanced a plea on- behalf of the fruit-growers and! canners. If” it were given effect, and the fruit-canners permitted’ to import- blackgrown sugar, so throwing 22,000- Australians out of work, where would theyand the fruit-growers find a market for their product?’ This Parliament votesno subsidy to the sugar industry. By means- of the embargo it gives the peoplein the. industry the right to handle their own products: The standardization of the price- of sugar enables them to- export their surplus and maintain- 22,000 people in- work with a decent standard of’ comfort.
– The Minister mentioned 100,000 people.
– I refer to t”hose directly employed in the industry. If one’ were to take- into consideration- railway and shipping workers, and others employed in: essential services which depend’ to a great extent on the sugar industry, the resultant figure would be a very high one. The honorable member for Swan- was good enough- to- tell me that he had compiled his own sugar figures: I” assure him that if he examines the majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee he will find that- his statistics, are very much astray. The- honorable- member refers to world’s parity without taking into consideration the cost of bringing sugar to Australia. His grievance is on allfours with that expressed by the- Western Australian witnesses who gave evidence before the committee. Their1 chief ‘ desire is to- import from Java the 1:7,000 tons of sugar consumed’ annually in Western Australia’.. They would1 sacrifice- out; White Australia policy merely to enjoy cheap sugar.- grown under, black-labour: conditions. The following extract- from, the report is interesting:–
On examining the trade balance with Java, the committee found- that- it is. already £000,000 per annum, against Western Australia, and it was £5,015^,955 against the Commonwealth as a whole during 1928-29. There is, therefore,, already, a, big: leeway, for Western Australian exporters to. make up before that State can achieve an even- balance of trade with Java. Even allowing for the considerable amount of petrol Aha* comes- from- Jaya toWestern Australia in oil-tankers, there is still space- available on ordinary merchant vessels for the shipment of. Western Australian produce to Java. One witness, who is engaged’ in selling commodities to- Java, admitted in. evidence? that, even if Java sugar were imported into Western Australia, it was unlikely that Western Australian flour could’ compete with- flour from the- eastern- States, ewing to probable lower quotations by thu large- eastern mills, and lower freight rates and better steamer facilities to Java from the eastern States.
Early in its life, this Government tried to: establish a wheat pool to enable the wheatgrower to handle his own product. I hazard the. opinion that had the pool been allowed to operate for a period of five years, the consumers, of Australia would be paying no more for- their bread, than, under present conditions, while the wheat-growers would be receiving a great deal more for their product.. The trouble at present is that wheatgrowers, have, no marketing board or other medium which mil care for, their output when it is being marketed..
In bolstering up an argument for Western- Australia^ and incidentally, in- a desperate endeavour to. gain- & few paltry votes,, the honorable- member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) used figures which- are directly against not only those used’ by the majority and minority reports,, but also those- issued by the Cane Prices Board. That board is a statutory body set up* by act of. Parliament. It is- presided over by a judge of the QueenslandSupreme Court, and its two. other- votingmembers are representative of the millers and of the growers’, respectively. That body has been collecting statistics’ dealing with the sugar- industry foi- over fifteen years. The honorable member claims that the embargo’ costs- the people of Australia approximately £7,000,000 a year. In the last analysis he is only about £5,000,000’ out, but that is neither here nor- there with him. The majority and’ minority reports differed as to -tha cost of producing raw sugar. The former fixed on £22’- 7s. 9d. a ton-, while the latter selects- £1’8 7s. as- the figure. The majority report included gross profit; or- interest on capital’, at 7’ per cent., while the minority report allowed only’ 5’ per cent: In view of the great severity of a tropical climate on machinery, 5 per cent. must be regarded as too low an estimate. In the sugar-growing areas of the north of Queensland there is a rainfall varying from 90 to 117 inches. It is necessary to plough deeper than in other districts, depreciation of implements is greater, and the overhead costs generally are high. In the circumstances the honorable member for Swan’s estimate of 2½ per cent. as the gross profit, or interest on capital, is absurd. The trouble in Australia is that for six or seven years, when honorable members opposite were in power, the Commonwealth and State Governments borrowed at a terrific rate. They offered attractive rates of interest, and the people invested in those loans rather than put their money into industry. Capital that should have been used for developmental purposes went to bolster up government services and public works of a doubtful character.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) referred to Queensland as the “ pampered “ State. I point out that South Australia would have been off the map a. few years ago had Queensland not come to its aid, and carried it along for a year or two. One would imagine from the groans of those honorable members that the sugar industry was the only one receiving protection. Allegedly the people engaged in that industry are making thousands of pounds annually. Actually the majority of them are working on overdrafts. Most of the people in the industry were practically working for the banks. In the past it was the policy of Nationalist governments to sell freehold land. People bought it for speculative purposes, and reaped the benefit of increased value at the expense of public expenditure upon, railways.From 1915, however, most of the sugar land in Queensland has. been made available under the leasehold system. At Tully, I suppose there are 3,000 or 4,000 people to-day where a few. years ago there was nothing but scrub. The north coast line lias been built in recent years, and there is a fairly large population in that area, where the honorablemember for Swan (Mr. Gregory) would like to see kanaka boys doing the work, so that he might get his sugar at the Java price. His apples and jams would then have to be exported to compete at the world’s parity after paying huge shipping freights.
According to the honorable member for Swan the cost of the sugar agreement to Australia is £7,000,000 a year. According to the majority report of the Sugar Committee, the cost of raw sugar is £22 7s. 9d. per ton. In the agreement the Government has adopted £22, which is what the royal commission recommended in 1919, although wages are now 28 per cent. higher than in 1919. The Joint Committee of Public Accounts recommended £26 per ton in 1922, when wages were slightly less than they are at present. The honorable member for Swan, who was a supporter ofthe Government at that time, did not raise his voice in opposition to that particular agreement. The present low cost of £22 per ton appears to be very reasonable, and it is, moreover, strongly confirmed by a comparison with the findings of previous inquiries, if adjustments are made, firstly, in relation to increased costs due to the present higher Wages, and, secondly, in relation to lower costs brought about by improved efficiency. The economy value of efficiency in the sugar industry is measurable by certain well-defined chemical and other standards.
I wish to refer briefly to the cost of maintaining the sugar industry, as estimated in the minority report. This is stated to have been £5,490,052 per annum for the five years from 1925 to 1929, and the estimate is, of course, based on a comparison with duty-free foreign sugar. The members of the Sugar Committee who signed the minority report arrived at this figure in the following manner -
Now, the item “net cost of Australian consumption,” is based on the minority members’ opinion that the cost of production of raw sugar from 1925 to 1929 was only £20 per ton, and this is based on a 5 per cent, gross return on capital, and on numerous arbitrary deductions. The majority report states that the cost for those years was £23 2s. 4d. per ton. The cost of £20 assumed by the minority members is actually £6 less than the cost established by the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts for 1922, when wages were 9 percent, less than in the period from 1925 to 1929 ! The improvement in efficiency and overhead costs since 1922 has not been sufficient to bring the cost down to £20 per ton. However, it does correspond closely to the majority report’s cost of £23 2s. 4d. for those years.
The Government has accepted the majority report figure, which means that it considers that the cost per annum has been loaded by £3 2s. 4d. per ton in this particular regard.
Still more precise criticism exists in connexion with the item of £16,575,380 for “ cost at which Australia could have bought foreign raw sugar”. The minority report assumes this cost at £10 per ton. The departments receive monthly and sometimes weekly sugar quotations from the largest sugar brokers in the world for all the main producing countries since 1916. From 1925 to 1929 the lowest prices of raw sugar quoted each month average £13 6s. 8d. per ton, f.o.b., country of production. A fair average addition for freight to Australia, marine insurance, and other necessary charges would be at least £1 10s. per ton - making an average landed cost of £14 16s. 8d. per ton - which is £4 16s. Sd. per ton more than the assumed cost of £10. The minority report uses the word “ assumed “. These errors- £3 2s. 4d. and £4 16s. 8dthus make a total of £7 19s. per ton, reducing the cost to Australia of the sugar industry on a raw sugar basis for the years 1925 to 1929 from £5,490,052 to £2,319,784 per annum. The latter amount is what the sugar agreement is actually costing Australia to-day. Honorable members claim that huge profits have been made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.
I was one of those who urged the Prime Minister to have an inquiry made into the profits made by that company. In fairness to it, 1 must say that according to both reports its profits work out at only 5£ per cent. The sugar committee, as will be seen from its reports, devoted special attention to this important aspect of the question. It unanimously found that the net profits being earned by this company in respect of the whole of i ts sugar interests in Australia are 5$ per cent, on the total value of written down assets and working capital employed in the business. Both the majority aud minority reports further state that the productive assets have been written down each year from the original costs which were very largely pre-war values, and that the replacement of such assets at present-day costs would involve a much larger sum than that on which the oi per cent, net profit has been calculated. Both reports further state that this company, is highly efficient in all phases of its business, and it is obvious that a net profit of 5£ per cent, on all the capital used in the Australian business does not offer any reasonable scope for reducing the price of sugar. It might lie mentioned that the total net refining and distributing profit of this company is only 16s. 6d. per ton of sugar, which is approximately l-12d. per lb. of sugar.
Tasmanian members have been complaining about the price of sugar in Tasmania. It was not until the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) made inquiries here, that he ascertained that the Tasmanian consumer was being exploited to the extent of about £1 a ton for his sugar. If the retailers or the wholesalers of Tasmania are charging £1 a ton more than they should for sugar, the fault lies with those who are prepared to batten on and exploit any industry. Under this agreement the fruit-growers will benefit to the extent of an additional £110,000. Is that one of the injustices of the agreement to which the honorable member for Swan has alluded?
– The grant of that £110,000 must have caught the representative of the fruit-growers.
– “We know that money buys some people. People have left the party to which I belong for reasons other than those of conscience. I think that one honorable member still in the party has documentary evidence which is very suggestive that some members have left it for reasons other than those which it is generally assumed actuated them.
– If I were the honorable member I should not talk like that while the Treasurer is still in the party with the honorable member’s support.
– The people who have laid a charge against the. Treasurer have had since 1929 to proceed against him, and I think that it is a principle of British justice that a man is regarded as innocent until he is found guilty.
– I am not going to be drawn into a debate on that subject. The fruit-growers, as I have said, will reap an advantage of £110,000 per annum through the continuation of the embargo under the conditions that have been laid down. It should not be forgotten by honorable members who represent Tasmanian constituencies that Queensland imports 15,000 bushels of Tasmanian apples weekly, and that our cane-growers and cutters buy large quantities of Tasmanian jams. Queensland also consumes, as one of the ingredients of a tasty beverage, a large quantity of Tasmanian hops. If the sugar industry is pampered, which I do not admit, there are other pampered industries in Australia. The sugar industry helps many other industries. I consider that Tasmania should be placed upon the same basis as the other States in connexion with the purchase of sugar. A depot should he established in Tasmania, and I am sure that the Government will give heed to the representations that are being made by Tasmanian members in this connexion.
Complaints have been made about the price charged for sugar used in jam making; but Mr. Peacock, a leading Tasmanian authority on jam making, made it, clear in evidence before the Sugar Inquiry Committee that the price of sugar was not responsible for the falling off in the consumption of jam. In any case, sugar required for making jams and preserves for export is obtainable at world parity rates less the cost of freight to Australia. Tasmanian manufacturers are at present obtaining sugar for making jams and preserves for export at £10 0s. 3d. per ton, which is less than they would have to pay for sugar from Java or other black-labour countries.
Mr.White. - What about sugar for home jam making?
– The average family does not require a very large quantity of sugar for jam making. According to figures published in connexion with our Arbitration Court proceedings, 2s. 6d or 2s. 8d. per week provides the average family of five with jam. The allowance is8 lb. Of course, I am not a jam maker.I do not know how much sugar it takes to make a ton of jam; but those are the figures upon which the Arbitration Court bases its awards.
The opinion of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that Parliament should consider the sugar embargo every year must have been formed very recently, for this is the first we have heard of it. In my opinion, the continuance of the embargo will not in any sense detrimentally affect the sugar consumer of Australia.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Queensland sugar industry has been very much maligned for many years; but both the majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee show that this adverse criticism is entirely unwarranted. The reports of the committee have completely exonerated those engaged in the industry of the charges levelled against them. On all the main questions submitted to it for inquiry the committee, which has just completed its report, has made unanimous findings. Its disagreements were confined to minor matters.
The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) argued this afternoon that the embargo should be discontinued. I am at a loss to understand how any honorable member can make such a contention in view of the evidence that has been given in support of the continuance of the embargo. The whole history of sugar investigation in Australia by persons competent to form an opinion, is that the continuance of the embargo is entirely justified. The royal commission , which inquired into the industry in 1920 was emphatic in the opinion that in the circumstances of Australia the embargo should be continued. The Public Accounts Committee, which made an inquiry into the subject in 1922, was equally emphatic. I point out that that committee is composed of representatives of every party in both Houses of Parliament. On top of that, the committee which has. just completed its inquiry is also unanimous that the embargo should be continued. In this connexion I quote the following paragraph from the summary of the recommendations of the minority section of the committee, which appeal’s on. page 85 -
That the prohibition of the importation of sugar be continued for a period of five years, commencing from the date of the termination of the existing agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland (31st August, 1931).
The findings of the majority section, appearing on pages 9-13 of the report, were even more emphatic. In these circumstances, it is amazing that any honorable member should argue that the embargo should be discontinued.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), made the statement that the sugar industry costs the Commonwealth £7,000,000 per annum, but the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has shown that the figure should not be more than £4,000,000. In my opinion it is very much less than that. It should be realized that the sugar industry of Queensland is entitled to adequate protection under the undertaking given to that State when she entered the federation. An undertaking was given at that time that in no circumstances would the importation of sugar grown in black-labour countries be allowed to prejudice the Queensland sugar industry. I point out to the honorable member for Swan that the assistance granted to Western Australia by the Commonwealth runs into more than £19,000,000. The following figures show the value of the assistance given to Western Australia in various directions r -
South Australia has also received substantial assistance from the Commonwealth, but honorable members who represent that State have adopted a more reasonable attitude in regard to this important national industry than honorable members who represent Western Australia.
There’ is a national significance in the sugar industry, which, apparently, the opponents of it fail to realize. When Queensland agreed to federate with the other States she was promised that this industry would be protected if she abandoned kanaka labour. At that time many indentured kanakas from the South Sea Islands were working in Queensland in the industry. The principle of a White Australia was established when federation was consummated, and Queensland and the Commonwealth both, undertook to pass certain legislation. Queensland promised to repatriate the kanakas, arid she did so. The Commonwealth legislation was chiefly confined to excise and bounty acts. An excise duty of £4 per ton was imposed on raw sugar, with a rebate of £3 per ton on sugar produced by white labour. A good deal of misunderstanding has occurred in regard to this duty. The rebate was called a bounty shortly after the passage of the act, but, as the majority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee states, the word “ bounty “ was a misnomer. Up to the time when the last kanaka was repatriated, in 1913, the Commonwealth revenue had benefited to the extent of approximately £2,500,000 by the rebates. It should also be remembered by those who oppose this industry that it is by far the .largest primary industry of North Queensland, and one of the largest primary industries of the Commonwealth. The area under sugar cane is now more than- 300,000 acres, whereas in 1900, when kanaka labour was employed, it was only 108,000 acres. The production of sugar cane in Queensland last year totalled 512,657 tons, whereas in 1900, when Australia adopted the White Aus- ‘ tralia policy, it was only 95,000 tons. Both the minority and majority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee are emphatic that the industry is highly efficient. The yield of sugar cane per acre in 1900 was 11.68 tons, whereas last year it was 16.67 tons, a magnificent increase of about 50 per cent. The average yield of raw sugar per acre in 1900 was 1.19 tons, and in 1929 it was 2.41 tons, a notable increase of more than 100 per cent. Whereas in 1900 it required 10.09 tons of sugar cane to produce a ton of sugar, it requires only (F.91 tons to do so to-day. This is a world’s record. Of the many attempts- that have been made to develop the far northern districts of Queensland all others have failed with the exception of the banana industry. If this industry were sacrificed hundreds of towns in North Queensland and their hardworking inhabitants would be ruined.
The honorable member for Swan (M’r. Gregory) made some reference to the dairying industry, and spoke of the immense production of maize in ‘northern Queensland. I am afraid that the honorable member’s knowledge of that portion of the State is somewhat limited. The main industry in North Queensland, as all honorable members should know, is the production of sugar, upon which a considerable population depends directly .and indirectly. If it were not for the sugar industry the vulnerable and rich coastal lands of North Queensland would be practically undeveloped and empty, and would offer a considerable temptation for the illicit settlement of aliens. Surely it is wise to encourage the industry most calculated to adequately occupy and develop that portion of the Commonwealth instead of allowing it to remain idle as is the case with a large portion of the Northern Territory and the north-western districts of Western Australia.
– Does the honorable member say that the dairying industry could not be successfully carried on in North Queensland?
– Special effort has been made by the Queensland Agricultural Department to develop dairyingthere. It is, however, established that the sugar industry can attain to a reasonable condition of prosperity much more easily than the dairying industry. Furthermore, the dairymen and the maizegrowers have reached over-production, and their surplus is being exported at a lower price than is received in Australia.
The average value of sugar production in Queensland, is slightly over £10,000,000 per annum. Of this amount £2,000,000 approximately is obtained from the sale of surplus sugar sent overseas. This amount is a welcome aid to Australia at the present time, as it helps the Commonwealth to meet its external interest and debt obligations. The development of the industry is a. direct result of governmental policy introduced during, and immediately after- the war. Prior to that time it was necessary to import Considerable quantities of sugar from Java, and elsewhere, at a cost of many millions of pounds per annum. To avoid the continuance of these importations the Government of the day introduced certain proposals to induce growers to bring the industry to the highest standard of efficiency.
– Does, the honorable member suggest that it is an economic proposition to produce such a large surplus of sugar at a loss?
– I am endeavouring to explain to the honorable member the reason for this over-production. The then Government, as a deliberate act of policy, urged producers in the sugargrowing districts of Queensland to increase their areas under cultivation, and to improve their plants, in order to supply the whole of Australia’s requirements. The growers responded to the appeal. To-day they not only supply the total requirements of the Commonwealth, but export a considerable surplus which, as honorable members know, is sold at a price below the cost of production, in the world’s markets. Every effort is now being made to re-organize the industry in this connexion. If the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) will read the majority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee, he will make himself conversant with the steps that are being taken by the growers to increase the efficiency of the industry, and to overcome the temporary overproduction. ‘ I have already stated that the average value of the production is £10,000,000. Of that sum £6,000,000 is paid in wages to the workers employed in the industry. On this point I remind honorable members representing New South Wales and Victoria that the bulk of this money finds its way to the southern States for the purchase of commodities required by the people of Queeusland. It will be seen, therefore, that indirectly the sugar industry is of substantial benefit to primary and secondary industries in the southern States. The following figures indicate the number of farms and workers engaged in the industry: -
Much has been said, in the course of this debate, about the increase in land values in the sugar-growing districts of Queeusland. The report of the sugar committee does not substantiate the allegation. It is true that land values were inflated during the 1920-21-22 seasons, when £30 6s. Sd. per ton was paid for raw sugar, but the Sugar Inquiry Committee, which took considerable evidence on this subject, reports that land values have decreased since the years mentioned, and that there is now little evidence of excessive values. The committee accepted the value of only £28 per acre in computing the present costs of production, and any one who is familiar with the conditions in the north of Queensland, and realizes the richness of the soil necessary to grow sugar cane successfully, as well as the high cost of clearing tropical scrub land, will readily admit that £28 per acre, the figure unanimously adopted by the committee, is, if anything, on the low side. The majority of critics make the cardinal mistake, when dealing with sales of sugar lands, of confusing land values only with the usually much greater separate total value of house, stable, implements, sheds, cane-cutters’ quarters, and especially the growing crop of cane. It is true that there may be isolated instances of high land values, but the evidence showed that the cane-growers have not, for some years, been earning excessive incomes. It i3 not a fact, as stated by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), that cane-growers are remarkably prosperous. Ear from it. All the qualified witnesses who gave evidence before the committee - local bankers, storekeepers, and representatives of fertilizer companies - produced evidence or testified that the majority of the growers had to depend on overdrafts and more credit for supplies than usual, and that the low prices of sugar in recent years had placed many growers in a precarious position. Each year the annual report of the Queensland Taxation Commissioner refers, inter alia, to the percentage of cane-growers who earned sufficient to be liable for income taxation, and it is significant that for several years the percentage has been only 13 per cent, of the whole. That surely entirely disproves the wild charges made by some honorable members, and particularly the honorable member for Swan,, concerning the opulence of those engaged iu the sugar industry.
Both the majority and the minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee pay tributes to the exceedingly high level of efficiency now obtaining in the sugar industry. Many proofs of such efficiency are quoted in the reports in question. Queensland produces more sugar from a given quantity of cane, than any other country. The milling efficiency of the industry is second only to that of Hawaii, and the mechanical and scientific farming methods adopted in Queensland are attracting attention from authorities in other sugar-producing countries.
Some reference has been made, in the course of this debate, to the foreign element in the industry. On that point I direct the attention of honorable members to the report of the committee. It states that the allegation of alien penetration is not proved.
– It is proved in No. 1 district.
– The honorable member is mistaken. The assertion may be true as regards one or two mills. On the question of alien penetration both the majority and minority sections of the committee are in agreement that the influx of Southern Europeans has been greatly exaggerated. These figures should be conclusive on that point: Of the cane-growers, 84.4 per cent, are British, 13.7 are naturalized British subjects, and only 1.9 per cent, are wholly foreign; of the mill-hands, 96.6 per cent, are British, 2 per cent, are naturalized British subjects, and only 1.4 per cent, wholly foreign; of’ the cane-cutters, 71.3 per cent, are British,’ 9.1 per cent, are naturalized British subjects, and 19.6 per cent, wholly foreign ; of the field-workers, 69.6 per cent, are British, 14.5 per cent, are naturalized British subjects, and 15.9 per cent, wholly foreign. Taking all those engaged in the industry we find that 79.8 per cent, are British, 10.1 per cent, are naturalized British subjects, and 10.1 per cent, are wholly foreign. I admit that the foreign element is more or less concentrated in a few mill districts, but the Sugar Inquiry Committee reported that the whole problem is passing through a transitory stage, and that satisfactory communities will eventually be evolved out of the new settlement in these districts. In my own district cane is produced and processed by highly efficient Australians. Here there is an entire absence of penetration by aliens from Southern European countries.
The committee also unanimously found that there was little evidence of breaches of awards and undesirable practices by foreigners. These comments, I remind honorable members, are not conclusions of my own. They represent a resume of the findings of the committee which made a careful investigation into every aspect of the industry. Naturalized British subjects, of course, have full citizen rights in the Commonwealth. Therefore, on the figures given, the sug’ar industry must be regarded as 89.9 per cent. British, and only 10.1 per cent, foreign. If the same could be said of many industries in the southern States, the position in the Commonwealth would be much more satisfactory.
– May we take it that the foreign element in the sugar industry is chiefly Italian?
– Yes, and very limited at that.
Turning now to the effect of the Commonwealth sugar policy on the soft fruits industry, to which reference has been made, I, and other honorable members from Queensland, welcome the day when the costs of production in the sugar industry can be legitimately reduced so as to make possible the further expansion of jam making, fruit canning, and the manufacture of confectionery in the southern States. I must, however, say that the report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee does not indicate that the sugar policy has been harmful to these highlyprotected secondary industries. Whilst I welcome the day when the Australian costs of production will legitimately permit of the price of sugar being reduced, I must say that concrete proof of the alleged harmful effect of the sugar policy on these highly-protected industries is conspicuous by its absence. At all events, the jam and canned fruits . industries have been very substantially helped for six years by rebates from the sugar pool amounting to about £200,000 per annum, and now it has been decided to increase that assistance to £315,000 per annum. It is only in this last year of unprecedented depression that the average fruit processer has failed to declare large dividends. It seems to me that some of these processers have used the sugar “bogy” as a stalking horse to divert the minds of the fruit-growers from the real cause of the low prices for fruit, namely, over-production of fruit, and the cleverness of the manufacturers in taking full advantage of that over-production. The excellent majority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee puts the position in a nutshell by pointing out that the reduction of the price of. sugar asked for by various manufacturers, of £6 5s. per ton, is equivalent to only Jd. on a’ standard tin of condensed milk, one-ninth of a penny on an ordinary packet of jelly crystals, or one-eighth of a penny oh the 4 oz. of boiled sweets sold to most consumers. These commodities represent all the heavy sugar-content lines, except jam, which is specially provided for under the £315,000 scheme. Other sugar-content goods would show relatively smaller savings if the price of sugar were reduced by £6 5s. per ton. It must also be remembered that all these secondary products are so well protected by the tariff that they have the entire Australian trade to themselves. As even a large fall in the price of sugar would not enable the retail price of their standard-sized; products to be reduced, how could these manufacturers expect consumption to be increased? No doubt many of them would retain any sugar saVing for the purpose of increasing their profits at the expense of the primary producers in the sugar industry. So far as the export trade is concerned, all manufacturers get Australian sugar at world’s parity, and are, therefore, under no possible disadvantage.
Wages in the sugar industry are fixed according to the cost of living, and they have recently been slightly reduced. If the cost of living falls further, sugar wages will follow, and we shall get cheaper sugar when the reductions of wages and other costs are sufficient to justify a reduction of the price. I am pleased that the Government has seen fit to provide for such a contingency in the new agreement. It has been alleged recently that, because many industries have lately experienced considerably reduced profits, the sugar producers should also suffer. Actually the sugar producers, like all others who export an appreciable part of their product, have suffered reduced profits in the last few years. The unprecedented fall in world sugar prices has hit the Australian sugar industry severely. In 1930 the growers’ return was £19 per ton for raw sugar, as against £30 6s. 8d. from 1920 to 1922, although wages were a shade higher in 1930.- Apart from this fact it is worth noting that from 1915 to 1928 the prices of most other goods fell from a pinnacle that sugar was never allowed to reach; and many of them are still higher than sugar now is, above the normal pre-war price levels.
The Commonwealth . Statistician’s figures in Appendix 7 of the majority report show that at December, 1930, the retail price of sugar had advanced less beyond the 1911 level than had any other important food product, except butter, and had advanced by less than tlie increase in the basic wage.
The suggestion has been put forward that refined sugar be made available for home consumption purposes to jam factories, fruit-canners, confectioners and pastrycooks at export prices. About 55,000 tons of sugar per annum would be so involved; 30,000 tons for jam and canned fruit would be sold at £16 per ton less than the present price, or at a cost of £480,000 per annum; and 25,000 tons for confectioners and pastrycooks would be sold at £22 per ton less, or £550,000 per annum. The total reduction would thus be £1,030,000 per annum. There are several very strong objections to this scheme. In the first place it would defeat the present customs duty of £9 6s. 8d. per ton by forcing the Australian industry to supply sugar for local consumption at £9 6s. 8d. per ton less than the price at which foreign sugar could be landed in the Commonwealth. Secondly, it would force the Australian sugar producers to incur a huge loss in respect of such sales. Thirdly, no such principle has even been advocated for any industry, nor would it be entertained for a moment by any self-respecting government. Fourthly, the greatest redaction considered possible by the recent Sugar Inquiry Committee - having regard to the costs of production - was the £2 6s. 8d. per ton recommended in the minority report, which was signed by a housewives’ representative from Western Australia, and by the representative of the Australian manufacturers, himself the general manager of Australia’s largest confectionery business. The suggestion of reductions of £16 and £22 per ton, proposed by persons who do not know the facts, is, therefore, quite untenable. Fifthly, the industries proposed to be so helped are all so heavily protected that they have practically no foreign competition3 and, therefore, require not such adventitious help from sugar. Finally, one might as logically ask the Government to compel, all protected industries to sell their products at the export price as ask the sugar industry to do that.
This industry has proved of incalculable assistance to Australia. It provides goods wages for the workers engaged in it, and reasonable living conditions for tha producers. It is- a highly efficient industry, which is the envy of all other sugargrowing countries. Persons are constantly visiting Australia from abroad to discover the reasons for the high standard of efficiency that has been attained here, with a view to adopting Australian methods in their own countries. Sums of money are made available by the producers themselves for the purpose of establishing experimental plots, and everything possible is done to keep the standard of the industry at its highest. This policy is followed in the interests of Australia, so that the cost of production may be reduced to a minimum, thus enabling sugar to be sold at the lower price: This great national industry should have the goodwill of every rightthinking Australian, and I feel sure that this House will be well advised in supporting the agreement.
.- I do not claim to be an expert on sugar, nor have I the necessity to pose as such, as a number of other members have, because I have no sugar-growers or sugar mills in my electorate. But, in going through the reports before the House, it is apparent to the lay mind that many of the statements contained in them conflict. I am not prepared to accept all the figures published. Last night, when the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) and I were dealing with a tariff item, we spoke of representations that had been made to us by workers in the textile industry, and certain honorable members remarked, “ New South Wales is not Australia.” Listening to the present debate, one might imagine that Queensland had suddenly become Australia. It was claimed that there was a conspiracy in the textile industry between employers and employees, for the purpose of maintaining a high standard of wages and conditions, and I might say that, having listened to the present discussion, and having gone through the reports submitted, there appears to me a conspiracy between the sugar refining company and the cane-growers to keep the price of sugar and the company’s profits exorbitantly high. The figures showing the average expenditure for the years 1925 to 1928, as submitted by growers in returns to the Cane Prices Board, indicate that the wages for cultivation and harvesting amounted to ?1,042 in the northern district, ?525 in the central district, and ?286 in the southern district. The average wages for cultivation and harvesting in the three districts combined amounted to ?572. But, on taking ohe figures for hired labour, we find that the particulars obtained by the Cane Prices Board show the following average charges per farm for hired labour, excluding cutting:
Mr. R. Muir, representing the Queensland Cane Growers Council, submitted evidence bearing on the subject of alien penetration. He said that the council had obtained statistics from its field representatives, during the busy season of the year, showing the following: -
It is thus seen that the evidence in the report itself is of a conflicting nature..
Mr. J. B. Anderson, a cane grower, of Edmonton, via Cairns, stated that he was farming 99 acres of cane land, two-thirds of which was under cane each year. This is a larger area than the average area of the farms in the northern district from which figures were submitted to the Cane Prices Board. Mr. Anderson employs one man permanently, and, at other times of the year, he might have two or three men engaged for a month or two. Honorable members opposite seem to imagine that the only persons whose evidence is unreliable are members of trade unions; but the evidence that I am giving comes from men who probably support honorable members opposite. We find that, in the northern district, the grower -assesses the value of his own labour at ?405; in the central district, at ?391; and, in the southern district, at ?350; the average for the three districts being ?382. Those figures do not satisfactorily explain the fluctuations in the allowance for the grower’s own labour. It is of interest to note that the evidence submitted by advocates of the unitary system purported to show that the grower’s labour was remunerated at about the current award rates in operation in the districts concerned, namely, £249 per annum in the northern -district, £239 per annum in the central district, and £220 per annum in the southern district. Probably those who support the sugar agreement are able to explain why the value of hired labour is only about 50 per cent, of what the grower claims to be the value of his own labour.
I believe that an embargo on the importation of sugar is necessary; but my attitude and that of my colleagues with respect to this matter is identical with that which we have adopted towards the tariff. We do not believe that the purpose of granting protection to an industry ia to allow manufacturers to charge exorbitant rates for their product, to amass enormous profits for their shareholders, and at the same time to avail themselves of every opportunity to lower the standard of the workers who are engaged in the industry. I am amazed that the committee was able to arrive at any finding. That state of mind is induced by the statement in its report with regard to the assessment of milling costs. That portion of- the report reads -
In arriving at thu milling costs evidence was submitted by Mr. MacGibbon, representing the Central Sugar Cane Prices Board, who furnished statements compiled from data supplied to that board by the mills other than those operated by the Colonial Sugar Refinery. It was felt that the information was of too general a character, and that the committee would require data of individual mills, but Mr. MacGibbon stated that, as the information was furnished to him under oath of secrecy, he was not at liberty to disclose it in such a form.
If the workers were applying for increased rates of wages, oaths of secrecy would not be accepted as an excuse for declining to disclose the whole of their case.
Let us judge the manner in which those who control the industry are treating the workers. In October and December. 1930, the wages were reduced by 7 per cent., equal to 11.9d. per ton of cane; and there was a reduction in the cutting rate equal to 3d. per ton of cane, making the total reduction 14.9d. per ton of cane As 7.3S tons of cane go to the making of one ton of raw sugar, the reduction in the cost of producing the latter was 9s. 2d. There was a 7 per cent, reduction in mill wages in October and December, 1930. The cost of milling is £5 a ton, of which wages are responsible for 55 per cent., or 55s. Therefore, the reduction iii the cost of producing one ton of raw sugar in this direction was 3s. 10d., and the total reduction was 13s. It is known that further reductions are to be sought. The Employers Federation, has lodged with the court a plaint asking for a reduction of 12£ per cent, in the basic wage rates prevailing in Queensland; and on top of that there is a move afoot to re-introduce the 48-hour week in the industry. Yet the Government is prepared to go ahead with this agreement, and thus protect the profits of the cane-growers and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company - because that is what it amounts to - without safeguarding the wages and conditions of the workers in the industry. The effect of the re-introduction of the 48-hour week would be a lowering of the cost of canegrowing by 4s. 5d. a ton, and of milling by 4s. 3d. a ton. A reduction of 12£ per cent, in the wages paid would bring down the cost of cane-growing by lis. 5-£d. a ton, and of milling by 5s. lOd. a ton. These two factors would reduce the cost of producing one ton of raw sugar by £1 5s. ll£d. a ton. Although I am not a sugar expert, I am able to add up figures. I have taken these figures from the reports, and realizing their significance I am astonished that one honorable member should say that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is not robbing the consumers of this country or the workers in the industry. If that be not the case, how has it amassed its enormous wealth? The balance-sheets of the company show that its total profits, after deducting income tax, amounted to £910,830 for the year ended the 31st March, 1930. Of this amount, approximately £472,000 was earned from the Australian sugar industry. The net profit of £910,830 represents 7.6 per cent, of the capital value of the assets disclosed in the balance-sheet, after deducting the amount standing to the credit of the Replacement and Depreciation Fund, or of 15.6 per cent, on the paid-up capital. A dividend of 12^ per cent, was paid for that year, and the balance was passed to reserves. It appears to me to be a peculiar practice to deduct the amount paid in income tax before determining what profit has been made. The addition of the income tax makes the total profit £1,175,264. That figure represents a profit of over 48 per cent, on the paid-up capital; and after deducting the income tax the profit returned represents over 37^ per cent, on the paid-up capital. That the company has in the past hidden from the public the enormous nature of its profits is apparent from the fact that the cash-paid capital originally was £2,425,000; bin by means of bonus distributions - which is a method that is adopted to disguise enormous profits - the capital has been increased by £7,325,000, to a total of £9,750,000.
– Is that strictly in the Australian business?
– I have taken these figures from the report, which I assume deals with the Australian industry.
– Some of those figures apply to the overseas interests of the company.
– Even though they apply to the overseas interests “of the company, they unquestionably disclose the fact that it has been exploiting the workers in this and other countries for some years, because the capital that has been returned to shareholders amounts to £3,900,000, which is £1,500,000 more than was actually put into the industry. It will thus be seen that the company has actually put not one penny into the industry. On the other hand, it has paid the huge dividend, of 12-J per cent, for many years, and has secured assets which it admits are valued to-day at something like £12,000,000. The whole of this money has been taken from the consumers of Australia and the workers in the industry. Yet we find that men who sit on the Labour side of this House are prepared to defend the company. I prefer to designate such companies as nothing less than groups of burglars. I cannot conceive how it can claim that it is receiving only a low rate of interest on the actual capital, when not one penny of actual capital has been put into the industry. I leave it to the sugar experts to explain these figures for me if they can do so.
In regard to the Millaquin Sugar Company Limited, the report states that the evidence which was given by the general manager - in camera, by the way - as to profits made from refining and services under the agreement, indicated, as in the case of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, that only a moderate profit was being made. If the profit that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company made is regarded as moderate, the workers have an indication of the views that are held by the capitalists of this country as to what constitutes a moderate profit.
I hope that, many sugar experts will follow me in this debate. Unless they can show me that the workers, both as consumers and as producers in the industry, should be called upon to pay more than is necessary for their sugar, I am not prepared to support a company which is anxious to keep the price at such a high level as that which rules to-day. Rather am I prepared to accept the recommendation of the minority report, my only regret being that that report did not recommend a greater reduction in the price of sugar. [Quorum formed.]
.- Discussing the sugar agreement before the dinner adjournment the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) made the remark that the people of Australia were being blinded by the bogy of a White Australia. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) also made a similar allusion to the White Australia policy. It appears to me that both of those gentlemen completely misunderstand the application of our national ideal. No individual whose opinion is of any consequence will deny that the system under which sugar is produced in Australia is artificial and uneconomic. Of course, Australia could obtain cheaper sugar outside. But in my opinion, there are several reasons why the sugar, industry in Australia cannot be placed on the level of other industries, one being the national ideal of a White Australia. If the opponents of the sugar industry do not, for any reason, support that ideal, it is advisable for them to come into the open and to have the courage to say so without any pretence. When the citizens of Australia decided to federate, all political parties were in agreement in regard to the White Australia policy. To consummate that great ideal, it was necessary to dispense with all the coloured labour that was then engaged on the sugar-fields in Queensland, and as a result the kanakas were returned to their various islands in the Pacific. The Commonwealth Government decided that only white men should be employed, and that they should be paid white men’s wages and be given white men’s conditions. Under those circumstances, how can the price of sugar in Australia to-day be contrasted with the price in Java or any other part of the world?
The only question to be considered is whether the price of sugar in Australia is fair and reasonable, having in mind the conditions imposed by the Commonwealth. Some honorable members, among them the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy), and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), endeavoured to compare the sugar industry with the mining industry at Gympie and Charters Towers, and with maize-growing and dairy-farming in Northern Queensland, saying that, if those industries could be carried on in the Northern Queensland climate by white labour, without special protection, so could the sugar industry. My answer to them is that the people of Australia, through their Parliament, have said that the national ideal should be a White Australia, and have imposedsuch conditions on the sugar industry as to make it possible for the industry to he carried on with white labour. Until that policy is varied, the people of the other States must submit to some increase in the price of sugar. It is not a question of climatic conditions, but one of national policy. Comparisons are constantly being made between the price of sugar in Java and in Australia, but in Java the workers are paid10d. to1s. a day for twelve hours, and women and children work in the fields for 4d. and 5d. a day. I should be sorry to think that there is any large section of people in Australia who would be prepared to have Australia cursed with the colour problem which exists in the United States of America. That country would gladly pay ten times the mythical £7,000.000 per annum which the embargo is said to be costing the Australian consumer of sugar if she could boast to the world that she was 100 per cent. white.
The royal commission which inquired into the sugar industry in 1912 commented upon the national aspect of the industry as follows : -
While the social aspect of the sugar industry is more important than the industrial, the political aspect is perhaps more important than either. Unsettled areas in the tropical parts of Australia are not only a source of strategic weakness; they constitute a positive temptation to Asiatic invasion, and may give to the White Australia policy a complexion which must inevitably weaken the claims of Australia to external support. As we have already remarked, the ultimate, and, in our opinion, the effective justification of the protection of the sugar industry lies beyond questions of industryor wealth production. It must be sought in the very existenceof Australia as a nation.
It seems to me that the importance of the sugar industry is not sufficiently recognized by the people of the southern States. It is not realized that there are more than 8,000 sugar-producing farms and 35 sugar mills in Queensland and New South Wales. The annual production of the industry is valued at over £10,000,000, and, directly and indirectly, the industry provides employment for 30,000 persons, who receive £6,000,000 a year in wages. Many coastal cities and towns are wholly or partly dependent upon the sugar industry, which represents fixed assets valued at £50,000,000. The population supported by the industry furnishes an extensive and lucrative market for manufactured goods of every description made up in the southern States. The report of the committee, which has completed an exhaustive inquiry, shows that there is no inefficiency in the sugar industry, and that there has been no exploitation of the public in regard to the price of the manufactured article. It is true that the members of the committee disagreed on minor points, but the Government has in my opinion, acted wisely in extending the embargo for a further five years. The majority report has placed it on record that the industry has not abused the protection given by this Parliament, and that the embargo system is the best means of ensuring a stable price to the growers, and an adequate return to the tens of thousands of persons otherwise engaged in sugar production.
Ithas been demonstrated that the absence of competition has not impaired efficiency in production, because, owing tothe careful selection of cane,and the use of up-to-date manufacturing machinery, Queensland holds the record of producing a ton of sugar froma smaller quantity of cane than does any other cane suger-producing country in the world. According to the report, the quantityof cane required to produce one ton of sugar in Natal is 10.06 tons; Java, 8.72 tons of cane; Philippine Islands, 8.56 tons; Hawaii, 8.50tons; and Queensland, 6.19 tonsto produce one tonof sugar of 94 net titre. The general efficiency ofthe industry has been recognized by visitors from other countries, and on page 41 of the report the following tribute appears.: -
Mr. L. D. Larsen, Manager of theKilanea Plantation, Hawaii,recently inspectedthe Queensland sugar districts andplaced on record,inter alia, -
I was rewarded by finding several inter- esting developments for labour economy. The most outstanding of these wereas follows: -
Coming from a man who understands bow sugar should be produced, that constitutes a very valuable tribute. It is of importance that the people of Australia, who are required to pay a higher price for sugar than it could be imported for, should have an assurance that the industry is being efficiently conducted. I maintain that the present Government is definitely committed to an extension of the present embargo. At the last general election the Prime Minister made a clear statement to that effect. On the 3rd December, 1929, I called the attention of the Prime Minister to a statement of the present member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) who, during a by-election, was reported to have made this statement -
The fruit industry certainly should be protected. They were paying more for their sugar, and now there was a strong Government in power,, independent of Queensland votes in the House,there was agood chance of getting thesugur bountyreviewed or eliminated.
I asked the Prime Minister whetherhe had seen the statement, -and, if so, whether he had any comment to make on it. The reply of the Prime Minister may be found on page 575 of Hansard ofthat year, and was as follows: -
I have not seen the passagequoted by the honorable member,but on more than one occasion during the general election campaign I wasaskedin Tasmaniawhether I was in favour of lifting theembargo on -the importation of sugar so that cheaper supplies might be available to the people. I answered very definitelyin the negative,saying that I was not prepared to submitthe sugar-growersof Australiawho employ white labour to the competition of sugar grown overseas by black labour.
The Prime Minister,therefore, must regard himself asbeing committed to a renewal of the presentembargo.
I do not think that anybody cancomplainthat the industry has notbeensufficiently investigated. During the last twenty years there havebeen no fewer than four Commonwealthroyal commissions,and threeinvestigations at the direction of StateGovernments. In 1910 there was appointed !by the State Government of Queensland a royal commission of which Dr.. Maxwell was chairman. In 1912 there was a Commonwealth royal commission presided over by the Honorable Sir J. H. Gordon; and in 1915 a royal commission, presided over by Mr. L W. Jackson, Police Magistrate, investigated the Mackay sugar lands. In 1916 there was a State inquiry into the position of the sugar industry, and the wisdom of extending and adding to the number of sugar mills. That was presided over by Mr. J. J. Short. In 1920 the industry was again investigated by a Commonwealth royal commission of which Mr. A.B. Piddington, K.C., was chairman ; and in 1922 a further inquiry was held by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts under the chairmanship of the Honorable J. M. Fowler. Finally, in 1931, another Commonwealth royal commission, presided over by Mr. J. Gunn, investigated the industry. It is comforting to those /who support the industry to know that all these investigations have been favorable to the continuance of the industry under the present conditions.
– Do they support the present conduct of the industry as regards the cost of production?
– The various reports show that the conduct of the industry in field and factory leaves little, if anything, to be desired.
– What about the differences between the minority and majority reports we have now before us?
– The fact that Queeusland, under white-labour conditions, can produce 1 ton of sugar from less cane than can any other sugar-producing country, proves that the industry is undoubtedly efficient so far as farming and manufacturing processes are concerned.
– My question bears on the reliability of the evidence given.
– The existence of majority and minority reports shows that there was some differences of opinion among members of the committee; but the reports do not show that there was disagreement on the main issues. No sound arguments have been advanced during this debate to disprove the findings of the committee. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition this afternoon made an interesting and analytical speech on the subject, but he was in error, I think, in saying that the price of sugar land in North Queensland was unduly high. I have lived in New South Wales for many years, and I know of dairy lands under grass which have sold for higher prices than have been received for North Queensland sugar lands. It must be remembered that the Queensland sugargrowing lands were covered with very heavy timber and thick vine scrub so that the cost of clearing was heavy. As ploughing, planting of the cane, the erection of fences, and other necessary improvements have to be undertaken, I am rather surprised that the committee has been able to fix the average value of the land at as low as £29 per acre for improved plantations under crop.
Coming to the question of alien penetration, for many years statements have been made in the southern parts of the Commonwealth to the effect that there is a great danger of the members of certain alien races eventually assuming control of the sugar industry, but as a result of a thorough investigation conducted by the committee it has been found that such a contention is entirely wrong. It is true that in certain districts there is a larger proportion of foreigners than in others; but as the average for the whole of the sugar districts is less than 2 per cent., there is no danger under existing conditions of the industry coming under the control of foreigners. When visiting the far north of Queensland two years ago, I made inquiries from police officers, storekeepers, and the president of a labour union as to the general character of the Italians working in the sugar districts, and found that they have a good reputation. I was informed that they are honest, good workers, are absolutely fair in their dealings with other men, and, generally speaking, respect the laws of our Commonwealth. If that is true, and I believe it is, they are desirable persons to be resident in that part of Australia. The fact that the bogey of excessive alien penetration has been disposed of, will, I believe, restore a certain amount of confidence in the minds of some people in the southern States.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred to the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and quoted certain figures with respect to its profits within and outside the Commonwealth. It was not the responsibility of the committee to investigate the operations of the company outside Australia, and the fact that it found that the profits of the company are not excessive should be sufficient to satisfy the honorable member.
– Does the honorable member think that the company’s representative would admit that it was making excessive profits?
– No. The members of the committee were business men, who, like the honorable member for East Sydney were able to analyse the company’s financial position, and after doing so, decided that the company’s profits, so far as their operations in Queensland sugar are concerned, were not excessive.
Certain persons in the southern States speak of the sugar barons of Queenslaud, but an investigation into the position of the cane-growers shows that the profits they derive are very moderate. As the committee states that there is only a return of 2 per cent, after allowing for labour and depreciation costs, I cannot imagine how any one can. claim that the sugar-growers of Queensland and New South Wales are making undue profits.
The fruit-growers and the canning industry have asked for sympathy because of the fact that they have to use Queensland sugar in their manufactures. I have seen a statement “which I do not think has been contradicted to the effect that even if Java sugar could be imported into Australia, the fruit-growers and canners would still find it necessary to use Queensland sugar, because of its superior quality. I have a copy of a letter written by a Mr. MacRobertson, who, I presume is the person controlling extensive confectionery interests, in which he has something to say concerning the complaint of the fruitgrowers that they are paying too much for their sugar. In that respect I have some figures to show that although sugar has increased in price since 1914 to the extent of 60 per cent, the retail price of jam during the same period has increased by 73 per cent. These figures also show that, although the duty on sugar is £9 6s. 8d. a ton, the duty on jam is £28 a ton. The duty on canned fruits approximates £42 a ton, which undoubtedly is as great a measure of protection as the present embargo on sugar.
– In view of the embargo, the honorable member does not seriously speak of the duty of £9 6s. 8d. a ton on sugar?
– That is the rate which appears in the customs tariff; but of course the embargo renders imposition of a duty unnecessary. On the 23rd of February Mr. MacRobertson said -
With regard to the reference in the Austraiian Motorist about sugar and the fruitgrower, I would point out that the statements contained therein are not in accordance with fact. Jam manufacturers and canners, as well as all other manufacturers, are able to buy their sugar for use in export commodities at tlie world’s parity, i.e., the same price as American or European manufacturers pay for their sugar plus freight and charges to Australia. Local manufacturers are even in a better position, as they do not have to bear exchange, which, as you are aware, is high at the present moment. The following figures will prove this: -
This shows thu price of sugar at the other end of the world, plus freight and insurance, and an additional charge of 1 per cent, for loss in transit. In fact, manufacturers are in a better position than if they were permitted to import the sugar themselves, as necessarily there would be other small charges, which are not taken into account by the Sugar Board in fixing the rebate to manufacturers.
Another fact that must not bc overlooked is that for the last six years fruit processors have had a rebate over all other manufacturers of £6 5s. Id. per ton, which is an advantage between £170,000 to £200,000 per annum.
There are further comments in the letter on the subject which I shall not quote, since I think I have read sufficient to show that the fruit-growers have not much to complain of.
Reference has been made to overproduction, but it is impossible to control nature. The output of our secondary industries can be regulated, but in primary production the farmers cultivate the soil, and plant the seed, but the crop which they obtain depends upon the season. During recent years there has been overproduction, but any additional expense involved on that account has been met by the growers. Sugar is sold at a fixed price in Australia; but the surplus production is sold in the markets of the world, and the loss is necessarily borne by the growers. There is over-production of many commodities, including wheat, but that does not mean that there is an excess of them in the world. . It is estimated that throughout the civilized world there are 20,000,000 unemployed, who, if they were in work, would be able to purchase bread, and thus absorb the surplus wheat.
– The surplus of wheat was not brought about by governmental inter- ference, as was the surplus production of the sugar industry.
– The honorable member must consider this industry from a Commonwealth point of view. This Parliament forced the sugar-growers of Queensland to apply white-labour conditions to their industry, and until the people of Australia are prepared to set’ aside the White Australia ideal, they must submit to the conditions now governing sugar production.
– There was no excuse ‘ for the Hughes Government’s action in raising the price of sugar by £6 a ton.
– I invite the honorable member to show what economies could be effected which would enable sugar to be sold at a cheaper price. The Investigation Committee has collected evidence regarding the operations of the growers, the millers, the refiners and the field-workers. Is the honorable member prepared to say that any of those people are receiving too great a reward for the services performed?
– Can the honorable member say why the cane-grower, knowing that the surplus production must be sold at a loss, continues to extend the area under cultivation?
– There are 8,000 canegrowers in the industry and seasonal conditions might easily account for the difference between a surplus and a shortage. An endeavour has been made to restrict the area under cultivation, because the loss in marketing the surplus falls on the growers as a whole. The real remedy for over-production in all our primary industries is the reduction of costs. For several years the world’s price of sugar has been very low, but we never know when it may be higher than in Australia. In any case, the fact that Australians are assured of regular supplies at stated prices is a great advantage to them. They have also the knowledge that the sugar industry makes possible the occupation by a virile population of the vulnerable north of Australia.
The report of the Sugar Investigation Committee includes a comparison of retail prices and the basic wage in the years 1911 and 1930. From it I have extracted the following figures: -
In that table honorable members will see that the price of sugar has increased less than any other commodity except butter.
The House may confidently approve of the action of the Government in extending the embargo. Very large interests in Queensland are at stake, and as the Commonwealth Parliament has imposed upon the sugar industry conditions which make effective protection necessary, I believe the majority of members will support the proposed agreement. [.Quorum formed.]
– I am sorry that the long-suffering taxpayers could not be present to witness the sparse attendance in this chamber during the last couple of hours. This House is no longer the scene of political deliberations ; it is all too evident that the debates here are sham fights, and that the real decisions are reached in the party rooms. In those circumstances one feels that it is hardly worth while to prepare a speech for delivery in the House. However, Hansard circulates far and wide, and statements have been made to which I wish to reply. Of course, I recognize that the numbers are up. Although some Government supporters were I know opposed to the sugar embargo, their silence in this debate indicates that party pressure has been brought to bear upon them. Therefore, the result of the division to be taken on the amendment is a foregone conclusion.
The voluminous reports submitted by the Sugar Investigation Committee have left upon my mind several impressions. The first is that those who signed the majority report dressed the sugar window as well as it possibly could be dressed. That report to me appears to be biased; throughout it bears evidence that a section of the committee set out upon their investigations with the intention to give support to the sugar industry. The recommendation of a further payment of £110,000 to the fruit-growers, of whom I am one of the representatives, does not blind me to the partisan character of the report. My second impression is that the fruit-growers’ representative upon the committee was influenced to side with the Queensland nominees by the offer of an additional sum to the jam-making and fruit-canning industries. His vote was necessary to those who signed the majority report, and I regret that he was influenced to side with them by the consideration I have mentioned. I - also admit that I cannot now oppose the embargo with the warmth with which I would have opposed it had I not read the reports. I confess that I entertained some bias against the sugar industry of Queensland when I commenced to read them. For a long time previously I had held the opinion that Queensland is a pampered! State. I approached the consideration of the reports not altogether with an open mind ; but, having read them, I am not so opposed to the embargo as I was previously.
Another impression that I have gained from the reading of the reports is that the Government has entirely ignored the minority report, excepting to the extent of imposing the embargo. The minority report is signed by those members of the committee who are not directly interested in the sugar industry, with the possible exception that one of them is employed by a firm of confectionery manufacturers in Melbourne.
– With the exception of two members, all the committee were interested in the industry. It was, in fact, a hand-picked committee.
– I am inclined to agree with the honorable member. It is unfortunate that the report of the only two members of the’ committee, who were not directly interested in the industry, appears to have been largely ignored by the Cabinet.
The reading of the reports gave me another impression which it is, perhaps well that I gained. That impression is that it is unwise to have much govern mental interference in economics. Paragraph 22 of the majority report states -
Shortly after the receipt of the royal commission’s report, the then Prime Minister, the Right Honorable W. M. Hughes, announced the Government’s decision to enter into a further sugar agreement for a period of three years from 1st July, 1920, whereunder the raw sugar price was increased from £21 to £30 Cs. Sd. per ton.
I find there the cause of the surplus sugar production in Queensland, and also the reason why consumers have to pay more for their sugar than they should pay. I admit that when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) increased the price of sugar by nearly £10 a ton the Queensland sugar growers were not supplying the whole of the needs of the Australian market; but in overdoing the granting of assistance the right honorable gentleman provided us with an illustration of the disastrous results which sometimes follow government interference in business. Honorable members know the views that I have held previously about governments engaging in business undertakings, and so I repeat that the reading of the report has, in that respect, done me good,
I also gained the impression from reading the reports that there was too great an alien penetration into the most vulnerable part of Queeusland. In saying that, I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not raising any racial prejudices. Those who know the stand I took in years that have passed with regard to Australians of German origin will not accuse me of despising the people of other nations.
– Or of rejecting their votes.
– The vote of a GermanAustralian is as valuable to me as is that of a British- Australian. I value it very much. It is not because the alien penetration is of Italian or Grecian origin that I protest against it; but no » one can deny that No. 1 district, in which the alien penetration has proceeded to the greatest extent, is the most vulnerable part of Queensland. Honorable members may say that, in the event of an attack on Australia by an Asiatic nation, the Italian or other foreigners now residing in Australia would be as valuable as
Australians, but we never know who are likely to be our opponents or our allies in times of war.
– We do not know that here.
– I agree with the honorable member. The evidence that we have of members of the section which supports Mr. Lang and those who support the Scullin Ministry sometimes almost kissing one another, and at other times almost kicking one another, is sufficient to show that we do not know who might be our allies, or our foes, in any given circumstances. The longer the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) remains a member of this Parliament the more convinced he will be that what I have said is true. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) claims that there is no alien penetration at all. I shall appeal to the minority report in this matter. On page 27 of that report I find the following statement: -
The gravamen of the complaints placed before the committee would appear to be based upon the following premises: -
The embargo and the general shelter accorded the sugar industry under the agreements have been designed to-
Foster a tropical industry in Australia with the employment of native-born white labour and in accordance with the generally accepted standards of living and social conditions in the Commonwealth .
ii ) Achieve a measure of security in the far north by the establishment of settled communities, which would be in the nature of strategic outposts from the point of view of defence.
That the Australian nation, which pays a high price for its sugar in furtherance of such a policy, is being deprived of the contemplated benefits inasmuch as -
Aliens predominate in the industry and receive the profits therefrom to the exclusion of the native- born Australian.
Such alien penetration detracts from the strategic value envisaged in the establishment of the settlements.
I desire to refer to the No. 1 district. [Quorum formed.] The percentage of wholly foreign employees in the sugar industry in No. 1 district is 23.4, while that of the naturalized subjects employed in the same district is 20. That means that 43.4 per cent. of the employees in the industry in that district are neither British nor Australian born. The thing that most impressed me when reading the report was, not so much the comparison as between foreign and British-born employees, as the noticeably few Australianborn who are engaged in the industry in the No. 1 district, admittedly the most vulnerable from a defence point of view. Without desiring to incorporate in Hansard the complete statement regarding aliens engaged in the sugar industry, I shall place on record the number of those in the No. 1 district who are Australian, foreign born, and naturalized British subjects. They are as under : -
I hope honorable members are taking notice. This is the industry that Australian people are supporting in order to strengthen the defence of this country, and to give employment to our citizens.
– The honorable member is selecting only one district. Let him deal with the whole State.
– I stated that I have selected the most vulnerable district in Queensland from a defence point of view. The Minister knows very well that in the southern district there are many other occupations besides the sugar industry to absorb people, but that in the No. 1 district we rely upon the sugar industry to sustain a “ white “ population. By totalling the figures that I have quoted, it will be found that the statement by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), that there is no foreign penetration in the north of Queensland, is absolutely incorrect. As this report indicates, there is a moral obligation on the part of the industry to be fair with Australianborn citizens and taxpayers.
I have a circular which I received when a member of the Labour party, a copy of which was sent to every other member of that party. I admit that it is dated the 20th January, 1930, but that fact does not detract from its effectiveness.
– By whom is it signed?
– It bears no signature, but it comes from the secretary of the Ayr branch of the Australian Labour Party. As I read it honorable members will come to the conclusion that the writer knew what he was talking about. It reads -
On the 27th October last the attached resolutions were passed and carried by the Ayr branch of the Australian Labour Party, and these resolutions have been endorsed by the Mossman, Gordonvale, Cairns, South Johnstone, Townsville, Home Hill, Collinsville, and Mackay branches of the Australian Labour Party, and letters in support thereof have been forwarded to the Acting Minister for Customs, through the member for Herbert, Mr. G. W. Martens.
I shall not read the complaint that is made about the cutting of wages, as I wish to confine myself to the one issue. The circular continues -
In regard to the third resolution, this matter is one of grave importance. At the present time it is a general practice for farmers to give preference to foreigners in the cultivation of their sugar cane and’ Britishers are being driven out of the industry. From the Burdekin to the Mossman districts there would not be 15 per cent. of the workers engaged in the cultivation of sugar who would bo British. This means that the foreigners are receiving by far the greatest amount of the wages distributed in the industry in the area. No doubt in the harvesting of cane more Britishers would be employed, but that was due to the presence of a clause in the sugar award, which gave preference of cane-cutting to men who cut cane the previous year in a district. This clause tended to check any influx of foreigners into a district, but this clause has now been abolished by the Peace in Industry Bill recently passed by the Moore Government. So that in future it is reasonable to expect that the farmers who gave preference to foreigners in the cultivation of their crop will also give preference to thorn in the harvesting of their crop.
The main idea in granting assistance to the sugar industry is to enable Britishers to be employed at Australian standards of living. At present this is not being done. Now the sugar embargo is used to inflate land values, and farms are sold at enormous prices. The farmer gives preference to the foreigner in the sale of his farm as the foreigner is prepared to pay a higher rate of interest than the Britisher, and in addition, they are able to purchase at a low deposit. This means that with a high rate of interest and low deposits the interest payments are high and the foreign farmers have great difficulty at times in meeting those payments. Consequently the farms, except in isolated cases, will never become the property of the foreigners. This is a scientific way of exploiting the foreigner. In order then to make a little extra out of the crop the foreign farmer employs some of his own countrymen at less rates of wages than the award rate of wages paid to Britishers. This means that the British worker is unable to compete with the foreign worker. This state of affairs will eventually have a detrimental effect on the British standard of living in North Queensland.
At present in the Ayr district there are about 700 British workers with homes, and these men, unless they can receive a reasonable amount of work, will have to sell their homes and seek work in another industry.
If these resolutions cannot be given effect under the sugar embargo then we would suggest that the Federal Labour Party should consider the advisability of reverting back to the Excise and Bounty Act, whereby the farmer who employs none other than British workers will receive a bounty and those farmers who give preference to foreigners will have to accept a lower rate of payment for their crops. This bounty could be paid in addition to a protective duty.
That is the report by the secretary of a Labour committee in the No. 1 District of Queensland, on the danger of alien penetration. I cannot vouch for the accuracy or otherwise of this document, but it was sent to me as a Labour member, and I hardly think that the secretary of a local Labour committee would send to Labour colleagues evidence which he did not believe to be correct. I think, however, that I have said enough to prove that there is a real clanger of alien penetration, when among the cane-cutters in No. 1 District, this vulnerable part of Queensland, there are only thirteen Australianborn compared with 442 naturalized British subjects and 1,389 persons wholly foreign. It is all very well for the sugar committee to brush these figures aside. That it has done so merely shows the committee’s bias in the matter.
Recently the Government, was asked to impose a sales tax on flour in order to assist the wheat-growers, but, although there are representatives of the wheatgrowing districts in the Government, that question has not yet been touched. If it is right to tax the consumer to the extent of about £4,000,000 a. year in order to keep one primary industry going, it is equally right for the Government to come to the assistance of the wheat-growing industry by a sales tax on flour.
– I call attention to the state of the House.
– It is not yet time to do so.
– My remarks must be getting home when honorable members find it necessary to try to prevent me from speaking.I have not the time now to deal with the treatment of the wheat industry as I should like to do. In the matter of the formation of a proposed committee to disburse £315,000 to various sections of the fruit industry, I trust that the committee will not be dominated by Victoria, and that other States will have representatives on it. The majority report mentions the benefit that southern States have derived from the sale of manufactured goods in Northern Queensland. I want briefly to say that that does not apply to Western Australia or South Australia. Neither of those States is deriving any benefit from the sugar industry. On the contrary each is penalized by embargoes not only on sugar, but also on other things. There is an embargo on peanuts, and, I believe, on canary seed. You, Mr. Speaker, know the effect of high duties on the banana trade in Adelaide. By pampering an industry in a pampered State and neglecting to impose a sales tax on flour to aid the wheat industry the Government is not playing the game.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Scullin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On several occasions I have endeavoured, per medium of questions asked of the Attorney-General (Mr. Brennan), to ascertain when the Government intend to dispose of the case of Mr. Jacob Johnson.
– It is a bit old.
– It is never too late to right a wrong. Honorable members opposite have allowed their personal spleen to prejudice them against this man, because he was an active member of a trade union. There is no disguising the fact that Mr. Jacob Johnson has been the victim of a conspiracy. A Government officer and Crown witnesses conspired to bring about his conviction, because he was taking an active part in a trade union. Concerning this case I intend to quote certain statements made in 1929 by honorable members who were then in Opposition, but are now members of the Government. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) said -
It involves more than a suggestion of corrupt practices, and holds an implication of something crooked in the administration of justice under the Commonwealth Government. If such implications can be drawn from these documents, the Government should not rest until the whole matter has been investigated.
Later, he said -
I think, however, that the charges should he taken ouside the routine of a departmental inquiry, and an investigation held in the most public way by a royal commission, or some other competent authority, into the truth or otherwise of the allegations.
Most honorable members know the history of this case. They know that a Crown witness named Andresen made a sworn affidavit that he had given certain false evidence in order to secure a conviction. Because of this fact the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), who is now Attorney-General, criticized the Attorney-General of the day because he would not take steps to have a complete inquiry made into the case. But for some unknown reason the honorable gentleman, in spite of that criticism, is not now prepared to place the full facts before the House. The honorable member said in 1929-
If Johnson had been tried on this charge before a jury of his countrymen, presumably honest men, and proof were adduced that one witness for the prosecution was a liar and had been employed to fake evidence, the case against the accused would have broken down, and he would have been instantly acquitted.
Later, the honorable gentleman said -
In addition to the facts that are proven, there are suspicious circumstances. One is that the ship-owners, who were immensely interested in securing the conviction of Johnson, are now enthusiastic about getting Andresen out of the country, and offered him a free passage to another dominion.
Later, he said -
The requirements of urgency can be satisfied only by testing out at once the new evidence* that is now available. Should this testimony be sufficient to prove that Johnson was unfairly convicted, then, if he cannot bo retried ho will be entitled to compensation; at least some declaration should bc made that his conviction was secured upon insufficient and perjured evidence.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), who is now Prime Minister, said on the same occasion -
I suggest to the Attorney-General that he cannot satisfy the public of Australia, and put their minds at rest iu respect of this case, unless an inquiry of a public character is instituted.
The right honorable gentleman, and the honorable member for Dalley, and the honorable member for Batman are now members of the Government, and they could give effect to their opinions of 1929 if they desired to do so. In certain correspondence which has passed between Mr. Jacob Johnson and the Attorney-General the latter stated -
I have read carefully my observations in Ilansard, to which you have referred me, and those of other members, urging full inquiry. That inquiry has been faithfully made to the best of the Government’s ability.
No inquiry has been made of the nature asked for iu 1929 by the honorable member for Batman. At that time the honorable gentleman desired the fullest possible public investigation into certain allegations in regard to the manner in which, the conviction of Mr. Johnson had been obtained.
The most serious aspect of this whole case is that during the absence of the Attorney-General overseas, an inquiry was made into this case by a Mr. Yates, under the direction of the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Senator Daly). But although evidence is available that the inquiry was terminated and a finding made, for some unknown reason the Government is not prepared to give publicity to the finding. It is known that the finding was discussed by Cabinet, and that it decided that a certain sum of money should be paid to Mr. Johnson to compensate him for the injustice which he had suffered. On the return of the Attorney-General from abroad that decision of Cabinet was reversed for some reason which the Government is not prepared to make public. In addition to that, many important documents which came before Mr. Yates during his inquiry are now missing from the file, and the
Government has stated that it is unable to locate them. It is a serious thing if documents made available to a government inquiry officer, and placed on government files, are missing when they are required, especially in such a case as this, where a man has been sent to gaol on false evidence. This is a most astounding happening, and it merits the closest investigation. If the documents have been taken from the file, some one should be brought to book for it. Only a few weeks ago certain action was taken in this House against a pressman because some documents were missing from a government file. In the case of Mr. Jacob Johnson, many documents are missing ; but the Government is unwilling to take any action in the matter. I ask the Attorney-General whether he will inform honorable members where the documents are, because they belong to Mr. Johnson. In reply to a request for the return of the documents, the AttorneyGeneral wrote to Mr. Johnson as follows : -
This department is looking into the matter to see which documents, if any, should be returned to you.
I point out that the documents were the ‘ property of Mr. Johnson.
I want the Government to do the fair thing by this man, who has been victimized, particularly in view of the fact that the Treasurer, Prime Minister, and Attorney-General joined in 1929, when they were in Opposition, in roundly condemning the government of the day for not taking action to remedy the injustice that had been done. I hope that the Government will bring this matter to finality, and lay upon the table of the House all the documents in regard to the case.
– About a week ago, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, I asked the Minister for Defence (Mr. Chifley) to make available for the use of the unemployed and homeless men of the town, the drill hall at Camperdown, which, I said, was not being used. The Minister informed me that the hall was being used by the light horse. I sent a telegram to the person who informed me that the hall was not being used to inquire whether it was in use or not. My telegram read -
Minister states light horse uses drill hall; is this accurate Y Reply paid.
The reply which I received read as follows : -
Yos; hall used live or six times half-yearly; fifteen or twenty light horse.
I am sorry that I said the hall was not being used. When I made that statement an honorable member opposite said that some one had “sold me a pup.” However, I point out to the Minister that there are about 42 homeless men in this town, who will have to sleep out in the open if they cannot have the use of the drill hall. The fact that the hall is being used five or six times in a half-year by a small detachment of light horse men, whose head-quarters are at Warrnambool, should not be a sufficient reason for debarring homeless people from making use of it. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter, and lend his aid to an unemployment committee which is waging an intense struggle for these people in this district. Surely it is possible to make some arrangement for the housing of these men, especially in view of tin guarantee which has been given by the Hampden Shire Council, and influential citizens, that the building will be returned to the department in good order and condition.
– I endorse the remarks of the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch). The Defence Department, I am convinced, has always been antagonistic to any proposal’ to accommodate the unemployed in any of the departmental buildings. Some years ago I approached Mr. Bruce, when he was Prime Minister, on behalf of the unemployed in Melbourne. Within 24 hours a drill hall was placed at their disposal, and in 36 hours the men were in it. The Defence Department, however, took every precaution to prevent the then Prime Minister from making a hall available during the following winter. I appeal to the Government, on behalf of the large numbers of unemployed, including women and children, who are homeless and in great distress. There has been so much humbug about their treatment by departmental authorities that I am getting damned sick of it.
– Order !
– A year or two ago the department complained that blankets and mattresses which I had secured for the use of the unemployed were vermininfested when returned. That was an absolute lie. I sent those blankets and mattresses to that splendid institution, the Melbourne Hospital, and had them fumigated and cleansed, free of charge. The Defence Department is up against the unemployed .every time. I know ‘of no reason why the drill halls should not be thrown open to the unemployed during this winter. If that were done the buildings would be put to a far better use than for the training of men in the art of war, which, after all, is merely the art of murder. I should like to see the tariff, which this House is now debating, passed without further delay and the time of Parliament given over to the consideration of proposals for the relief of our unemployed. If I were 25 years of age, instead of 75, I should be leading them, as I did for 30 years, and I can assure honorable members that our voice would be heard in the laud. Dr. Robertson, the head of the Victorian Health Department, and the medical officer for the City of Melbourne, both declare that the stamina of thousands of women and children in Victoria is being destroyed because they are undernourished. The unemployment problem is the greatest trouble that confronts Australia at this time. During the Avar there were no unemployed.
– And there was plenty of money.
– There was no shortage of money for war purposes, and I am certain that, if war were declared tomorrow, the banks would readily make credits available to carry on hostilities. I thank the honorable member for Corangamite for bringing this matter up tonight. The unemployed, I am sure, will appreciate his efforts on their behalf.
– I accept the explanation which has just been offered by the honorable member for Corangamite concerning the Camperdown drill hall which, he suggested a night or two ago, should be placed at the disposal of the local unemployed. It is, as I have stated, being used for departmental purposes. Probably, the local citizens, when they assured the honorable member that it was not being used, were not acquainted with all the facts. It is being used, though not continuously, for the training of light horse, and a certain quantity of stores is kept there. In view of the fact that the local municipal council is prepared to accept the responsibility for its proper control, it may be possible to make some arrangements for its use, but it is essential that proper arrangements be made to ensure the health of the occupants by providing the necessary sanitary and other conveniences. No one knows better than the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) that if a number of people were accommodated in these buildings without adequate provision of the nature mentioned it would be a menace to the community. The honorable gentleman mentioned that some years ago Mr. Bruce, when Prime Minister, made a drill hall available for the unemployed. This Government,I remind him, has made three military camps available- one each in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. They will accommodate thousands of unemployed. I shall look into the matter which has been raised by the honorable member for Corangamite, and let him know the decision as soon as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 May 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310521_reps_12_129/>.