15th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. J. Bell) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to.
That the House, atits rising, adjourn until 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.
– In view of the repeated statements by the Minister for the Navy that nothing but the maximum war effort on the part of Australia will do, will he tell the House why no weekend shift is being worked at Cockatoo Island Dockyard where various vessels for the Defence Department are under construction? In view of the urgent need for these vessels, will he Bee that this establishment puts forward its maximum effort until the vessels have been completed ?
– I shall do my best.
– Is it the intention of the Minister for Commerce to call a conference of Ministers of Agriculture and representatives of the fruit-growers on the 24th June in order to discuss the disposal of the 1941 apple and pear crop? If so, can he say how many State Ministers have advised that they will be agreeable to attend such a conference, and whether any State Minister has forwarded suggestions as to the disposal of the crop ? Generally, will he explain the. present position ? .
– I have received no information from State Ministers in relation to the conference which will take place on the 24th June.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to press reports of the commendable action of returned soldiers in forming a so-called Sixth Column for the purpose of assisting the Government against Fifth Column activities? If so, is the Government prepared to accept this loyal offer of assistance?
– I have seen some reference in the newspapers to the formation of a Sixth Column. The matter is now engaging the attention of Cabinet.
Mr.ROSEVEAR.- Has the Prime Minister seen the grave charges levelled by the Sunday Telegraph yesterday against the Department of Supply and Development and the Minister controlling it? If so, and assuming that the charges are substantially correct, what does he propose to do with the Minister; otherwise, what does he propose to do with the Sunday Telegraph?
– I have been fully occupied and have not seen the publication referred to.
Mr.ROSEVEAR. - As the Prime Minister has not seen the report, I now ask the Minister for Supply and Development whether he has seen the charges levelled against his department by the Sunday Telegraph, and, if so, what reply he has to offer?
– Yes ; I did see the report in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph. I also saw what the Minister said about the Sunday Telegraph a few days ago. I have no doubt that there is a close relationship between the two reports.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information to give to the House relating to a broadcast announcement on Saturday that a
Japanese goodwill mission was atRome, and that a reciprocal mission was being sent to Japan?
– I have no knowledge of the reported broadcast, nor have I any knowledge of the alleged facts.
– In view of the urgent need for giving to Great Britain the maximum assistance possible in connexion with the supply of pilots and aircraft, can the Minister for Air say whether there is any likelihood of the Empire air training scheme being recast ?
– The Government is at present discussing with the Government of the United Kingdom various aspects of the Empire air training scheme. Any assistance that Australia can give will be given.
– Will the Prime Minister in the interests of the safety of Australia take steps to co-ordinate the services of the Intelligence Department and the Commonwealth Investigation Branch?
– The two departments referred to by the honorable gentleman are already working in close collaboration. However, the whole question of establishing greater co-ordination between these two activities of the Commonwealth is under consideration.
– Will the Government consider making permanent the temporary ban placed on the importation of musical, radio, and dramatic transcripts, in order to give encouragement to their production in Australia and the manufacture of records here?
– I shall convey the honorable member’s request to the Minister concerned, and ask him to furnish a reply.
– Can the Prime Minis ter make a statement as to the accuracy or otherwise of the current rumour that the Government has appointed Sir Keith Murdoch in charge of the censorship?
– I am not aware of any appointment to the censorship, but I shall make inquiries on the subject.
– Recently, the PostmasterGeneral informed me that the 9.15 p.m. broadcast of British Broadcasting Corporation news in Western Australia has been eliminated in order to make way for a more acceptable programme. I now ask him whether he has been advised of the nature of the substituted programme, whether it consists chiefly of routine and ordinary stop-gap musical items and talks on the week’s programme, and why it is that the broadcast from Daventry, which is considered to be the best news item for the people of Australia generally, is not relayed to Western Australia?
– When the honorable member asked a similar question about a fortnight ago, I explained that, on account of the difference in time between Western Australia and the eastern States, the commission had arranged that one of the broadcasts from Daventry should be relayed to Western Australia at a later hour. The news which is given in the eastern States at 9.30 p.m., corresponding with 7.30 p.m. in Western Australia, is now given in Western Australia at a later hour than 7.30 p.m.
– The Daventry programme would ‘be received in Perth at 7.30 p.m., which many people in Western Australia regard as being inconvenient.
– The information obtained from the commission is that it has endeavoured to meet the wishes of thepeople of Western Australia by giving them the best service possible. They are not denied the news that isbroadcast in the eastern States; they merely get it later.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he will be good enough to obtain from the Australian Broadcasting Commission a report on the reasons why the news broadcasts to which I have referred cannot be given to the people of Western Australia at the regular hour?
I should also like a report on the reasons for the alteration of the programme to which I have referred.
– I shall be glad to obtain a report on the subject for the honorable member, both as to the nature of the programmes and the reasons for the variation.
Petrol for Australia
– Seeing that Holland is now linked with the countries in the sterling group, I ask the Minister for Supply and Development whether he thinks that the petrol position of Australia is likely to be materially improved ? Is his department examining the position in view of this changed circumstance ?
– That subject is engaging the attention of the Treasurer at the moment.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether it is the intention of the Government to bring down legislation at once, under its war powers, to make all Communist organizations illegal?
– I anticipate being able to make a statement on that subject within the next 24 hours.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether he is awaiting communications from industrialists in connexion with the establishment of the proposed industrial panel? Has the right honorable gentleman yet sent out communications on the subject?
– I communicated last week with a number of those concerned in the matter. I cannot say, offhand, the nature of the replies received. I anticipate that a conference will be held on Wednesday between the persona concerned and myself.
– I ask the Minister for Air whether it is possible to decentralize somewhat the control of the Air
Force mobile recruiting units? I am informed from Grafton that the mobile recruiting unit operating in that area was to be transferred to Tamworth but that the officer in charge had very little to say in the matter. I am also informed that when Sir Donald Cameron, the Director of Recruiting, was approached, he said that the control was centred in Melbourne and that he had to refer all matters in relation to it to Melbourne. Will the Minister inform me whether it is possible to re-organize these units in such a way as to decentralize the control ?
– Some of the problems in relation to Air Force recruiting are most difficult. First, it is necessary to have experts at hand to interrogate air crew applicants to ascertain whether they have the educational qualifications necessary in order to enable them to take a navigation course and other similar courses. Secondly,it is necessary to have access to certain equipment of a special type to apply eyesight and nerve tests. Medical specialists must always be with each recruiting unit. Thirdly, the units must carry appropriate equipment to apply trade tests to those who desire to enlist as fitters. The minimum staff required at a mobile recruiting centre is fifteen. It was decided, originally, to establish two recruiting units in each of the larger States and one in each of the States with a smaller population, and these were to pass from town to town. ‘ It was thought, at first, that a unit would be able to complete its work in a given town in about a fortnight or three weeks. That has been found to be impracticable. At Grafton, for example, the mobile recruiting unit has been working for two months, and recruits are still coming forward. For these reasons, the original intention has had to be modified. I have given instructions that, in fairness to other towns, consideration shall be given to the sending of these recruiting centres on within a reasonable time. I am also making arrangements to supplement the staffs by the appointment of officers who will go to certain towns to conduct preliminary examinations of recruits who aTc offering their services in order to see that they have some mechanical knowledge as fitters, if they wish to enlist as such, and that they are apparently of the type required, if they wish to enlist as members of air crews. Recruits who are found to be satisfactory will be given railway warrants to proceed to the nearest recruiting centre for complete examination.
– I also asked whether the control of these mobile centres could not be decentralized; that at least the units operating in New South Wales shall be controlled from Sydney, where the State conditions are better known than they can possibly be known in Melbourne ?
– The existing arrangement provides for a Director of Recruiting in Melbourne, who is required to work out State itineraries on the advice of the State Recruiting Committees. Sir Donald Cameron as the chairman of the Queensland Royal Australian Air Force Recruiting Drive Committee suggests itineraries which the Recruiting Directorate takes into consideration when preparing itineraries for the mobile units. There i3 complete co-operation between the Royal Australian Air Force Recruiting Drive Committee and the Directorate of Recruiting.
– Following up a question I asked previously in connexion with the activities of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, or, perhaps, I should say its inactivities-
– Order !
– I desire to ask the Minister for Supply whether he thinks that, in this crisis, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, which was formed to assist in providing the nation’s requirements of petrol, is, through its lack of action-
– Order ! The honorable member is not entitled to make comment of that kind in asking a question.
– I desire to ascertain from the Minister whether I am correctly informed that Australia has lost £84,000,000 as the result of this company not acting in the interests of the nation ?
– I have no knowledge of any such tremendous loss as that stated by the honorable member.
– The loss was incurred over a number of years.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs whether the Government has received any information, later than that published in the Australian newspapers this morning, regarding the position of the Allied armies in Belgium and northern France, particularly in relation to the Channel ports?
– There has not been a sufficient degree of change in the military situation in Flanders in the last 24 hours to justify my making a further review of it in the House to-day. I can only say that the fact that the Allied armies operating in Belgium are still separated from the main French force and that the Germans have been able to deny to the Allies the use of certain Channel ports is a situationwhich must cause very grave concern.
– by leave - I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-1936, it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work, which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and on which the committee has duly reported to the House the result of its investigations, namely, “the erection of a general- hospital at Darwin in accordance wtih the revised plans designed to meet defence and civil requirements “.
Provision has been made for a military section of 30 beds, an isolation ward of 16 beds, a native section of 16 beds, and a section of 50 beds for male and female white patients. This work is extremely urgent, particularly that portion designed to meet the requirements of the defence forces.
– Has this extended proposal been considered by the Public Works Committee?
– That committee, and also the defence and health authorities, have examined the revised plans, and have agreed upon the accommodation to be provided.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Method of Payment to Dependants
– In order to secure a uniform method of making payments to dependants of members of the Royal Australian Air Force will the Minister for Air review the provisions of the imperial act in this respect?
– Those members of the Royal Australian Air Force who enlisted prior to the 6th October, 1939, serve under conditions applying to the regular Air Force personnel, whilst in respect of those who have enlisted since the 6th October, 1939, conditions similar to those applying to the Australian Imperial Force are observed. The whole matter of payment to dependants of members of the Royal Australian Air Force has been under consideration by the Minister for the Army, who is also Minister for Repatriation, and the various steps that are being taken to remove anomalies existing in respect of the Australian Imperial Force will also be taken in respect of the Royal Australian Air Force.
– Will the Minister make a comprehensive statement dealing with the nation’s oil supplies?
Sir FREDERICK STEWART.Contracts have already been let at very satisfactory prices for the supply of oil and petrol in New South Wales and Queensland. Tenders in respect of the other four States are held up. In respect of the latter tenders I hope to be able to announce agreement upon prices which will mean a considerable saving to the taxpayers of Australia.
Mr.ROSEVEAR. - Has the Government made any alternative arrangements to secure supplies of oil and petrol should Australia be cut off from its present source in the Netherlands East Indies as the result of international developments?
– So far as the Government is aware no likelihood exists of any interference with the present source of Australia’s oil supplies.
Enlistments in Country.
– Can the _ Minister for the Army- indicate when it is proposed to inaugurate the scheme designed to facilitate enlistments in the country by utilizing the services of local authorities and returned soldier organizations? What steps have already been taken to make known the provisions of the new scheme in country centres?
– Instructions have already been issued that local authorities, returned soldiers’ associations and similar organizations should be used as far as possible in connexion with the recruiting campaign. Those instructions, perhaps, have not yet reached all centres, but they should do so this week. I do not anticipate any difficulty arising in connexion with the scheme.
– Are the services of local medical officers being utilized in the examination of volunteers?
Debate resumed from the 24th May (vide page 1288), on motion by Mr. Spender. -
That the bill now be read a second time.
.- In my concluding remarks on Friday last, when the debate was interrupted, I dealt very exhaustively with the position of the workers in the sugar industry. The figures I quoted were taken from the reports of the various committees of inquiry which have investigated the industry, and also from the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr. Spender) in his second-reading speech on the measure. Another point arises in connexion with this aspect of the industry. I should not have dealt with it but for the very deliberate statement made by one of the . most ardent advocates of this agreement, that when kanaka labour was abolished Australian and British workers were enabled to get a job in the industry. The fact is that the position in the industry with regard to foreign labour is much worse than that advocate of the agreement is prepared to admit. The Committee of Inquiry appointed in 1920 had this to say in its report -
Strong representations were made by a representative of the Australian Workers’ Union as to the extent to which foreigners, particularly Italians, are penetrating the sugar industry as growers and obtaining a substantial footing.
The Herbert River district, Ingham and Halifax, is said to contain about 90 per cent, of foreigners, mostly Italians. The figures put in for Victoria and the Macnade Mill8 on the Herbert River showed that the number of British cutters employed in 1915 was sixty as against 108 in 1918, while the non-British numbered 358 in 1915 and 332 in 1918.
Then we find that the committee appointed in 1931 reported that an analysis of the statistics for the northern districts showed that, of the total employees engaged in the sugar industry, 6,034, or 56.6 per cent., were British and Australian workers, whilst 43.4 per cent, were naturalized and unnaturalized foreigners. On this point I also refer the House to speeches made in recent years by honorable members from Queensland with regard to the influx of foreign labour into the industry.
We are told that this agreement gives stability to the sugar cane grower. In fact, after listening to the speeches of some of the advocates of- this agreement, one would imagine that a cornucopia had been emptied into the lap of the sugar cane growers. But what are the facts? Despite enormously improved methods of cultivation during the last 25 years, the increase of productivity - an increase of 100 per cent, sugar content an acre was achieved between 1900 and 1929 - improved methods of transport, and a relative lessening of working costs, the inquiry committee appointed in 1931 found that, on the average, the return to growers on their capital outlay for the years from 1925 to 1928 was only 2.02 per cent. The committee was instructed to compare the profits made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited with those made by all others engaged in the Australian sugar industry, but it was this phase of its investigations on which it, in common with all other similar investigations, failed. The committee which inquired into the industry in 1931 dealt with the profits of the sugar producers; but, according to the statement made by the Minister who introduced the bill in the Senate, and also by the Treasurer, who moved the second reading of the bill in this chamber, last year the Commissioner of Taxation in Queensland said that their incomes were so low that 81 per cent, of the incomes of sugar producers in that State were not taxable. That is the position after this so-called beneficent agreement has been in operation for 25 years. At present the workers in the sugar industry are only relatively 2 per cent, better off than they were in 1911.
– That is disputed.
– The honorable member can argue that point with the Minister whose words I am citing, and, as he has all the information at his disposal, the figure should be reliable. In introducing the bill the Minister said that during the period the sugar agreement had been in operation wages had increased by 68 per cent., and that the cost of living had increased by 66 per cent. If the difference between 66 per cent, and 68 per cent, is not 2 per cent., the honorable member for Kennedy had better argue it out with the Minister. During the first 29 years of this century the production of sugar increased by 100 per cent, an acre, and, despite the use of modern facilities for production and distribution, 81 per cent, of those engaged in producing this commodity do not earn a taxable income. It is clear that the primary producer is not benefiting to the degree claimed by those who support this agreement.
Little consideration appears to have been shown to the retailers who are responsible for marketing the great bulk of the sugar produced and sold in Australia. Retailers claim that the margin between the wholesale price at which they purchased the product and the price at which they are compelled to retail it does not permit a reasonable margin of profit. Apparently the authorities overlook the fact that the retailer is an indispensable link between the producer and the consumer. The retailer is squeezed between the price at which he is able to purchase sugar from the wholesaler, and the pressure from the consumers who consider that the retail price is too high. Recently retailers applied for an increase of the retail price, but the application was rejected by the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner. Although it may be said that the retail price is not mentioned in the bill, unfortunately it is inextricably related to the wholesale price charged to the retailer under the agreement. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), in endeavouring to justify the retail prices, said that there are 41 countries in which the retail price of sugar is higher than it is in Australia, and he laid particular emphasis upon Great Britain and Russia, two countries in which the commodity is not produced.
– Beet sugar is produced in Great Britain.
– We are now speaking of cane sugar. In Australia, which is one of the greatest sugar-producing countries in the world, sugar should be sold cheaper than in countries which do not produce sugar. The Treasurer made two very contradictory statements concerning the wholesale price of sugar under this agreement. He said -
The most important feature of the new sugar agreement is that it restricts the wholesale and the manufacturing selling prices of all sugar products required for Australian consumption from the 1st September, 1941, until the 31st August, 1946, to not more than existing prices. In other words, domestic sales of such products now aggregating some 363,000 tons and worth £11,500,000 per annum cannot be increased in price despite any increase in sugar production costs. Such costs have increased since the war began and will probably increase further still. It is obvious, therefore, that the Government has secured a definite benefit for consumers by retaining the present sugar-selling prices for such a long and economically hazardous period. . . . Perhaps I should make it cleaT at tins stage that the sugar agreement is a document which relates only to peace-time conditions; this being the case, the Commonwealth is precluded by its Constitution from fixing in such a document the prices to be charged by retail grocers to domestic consumers. That power is reserved to each B the States.
We are not living under peace conditions at present and I should like to know what assurance we have that the present price will be maintained. The Treasurer said that the agreement relates only to peace-time conditions. His actual words require some explanation. The agreement is to operate from the 1st September, 1941, to the 31st August, 1946, during which time, according to the Treasurer, there will be no increase of price.
– Why the hurry?
– Perhaps the protagonists of the agreement can say why this agreement has been introduced eighteen months before the present agreement expires. I am seeking knowledge. [ have read exhaustively the reports of the various inquiries and the facts that I have stated are not facts concocted by myself, but are extracts from reports and from the Treasurer’s own statement. Therefore, I am on pretty certain ground, and I am not prepared to accept the statements of those honorable gentlemen to whom this sugar agreement may mean votes.
The second advantage of this agreement over other agreements, I understand, is that from the 1st September, 1941, there is to be a discount to the wholesaler, provided he buys sugar to the value of £1,500 a month or £18,000 a year. There are not many organizations financially strong enough to buy that quantity, and the only people whom I can see benefiting from that provision are the big middlemen, who exact toll from the- producer and consumer, and the chain stores. There will be no benefit whatever to the average retailer or to the consumers.
To sum up the position, it appears to me that, in assessing whether this agreement will be of benefit throughout the sugar industry, we should consider all of the people who come within its purview. The worker in the industry, according to the Treasurer’s own statement, is relatively just 2 per cent, better off than he was in 1911. Eighty-one per cent, of the primary producers last year did not earn enough for them to pay income tax. The only wholesalers who will benefit from rebates are the organizations able to buy £18,000 worth of sugar a year. The retailer, who is an important link between the producer and the consumer, is squeezed between the. wholesale price that he has to pay and the maximum retail price that he is allowed to charge.
The next important thing is the benefit which the Government claims flows to the fruit-growers through the rebate to the manufacturers of jam. It is problematical whether the fruitgrowers ever get much benefit from this agreement because, in the first place, the jam monopolists in Tasmania have the right to determine, not only the quantity of fruit that they will buy from the growers, but also the price they will pay. I do not know of any authority which compels them to take all of the fruit available in order to become possessed of the rebate. If there be any surplus, the manufacturers buy at job prices. If it be true, therefore, that the fruit-growers do reap a benefit from the price paid by the manufacturers for the fixed quota of fruit bought, that benefit is wiped out by the low prices paid for the remainder. I direct attention to the statement made by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) on the 20th March, 1935, when the sugar agreement was last under review. The honorable member said -
I am strongly opposed to the extension of the agreement at this stage, more particularly because many of those whom I represent in this Parliament suffered severely when it was previously renewed by the Lyons Government. . . Why should the Government renew the agreement eighteen months before the present agreement has expired, and by so doing give the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited an opportunity to exploit the people for another six and a half years.
I suggest that there is no man in this House who knows the fruit trade in regard to both ordinary sales and sales for the purpose of jam manufacture better than the honorable member for Franklin. That was the protest that he made in 1935. I ask the question again to-day: Why should this agreement be reviewed eighteen months before it becomes due?
There is one other party to the agreement, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. I propose to cite figures, which, I claim, are unimpeachable, to show that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has amassed great wealth as the result of the sugar agreement. I propose to show the growth of wealth in dividends, reserves, and “ .watered “ stock, which have notably increased since the sugar agreement was first signed in 1915. I propose to compare the figures of that company for 1915 and 1939. Let the champions of this agreement and this monopoly contest them and explain why this particular organization appears to be the only substantial beneficiary from the agreement. It is true that inquiries were held in 1912, 1920, 1922, and 1932, but it is obvious from the reports of people associated with those inquiries that the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited have never been properly explored. I quote from what was said by the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens), who is interested in this question, on the 20th March, 1935. The honorable member said -
If the honorable gentleman desires that an inquiry be held directly into the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, I would say “Let him have it”; but I would remind him that the High Court of Australia has already ruled that at similar inquiries the company need not disclose its profits or its balance-sheets.
Who will, in this debate, say that there have been numerous inquiries into this industry? I challenge them to show that the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and the degree to which it has been assisted by the agreement have been brought out at any inquiry in such a way that all doubt can be eliminated from the minds of those who doubt whether anybody but the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited derives any benefit from this agreement. The WM Cat Monthly says about the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited -
The present company was registered on July 1, 1887, with a paid capital of £600,000 and £901,300 of stock and debentures, and absorbed the Victoria Sugar Company Limited, and the New Zealand Sugar Company Limited. In 1897, paid capital had expanded to £1,702,000 and Macnade and Hambledon mills and Plantations (Queensland) were purchased. In 1899 the company’s mills produced over 100,000 tons of sugar, and two years later the Knockroe mill was purchased to ensure a larger supply of cane to the company’s Chil.ders plant. Paid capital moved to the twomillion mark in 1903, and in 1907 Poolman’s Sydney and Melbourne refineries were purchased; a bonus issue of £75,000 brought capital to £2,500,000. The plant of Ripple Creek mill was purchased at break-up value during the next year, when another bonus issue of £350,000 was made, followed by £150,000 in 1910, and another £250,000 five years later. A subsidiary, owned and controlled by the parent, took over the Fiji and New Zealand assets, £3,250,000 in 1915, and eight years later went into voluntary liquidation with satisfactory results to the shareholders and the parent company to which the assets returned. The Commonwealth Government purchased the Australian sugar output from 1915 to 1921, and the C.S.R. handled a lion’s share’ of the business. During the purchase period 1,566,348 tons of sugar was melted at the company’s Australian refineries, and the Commonwealth paid the company £3,150,343 refining and distribution costs (including extras), £718,523, selling charges, and £1,524,276 for management, depreciation and interest costs. From 1923 to 1932 the price of raw sugar was fixed by the sugar pool at around £27 per ton, out of which the Sugar Board paid its expenses, and the embargo against the import of foreign sugar has been continued. In November, 1934, £5,850,000 of reserves was capitalized, of which £1,067,000 caine from the reserve fund, £883,000 from an undisclosed source (probably suspenseaccount), and £3,957,564 was provided by writing up the book value of some of the assets. [Leave to continue given.’] I ask honorable members to contrast the position of this company under the agreement with that of the primary producers, the workers, and the consumers. In 1887, the company had a capital of £600,000, and £900,000 stock and debentures. In 1897 the capital was raised to £1,200,000, and in 1903 it was raised again to £2,000,000. In the same year £75,000 worth of bonus shares was issued from excess profits, and before the end of the year a further £350,000 was issued. In 1910, £150,000 worth of- bonus shares was issued, and again, in 1915, bonus shares to the value of £250,000 were distributed. In 1934, reserves amounting to £5,850,000 were capitalized. It appears from an examination of the accounts that only £2,500,000 worth of the nominal capital of £14,000,000 has been paid up by the shareholders. The rest of the capital takes the form of excess profits which have been capitalized, these excess profits being available even after dividends varying between 6£ and 12-J- per cent, have been regularly paid.
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has been the principal beneficiary under the sugar agreement, as was pointed out in an article in the Wild Cat Monthly, as follows : -
In Australia the sheet anchor of the company’s earnings which accounts for half or more of the total is its contract with the Government for refining, selling and financing all but a small fraction of the entire Australian crop on a commission basis.
Let us compare the position of the company in 1915, when the agreement was first entered into, with its position in 1939. The figures are as follows : -
In 1920 the paid-up capital was £2,425,000 and that figure has not varied since. Bonus capital in 1920 was £4,075,000, making a total capital of £6,500,000. In 1939, the paid-up capital was still £2,425,000, but the bonus capital then was £13,175,000, making the total capital £15,000,000. In 1920, after the agreement had been in force for five years, the assets of the company were £12,800,000, whereas in 1939 they amounted to £22,000,000. By an amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act in 1925, the Government freed from taxation a Christmas distribution of bonus shares amounting to £7,000,000. Referring to this incident, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens), speaking on the 20th March, 1935, said : -
The distribution of £7,000,000 referred to in this debate was not made out of one year’s profit. The sum was accumulated over a number of years through the medium of large undistributed profits placed in reserve, and finally, to dodge the taxation laws, the company got rid of some of those profits by way of bonus shares so as to relieve its shareholders of possible income tax obligations.
Thus, it is not only the critics of the sugar agreement who admit’ the enormous profits of this company; it is also admitted by those who are in favour of the agreement. Despite the very large conversions of profits into bonus shares that had taken place in previous years, the company still had £7,000,000 in undistributed profits to convert in 1935.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, speaking on the second reading of this bill, tried to show that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited made most of its profits out of black-grown sugar from places outside Australia. However, the report of the company for 1937 disclosed that 756,000 tons of sugar were produced in Australia in that year, and only 149,000 tons in Fiji. The company deals with nearly six times as much Australian sugar as Fijian sugar. It is, therefore, idle to claim that its immense profits are made principally out of foreign-grown sugar. Jobson’s Investment Digest, of the 15th June, 1937, referring to this company, stated -
The shares have risen in price as a result . of the sugar agreement.
I have compared the positions of the workers in the industry, the primary producers, the wholesalers and retailers, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and I have no hesitation in saying that the people of Australia will not be satisfied unless an exhaustive inquiry into the ramifications of the industry is held. My attack on the agreement is not prompted by a desire to injure the primary producers, the workers, or any other section of the industry, but I contend that the only way to ascertain who gets large profits out of the agreement and who gets nothing is to appoint a royal commission to investigate the matter.
– Has the honorable member any objection to the price of sugar ?
– No. That is one of the stalest jokes that the advocates of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited have ever perpetrated; but, I claim that the company could take less for its cut, and thus reduce the price to the wholesalers, who would then be able to lower the price to the retailers and the consumers. I contest the view that, to improve the position of the workers and the primary producers under the agreement, it would be necessary te raise the price. I am not alone in asking for an inquiry into the ramifications of this industry. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on the 20th March, 1935, said -
I shall offer no objection to the proposal for a searching examination of the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
On the same day the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said -
I believe that an inquiry should be held before the agreement is ratified.
The honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) also stated on the same day -
Some time ago I visited the sugar plantations of Queensland in order to obtain firsthand information regarding the industry. As the result of what I found there, I am of the opinion that the request of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is reasonable. There should be an inquiry into the industry, so that members of this House may have before them reliable data to enable them to come to a decision regarding the advisability or otherwise of extending the sugar agreement for another five years.
It may be said that this is not a proper time to hold such an inquiry. I point out, however, that many things which were not contemplated under the Constitution are being done to-day under the National Security Act. In all past inquiries held in peace-time, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has either avoided investigation under the protection of the Constitution, or has had sufficiently shrewd lawyers to enable it to prevent an effective investigation. The Government now has extraordinary powers, and can exercise them. This, therefore, is the one opportunity that presents itself for the Government to invest a royal commission with the powers necessary to force this monopoly to disclose information which it has previously refused to give. I do not attack the agreement because the sugar industry has been stabilized, but because, having regard to the interests of the various sections concerned, from the primary producer to the consumer, there never has been, and probably never will be, a better opportunity to hold an exhaustive investigation to see whether the benefits of the agreement are shared equitably, whether justice is done to the people as a whole, and whether the consumer, who ultimately pays for the upkeep of this industry, is getting a fair deal. I move -
That all the words after “ That “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words: - “the agreement be referred to a royal commission for consideration and report as to its effects on -
the position of the wage-earners in the industry ;
as to whether the primary producers have benefited, and to what extent, by its operation since 1915;
as to whether the price of sugar could be reduced to the consumers of Australia;
the degree to which the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has benefited by the agreement; and
the degree of benefit (if any) to the fruitgrowers of Australia, as a result ofrebates to manufacturers of jams and canned fruits.
.- The House is asked to ratify an agreement between His Majesty’s Government of the Commonwealth and His Majesty’s Government of the State of Queensland, and the measure under discussion is the Sugar Agreement Bill 1940. Judging by the speech of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), one might imagine that this bill is designed to confer special benefits on the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. Nothing that the honorable member has said will induce me to alter my belief that, by his remarks to-day and on Friday last, he desires to renew the attack which he and some of his colleagues have previously launched against the company. They appear to be more concerned about this than the fate of the sugar industry. I hold no brief, nor have I ever held a brief, for any organization which is doing an injustice to the industry in which it is engaged. I shall endeavour to convince the honorable member for Dalley that no industry has been subject to more constant examination than the sugar industry. Whenever investigations have been made into this industry, there has been raised the same old bogy that was raised by the honorable member to-day; but despite the many searching inquiries which have been made by various bodies, on no occasion have the activities of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited been condemned - most certainly not so far as its activities under the powers given to it by the Queensland Government are concerned in relation to the sugar industry. By twisting words, the honorable member endeavoured to prove that the workers in the sugar industry are only 2 per cent, better off than they were in 1911. I shall demonstrate the falsity of that assertion. He also made many other hopelessly inaccurate statements. For instance, he insinuated that the growers of sugar-cane were remarkably prosperous, an answer of his to an interjection of mine being aimed at creating the impression that because of that the price of sugar should be reduced.
The sugar industry of Queensland has been developed by white labour working under ideal conditions. One of the conditions of federation was that the State of Queensland should dispense with black labour in the sugar industry. Since then the extensive but vulnerable areas of the far north have become populated with a race of whites, who have demonstrated that sugar can be profitably produced in the tropical belt solely by white labour: Indeed, Queensland is the only part of the world in which that has been demonstrated. Fertile soil and climatic conditions, including a heavy annual rainfall, make north Queensland admirably suitable for sugar-growing, and the industry has led to the settlement of this portion of Australia by a virile community. Very few industries other than sugarcanegrowing can be developed in this tropical belt or can resist the torrential rainfall. It was these sugar-growers, timber-cutters, and others who struck the first blow on behalf of Australia in the last war. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Commonwealth Government called for volunteers for an expeditionary force to New Guinea, which was then a German possession, and it was these hardy pioneers of our northern areas who enlisted in that force which subsequently. carried out successful operations against the Germans. That success might not have been possible had the Commonwealth Government not been able to supplement the Militia Forces of Queensland with hundreds of hardy Australians who, were it not for the sugar industry, would not have settled in north Queensland. Were it not for that in dustry to-day, that part of Australiawould be particularly vulnerable.
I desire to express my pleasure at therenewal of this agreement, which will operate for a period of five years from August of next year. During that period the importation of foreign sugar into Australia will be limited to special types required for manufacturing purposes, and for scientific research. Another pleasing feature of the agreement is that it provides for the sale of sugar in the capital cities of Australia at a uniform price of 4d. per lb. I remind honorable members that the price of 4d. per lb. for sugar was agreed to as far back as January, 1933.
The agreement also provides that the sugar industry will contribute £216,000 per annum to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee for the encouragement, expansion and development of the Australian canned fruits industry. At the same time, it will ensure that a reasonable price is paid to the growers for fruit purchased by the factories. The canning of fruit and the making of jam for export will be encouraged by the payment to factories of domestic and export bounties.
The agreement also effectively protects and stabilizes the interests of all sections engaged in the production, distribution and consumption of sugar. The form of protection involved in this agreement has been in operation for the last 25 years, and no better scheme has been devised. The selling price of sugar, which has been fixed for the next five years, is only 33$ per cent, higher than the pre-war selling price of 3d. per lb.; yet the average retail price of all groceries throughout the Commonwealth has risen by 66 per cent.
It has been claimed that undue profits are being made by producers of sugar, but no proof has been advanced in support of this very rash contention. The last annual report of the Queensland Commissioner of Taxes shows that 81.3 per cent, of all sugar cane-growers had a net taxable income too low to render them liable to pay any income tax at all. That is an effective reply to the assertion bv the honorable member for Dalley that the sugar cane-growers are prosperous.
– The honorable member for Dalley did not suggest that at all. He said exactly the opposite.
– In answer to an interjection which I made, the honorable member for Dalley suggested that the prices of sugar throughout the industry, except the wholesale price to the retailer, should be lowered. I repeat that the majority of sugar-growers have incomes so low that they are exempt from income taxation. As a matter of fact, there are so many small growers in the industry that their gross revenue, less cutting expenses to employees, and cost of fertilizers, brings them within the statutory exemption. The honorable member for Dalley also said - he was supported on this occasion by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) - that there was undue haste in connexion with the ratification of this agreement. I think that that statement also found an echo on the other side of the House. It is important that this agreement should be ratified at least eighteen months or two years prior to the expiry of the existing agreement, so that growers may know just what they will have to face, and will be able to make arrangements for planting and for obtaining the assistance necessary to carry on their activities. Banking institutions, machinery and fertilizer companies, and tradesmen generally must know whether the agreement is to be ratified in order that they can decide what amount of credit can be extended to growers. Without credit the growers would soon be in difficulties. It is imperative they should be informed of the conditions under which the agreement will be ratified if they are to carry on unchecked along progressive lines.
But the honorable member for Dalley devoted most of his time to an attack upon the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. This bogy has been raised again and again when a sugar agreement has come before Parliament for ratification, and almost every committee that has been appointed to investigate the sugar industry has examined the position of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. But in no case has a report con demnatory of the activities of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited been submitted.
– That is because the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited refuses to answer questions.
– No other industry has been subjected to more inquiries than the sugar industry. In 1911 a royal commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir John Gordon; in 1920 another royal commission was appointed with Mr. H. B. Piddington as chairman; in 1922 the Tariff Board conducted an inquiry ; in 1922 the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts held an inquiry; in 1924 the Commonwealth Sugar Tribunal examined the industry; and in 1931 the Commonwealth Sugar Inquiry Committee was appointed by the Scullin Government. The activities of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in connexion with the Australian sugar industry were investigated by each of those bodies, but not one of them condemned the activities of the company in any way.
– The honorable member has not read the reports properly.
– I shall refresh the honorable member’s memory by quoting paragraph 175 of the report of the Commonwealth Sugar Inquiry Committee, as follows : -
In all the circumstances we are of the opinion that the earnings of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in Australia are not excessive, and that the work of refining and distribution of sugar is carried out efficiently and at reasonable charges. The refining and freight charges are adjusted annually with the Queensland Sugar Board on the basis of the actual cost, and it is clear from previous experience that any savings in the cost of refining, freights, &c, in any one year are always returned to the sugar industry in the next season. In view of the fact that the net. profit of the company, after paying income tax, is only 5½ per cent. per annum on the working capital and written-down value of the fixed assets used in its Australian operations, we are of the opinion that the fee of £1 per ton for administration, depreciation, and interest on refinery capital, and the fee of 7s. per ton for selling - from which two fees alone the company obtains its refining and distribution profit - are reasonable.
– I was referring to another portion of the report.
Me. Blackburn. - When- was that report submitted?.
– In 1931, by the com,mittee appointed by the Scullin Government. It completely exonerated the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and stated that all of the company’s charges, were fair and. reasonable. It has been proved in this. House again and again, by honorable members who are conversant, with the. ramifications of the sugar industry, that the substantial profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, to which the honorable member for Dalley referred, are derived from sources outside Australia. The, company is paid to-day only for the work of refining sugar and distributing it all over Australia. What money it receives is. paid tq it according to. an agreement with the. Queensland Government ai;d only after the State Auditor-.General has certified to the correctness, pf the accounts. About 8,000 individual sugar-growers are operating in Queensland, but only about 700 of them supply the mills operated by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
In order to support his contentions, the honorable member for Dalley was obliged to fall back on statements made by Mr. J. M. Fowler so long ago as 1922. He had no more recent authority for his claims. 1 point out that Mr. Fowler also appeared before the Commonwealth Sugar Inquiry Committee in 1931 and, after examining his evidence in detail, the committee came to the conclusion that the company’s charges were reasonable. Honorable members will agree that thai report completely answers the allegations of the honorable member for Dalley regarding the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited in connexion with the Australian sugar industry.
– Did not the report of the committee in 1931 recommend that the company should make some contribution towards the reduction of the price of sugar?
– And the companyhas made a contribution.
– That was a minority report.
– The report eulogized the industry for the part it played in the last war. During the Great War of 1914-18, when the price of sugar in Australia was only 6d. per lb., prices in Great Britain and Europe varied from ls. 6d. per lb. to ls. lOd. per lb. At that time the price of wool was as high as 44d. per lb., and that of wheat as high as 9s. a bushel. Had the price of sugar been increased on the same scale as the prices of wheat and wool, the sugar-growers would have received millions of pounds more than they did during that period.
– But have the sugargrowers, reduced; their prices in ‘step with the WOOl and wheat producers?
Mr-. FRANCIS.-r-The sugar-growers would have been justified in effecting some. increase then,, because they were faced with increased costs due tei rising wage levels. The honorable member for Dalley referred to wages and conditions in the industry. By way of reply to his remarks I shall refer to a report that was signed by all members of the Commonwealth .Sugar Inquiry Committee. By the way, Mr. Fallon signed a majority report, not a minority report as the honorable member suggested during his speech last Friday. The majority report voiced no criticism of the conditions and rates of pay in the industry. The honorable member was only attempting to bolster up a weak case when he suggested that Mr. Fallon had signed a minority report. The honorable member stated that wages in the sugar industry had increased by only 2 per cent, since 1911. As far as I have been able to ascertain from the reports of the various committees of inquiry, the honorable member must have based that statement on a report of the Central Prices Board, which has nothing to do with the fixing of wages in the sugar industry. There is an open inquiry by the Industrial Court of Queensland in respect of wages in the sugar industry almost every year. According to the honorable member for
Dalley, the wages in 1911 were from 25s. to 30s. a week and keep.
– No; from 22s. 6d. to 25s.
– The figures are from 25s. to 30s. a week and keep. The maximum wages this year are from £4 12s. to £5 2s. a week, according to the district in which they are paid. If we deduct 24s. 6d. a week for keep, we shall find that the wage equivalent is from £3 7s. 6d. a week and keep to £3 17s. 6d. a week and keep. The difference ‘between 25s. and £3 7s. 6d. is not 2 per cent.
– I said that the difference between the increase of the cost of living and the increase of wages was 2 per cent., which is a totally different thing.
– The honorable member cannot argue that the difference between the wages in 1911 and the wages to-day is 2 per cent. That is only in keeping with most of the arguments that the honorable gentleman advanced to-day.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) said that there had been an increase of £900,000 in the amount paid to the growers this year. I point out that the income of the sugar-growers was decreased this year by the reduction of the home-consumption price by at least 5s. a ton owing to increased costs of shipping, bags., &c, this being equivalent to nearly £100,000. The revenue received from the sale of export sugar is almost totally absorbed in wages. At £10 ls. a ton for export sugar, the return to the growers is about £6 15s. a ton of sugar, which means less than £1 a ton for cane. The harvesting charges in respect of the cane amount to 10s. a ton, leaving less than 10s. a ton of cane to cover costs of production and overhead. Even if that 10s. a ton represented income, the total amount would be only £260,000, not £900,000. It most certainly is not income, except on small farms, which are already below income tax liability. On the large farms most of that 10s. a ton would be paid out in wages, thus providing a longer period of employment for the workers. It is clear that the honorable member for
Perth has only a superficial knowledge of the industry, and is not acquainted with the facts. He made a reckless challenge, to which I have given a complete reply which should satisfy even him.
I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to give early attention to the many requests that have been made by retail grocers and small traders of Australia. These representations have been made over a long period. I have submitted to the Minister numerous telegrams and letters, and for the time being am willing to accept the reply that he made during the course of his speech. I hope that at an early date he will see that this request is further examined and reconsidered and that justice is done in this connexion.
From the observations that have been made by those honorable members who have spoken in opposition to the agreement, it would appear that some of them want to force black-grown conditions on the sugar industry. We have progressed beyond black-grown conditions. It would be impossible for the industry to carry on except under such conditions if the price of sugar were reduced, as has been urged* But I am positive that the majority of honorable members do not stand for black-labour or coolie-labour conditions, and for that reason alone the agreement will be ratified by an overwhelming majority.
.- Whenever the sugar agreement is placed before this House, there is complete unanimity in respect of it among honorable members who come from Queensland, to whatever party they belong. I congratulate them upon having this great industry in their State. The district that I represent does not grow any sugar, but in connexion with what it produces probably uses a larger quantity of sugar than any other electorate of its size in Australia. When the Scullin Government signed the sugar agreement in 1930, I endeavoured to have inserted in it a provision safeguarding the fruit-growers. From the commencement of the agreement a rebate had always been allowed for the assistance of the fruit-growing industry. This rebate went to the fruitprocessors, irrespective of the price they paid to the fruit-growers. The Scullin Government made the provision that the processing firms should give a payable price to the growers a condition of their participation in the rebate. At that time, a further £110,000 was sought to assist the berry-growers in Australia. That £1.10,000 was made available, bringing the total amount of rebate to £315,000, and this very valuable berry industry was thereby saved. Not a very large quantity of berry fruit is grown in Australia, and the biggest part of it is grown in Tasmania. We have endeavoured to keep the industry going. As I have already said, the industry received £315,000 in 1930, but in 1933, when the agreement was reviewed by the Lyons Government, £110,000 was taken away, with the result that the growers suffered heavy losses. That was the reason for my protest in 1.935, before the 1936 agreement was signed. The loss of that £110,000 meant that 1,000 tons of raspberries dropped to the ground, because the fruit-processing firms would not take the fruit. Had the extra money been available, the fruit could have been processed. The season ended in February, and before the end of May orders were received from England for all of the pulped fruit that could be supplied, but unfortunately the orders came too late. In the agreement which wo are now asked to approve, provision is made to cover small fruits. This year a rebate will be granted in respect of all over 500 tons of sugar used for processing purposes. Should 1,000 tons of sugar be used in processing fruit for export, extra money will be paid. It is expected that about another £45,000 will be required. The jam industry needs assistance.
– Is it not getting assistance? .
– I want to see a guarantee of that assistance embodied in the agreement; otherwise, the jam industry may not get the assistance that it needs. In 1933-34, Australia exported 2,245,262 lb. of jam and jelly, and in 1937-38, 6.206,248 lb., whilst this year the quantity is likely to be considerably more. The Queensland Government is prepared to meet Tasmania by providing a rebate price on the extra jam that is exported. That is the guarantee that is asked for.
I do not wish to see the small fruits industry in the position in which it was placed in 1935, and again in 1938. This is one of the best industries of southern Tasmania, because it distributes substantial sums of money to people whose earnings would otherwise be small indeed. The industry provides continuous employment for a considerable number of workers, and during school holidays boys and girls in their ‘teens are able to earn as much as 10s. or 12s. a day picking raspberries. It may be said that instead of working during school holidays these young people should be sent to seaside resorts, but I point out that most of their parents cannot afford to take them to the seaside. However, their employment is not unhealthy, as they work in the open in hilly regions where the air is pure, and the climatic conditions are unsurpassed elsewhere in the world. Last year, when the present Minister for Commerce (Mr. Archie Cameron) visited Tasmania, I took him to a number of small-fruit farms. At the conclusion of his visit, the Minister said that anything he could possibly do for the” growers of this class of fruit would be done. The bill now before us will help these people, but I want to be sure that it contains ample safeguards against possible evasions by big companies. The production of small fruits in Tasmania is over 5,000 tons a year. Of the price received by the growers, one-third represents the cost of picking the fruit. For several years the price paid to the growers was only 2%i. per lb., but last year it was 3d. per lb. J submit that the price should not go below the latter amount. Even at that price, no fortunes are made in the industry, hut it is sufficient to enable the growers to make a decent living. The growers are content with that price. I shall support the bill.
.- As the representative of the largest sugarproducing district of New South Wales, it is my duty to express my views on the proposed agreement. The agreement in simple terms provides that the Commonwealth Government agrees to give to the sugar industry an embargo against the importation of sugar in consideration of which the industry undertakes to supply sugar to Australian consumers at a reasonable price, and also to assist other industries such as fruit-canning and jam-making. As this Parliament is asked to protect the Australian sugar industry against the competition of foreign sugar, it is well that honorable members should know that the only sugar which could compete in the local market with the Australian product would come from countries in which the sugar is grown under conditions where the rates of pay are low. That is, under black labour conditions. For that reason, it is difficult to understand why honorable members, whose avowed policy is one of high protection to Australian industries, should oppose the agreement. I suggest that the purpose of the amendment of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) is to sidetrack the sugar agreement, so as to provide for an open market for sugar from other countries, where it is grown under conditions of labour which would not be tolerated or possible in this country.- According to the honorable member for Dalley, the chief beneficiary under the agreement will be the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. It is true that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is a. successful enterprise, but I point out that its operations were successful before there was any sugar agreement. In fact, the company made greater profits then than it does now in the closed market resulting from the agreement. If indeed the company were compelled to do the refining for nothing little advantage would accrue to the consumers. A report issued by a former Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), pointed out that the profit made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited on the refining and distribution of sugar was only l-14th of Id. per lb. I cannot see how an adjustment of price could be arranged which would satisfactorily take into account the almost infinitesimal profit which the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited makes per lb. of sugar. Its total charge for refining and distribution is about id. per lb. and its profit on that is only l-14th of Id. per lb.
– Then how does the company make a profit of more than £1,000,000 a year?
– Its operations cover wide ramifications and its profits are derived from other activities incidental to sugar refining.
With the object of putting the circumstances of the sugar industry in a true perspective a few simple questions might be asked. First, “Is the price of sugar to the consumer reasonable ? “ That aspect of the subject is important. A comparison of the price of sugar in Australia with the price in other countries of the world which have no great sugar industry to protect, and I emphasize that qualification, will show that the price in Australia is entirely reasonable. The people of Great Britain have to pay 6d. per lb. for sugar, and in many other countries the price is more than the 4d. per lb. which rules in our capital cities. In 1911, nearly 30 years ago, sugar was 3d. per lb. in this country. When we consider that it has advanced only 33 per cent, since then I think we must admit frankly that the increase is one of the smallest of any of the commonly-used foodstuffs.
My next question is, “ Are any of the interests concerned in the operation of the sugar agreement making immoderate profits ? “ The honorable member for Dalley asserted that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited was making huge profits out of its operations. I have already intimated that the company’s profits are realized on other activities than sugar refinings and are not related directly to the sugar agreement.
Thirdly,’ “Are the growers enjoying privileged conditions, denied to other sections of the community, as’ the result of the operation of this agreement?” I was a sugar-grower for some years, and I have a personal knowledge of the circumstances of the growers. My experience was such that, eventually, I had to walk off my farm with a good deal less money than I had when I walked on to it. That should be a satisfactory reply to the statement of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) that times are always good for the sugargrowers, only some times are better than others. ‘:;
Finally I ask, “ Is the stabilization of the sugar industry beneficial to the Commonwealth as a whole?” This question is of particular importance to-day. We are at present exporting considerable quantities of sugar. Although the price we obtain for the export surplus is not profitable to the growers, ranging between £6 and £10 a ton, the total proceeds from these export sales amount to about £6,000,000 a year. The establishment of this credit in London is of immense value to the Commonwealth in existing circumstances. It assists to pay for the aircraft we are purchasing from the United States of America, and also for other necessary war supplies. In short, it increases the ability of the Commonwealth to meet its overseas indebtedness and so to maintain its war activities.
I wish now to comment upon some of the observations of honorable members who seem to regard it as a part of their religion to oppose the sugar agreement on every conceivable opportunity. They appear to take no account whatever of the changed circumstances under which different agreements have been submitted to Parliament for ratification. The honorable member for Perth and a number of his Western Australian colleagues have been notably consistent in this opposition and I am prepared to agree that some years ago the representatives of Western Australia, South Australia and, to some extent, Tasmania, had a measure of justification for their opposition. They argued that their States were being compelled to contribute towards the protection of this industry although they were receiving no benefit from it. In the last five years, however, conditions have changed materially. The Commonwealth Government is to-day assisting those States substantially. I direct special attention to the reports and recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. That body has been endeavouring to iron out the inequities that formerly existed as between the different States and to remove the disabilities from which some States have admittedly suffered owing to the operation of Commonwealth policy.
– I regret that I cannot agree with that statement.
– In the last five years the total amount of the grants made to Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, in consequence of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, has been £11,950,000 distributed as follows: - Western Australia, £3,045,000; South Australia £6,470,000; Tasmania, £2,435,000.
– A considerable proportion of that total has been contributed by Queensland.
– That is so. I have no desire to raise State issues in this debate, but in view of certain remarks that have been made, I feel entitled to remind honorable members generally that, while certain States may benefit under the terms of the sugar agreement, certain other States have benefited under the recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
– They have not been sufficiently compensated for the disabilities under which they suffer.
– In addition to the amounts made available to Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania by direct Commonwealth grants, other substantial payments have been made to them from, the proceeds of the petrol tax. In the last five years they have received, in refunds of petrol tax, £2,165,000 more than they have contributed under that heading. Of that amount, Western Australia has had the huge sum of £1,634,922.
– What bearing has that on this bill?
– It emphasizes my point that, while certain States have benefited under the provisions of the sugar agreement, other States have benefited through the operation of Commonwealth policy in other respects. I do not say that they have been entirely compensated, and I am not asserting that they have received more than they were entitled to in this levelling up process, but the argument is not all on one side.
If the sugar agreement were not ratified it is possible that Queensland might also have to apply to the Commonwealth
Government for a special grant. In consequence, however, of the beneficial results of the sugar agreement, 8,000 families and more than 20,000 men are making their living directly from the sugar industry. Should this industry again become unstable the resources of the Commonwealth Government would be drawn upon to a larger degree than ever in order to counteract the instability. As things are, Queensland has not, to my knowledge, made any application to the Commonwealth Government for a grant. The sugar agreement has helped the State to maintain financial solvency.
– That is an admission!
– It is an admission that the agreement is necessary in order to protect this industry and to enable the sugar-growers to maintain operations at some profit.
– If they make a profit how is it that so few of them pay income tax to the Queensland Government?
– They cannot do so because, in the main, their holdings are toosmall to permit them to make a net income which brings them above the exemption that operates in Queensland. It has been said that the sugar industry is “ a big man’s industry “. I deny that statement. Between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the men growing sugar in Queensland have areas too small to yield them an income which would include them among State income tax payers in Queensland.
– Is there a limit upon the area that they may use for growing sugar ?
– Definitely. That is provided for in the agreement, the intention being to restrict production, which, being already beyond local requirements, necessitates sales abroad at an unprofitable figure.
While I have much pleasure in supporting the agreement, I also must admit to some misgivings from the point of view of the sugar-cane-growers. If world conditions in relation to sugar remain as they are at present, and if the price remains stable, everything will be all right; but if conditions alter materially the situation may become disadvantageous to the grower. Under the agreement the pricesnow fixed will operate for a period of five years, but present indications are that costs generally will rise considerably during that period. It would have been wiser, therefore, to insert a proviso in order to safeguard the industry against rising costs for the duration of the agreement. However, as the agreement has already been signed by the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government, it is not appropriate for me to interfere with it at this stage. Already since the outbreak of war costs of production, in respect of such articles as fertilizer, bags, and petrol for transport, have increased by approximately 26s. a ton against the price of cane.
– But did not the honorable member say that every section of the community would have to make sacrifices in the present crisis?
– The sugar-growers are willing and ready to make their share of sacrifice during the war. However, it must appeal to the honorable member as a matter of common sense that if costs of production are rising, and are likely to continue to rise during the period covered by this agreement, some proviso should be made to protect the grower in that respect.
– Well, then, would it not, be better to postpone the renewal of this agreement for twelve months?
– It would be wiser to insert in the agreement a proviso covering the grower against rising costs of production, but I prefer that the agreement be ratified in its present form, when so many honorable members opposite are prepared to accept it, rather than run any risk of having it rejected by accepting the suggestions of the honorable member.
Much has been said in this debate concerning the relationship between the fruit industry and the sugar industry. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Frost) has given us much information on that point, but I think that he recognizes that the contribution of £200,000 per annum . which the sugar industry has been making towards the fruit-processing industry has played a very material part in putting the fruit industry generally on its feet. Consequently, under this agreement we are not fighting for only the sugar industry, but also those industries which are closely related to it. Canning companies and other concerns which require sugar for manufacturing products for export are enabled under this agreement to obtain their requirements at world parity. Australian jam manufacturers, for instance, are enabled to obtain the sugar they require at a lower price than they would be obliged to pay for sugar imported from black-labour countries. As the result of this concession, our jam exports have been increased by 500 per cent. within the last five years. To those honorable members who represent large numbers of wheat-growers, I point out that since the last sugar agreement was signed a fundamental change of policy has been effected in respect of the principle of a home-consumption price for wheat. The main benefit given to the sugar-grower under this agreement is a fixed price for that portion of his production which is consumed in Australia. That is actually the full benefit he receives: For all sugar exported he must be prepared to accept world parity; and I emphasize that the latter price is determined in competition with sugar grown by black labour. So far as the application of the principle of a home-consumption price is concerned, no honorable member who advocates that principle in respect of wheat and flour can logically challenge the application of this principle to sugar. They would have had cause to do so some years ago when the principle of a homeconsumption price for wheat was not recognized by this Parliament. To-day, however, both industries have been placed on terms of equality in that respect, and the wheat-grower should stand shoulder to shoulder with the sugargrower in defending that principle.
Whilst ample evidence has been produced in this debate to demonstrate the fairness of the present price of sugar, no evidence has been produced to show that any particular section of the industry enjoys undue benefits under this agreement. It has also been amply demonstrated that the industry is of very great value to the Commonwealth, in that it is encouraging the settlement of white people in the far north to a degree which no other industry could achieve. Finally, I repeat that, in view of the value of our sugar exports in building up our credits overseas, we should do everything possible to encourage its development. I have no hesitation, therefore, in supporting the bill.
.-I propose first to deal with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, which is the bugbear of the sugar industry. I can claim to know more about that concern than many of the people who have so much to say about it. I make no apology for having described it in the past as a commercial bushranger. I know something of its operations before the first sugar agreement was made, when it made enormous profits out of sugar, whilst no one else was able to get anything worth while out of the industry. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited also has considerable interests in banking, shipping and insurance, and makes the bulk of its profits from its activities outside of Australia. I defy any one to say, from an examination of the company’s balance-sheet, how much profit it makes out of its operations in Australia.I recall that the present Chief Justice, Sir John Latham, when he was AttorneyGeneral, introduced legislation in this Parliament which he confidently declared would enable the Petrol Commission to discover all the information the Government desired concerning the finances of the various oil companies operating in this country. Every honorable member knows, however, that, despite that legislation, the only information we got was a report of an accountant. He was the only person the oil companies would allow to investigate their books. I do not suggest that his report was incorrect in any way, but it certainly did not give to us the information we sought.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) accuses honorable members who support this bill of doing so merely for the purpose of catching votes. The figures which he quoted in respect of wages paid in the industry were not altogether correct.Up to 1911 the wage paid to employees on the lowest level in the industry in the south of Queensland was £1 2s. 6d. for a week of 58 hours. I admit that at one time the rate paid by the Fairymead Sugar Company was 4Jd. an hour. When that company was prosecuted by the Sugar Workers Union, of which I was then an official, it was admitted that so small a sum as 9d. in one week was deducted from the wages of employees because they had missed work for a couple of hours. I am fully aware, therefore, of the deplorable conditions existing in the industry many years ago.
To-day, however, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is the only sugar refining concern in the world which is obliged to observe prices determined by a government authority. In addition, refining costs are lower in Australia than in any other part of the world. The honorable member for Dalley cited figures comparing production in Fiji and Australia. I point out to him that the average adult wage paid in the industry in Fiji, other than for technical labour, is approximately from ls. 8d. to 2s. a day of twelve hours, whilst wages paid in sugar mills in that country are correspondingly low. Certainly, the refining costs in the industry in New Zealand are higher than those prevailing in Fiji, but the retail price of sugar in New Zealand is very little less than the Australian price. The honorable gentleman said that he was not objecting to the agreement in so far as it conferred benefits upon those engaged in the industry, but he wants an inquiry by a royal commission into the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. No one would welcome such an inquiry more than I would, but, surely, our experience with the oil companies should satisfy the honorable member that it would be useless to appoint such a commission.
Some honorable members have complained ‘that this agreement is being renewed eighteen months before the date at which it would normally expire. On this point I emphasize that sugar is grown under conditions which differ vastly from those governing wheat or maize. A sugar crop cannot be produced within four or five months. Cane planted in March or April of this year in the south of Queensland or in New South Wales will take from 18 to 21 months to mature. Under these conditions growers are entitled to know just exactly what their crop will be worth to them. With one exception, the agreement has always been renewed some considerable time before the normal date of expiration. That exception occurred in 1931 because the Scullin Go.vernment was of opinion that it was necessary to inquire thoroughly into the industry in order to see whether it would bc justified in renewing the agreement. Eventually it did so. I have explained the necessity for renewing this agreement some considerable time before it would normally fall due for renewal. I might add in passing, however, that this ex*planation has been given on many occasions in this chamber. As a member of a tribunal which was appointed under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank Reid to determine the wages to be paid in the industry in northern New South Wales some years ago, I was told by growers that in those areas cane” took approximately two years from the date of planting to reach maturity.
The honorable member for Dalley was inclined to treat with scorn the claim that the sugar industry in Queensland to-day is a white man’s industry. He alleged that it has fallen, to an immeasurable degree, into the hands of foreigners, and., in support of this contention, he quoted certain figures from the report of the committee of inquiry appointed in 1931. No such inference can be drawn from that report. Conditions in the industry at that time were approximately the same as they are now. We find, to-day, that only from 10 to 15 per cent, of the total of persons engaged in the industry are foreigners. The honorable member singled out Ingham for special notice in this respect. In northern Queensland that town is known as “ Little Italy “. The preponderance of Italians in that centre is due to the fact that Italians settled there in the very early days. Many of the Italians now engaged in the industry at Ingham are of the third generation. However, with the exception of Ingham and Innisfail, no great number of Italians is employed in the industry, which, to-day, so far as other centres are concerned, is conducted under a gentleman’s agreement between the Cane-Growers Council, the Australian Sugar Producers Association and the Australian Workers Union, that 75 per cent., of the labour engaged must be British. Not one mill in Queensland worth speaking of employs other than Australian or British labour. The honorable member for Dalley also suggested that, on the average, sugar-farmers were impoverished, and that they did not make sufficient money to bring them within the range of income tax. Although I do not suggest that our sugar-fanners live in luxury, I only wish that their average conditions could he enjoyed by every farmer in Australia. I know that the general conditions are pretty good, and we must remember that the income tas. exemption is probably higher in Queensland than in any other State of the Commonwealth. The average crop is about 500 tons. About 40 acres is assigned to each grower, of which he crops about two-thirds each year, obtaining an average yield of 20 tons an acre. This agreement was entered into in 1915. An attempt was made to have the court declare the agreement null and void, but that failed. When the Lyons Government proposed the renewal of the. agreement, the very same speech that was delivered to-day by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) was delivered by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), except the honorable member for Dalley brought the figures up to 1939. He said that there had been a net increase of only 2 per cent, in wages. I remind him that the statement by the Treasurer that the basic wage had increased by 68 per cent, since 1911, and that the price of groceries had increased by 66 per cent., did not relate only to the sugar industry; the reference was to wages throughout the Commonwealth.
The wage rates applicable in the various sections of the sugar industry are set out in the following tables: -
In 1907, the basic wage was 22s. Gd. a week for 58 hours. To-day, the wage for a man, who finds himself, is £3 odd a week. In the Childers district, the price for cane cutting used to be 2s. 6d. or 2s. 9d., with a maximum of 3s. 3d. a ton. To-day, the lowest price for a 15 ton to the acre crop and over is 7s. 5d. a ton in the southern district, 7s. 8d. in the central district, and 7s. lid. in the northern district. In the old days I never heard of more than 4s. a ton being paid, but cane of that kind would now be paid for at the rate of 17s. a ton. Carrying hands in 1907 received 22s. 6d. a week, or 3s. 4d. a day. Now they receive 2s. 2-8/lld. an hour. The honorable member for Dalley said that Mr. Fallon signed the minority report, but that is not true. I do not know whether the honorable member wilfully misrepresented the position, but the fact is that Mr. Fallon signed the majority report. This is the one industry in the Commonwealth, and perhaps in the world, that is organized from the time the cane is put into the ground until the sugar is produced from the mills and refined. I do not think that any other industry in Australia has, been investigated so closely as has the sugar industry. A royal commission investigated it in 1912, and there have been several investigations since then. All of them have had one purpose in view, namely, to do the best for every body, but all the time the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited’ has been able to defy these inquiries. It is well known that the company has refused requests to make its books and accounts available for examination by investigating authorities, and the
High Court has upheld it in its refusal. I believe that it would continue to offer defiance if another inquiry were held today. It is true that Sir John Latham, when lie was Attorney-General, introduced legislation to compel the oil companies, amongst others, to make information available to a royal commission, but even under that legislation the information cannot be extracted publicly in open inquiry. All that a company must do is to submit its books to an independent accountant, and I am not satisfied with that kind of an inquiry. If the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited had its own way, there would be no sugar agreement at all. The company would not be bound by any law of this country if it could avoid it. It does not want the agreement, because the agreement ties it down to a certain charge for the refining of sugar. When I first started organizing in Queensland, the grower had no say regarding the price he received for his cane, and in southern Queensland, at any rate - and it was probably the same in the north - the grower did not even have any say regarding the price he paid the men who cut his cane. That was fixed by the cane inspector of the company. I remember telling the company’s inspector at Childers, Mr. GoreJones, that one farmer was prepared to pay a certain rate, which was something more than the company’s rate, for having his cane cut. Mr. Gore-Jones said to me, “ I will fix the price for cutting that cane, not the farmer”. That sort of thing cannot happen now. In those days the grower was the creature of the company. To-day, the price of cane is fixed by a board in each district, and, if the growers are not satisfied, they can appeal to the Central Cane Prices Board. The price of labour is determined by the appropriate tribunal. It is quite possible that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited does make money out of sugar, but it does not make a great deal out of refining. It makes money by reason of the fact that it has lent £10,000,000 to the board to finance the scheme, but it has lent that money at one $ per cent, less than the Commonwealth Bank was prepared to charge. I do not say that there was anything wrong in the action of the company in doing that, but I do say there was something very wrong in the Commonwealth Bank not having offered better terms. The sugar industry provides a living directly for 20,000 workers, and it supports a white population on our northern littoral, where otherwise there would be no population at all. The growers and workers appreciate what the Commonwealth Government has done for them in renewing this agreement. Without it very little sugar would be grown in Australia, because white men cannot compete with black labour in Java and Fiji, where men are paid only ls. 8d. a day.
The honorable member for Dalley said that the sugar industry was coming under foreign influence. That is all bunk. It may bc possible to pick out one of two places where the industry is largely in the hands of foreigners, but, taking the industry as a whole, it is manned overwhelmingly by Australians. In any case, I point out to the honorable member for Dalley that the retail fruit industry in Sydney is almost exclusively controlled by people of the same race as those against whom he is complaining. I am not worrying greatly about that, except that I would rather see our own people controlling the industry. If every section of the workers in Australia, were as well organized as are the sugar workers, their conditions would be better. If those who work in the sugar refineries were properly organized,- they, too, would be able to improve their conditions. The trouble is that they are split up into sectional unions, each of which approaches the court separately.
– How can we get our own people into the sugar industry?
– Our own people are in it. How would the honorable member suggest getting our own people into the retail fruit industry? Some of the Italians in the north have been engaged in this industry for 40 years past. In some .instances, the grandsons of the original settlers are now working the land. Many of the Italians started in some other occupation when they first came here, but then, as opportunity offered, a few of them got together and bought a cane farm. It is to their credit that they did. The children of the original immigrants know no other country than this, and they are as good Australians as others native born. These Italians are good citizens, and abide by the awards of the court. I do not think that the honorable member for Dalley will receive much support for his amendment. He proposes that the agreement should not be renewed until an inquiry into the industry has been held, but it would take a considerable time for a royal commission to conduct its investigation and to prepare its report. Probably, before it had finished, the present agreement would have run out, and. then the industry would be thrown into chaos. Neither the growers or the millers would know where they stood, and the future of the industry would be in jeopardy. The people of Australia have no reason to complain of the price at which sugar is sold. At the present time, it is cheaper than it has been for years past. I know that, during the last war, there was a section of the growers who wanted to obtain the world parity price for their sugar, but the Government very wisely refused their demand. The price of sugar was fixed, and the Government even brought in foreign sugar, bought at higher prices, in order to meet the demand. The public did not have to pay the full price, because the extra cost was borne by the Government. There is no reason why the sugar agreement should not be renewed, and I am happy to know that it will be. The sugar producers have nothing to hide, although it is often suggested that they have; they are prepared for the fullest investigation of their industry. That that is so was proved in 1931, when they did not try to withhold any information from the Sugar Inquiry Committee. Half of the mills in Queensland are owned by the growers. I should like to see all of the mills so owned. If any excessive profits are made, they are made by the Queensland National Bank and other large organizations, which grow and crush large quantities of cane. They gain more from the industry than those who grow cane to have it crushed by others. The sugar-growers are making a comfortable living, but they do not live in affluence- I should like to see ‘the same conditions in every other primary industry. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) said that the wheat-growers had lost one objection that they had formerly to this agreement. That is so. They are receiving Australian parity for that portion of their wheat which is sold for homeconsumption; so are the butter-producers. It is not the fault of the sugar-growers that the wheat-growers have to export a great proportion of their crops. The sugargrowers, on the advice of the Premier of Queensland, conferred and agreed to restrict the area under cultivation.
– If they had not done so they might have been in just as big a mess as the wheat-growers are in.
– The tragedy is that something similar is not done in the wheat industry.
– There is no doubt about that. If the sugar-growers had not made up their minds to limit production and exports, they would have had to seek monetary assistance from the Government. They are still considering the advisability of further reducing production. The area under sugar cane is not very much greater now than it was 30 years ago, but the quantity of sugar produced has increased out of all proportion, because the growers realized that the agreement under which they worked and the general world conditions made it necessary for them to become efficiently organized. In growing, milling and crushing, the sugar industry of Australia is just as efficient as, if not more efficient than, the industry in any other part of the world. I believe that the House will approve the agreement and will have no cause to regret it.
.- It is true that the principle of a homeconsumption price now governs the wheat industry, but, unfortunately, it has had only recent application. The sugarfarmer is in a comfortable position, largely because the cropping of sugar in Australia has been restricted. If nosugar were exported from Australia the grower of sugar for Australian requirements could be content with probably half the price which he is now receivingfor that portion of his crop which is. sold in Australia, and still make his present profit. Much of the profits which the present Australian price should return to the sugar industry are swallowed by loss on the surplus that has to be sold abroad at one-third of the Australian price/
This agreement is being made nearly eighteen months before the expiration of the existing agreement. I should like to see the Government in an equal hurry to allow the wheat-grower to know what his fate will be at the next harvest. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) and other Queensland members spoke of the oversea credits of £6,000,000 a year that accrue from the sale of the surplus sugar abroad, but I remind honorable members that in that respect the wheat industry has been one of Australia’s greatest standbys. The wheat industry establishes credits amounting to £20,000,000 per annum. Notwithstanding the fact that the Australian wheat farmers are in, not the comfortable position of the sugar-growers, but are in a ruinous position, they sell their commodity abroad in competition with black labour and every other kind of labour.
– “Where is wheat for export produced with black labour?
– The Assistant Minister, being a Queenslander, will be quite impartial in this debate.
– As impartial as the honorable member who is a Western Australian.
– The wheat industry is extremely important and those engaged in it want some authority in Australia to step in and create a fair measure of restriction, or do something that will let them know that they are on a stabilized
Order! The honorable member appears to be discussing the wheat industry, instead of the sugar agreement.
– I probably erred when I was representing you in the chair. Analogies were allowed by me.
– I fear that the honorable member was at fault when he was in the chair.
– I allowed analogies to be drawn between those two great assisted industries. I thought there was nothing very wrong in the analogy which was fairly drawn by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who readily supports assistance to the wheat industry as well as the assistance which this agreement gives to the sugar industry.
I should be inclined to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), if he were not so. one-eyed in his outlook. He and those associated with him opposed the assistance given to the wheat industry by the imposition of a flour tax. They oppose everything which does not benefit their own electorates. I have no objection to an inquiry, but I do not know whether the honorable gentleman and those who are with him would support me if, later, I moved for an inquiry, long overdue, into the wheat industry. I rose, more particularly, to ask for a little more consideration of this matter. Seeing that the whole of the people of Australia is consenting to this agreement, it would be fairer if it were made to apply equally to all portions of Australia. There is an attempt to do something in that direction by fixing a flat rate for sugar at all the capital cities. I have no objection to that, but in Western Australia, which is about one-third of the continent, the flat rate should not be confined to Perth. It should operate at Albany also as it did formerly. Albany is an important province in which there are many merchants who earn their living in the same way as do merchants in the capital cities, by selling their goods in certain neighbourhoods. Ships, carrying sugar from the eastern States, pass within half an hour of Albany and they could easily deliver at that port all the sugar it needs. The sugar need not go a further 300 miles to Fremantle and then be freighted back to Albany. That double handling places the merchants there at a disadvantage compared with the merchants at Fremantle and Perth, who are able to buy so as to enable them to sell their sugar right down to the doorway of Albany. That is not fair. 1 understand that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has established refineries at Fremantle, doubtless, in its own interest. For that reason, this agreement contains no provision for. placing
Albany on the flat rate basis. The merchants at Albany get no consolation from the refining at Fremantle, and I seriously ask the Minister to remedy the anomaly which the agreement will create.
This doubtless is more a matter for the committee stage, but big firms, like the West Australian Farmers Limited, which can arrange for the purchase and distribution of sugar, should be entitled to be classed as distributors and to obtain the discounts specified in the agreement. The retailers, who as distributors are rendering a very great service to the community, are incurring a considerable loss in distribution, _ and the agreement should provide that they should receive at least sufficient to cover the cost of handling. I trust that the Minister will give favorable consideration to the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) which at present I feel disposed to support.
– I have not yet seen it.
– It appears to be a reasonable amendment. As a primary producer, I am anxious to do all I can to assist those engaged in rural industries, but I trust that those interested in the sugar industry will adopt a reasonable attitude towards those engaged in other primary industries, particularly in Western Australia, which makes a contribution to the sugar industry equivalent to £500,000 a year, in consequence of the price which the people in that State are compelled to pay for their supplies over and above the price at which they could import sugar, getting, at the same time, a valuable reciprocal trade. I disagree with the honorable member for. Richmond (Mr. Anthony) who said that the disabilities which the Western Australian people suffer under this agreement are met by the grants which the Commonwealth makes to that State. Such grants are quite insufficient to meet the disabilities we suffer under this agreement and in many other ways.
.- I’ congratulate the Government upon having introduced this measure, which embodies the sugar agreement, at this stage, because those engaged in the industry will know that at the termination of the pre- sent agreement they will be able to make the necessary arrangements with respect to their agricultural and other operations. During the last war Australia’s sugar production decreased by about 50 per cent., owing to the unsatisfactory conditions which obtained in the industry, and the Commonwealth Government was forced to import sugar at £100 a ton when sugar-growers in Queensland were receiving as low a.s £15 a ton and later £18 a ton for their product. It was possible to sell sugar in Australia at an average price of 6d. per lb. when imported sugar was costing about ls. per lb. because Australian sugar had been bought at 2d. per lb. Therefore, it is essential, particularly in war-time, that everything should be done to stabilize the sugar industry. Many suggestions have been made as to the best way in which to do that ; but I believe that every one has come to the conclusion that the imposition of an embargo on importations of sugar from cheap black-labour countries, the adoption of an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales, acceptable to the growers and the consumers, and especially to those industries which export goods containing sugar, is the most satisfactory plan. When asked to support an embargo against the importation of foreign sugar, we must determine whether an embargo is essential. The value of the industry to Australia at any period, particularly in wartime, cannot be challenged successfully. During the last twenty years, the industry has produced sufficient for Australia’s requirements, and at present a surplus of from 300,000 to 400,000 tons is available for export. This is of inestimable value in providing the Commonwealth with overseas credit of from £4,000,000 to £6,000,000, thus enabling other Australian industries to import goods which otherwise could not be obtained. These imports have proved very beneficial in connexion with the development of other industries. I am pleased to recall that two years ago [ was instrumental, at the international sugar conference, in preventing a reduction of the quota which Australia sells in the British market, which is our only free market, and so maintaining the volume and value of export. Studying the subject from only one angle, the industry must be encouraged because it assists to a material degree to maintain theWhite Australia principle which is so essential to Australia. Up to the present it has not been found profitable to produce crops other than sugar in northern Queensland, and the development of this industry has been the means of increasing the population considerably. Intensive cultivation is necessary, many of the sugar farms being not more than 40 to 50 acres in area. The industry has built up such towns as Cairns, Mackay and Bundaberg, all of which have large engineering establishments, and, generally, the sugar-growing districts are a splendid example of decentralization. The operations of the industry are based upon payment by results; the cane is cut at definite rates; a fixed amount is paid for the milling and refining and the finished product is sold at a definite contract price. Growers and millers have displayed extraordinary ingenuity, skill and diligence in increasing the production and improving the quality. Compared with 40 years ago production of sugar an acre has increased by 300 per cent. The mills have doubled their efficiency during the last 25 years, and I believe that those now in operation compare more than favorably with mills in any part of the world.
Another reason why I support the agreement is that it keeps the price of sugar in Australia at a reasonable level, having regard to the price variations in many other countries. Whether the seasons be good or bad, sugar is retailed in Australia at 4d. per lb. In most other countries there is more speculation in sugar than in any other commodity. The price to the consumers falls sometimes to 11/2d. or 2d. per lb., and occasionally it rises as high as1s. per lb. The present basis of the agreement was drawn up as the result of a conference held in Adelaide in 1922 between Country party leaders and representatives of the sugar industry. The suggestions then put forward were incorporated in the agreement by the Bruce-Page Government in 1923. The new agreement embodied the principle of co-operation between the primary industry of sugar production and the dependent sugar-using industries. Provision was made for the jam-making and fruitcanning industries to obtain sugar in Australia at a lower price than that at which it was sold for ordinary purposes, whilst for export purposes those industries were able to obtain sugar at the export parity. Since 1931, a bounty of £216,000 a year has been paid by the Sugar Board to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee in order to encourage the export of canned fruit, and. I am glad to know that an extra £45,000 is being provided this year to assist exporters of jam.
Although some people may balk at the imposition of an embargo on black-grown sugar, one must remember that other forms of assistance to the industry have0 been carefully examined, notably by the Piddington Royal Commission in the early days of federation. One suggestion was that a sliding duty on sugar would meet the needs of the industry, but that proposal was found to be quite unworkable. No method of assistance has proved so satisfactory as that now adopted. The agreement provides for an embargo against black-grown sugar, reasonable prices to the consumers, and assistance to the export industries which use sugar. This has ensured increasing efficiency in every phase of the industry, whether in the growing, milling, refining or distribution of the product.
.- The sugar agreement is essential to the security and the stability of the industry. It is of vital importance not only to Queensland, but also to Australia as a whole. If measures similar to those taken to safeguard the interests of this industry had been adopted with regard to certain other primary industries, much of the trouble experienced by them might have been avoided. Honorable members who object to the renewal of this agreement favour, apparently, a reversion to black labour on the sugar fields and in the mills.
– That is not so.
– The honorable member for Dalley placed before the House arguments which I have heard time after time from those who consider that kanakas should be brought back to the fields. Statements such as some of those made by the honorable member are commonly heard from market riggers, price jugglers, and other exploiters of the primary producers.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, for instance.
– I shall have something to say later regarding that company. Some people who are associated with other primary industries are jealous of the 100 per cent, prosperity of the sugar-growers. Reference has been made by previous speakers to the fact that 81.7 per cent, of the cane-growers do not pay income tax. That fact shows that the sugar consumers are not exploited for the benefit of the growers.
– Quite so.
– I am glad that the honorable member agrees with me on that point.
The history of the industry extends over 70 years. In the early stages, the labour required on the fields was provided by kanakas, but the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901-06 provided for the repatriation of the kanakas who had been brought to Australia to work in the sugar fields. Those natives were introduced because it was stated erroneously that white men could not work in the tropics. Australia is the only country in the world where white men do hard work in tropical areas, and cane cutting is admittedly one of the hardest jobs a man can undertake. Legislation for the repatriation of the kanakas was passed in 1906, and, from 1906 to 1911, white men were engaged on the sugar fields and in the mills at a wage of from 22s. 6d. to 25s. a week and keep. The food consisted, for the most part, of sweet potatoes. In 1911, the employees demanded an improvement of their industrial conditions, and the great strike of that year resulted in a vast improvement. I well remember the slogan of the strikers -
Eight hours’ work,
Eight hours’ play,
Eight hours’ sleep,
Eight bob a day!
If the amendment were accepted, and the signing of the agreement were delayed, the sugar-growers would be uncertain as to their position, and many of the men engaged in the industry would lose their employment.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.
– The wages in the sugar industry to-day are governed by awards of the Queensland Arbitration Court. The industry gives direct employment to 9,000 farmers, 6,300 field workers, 9,000 cane-cutters, 6,500 mill hands, 1,000 miscellaneous workers, and 1,700 refinery workers, making a total of 33,600. In addition, indirect employment is given to 16,400 people, making a grand total of 50,000. The industry supports 120,000 people directly, and 60,000 indirectly, or a total of 180,000, all of whom live within the tropical belt. The white population of the tropical portion of Western Australia is only 5,328, and that of the Northern Territory 4,182, as compared with 240,796 in Queensland. Those facts give some indication of the importance of the industry not alone to Queensland but also to Australia generally. The industry is valuable economically because of the employment which it creates, and the widespread settlement of the northern areas which it has brought about. It also contributes largely to the defence of Australia, because were it not for the population supported by the sugar industry, the Government would find it necessary to keep a standing army of probably 250,000 troops in the north of Queensland. The success of the industry is a source of great satisfaction to the Labour party, because it gives a clear indication of what can be done by systematic organization and control. Another source of satisfaction is the fact that Australian consumers have to pay only 4d. per lb. for sugar, whereas, as previous speakers have stated, the price of sugar in other parts of the world is considerably in excess of that amount. At the beginning of the last war Queensland produced only half of Australia’s home requirements, with the result that the other half had to be imported at a cost of approximately1s. per lb. But because of the contribution of the infant industry in Queensland the price to the consumer was about 6d. per lb. But those days have long since gone. To-day the industry not only provides the whole of Australia’s requirements, but also has built up a valuable export trade. As a matter of fact, the growers have given an undertaking to provide sufficient sugar for our own domestic market, and, in addition, to fill certain standing export orders. To do that they have to plant not only sufficient cane to supply immediate domestic and export requirements, but also a little in excess, so that should the crop be a failure in any one district the industry would still be able to meet its commitments. I am informed that the amount exported to Great Britain is 300,000 tons a year, and that that trade results in the creation of credits amounting to something like £5,000,000. Large credits have also been established by the export of sugar to New Zealand. In addition, we have the satisfaction of knowing that the industry is entirely in the hands ofwhite men.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has moved an amendment with the object of having the industry referred to a royal commission to investigate, among other things, the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. Whilst I support any move for an investigation of the affairs of that combine, I shall not vote for a proposal which is merely a red herring drawn across the trail. The honorable member for Dalley and his supporters are not prepared to do the decent thing and vote against this agreement ; they are not prepared to make a straightforward statement of their case in opposition to the agreement; they are merely attempting to divert attention away from the main issue, so that the people of Australia will believe that they are prepared to stand up for this industry and support the workers engaged in it. The arguments advanced by the honorable member for Dalley are those of the people who are in favour of bringing the kanakas back, and once more making sugargrowing in Australia a black-labour industry. The honorable member made a vicious attack on all phases of the sugar industry, and stated that whereas wages have only increased by 68 per cent., groceries have advanced 66 per cent., leaving a net wages gain of only 2 per cent. Apparently he thinks that the sugar-workers live solely on groceries, but I point out to him that they also eat meat, potatoes and other vegetables. The honorable member also said that he accepted the figures given by the Treasurer (Mr. Spender). That is a change. I have been in this Parliament for a number of years and this is the first occasion on which I have heard the honorable member supporting anything that has been said by a Minister. Apparently he has never visited the sugar-growing areas, and has never read a sugar award in order to find out for himself just what wages are paid in that industry. For the information of the honorable member I shall cite the wages paid to sugar workers. In the southern districts cane-cutters engaged on day-labour receive £5 15s. a week, or 2s. 7 10/11d. an hour; in the central district they receive £6 a week, or 2s. 81/11d. an hour ; and in the northern district, £68s. a week, or 2s. 10 10/11d. an hour. Field workers over nineteen years of age are paid £4 4s. a week in the southern district, £4 9s. 6d. a week in the central district, and £4 14s. a week in the northern district. The wages payable in 1911 ranged from 22s. 6d. a week up to 25s. a week, plus board, and 68 per cent, added to that 25s. a week makes only £2 2s. a week. The honorable member for Dalley endeavoured to bolster up his weak case by attacking those engaged in the industry, who, he said, were only 2 per cent, better off than they were in 1911. I suggest that the honorable member knows full well that he was misleading the House in quoting figures which he knew were not true. I draw the attention of honorable members to the rates for cane-cutters, most of whom are engaged on piece-work, and are paid so much a ton. The wages vary from 7s. 5d. to 15s. 7d. a ton in the southern district ; from 7s. 8d. to 15s.10d. a ton in the central district; and from 7s.11d. to 16s.1d. a ton in the northern district. Incidentally, in some places the output has been restricted to 4 tons a day per man in order that employees may bring into the industry their boys for whom no other avenues of employment are open. In the slack season general mill-workers over 21 years of age, in the southern district, receive 2s. 5/22d. an hour, or £4 8s. a week; central district, 2s. 1 5/22d. an hour, or £4 12s. 6d. a week; and in the northern district, 2s. 2 8/11d. an hour, or £4 18s. a week. In the crushing season general millworkers in the southern district are paid 2s, 2 2/11d. an hour, or £4 16s. a week; in the central district, 2s. 3 3/11d., or £5 a week; and in the northern district, 2s. 4 10/11d. an hour, or £5 8s. a week. The assertion by the honorable member for Dalley that employees of this industry are only 2 per cent, better off in wages is ridiculous and stupid, to say the least of it. Even though the Treasurer used those figures in his speech the honorable member for Dalley should have the intelligence to know whether they are right or wrong. If he is not able to perceive that, I am sorry for him. The honorable member said that an inquiry should be held into the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. That was his theme song, and he used it as an excuse for an attack on all phases of the sugar industry. As I have just pointed out, he attacked the wages of the workers and the policy of the farmers.
– The honorable member said that 81 per cent, of the farmers bad insufficient income to render them liable to pay income tax.
– Strangely enough the figure given by the honorable member on this occasion is correct. It ‘is true that 81 per cent, of the farmers have incomes too low to render them liable to pay income tax. This industry is not wholly and solely dependent on the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, as the honorable member for Dalley would have us believe, nor was it established for the purpose of giving to that company all of the cream off the milk, leaving only the whey for the farmers and workers. It is a small man’s industry. A sugar farm cannot exceed a given area, unless the farmer is able to buy assigned land.
The honorable member for Dalley contended that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited wants this agreement, because it has meant millions of pounds to it. Those well acquainted with the real position know that the company does not want the agreement, and would prefer the conditions that operated prior to the making of the first agreement in 1915 by Labour Governments in both the State and Federal spheres. Those conditions would enable it to increase its profits. The case put forward by the honorable member for Dalley either constitutes a direct attack on the workers in the industry, or, if it cannot bear that interpretation, indicates that he holds a brief for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and has endeavoured to disguise his real intentions. I suggest that he peruse the State sugar award, and make himself conversant with the industrial side of the industry. He should also visit the sugar areas, to see what is being done there. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to take him through the award clause by clause.
The honorable member also quoted from a statement made in 1922 by Mr. J. M. Fowler, then chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, butdid not tell us that Mr. Fowler also said in 1922 that, the price of sugar in Australia should be £26 10s. a ton, or £10 10s. a ton higher than it was at that time. Ten years later, in the depth of the depression, this same gentleman said that the farmers were paid too much for their cane, and that the price of sugar was too high.So much for Mr. Fowler.
Further evidence of the honorable member’s lack of knowledge was furnished by his statement that Mr. Fallon, the general secretary of the Australian Workers Union and federal president of the Australian Labour party, signed the minority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee of 1931. Mr. Fallon did nothing of the kind; he signed the majority, report. The honorable member should do the decent thing by publicly apologizing to Mr. Fallon for having associated him with the minority report. A further statement made by the honorable member was that the Sugar Inquiry Committee and the Labour movement in Queensland had had great difficulty- in securing certain information in respect of wages, because the employees of the Central Cane Prices Board were bound by an oath of secrecy. The awards made by that board have nothing to do with the fixation of wages. The honorable member used, the term “ award “ merely in order to confuse the issue. In Queensland, the decisions of the Industrial Court, and of either the local Cane Prices Board or the Central Cane Prices Board, are described as awards, but the one has nothing to do with the other. The honorable member misquoted, with a view to confusing the issue, and to bolster up his weak case. Local cane prices boards are composed of two representatives of the farmers and two representatives of the millers, with a Police Magistrate as chairman. They sit and hear cases that are referred to them in connexion with the price of cane. If the parties fail to agree, either one may appeal to the Central Cane Prices Board. That board investigates the industry just before the season commences, with a view to settling outstanding disputes.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr.Rosevear) made the further assertion that- southern European labour has displaced kanakas in the sugar-fields. On this point I refer him to the report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee of 1931. In it he will find that in that year the number of foreign employees was, in No. 1 district 10,652, or 23.4 per cent. ; in No. 2 district 10,153, or 2.4 per cent; and in No. 3 district 7,932, or 2.2 per cent. The number of naturalized employees was, in No. 1 district 20 per cent., in No. 2 district 5.3 per cent., and in No. 3 district 2.7 per cent. The totals for all districts were, foreign employees ‘28,737, or 10.1 per cent., and naturalized British subjects 2,885, or 10.1 per cent. In a lecture delivered by Mr. F. C. P. Curlewis, General Secretary of the Australian Sugar Producers Association Limited, on the Australian sugar industry, in 1938, the following statement was made -
In the 1033 returns, the recorded particulars of the raw sugar industry, so far as both Queensland and New South Wales are concerned, are that 87.24 , per cent, of employers and employees were British born or naturalized British.
It will thus be seen that the assertion of the honorable member for Dalley, that southern Europeans have displaced kanakas, was grossly incorrect. I fail to understand why the honorable gentleman does not pay a visit to the sugar districts with a view to making himself thoroughly conversant with what is being done there.
There are 33 sugar-mills in Queensland, and only 4 of them are owned by the Colonial . Sugar Refining Company Limited. The honorable member argued that the company is making enormous profits. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) also asserted that the company is exploiting the consumers of Australia. Jobson’s Investment Digest for July, 1939, contained the balance-sheet of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. That balance-sheet showed that the assets of the company included the following items: . Sugar-mills, &c, Fiji, £1,479,839; fruit-cannery, Fiji, £46,072; ocean steamers, £271,877 ; shares in subsidiary companies, £12,200; and investments, £3,239,977. I quote these figures to show that the company is not wholly and solely dependent upon the Australian sugar industry, but has other investments which return a considerable proportion of its profits. On the subject of the profits of the company, the report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee of 1931 contained the following paragraph -
The average profits made by the company’s mills during the three years 1928, to 1930, represent about 8 per cent, of the capital value of the assets as shown in the company’s books, If income tax is deducted, the rate of profit is only 6.5 per cent. This capital value is below actual capital cost, as large amounts have been written off in early years and it is claimed that the gross profit represents less than 4 per cent, of the cost of erection of the plants at the present day.
A later paragraph read -
The company provides all the finances required . to carry out its services as agents for the Queensland Government. For that portion of the crop consumed in Australia, the company is allowed7s. 5d. per ton to cover interest. It finances the surplus sugar exported without charge for services and without interest.
Banking is another of the many activities of the company. It finances the whole of the sugar crop at an interest rate1/2 per cent, lower than the rate quoted by the Commonwealth Bank, and, in addition, finances, without interest, the export of sugar from this country. The farmer gets paid for his cane when the season closes. The report proceeds -
The company provides all the finances required to carry out its services as agents for the Queensland Government. For that portion of the crop consumed in Australia, the company is allowed 7s. 5d. per ton to cover interest. It finances the surplus sugar exported without charge for services and without interest. . . .
In 1928, the charge for interest was increased from 6s. 7d. to 7s. 5d., because the Sugar Board asked the company to carry over larger stocks of raw sugar between seasons.
On page 136 of the same report the following appears -
The above profit of £009,000 represents 7.1 per cent, of the capital value of the assets at the Australian mills and refineries, i.e., the written-down value of the fixed plant, . plus the value of the average stocks. If income tax is deducted, the return is 5.S per cent, of the capital value of the assets.
That gives some indication of the company’s dealings with sugar, hut I am chiefly concerned with the source of its enormous profits. I would support a motion for an investigation of the ramifications of the company.
– Several honorable members have said the same thing, but they jib when a definite proposal to that effect is put forward.
– This is not the time to move in that direction, because the bill before us must be passed quickly in order that the farmers, the cane-workers, and the business people of the sugar districts may know where they stand. A farmer needs eighteen months’ notice so that he may prepare his land and make arrangements for the planting of the cane. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said that a thorough investigation of the operations of the company would take a considerable time, and would require the services of the most skilled accountants in Australia in order to ascertain the facts. Should the ratification of the agreement have to wait until a royal commission had completed its inquiries, the delay would be too great. I ask honorable members to visualize what would happen to the growers, the workers and the business people in the sugar district while an inquiry was being conducted by a royal commission. The delay would cause dislocation of the industry in the cane-fields and would deprive those engaged in it of the security which they now enjoy. The future of the industry would be jeopardized. The proposal of the honorable member for Dalley is an attempt to injure the sugarworkers of Queensland.
– Reference has been made to refining costs. It has been said that by making excessive charges for refining the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited exploits Australian consumers of sugar. This afternoon it was pointed out that, even if the company were to do the refining for nothing, the saving to the consumer would be only one-fourteenth of a penny per lb. of sugar.
I emphasize that Queensland is a good customer for the products of the southern States. In 1933-34 Queensland imported from the southern States goods to the value of £16,000,000, and exported to them goods valued at £11,000,000. The respective figures for 1934-35 were £16,200,000 and £10,400,000. In 1937-38, Queensland imported from the southern States goods valued at £22,500,000, whereas the value of its exports to them was only £13,700,000. Those figures show clearly that Queensland is not exploiting the rest of Australia in order to bolster up its sugar industry. That industry is just as vital to the other States as it is to Queensland. At some other time I shall be prepared to support a motion for an investigation of the ramifications of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
– It is always “some other time”.
– The honorable member will not move in that direction at an opportune time. His speech to-day is practically a repetition of the speech delivered by the honorable member for “West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) in 1935. I do not know how any other honorable member who thinks as he thinks will be able to find fresh arguments, because the honorable member himself has already exhausted the subject. It gives me the greatest pleasure to support the ratification of the agreement between the two governments.
.- I trust that the bill before the House will be carried, because it is essential, in the interests of the national economy, that the sugar industry be maintained. When Australia embarked upon its White Australia policy it took a bold step indeed; but that decision resulted in the establishment of an industry of which not only those immediately connected with it, hut also the people as a whole, have reason to be proud. To-day, sugar production is the best organized industry in the Commonwealth; indeed, it would be difficult to find in any other part of the world industries which are more efficiently controlled. The growing, milling, refining and distribution of sugar are scientifically undertaken. I emphasize that, were it not for the efficiency with which the industry is conducted, the consumers of sugar in Australia would pay much more for their sugar than they now are called upon to pay. It is a great pity that some other primary industries are not carried on in the same sound manner.
– They are not allowed to do so.
– I have a great deal of sympathy with the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), and others, who are interested in the wheat industry, but we shall never be able to place that industry on a sound basis until we completely control production as well as distribution. The fact is that much of the wheat grown in Australia is produced in uneconomic areas. The experience of countries in which sugar is grown without some form of control similar to that in operation in Australia has been disastrous to the growers and also to the community. A few days ago the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) referred to a number of instances of collapse of the sugar industry in other countries because there was no effective control of it.
– Because there was no public to exploit.
– Without the arrangement which we have in Australia, the same results would follow here.
There has been some criticism of the fact that we are now about to make an agreement which is to come into operation eighteen months hence. It must be evident to all thinking persons that it is essential to have a long-range plan for an industry such as thi3. Uncertainty as to the future would be disastrous to the sugar industry. The proposal of the honorable member for Dalley to submit the whole subject to a royal commission would mean a delay of practically eighteen months.
– This afternoon, as 1 listened to the honorable member for
Dalley, I was somewhat impressed by his remarks. Later, when I referred to the Hansard report of the debate in 1935, I found that practically the same statements as were made by him to-day were made in 1935 by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley).
– A good tale is worth telling twice.
– The honorable member for West Sydney could not convince the House then nor can the honorable member for Dalley do so now. I emphasize the economic value of this industry to the Commonwealth. So much has been said about the sugar industry and its value to Queensland, that it is just as well to remind ourselves of the part that the sugar industry plays in our national economy. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has pointed out that the purchases by Queensland from the southern States represent about £16,000,000 a year, as compared with sales to them of goods valued at only £11,000,000 per annum. These excesses of purchases over sales show conclusively that Queensland is not exploiting the other States.
I shall refer briefly to some of the criticism of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited by honorable members. This company has made a very valuable contribution to the high state of efficiency in the sugar industry. When we criticize this company we should not overlook that fact. Recently, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) referred to what he thought was the abnormal depreciation shown in the accounts of this company. The honorable member said that the company had depreciated its wasting ‘assets by £1,000 a day, or £365,000 per annum. That may appear to be a large sum, but it must be borne in mind that the wasting assets of the company represent £12,000,000, so that the depreciation is only 2£ per cent. Any one who has had any experience of a business of the magnitude of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited will realize that a depreciation of 2£ per cent, is not excessive.
– How does the honorable member fix the wasting assets of the company at that enormous figure?
– The wasting assets shown in the company’s last balance-sheet were as follows: - ‘
All these are subject to depreciation.
– Is land included?
– It may be, but the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) will realize that the land would represent a very small proportion of the total. I have given these figures in order to show that the contention of the honorable member for Perth that the company is allowing for depreciation to an unreasonable degree, is not borne out by the facts. A company of such magnitude as this one must provide ample reserves for depreciation,otherwise it might find itself in difficulty when some abnormal claims fell upon it, such as those caused by storms, cyclones or other acts of God. Prudent management demands the provision of ample reserves for depreciation. If the company did not make adequate provision under this heading, it would be criticized for not doing so. Caution and prudence justify the policy that the company has adopted in this regard.
-What have storms and cyclones to do with this agreement?
– I am referring, at the moment, to the criticism of the company for its allegedly too-generous provision for depreciation.
– The allowance under this heading is only about 21/2 per cent., which is not excessive.
– That is so. I regard the provision as fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.
It has already been pointed out in the course of the debate that a good deal of the profit of the company is derived from its operations outside Queensland, and to this profit the agreement has no relation. The . Government of Queensland exercises a measure of control over the refining operations of the company. I understand that a Government auditor makes an audit of the company’s accounts each’ year, and I have every reason to believe that the interests of the producers are fully protected. I have not had an opportunity to examine the list of shareholders of the company, but I venture to say that large parcels of shares are held by people who reside in all of the States of Australia. I do not think the majority of the shares are held in Queensland. This being the case, I emphasize that the benefits flowing from the dividends of the company are distributed throughout the Commonwealth.
– We are not arguing against the interests of Queensland.
– Since I have been a member of this Parliament I have observed that whenever any proposal is advanced on behalf of Queensland, it is said that Queensland already enjoys wonderful benefits and advantages from its sugar industry. If I had any desire to make political capital out of this debate, I should advocate a reduction of the price of sugar, for I have only sugar consumers and not any sugar producers in my electorate. I am a supporter of the agreement, however, because I believe that its ratification will be in the best interests of our national economy.
I wish to emphasize, briefly, the point made this afternoon by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) in relation to the benefits which Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania receive from the substantial Commonwealth grants made to them each year.
– Not substantial grants; just grants!
– If the honorable member for Lilley intends to adopt that line of argument, I shall vote against the bill.
– I should accept that as a further reinforcement of my arguments. I cannot remember any honorable member from Queensland ever voting against the measures to make financial grants to certain States in pursuance of the reports of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. I personally have always supported the proposals of the Government in this connexion. I point out, however, that the taxpayers of Queensland, who are subjected to higher State income tax than the residents of any other State, have to make their contributions towards those grants.
– Does the honorable member realize that the Sugar Inquiry Committee, which sat in 1931, expressed the view that Queensland obtained greater benefits from the sugar agreement than the total benefits granted by the Commonwealth to necessitous States?
– That was the view of the minority, but it was not supported by the Government.
– I feel sure that the honorable member for Dalley will admit that the States to which I have referred obtain substantial benefits under federation.
– I admit it, but that is not the point.
– I suggest that every honorable member of the Parliament who harbours any doubt at all about the value of the sugar industry to north Queensland should pay a visit to that part of the Commonwealth at the first opportunity. He would find that the prosperous towns of Bundaberg, Mackay, Cairns, Innisfail and Ingham all rely largely on the sugar industry. He would also realize how valuable this great industry is to Australia as a whole. The sugar industry is our first line of defence in the northern part of the Commonwealth. It has been stated in this debate that more than 100,000 people rely upon this industry for their livelihood.
– Would the honorable member say that if the war broadened in a certain direction what he has called our first line of defence in the north might become one of OUr weak lines of defence?
– I would not. I have no desire to reiterate the arguments already advanced by other honorable members in favour of the ratification of this agreement, and I shall conclude by urging honorable gentlemen on both sides of the House to vote for the bill. Although the honorable member for Dalley saw fit to criticize the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited severely, I cannot remember one occasion when the sugar producers have made a request that there should be an investigation of the operations of the sugar refineries of Queensland.
– The honorable member should read the report of the committee of inquiry to which I referred.
– I trust that the bill will have a speedy passage through the House.
.- I second the amendment of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and I am at a loss to understand why it should have been so vigorously opposed by certain honorable members. All that it does is to set out five distinct grounds of inquiry in order to obtain some justification for the renewal of the sugar agreement. I can see no reasonable objection to the adoption of that course. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has to-night, in my opinion, addressed himself to his first brief, as a rising young barrister. I considered that he was endeavouring to bolster up a very weak case, but I must congratulate him upon having achieved a fair amount of success. He stated that, directly and indirectly, 180,000 people are really dependent for the stabilization of their means of livelihood on the ratification of this agreement. That very fact, however, would justify us in not hurriedly passing this bill, which, it would seem, will result in the giving of concessions to only a small proportion of those affected by it. It has been pointed out that we are considering this measure eighteen months before the current agreement expires. I remind honorable members also that we are being asked to consider the subject just prior to the general elections. It may be that, after the elections, a different government will be in office. It seems to me that there is no necessity whatever to hurry this measure through the Parliament. We should be devoting our time to other and more vital matters,- and in particular to the serious international crisis which faces us. The sugar agreement could come before us at some subsequent time when we have relieved our international difficulties. The second reason why the honorable member for Dalley asks for an inquiry into the industry is to determine to what degree the growers of sugar-cane have benefited from the operation of the agreement since 19.’15. It is evident that they have not benefited to a degree corresponding to the value of their contribution to the industry. The Commissioner of Taxation in Queensland has stated that 81 per cent, of sugar canegrowers in that State did not have a sufficient net taxable income to render them liable to tax. We have been told in this debate that whilst the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited owns and controls four mills in Queensland, the growers own and control the other 29 mills in that State. How is it that that company can make fabulous profits each year, whilst the great majority of the growers do not earn an income sufficient to render them liable to tax? Perhaps, an inquiry into the industry would show that most of them do not receive even the basic wage. It cannot be said that the growers are inefficient. The inquiry committee^ of 1931 reported that it had received ample evidence of improved efficiency in the industry in both field and factory. Its report stated -
Asa result of scientific research and experimentation, considerable improvement has been shown in .the types of cane both as regards sugar content and disease resistance. Experimental stations have been established in various centres under the direction of the Bureau of Queensland Sugar Experiment Stations. The benefits of the experience gained at experimental areas are made available to the farmers. Valuable work has also been done by the bureau in combating pests and counteracting disease in cane. General use is now being made of fertilizers, which has been responsible for increasing the yield. Both artificial and green manure are employed, and as the cane plant deprives the soil of a great deal of its essential constituents for the promotion of growth, systematic and heavy fertilizing is necessary.
Visitors from overseas associated with the sugar industry in other countries have been favourably impressed with the conduct of the industry in Queensland and have commented on the progress _ and development that have taken place, particularly in regard to the more extensive use of machinery for planting, fertilizing, weeding and- cultivation generally. Evidence was given that both Hawaii and South Africa have- adopted many of the methods of cultivation in use in the Queensland sugar industry.
As regards mill efficiency - evidence was given that Queensland holds the records of producing one ton of sugar from a lesser amount of cane than any other cane-producing country in the world. (This, of course, is due in some measure to the sugar content of the cane. ) The following table shows the improvement in this respect since 1900: -
An inquiry should be held to discover why, in spite of this efficiency, 81 per cent, of the growers in Queensland do not earn sufficient to render themselves liable to income tax. Such an inquiry could also put our minds at rest as to whether or not the retail price of sugar should be reduced. If the Scullin Government was justified in appointing a committee of inquiry in 1931 before it would renew the agreement, equally justification exists to-day for the appointment of a similar committee. Surely this Parliament should pay some attention to the fact that a request has been made by the Retail Grocers Association to the Commonwealth Price Fixing Commissioner for an increase of the retail price of sugar from 4d. to 4ld. per lb. We have been told that the Commissioner has postponed consideration of this request until Parliament has reached a decision as to whether or not the new agreement should be ratified.
The main additional provision in the new agreement is that the price of sugar in Darwin should be the same as that in the State capital cities. However, this provision is not to become operative until September, 19411. At the same time, the agreement provides that rebates shall be paid, as from September next, to retailers who purchase 1,500 lb. of sugar each month. If it is just to apply this concession as from September next, why should consumers in Darwin be denied the benefit of a reduced price for a further twelve months? Some honorable members have contended that the present is not opportune to amend the agreement. Under the National Security Act the Government possesses the requisite powers to deal with this matter expeditiously. It could immediately obtain all of the information necessary to enable it to decide whether or not. the agreement could be improved in any way. I recall that when this Parliament was considering the renewal of the agreement in 1935 the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), who is now Assistant Minister, speaking to an amendment moved by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who sought an inquiry into the industry at that time, said -
Some time ago I visited the sugar plantations of Queensland in order to obtain firsthand information regarding tlie industry. As the result of what 1 found there, I am of the opinion that the request of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is reasonable. There should be an inquiry into the industry, so that members of this House may have before them reliable data to enable them to come to a decision regarding the advisability or otherwise of extending the sugar agreement for anotherfive years.
Equal grounds exist to-day to justify the holding of an inquiry into the industry. I support the amendment.
.- I am surprised that the Government should submit this agreement for ratification eighteen months before the old agreement would normally expire. It would be better advised to get on with proposals that really matter. Very little work was done in this House last week. The Government, apparently, is not anxious to tell us what it proposes to do during the present crisis. In view of the more important matters which should engage our attention at a time like the present, we should not be bothering about an agreement which could be conveniently dealt with in six or twelve months’ time.
When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) compared the Australian retail price of sugar -with that prevailing in other countries, he did not explain the reason for the high prices prevailing in European countries. The explanation is simple. In Belgium, Holland, Germany and Italy, sugar is regarded as a luxury, and as such is subject to heavy excise duties. In Belgium excise duty is as high as 2d. per lb., whilst in Italy the price of 9d. per lb. is largely “accounted for by the high excise duty imposed on sugar in that country.
In Queensland, unless a grower first obtains a permit from the Sugar Board, he cannot have his cane crushed at any of the mills. The industry originated in the area just south of the Queensland border. Gradually it extended northwards. It was found that the climate and soil in the far north were most suitable for the crop. In those districts the yield of cane an acre was 25 per cent, greater than in the southern areas. Of course, vested interests endeavour to keep the production of sugar confined to the southern areas, but the suggestion to open up additional portions of northern Queensland is absurd because excessive prices are asked for huge areas of land in the vicinity of Cairns whilst adjoining land is regarded as of very little value merely because permits to grow cane on that land cannot be obtained. Apparently the sugar industry is being extended not to develop Australia, but to benefit landowners financially interested in its operations. I have received a letter from Westralian Farmers Limited, who are large distributors of various commodities, but, I understand, are not to be entitled to the 2 per cent, rebate.
– Does that organization extend credit and supply the retail trade?
– Yes. If it complies with the requirements of the law it should be entitled to the rebate granted to other similar organizations. The rebate would be of considerable assistance to such organizations which distribute large quantities of sugar. I suppose that chain stores will benefit.
– A Western Australian co-operative association has been added to the list of those entitled totherebate.
– Why has the organization which I have mentioned been excluded? Reference has been made to the position in which the retailers are placed, and I should like to know why a small reduction of, say, one-eighth of a penny cannot be made in the retail price of sugar, which is £33 4s. a ton. Such a rebate would amount to £1 3s. 4d. a ton, and it would be a concession to retailers, who are largely responsible for the distribution of sugar. It would enable them to make a small profit.
I have always been opposed to sugar agreements such as this; but I realize that when the nation is at war it is undesirable to do anything to disorganize industry and perhaps act detrimentally to the community. In these circumstances the existing agreement might remain operative during the period of the war, and then the whole position could be reviewed. As I have not visited the sugar-cane growing districts in Queensland for many years, I cannot speak with authority on present conditions; but I do know that the owners of land suitable for sugar-cane growing, who can obtain the necessary permit, can secure £100 an acre, while the price of adjoining land for which a permit cannot be obtained is of little value. I should like the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) to give an assurance that cooperative concerns in Western Australia will be entitled to the rebate.
– I shall look into that.
– There should not be any discrimination in such matters.
It has been said that any disability which Western Australia suffers in consequence of the sugar agreement is more than compensated for by the financial grants made by the Commonwealth to the State. It is interesting to note that in 1936-37, the last financial year for which I have the figures, the average value of exports from all States, excepting Western Australia, was £15 per capita, whereas the figure for all States was £19 per capita. But in that year Western Australia’s exports per capita were valued at £30 12s., showing that the export trade of that State, which has been robbed and exploited by tariffs and other Commonwealth action, is higher than that of other States. I admit that I have not heard the representatives of Queensland in this chamber oppose the grants made to Western Australia, hut some from the other States have directed attention to the wonderful trade which the eastern States do with Western Australia, whereas that State derives very little benefit from eastern Australia. The assistance which Western Australia receives in the form of grants is merely a payment in part for the disabilities it has to suffer. I trust that the Assistant Treasurer will give favorable consideration to a rebate of one-eighth of a penny, say on half-ton lots, to enable the retailers to make a reasonable profit. I have a letter from the Housewives Association of Western Australia, which complains bitterly of the unnecessarily high cost of sugar; but for the reasons I have given I think it undesirable to bring about disorganization and dissension at this juncture. I trust that the Government will give careful consideration to the points I have raised, and that several necessary amendments will be made when the measure is in committee.
– I do not wish to repeat the arguments which have been adduced by honorable members on both sides of the chamber in support of the bill; but as there are five sugar mills and important cane-growing interests in my electorate, I do not intend to record a silent vote on this important measure. I remind honorable members who are opposed to the bill that this procedure is necessary because the Commonwealth Parliament has created conditions which render it imperative to protect an industry which,, until white labour was employed, was conducted by black labour. The first step taken by the Commonwealth Government was to place an embargo upon imported sugar, and this measure is merely to provide for that prohibition. The only other clause in the bill is to approve an agreement made between the Commonwealth and the Government of Queensland. There is nothing in the measure concerning the Coronial Sugar Refining Company Limited, and therefore it cannot be regarded as contentious. The sugar industry has done more to assist the defence of an otherwise isolated and vulnerable part of Australia than has any other industry, and it is an example of efficiency which could be followed by other primary industries. I appreciate the difficulties of the wheat-growers of Western Australia, whose claims have been stressed by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), but I am glad to learn that those honorable members have generously realized the position of the sugar-growers. I trust that the wheatgrowers, whose cause they support so strenuously, will adopt the policy of the sugar cane-growers and establish an organization to “ protect their interests, instead of always coming to the Government for all necessary assistance.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has asked for a further investigation into the working of the sugar industry, but there have been more inquiries into its operations than have been made into any other two industries in Australia. Those who have investigated the production and distribution of sugar in Australia have always found that the industry is efficiently conducted, and that the price at which sugar is sold is not excessive.
Even the representatives of the Housewives Association, which watches the interests of the consumers very closely, have admitted that the principle under which the industry is conducted is in the best interests of the community. If the honorable member for Dalley does not withdraw his amendment he will bring ridicule not only upon himself but also upon the seconder and those who support it. The bill contains no reference to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, the operations of which are controlled under an agreement between the Queensland Government and the company. At present, Australia’s requirements are met at a reasonable price, and the exportable surplus provides substantial credits overseas. Australian sugar is produced by white labour at a price lower than that charged in any other country. Black-grown sugar is retailed in Great Britain at 4d. per lb., and in 41 other countries the price is 5£d. per lb. But the British sugar cost is really greater than 4d. because to it must be added duty on imported sugar and the cost of the bounty on home-grown beet sugar. All of the benefits from the sugar agreement do not go to the producer, because the sugar industry is a wages industry; wages absorb probably the greatest proportion of the receipts of the industry. It is only the application of science that has made the grower able to make ends meet. It has been stated that all that science has contributed to the industry is the use of fertilizers, but science has gone much farther than that. The scientist has produced a cane with an ever-increasing sugar content and provided means to fight disease. He has experimented with most valuable results in fertilizing. He has developed the best means of irrigation, and has perfected the crushing mills. In short, he has been the means by which it has been possible for the growers, in a reasonable season, to make a profit.
– Our grievance is that iu spite of that, 81 per cent, of the sugargrowers do not have incomes which come within the taxable range.
– That proves the truth of my statement that sugar-growing is not merely a farmer industry. It is broader than that; it is a wage industry. It cannot be said that the sugar-cane-groWer is receiving something, from this agreement with which other primary producers have not been blessed.
– What about the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited ?
– This agreement has nothing to do with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. The Queensland Government has with that company one Of the best business agreements into which a government could ever enter. Orchardists, the wheat-farmers and other primary producers could count themselves lucky if they had associated with them organizations of the character of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, to which the sugar industry and the Commonwealth owe a debt of gratitude. The company admittedly has made great profits.
– Hear, hear!
– But the honorable member and his colleagues forget that the activities of the company are not limited to this Commonwealth. Its greater interests are in Fiji, far beyond the jurisdiction of this Parliament. I point out, too, that the Colonial Sugar. Refining Company Limited does not merely engage in sugar refining. It owns the freehold of beautiful farms. . It operates most modern sugar mills, which work side by side with the central mills system. Another activity of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is the production of power alcohol and the distillation of rum. Its activities are many, and I understand that shortly in Victoria it will operate a second plant for the distillation of power alcohol.
I suggest to honorable members who represent city constituencies that they take home to their constituents these facts for their consideration - they may not be aware of them: The primary industries all want a home-consumption price. This agreement makes possible for the sugar industry a home-consumption price which does not cost the Commonwealth one penny, in spite of the fact that the sugar industry loses money on the £6,000,000 worth of sugar which it annually exports. The wheat-growers have been given not only a home-consumption price, hut also some assistance in respect of export sales, whereas the sugar exports are not in any way subsidized.
The honorable member for Swan illustrated that sugar land in production was worth £100 an acre, whereas contiguous land was worth only £5. Those are the honorable member’s figures, but, conceding their correctness, that might be possible, because the value of land becomes enhanced immediately it is assigned for sugar production. Clearing of northern jungle and planting of crops add about £50 an acre to the value, to which must also be added about £40 an acre, the prospective value of the crop. That, with the value of improvements, would bring the value of the land to about the figure stated by the honorable member. If land nearby is not assigned for sugar cultivation, it is almost worthless, because no other industry had been developed in the northern sugar-fields. The sugar industry has made a vast contribution to the defence of this country by being established in country where no development had started. If the acreage of land devoted to sugargrowing were doubled, the result would be a huge surplus that would have to be exported at a loss. The result would be destruction of the home-consumption price, which must be considered conjointly with the £6,000,000 worth of Australian sugar that is now sold overseas in competition with black-grown sugar. Australian sugar has to compete abroad with the low prices that are asked for sugar grown by black labour ; the sellers have to be content with a little assistance from the British Government. It must be apparent to the honorable members for Swan and Forrest that the sugar agreement is as essential as it is judicious and that without it the continuation of the industry would not be possible. I am glad that there has been no real opposition to the bill except a proposal by the honorable member for Dalley that there should be a further investigation of the industry. If the honorable member would read all of the reports that have already been made on the industry he would realize that there is no need for further inquiry.
Mr. BLAIN (Northern Territory) [9.39 j. - I shall direct my attention to two aspects of this matter, first the classification of Darwin as a capital city for the fixation of a flat price for sugar, and secondly, the references made by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to the value of land in the sugar belt. I am pleased that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) raised the question of sugar prices at Darwin. The point that I intend to make now is that the difficulty in the Northern Territory is that there is no machinery there, just as there is no machinery in the Australian Capital Territory, the other territory directly under the control of this Government, for the fixation of prices. I have often urged the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner of Prices for the Northern Territory. Before such an appointment, however, it would be necessary to establish a regimen on which the Commonwealth Statistician would base a prices index on which the Prices Commissioner would operate. Food regimens would be necessary at Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
I turn now to the value of land in the sugar areas, but before doing so, I must state that I do not oppose the bill. I rise merely to voice my objection to the sugar industry being classified solely as a north Queensland industry, because it is nothing of the kind. The same sort of thing was said in 1935 when the sugar agreement was last under review. The same arguments were advanced and the same methods of refutation were employed with equal facility then as now. No wonder that the people, of Australia have become sceptical. In 1930 the Brisbane Telegraph reported Mrs. Scullin, the wife of the right honorable member for Yarra, the then Prime Minister, who travelled north with her husband, as saying that, of course, she supported the sugar industry, “ because there is nothing else economic that they can grow there “. That is still true to-day, but only in respect of that portion of the sugar belt which lies north of Bundaberg. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Fadden), himself a Queenslander, can bear me out in that. But the sugar industry is not confined to northern Queensland. I am probably qualified to acquaint honorable members who have not travelled through the sugar belt with the facts of the sugar industry, because I have classified and delineated the whole strip of country on which sugar is grown. I shall start south at Grafton and go up the coast briefly describing what honorable members would see if they made the trip themselves. I understand that the sugar-growers at Grafton receive the same return as do the growers at Mossman on the Daintree River. That is most unfair, because in the far north, north of Mackay^ or, perhaps, a little north of Bundaberg, no other economic crop than sugar can be grown. At Grafton, as any Graftonian must admit, there is a diversity of agricultural pursuits. The people there could discard sugar and still make a handsome living. I skip Brisbane and stop at Nambour, another area which does not depend on sugar and has no need to do so. The Mary Valley district is the next place of call. The country there is the pride of Australia. It is studded with dairy farms, not only next to cane-fields but also on the fields themselves as a side line. It is not fair to classify that area as “ the far north “ ; yet the growers there receive the same return as the far northern growers. A little farther north, at Bundaberg, dairying and allied industries cease, because it is not economic up there to raise cattle or pigs, and the landholders are forced to confine themselves to the production of sugar. I am 100 per cent, plus with what Mrs. Scullin said, but only insofar as her statement related to that portion of Australia, because no crop other than sugar could be grown there. I live in the Maranoa district, and the people there are annoyed at the special consideration shown to sugar-growers in the southern parts of Queensland and northern New South Wales. They want to know where they come in. In the Maranoa and Darling Downs areas neither the soil nor the rainfall is suitable for sugar-growing, and there the farmers have to depend upon dairying and pig-raising on marginal lands. The rainfall is only 30 inches a year, and the soil must be cultivated if it is to produce anything. On the other hand, there are dairying dis tricts in the north, in the Gin Gin, Bundaberg and Maryborough districts, where the soil is rich and the rainfall ample, whore there are abundant natural grasses, and where the farmers hardly ever put a plough into the ground. In those districts, also, they have the sugar industry to back them up. I maintain, therefore, that the sugar industry should receive this special encouragement only in those areas which can produce sugar and nothing else. Sugar-raising should be discouraged in areas suitable for dairying, but encouraged in the northern districts where it is uneconomic to produce anything other than sugar. In that way we would be able to support a larger population along the whole coastal belt. At the present time, sugar-producers from the Clarence to Innisfail are classified in the same way, and it is time that was altered. I am not opposed to this bill, because I realize that the agreement must be renewed. The growers cannot turn quickly to the production of other crops, and while a great war is in progress is not the time to attempt a change. However, when the agreement comes up for review again, we should see that the industry is fostered only in the northern part of Queensland. Let everything that is necessary be done for it in the districts north of Bundaberg, but do not give it any special encouragement in the southern districts, where other kinds of farming can be profitably engaged in.
– There are involved in this matter the growers, the workers, the consumers and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. All of these are vitally concerned in the sugar industry, and during this debate their various interests have been closely examined. It has been declared over and over again that the growers are not getting more than a bare living. We have been told that sugar-cane-growing is a small man’s industry; that the holdings are so arranged that no one may plant more than a certain acreage. It is therefore generally accepted that the growers are not making more than a bare living - that is, if they are making even a reasonable living, taking into consideration the work they do.
A.s for the workers, with them the point is not the wages they receive, but what they are able to buy with their money. That was pointed out by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear ) when he said that there had been an effective wage increase to the workers engaged in the sugar industry of only 2 per cent. However, even if we accept the evidence of the awards themselves, as cited by the Treasurer (Mr. Spender), honorable members will not claim that there is anything wonderful in the conditions which the workers have obtained, or that we should regard their present position as the highest to which they could possibly aspire. We know that workers’ organizations are, almost yearly, seeking adjustments to meet changed conditions regarding living costs, &c.
The consumers would be undoubtedly willing to pay the price demanded for sugar if they felt that the benefit of this artificial price was being reaped by the workers and the producers. We are all ready to pay what is necessary to ensure reasonable living standards. We cannot expect to enjoy good living standards ourselves unless we are prepared to pay what is necessary, in order to allow others to enjoy similar standards. We are not growling about having to pay, but we do growl when, after having paid, we find that the money is going to swell the profits of one of the greatest combines in this country. If by paying 4d. per lb. for sugar we could ensure that the growers received a reasonable income - sufficient to pay income tax on, for instance, because it was claimed that 81 per cent, of the growers do not pay tax - we should have no cause for complaint, for we know that whatever they get they work hard for. They must take the risk of cyclones, and I have no doubt that there are pests to contend with in cane production, just as in any other form of cropping. Our complaint is that, while the consumers are paying a high price, and the growers are merely struggling to live, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is reaping enormous profits, and distributing bonus shares. In fact, it has become a scandal, and the whole country is talking about it. If the Colonial Sugar Refining Company
Limited had nothing to hide, why did it object to the royal commission inquiring into its affairs? Why did it raise legal points about the powers of the commission, and take the matter to the High Court? If a man charged with an offence refuses to go into the witness box to be cross-examined, it is reasonable to assume that there is some feature of his defence which will not bear investigation. What applies to ah individual in the courts applies with equal force to the attitude of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited before the royal commission. We were not able to clean the matter up then, and we have not been able to do so since. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr Martens) agrees that the position should be investigated, but he asks how it is to be done. He points out that the High Court has ruled in a certain way, and that it is therefore impossible to do anything. I feel that this is a golden opportunity for the Government, by virtue of the powers vested in it by the National Security Act, to do something which it could not do before, namely, compel the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited to submit to a thorough public examination of its affairs. If the Government will agree to this, all of our objections will have been mot. We have no wish to prevent the sugar industry from receiving the protection to which it is entitled, any more than we would deny protection to any other deserving industry. However, when we give protection to an industry, we should see that no person or group takes advantage of it to acquire undue wealth at the expense of the community. We have a twofold duty : We must protect our industries, whether primary or secondary, and we must also see that those interests to which protection is given do not use it to exploit the consumers or the producers. That is our attitude towards the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) said that this agreement had nothing to do with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited - that it was between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland, its purpose being to afford the necessary protection to the sugar industry. He then went on to admit that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited was a party to an agreement with the Government of Queensland. The honorable member is simply splitting straws. The agreement which we are now discussing creates the conditions necessary for the arrangement between the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and the Government of Queensland. The fact is that the company is vitally interested in this agreement.
– As a matter of fact, the company would wipe the agreement out altogether if it could.
– I do not think so.
– The honorable member may not think so, but we know.
– I do not care what the honorable member thinks he knows; I know that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is vitally interested in this agreement. Why are its representatives here in this building day after day? Are they just playing about? Of course they are interested in the renewal of the agreement. The company has been well fed over a number of years, because of the agreement. This was proved in 1935, when a special amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act was passed through Parliament by the Lyons Government in order to save the company from having to pay the new form of tax on a bonus share distribution of £7,000,000. Although, in 1935, the primary producers and others suffered severely, unemployment being widespread, this company made that enormous distribution of profits. One complaint I had against the Lyons Government was that it gave the company five months in which to distribute its profits, and thus evade taxation, but the public was not at all satisfied. A few weeks ago its profits were shown to have increased by £100,000, its dividends by £120,000, and its reserves by £400,000. Its new dividend rate of 8£ per cent, is equivalent to 43-^ per cent, on its original capital. When the community pays an increased price for sugar in order to assist an industry, it expects the benefit to go to the workers and the growers in the industry. In view of the critical times in which we live, and the hard struggle which many people experience in obtaining a bare subsistence, this and other wealthy companies will not much longer be allowed to exploit the community.
I was somewhat surprised that the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) did not refer to the sugar industry in northern New South Wales, as complaints have come from the growers in his electorate. In 1895 there was 33,000 acres of sugar lands under cultivation in New South Wales, but, to-day the growers in that State are allowed to plant only 20,000 acres, and only a little over half of the crop is cut for crushing. It is stated that in New South Wales the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has a monopoly of sugar milling. It is able to dictate to the growers in that State as to how much sugar they shall grow. Under the agreement between the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and the Queensland Sugar Board, the company undertakes to sell 80 per cent, of the sugar produced in New South Wales to the Queensland Sugar Board at the home-consumption price, and the remaining 20 per cent, at the export price, with a rise or fall of 1 per cent, for each 1,000 tons of sugar above or below 20,000 tons. Under this arrangement, if New South Wales produced 60,000 tons of sugar it would sell only about 40 per cent, at the home-consumption price, and the balance at the export price level. That would mean that every grower in New South Wales would be worse off than the average grower in Queensland, not only because of the restriction of production, but also because of the lower price received. The growers in New South Wales have cause for serious complaint as to the control that is exercised with regard to the area under cultivation and the prices paid for their product. As the honorable member for Richmond said that he himself was a sugar-grower, I fully expected him to refer to this matter.
– Production in northern New South Wales is not confined to sugar.
– Of course not. Tho primary producers there derive income from various forms of production, but the sugar-growers are evidently dissatisfied. I contend that the position of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited cannot be lightly brushed aside in this debate, since it alone has made immense profits ss a result of the agreement. It has the power of life and death over the workers and the primary producers on the one hand, and the consumers on the other. This monopolistic company should be dealt with in such a way that justice will, at least, he meted out to the workers in the industry, the primary producers, and the consumers.
– The agreement is not novel, and it is quite appropriate that we should consider it at this critical time. It is one of a series of agreements made between respective Commonwealth governments and the Government of Queensland. The original agreement was drawn up in July, 1915, as a war measure. Its principal object, as stated by the Sugar Inquiry Committee in 1931, was to protect the Australian consumers from possible exploitation by the local producers on account of the rising prices occasioned by war conditions. In other words, it was designed to prevent the growers from taking advantage of the favorable world prices at that time, and to confine their activities to supplying the Australian market. It was also intended to ensure adequate supplies of sugar to all Australian consumers during the war period by preventing the Australian producers from profiting by the high prices ruling in other countries, and to protect those engaged in the industry from the operation of food prices boards. During the last war, the Queensland sugargrower was forced to accept a homeconsumption price for his product, irrespective of the high world prices then ruling. By virtue of the agreement, the Queensland grower received £18 a ton for his product, although, at the same time, the Commonwealth Government was compelled to import black-grown sugar at prices as high as £52 a ton. On one occasion the record price of £130 a ton was paid. Any honorable member who is quite unbiased knows just what the sugar industry suffered as a result of the last war, during which, one may rightly claim, it made a very valuable contribution to the national economy. To-day, Australia is again at war. The sugar industry has once again become an extremely valuable one, and by means of this agreement, Australian consumers will be protected, as they were during the last war, by the fixation of a home-consumption price. No matter what height the price of sugar reaches on the world market, Australian consumers will, by means of this agreement, which will last for five years, pay only the price that ruled prior to the outbreak of war, namely, 4d. per lb. Cost of production will undoubtedly rise; in fact I do not think that any honorable member will suggest that the costs of production in the sugar industry have not already risen ?
– What about the world free market?
– The world’s free market handles black-grown sugar. If the honorable member would prefer blackgrown sugar, then I have little time for his national outlook. The agreement will be of great advantage to Australian consumers, because it guarantees a maximum price of 4d. per lb. for all sugar consumed in Australia during the next five years. That is the second contribution that this great industry has made to the national welfare in time of war. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has moved an amendment asking that searching inquiry be held into the sugar industry. Such an inquiry wa3 instituted by the Scullin Government in 1931, and the committee which carried out the investigation was clothed with the broadest possible powers for the protection of all sections of the community. It included representatives of the consumers, manufacturers, and other commercial users, the fruit industry, the Commonwealth Government, the Queensland sugar industry, and the Australian Workers Union. The latter representative was included to look after the workers in the industry. After the most exhaustive scrutiny lasting for many months, during which much travelling was done and the most minute details were examined, majority and minority reports were presented. I point out that these reports were made in 1931 - nine years ago - when costs of production were much less than they are to-day, or are likely to be. in the future. The majority report declared that in the best interests, not only of the industry itself but also of Australia, a retail price of 41/2d. per lb. was warranted..The minority report, despite the antagonism of the signatories to the industry and their desire to keep the retail price at the lowest possible figure, recommended that the retail price be 41/4d. per lb. - only1/4d. less than the price recommended by the majority report. That price of 41/2d. per lb. prevailed for five years, and then once again the sugar industry made a generous gesture. As a further contribution to national solvency, during the depression years when adverse export conditions were affecting all primary industries, the sugar industry voluntarily - I emphasize thatreduced the price of sugar to the Austra-: lian consumer to 4d. per lb. With these facts before them, surely honorable members cannot say that the Queensland sugar industry has not done its job to the consuming public of Australia fairly, squarely, honestly and conscientiously. How can it be suggested that this industry is not to be trusted to do the fair and square thing in the years to come? The sugar industry has never sought anything more than a fair price for its product, based on cost of production, with maximum efficiency and the maintenance of Australian standards of living in the tropics. There is no need for me to emphasize what a prosperous sugar industry means to the White Australia policy. Honorable members know as well as I do that the sugar industry is a bulwark of thatpolicy, to which it made no small contribution when it was converted from black to white labour. All that the industry desires is a continuance of fair prices based on White Australia standards and conditions, and efficiency in production. The honorable members for Dalley and West Sydney emphasized the fact that the sugar industry concerns four very important sections of the Australian community - the growers, the workers in the industry, the consumers, and the Colonial Sugar ‘Refining -Company Limited. The honorable member for Dalley -said that, on a comparable basis, wages in the sugar industry had increased by only 2 per cent, since 1911. I say in fairness to him that I think . that he was -misled to some extent by the statement of the Treasurer (Mr. Spender), who, when introducing the bill, said . that at the pre sent time the average retail price of foodstuffs and groceries is 66 per cent, above the 1911 level, and that the average of the Commonwealth and State basic wages is 68 per cent, above the 1911 level. Using those two sets of comparative figures, the honorable member for Dalley apparently deduced that the wages of workers in the sugar industry had improved by only 2 per cent. In the first place, I remind honorable members that the conditions of the workers in the sugar industry are subject to what is probably Australia’s most efficient arbitration tribunal - the Queensland Arbitration Court - which operates very satisfactorily in the interests of all sections of the community in that State. The Queensland Arbitration Court is just as desirous of maintaining the standards of the worker as are the honorable members for Dalley and West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), and by means of many searching inquiries into the sugar industry it has safeguarded the interests of the workers, having regard to all collateral and salient features. What is the true position? It is not fair to make deductions from the averagemovement of wages and working conditions throughout the Commonwealth. The sugar industry enjoys special conditions under the Queensland Sugar Industries award. Whereas in 1911 there was a uniform wage in the southern, central and northern zones of 30s. a week and keep; under the 1940 award, the figures are , 67s. 6d., 73s. and 77s. 6d. a week and keep, respectively. These figures represent increases over the 1911 figures of 125 per cent, in the southern district, 143 per cent, in the central district, and 158 per cent, in the northern district. On the figures quoted by the honorablemember for Dalley - 22s. 6d. and 25s. a week and keep - the percentage increases are, southern district’ 200 per cent., central district 225 per cent., and northern district 210 per cent. The position of the worker is thus amply safeguarded by an efficient system of arbitration. There are tribunals which watch the interests of every section of the industry; they ascertain the cost of production and determine the selling price of sugarcane, as well as the remuneration of the employees. The Central Cane Prices Board determines the price of cane between the miller and the grower, and the four mills owned by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited are subject to exactly the same conditions in regard to the price to be paid for cane and the wages of the workers, as are the remaining 29 mills. If the allegation of favoritism is well founded, then that favoritism must have been shown by the Queensland Labour Government which, with the exception of a period of three years, has been in power continuously since 1915. The honorable member for West Sydney has argued that neither the worker nor the grower is getting a fair deal, and that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is receiving too large a proportion of the price paid by the consumer. This presupposes that the price to the consumer must not be reduced; because surely the honorable member would not suggest that the worker, who, according to him, is already getting too little out of the 4d. per lb., should receive less, or that the grower can stand a lower price than that at present paid. His submission must be that the amount paid to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited should be reduced in order that the other two sections might benefit. According to the honorable member for Dalley, the worker improved his position by only 2 per cent, in 25 years; consequently, what he receives must not be reduced ; and as81 per cent, of the growers do not pay income tax, their receipts must not be less. Further, the price to the consumer of 4d. per1b. must not be altered, and all that remains is an internal adjustment as between the different sections. It is not my purpose to defend the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited - it is quite competent to defend itself - but I want to put the position in its true light, in order that grave misconception with respect to its association with the sugar industry may be removed. The honorable member for West Sydney stated that what he termed this large octopus had been able, in the middle of the depression, to make a distribution of bonus shares of a value of something like £7,000,000, and emphasized that that was evidence of profiteering at the expense of the Australian consumer. My reply to that assertion is that, a company which has been in existence for a period of 80 years, for 50 years of which it has been actively engaged in Australia, ought, by prudent management, to be in a position to make such a distribution of bonus shares. The whole of its profits are not made in Australia. Listening to some honorable members, one would think that it is purely a New South Wales company, and has no other activity except the refining and sale of sugar and the conduct of four raw sugar mills in Queensland. What are the facts? The company owns a very large cannery in Fiji, it has on the Fiji market a monopoly of black-grown sugar, it is the owner of ships, it does the whole of the refining of sugar in New Zealand without any government control, and it manufactures methylated spirits and power alcohol. It has investments not only in Australia, but also in other parts of the world. Is it not, therefore, entitled to make some profit? The very stability of the sugar industry, which is of tremendous advantage to Australia, is bound up in the stability of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. Australia could do with a few more companies of the same sort, particularly if they distributed within Australia, in the financing of our primary industries, profits that they made outside this country. As I have already said, the mills of this company have to observe the same conditions as are imposed on other sugar mills and activities in Queensland. What is the true position in the mill areas ? As the result of the higher efficiency of the mills of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, the growers who supply them with cane receive from 3d. to 6d. a ton more than is paid by the other mills. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited was the first to institute a fortnightly payment for cane to the growers, and it makes more liberal advances to the farmers than are made by any of the other mills.
It must be remembered that this agreement, as the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) has rightly stated, is an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland, following on the agreement made in 1915 with a view to preventing the exploitation of the Australian consumer by the Australian producer. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is interested in it by virtueofthe agreement that it has with the Queensland Sugar Board in respect of the refining and distribution of sugar, lt could say to the Queensland Government to-morrow, “We want a higher price; we want war conditions before we shall consent to refine and distribute sugar “. There would be no alternative to the granting of the demand, because the company owns the whole of the refineries and other facilities for the conversion of raw sugar into refined sugar, and its distribution throughout Australia. The following statement shows the distribution of the retail price of refined sugar among all of the participants for the 1937 season, the figures given being the latest available : - to assist to the greatest degree possible the economical distribution of sugar to Australian consumers. 1 repeat that Australia could do with many more such companies, lt is a pity that our great wheat industry could not become associated with a similar organization.
– What about conditions at Albany?
– I shall do all that I can for Albany and other places. The honorable member’s representations have been noted, but I cannot give to him any undertaking as to what the result will be. Every public man who has been associated with the establishment and development of the Australian sugar industry, from the time that it ceased to be carried on by black labour until to-day, has something of which to be proud, for this industry has been of material advantage to Australia. I emphasize that every sugar farm, every hamlet, and every mill along the vulnerable coastline of Queensland constitutes a garrison for the defence of this country. I confidently commend the bill to the House.
Question put -
That the words proposed to he omitted (Mr. ROSEVEAR’S amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Of the £17 16s. 6d. that is received by the growers, the workers get approximately 50 per cent. Of the selling price of £37 6s. 8d. a ton, refining costs amount to £2 12s. 6d. The profit is one-twelfth of a penny per lb. of sugar, so that if the Australian consumers could get the sugar refined for nothing they would not save a great amount. What organization is there in Australia which could take over the work from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and show better results? This company has established refineries in every capital city, in order
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
The agreement made between His Majesty’s Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and His Majesty’s Government of the State of Queensland (a copy of which agreement is set forth in the schedule to this act) is approved.
.- I move -
That the following words be added to the clause: - “ subject to that agreement being amended to provide that in paragraph (ii) of subclause(a) of clause 5, the price for refined sugar of 1a grade for not less than half-ton lots for net cash be reduced to £32 0s. 8d. per ton, and the price for refined sugar of1xd grade to manufacturers for net cash be reduced to £31 7s. 5d. per ton”. .
The purpose of the amendment is to provide for a reduction of the price of sugar to retailers by1/8th of a penny per lb. Honorable members will appreciate that a completed agreement is being presented to us in the schedule to the bill. The only way by which we can amend it is by first amending clause 3. I have no hesitation whatever in declaring that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited is in a position to sell sugar at the reduced rate stated in the amendment. In fact, it could afford to sell sugar at even lower prices. The proposed reduction is intended to benefit the retailers of sugar who, of course, are the grocers scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land. They are the only persons interested in this agreement who have not reaped any benefit from it. The whole-
Balers will obtain their discount of 2 per cent, but the retailers will obtain nothing, unless the agreement be amended. In my opinion, the retailers have had a genuine grievance for many years. They have definitely not had a fair deal. The
Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited has done very well out of the agreement, and so have the wage-earners in the industry, some of whom have obtained wage increases of up to 200 per cent. The unfortunate retailers, who are the “ go-betweens “, have had no benefit whatever, although they are rendering an essential service. If they had half the spirit of trade-unionists, they would form a union among themselves and go on strike. They would refuse to distribute sugar unless their complaints were remedied. They are being compelled to handle sugar at starvation rates.
– Does the honorable member advocate that they should strike?
– At times it is necessary to strike in order to obtain justice. I am not altogether opposed to the strike method. The people would get their sugar even though the grocers were on strike. Under this agreement, the most fortunate of the grocers - those within the metropolitan areas - will be allowed a maximum benefit of 11 per cent. Less fortunate retailers receive 8 per cent. That is a starvation rate. No grocery business can be carried on at a rate of profit less than 20 per cent, gross.
-How many times do they turn it over?
– That argument applies to every foodstuff ; sugar is not unique in that respect. Grocery businesses have considerable expenses to meet in the way of cartage and wages, with substantial overhead charges, such as bad debts, &c. They cannot carry on profitably with a gross margin of 11 per cent. This fact has been admitted by the Price Fixing Commissioner, who has intimated that he would like to grant the request of the Retail Grocers Association, but has deferred his decision in the hope that Parliament might relieve him of the responsibility of increasing the price by1/4d. per lb. However, he realizes that the retail grocers are having a bad time. They have lost much of their percentage owing to war-time conditions. For every penny increase of the price of grocery lines the rate of percentage on turnover is considerably reduced. It is recognized that the trade makes its greatest profits on imported goods. It is on these articles that grocers are enabled to maintain their average, and to offset the small margin of profit on such a commodity as butter. Many imported lines are now unobtainable. The grocers, admittedly, are in a bad position to-day. For this reason, the Price Fixing Commissioner has limited his award to 4d. per lb. cash, apparently reserving his decision as to whether he should allow an extra charge for booking. The grocers are the only section of those interested in the handling of sugar who do not make anything out of it.
– The wholesalers do not make anything out of it.
– They receive 2 per cent, profit, although, in many cases, they merely forward lists of orders to the refining company which handles deliveries. At any rate, the wholesalers are receiving a fair profit for the service they render. The industry can well afford to make this concession to the retail grocers. This year the export price has increased to £10 ls. a ton, as compared with £8 4s. 3d. a ton for last season’s sales, or an increase of approximately £1 17s. a ton. In respect of total exports of 532,000 tons, this represents a total increase of revenue to the industry of nearly £1,000,000. From that figure mustbe deducted certain costs in respect of freight and bagging which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has estimated at approximately £100,000. This gives to the industry a net increase of approximately £900,000 this year in respect of exports, as compared with sales for the preceding season, and that increase has been cut up between the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited and the producers generally. Yet it is suggested that of that increase the industry cannot afford to give even a scrap to the retail grocers. In addition, the industry is in a far better position to-day than it was when the agreement was renewed in 1935. Owing to the magnificent efficiency which it has attained within that period, the production of cane has been increased threefold/
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Collins). - The honorable member has exhausted his first period, but if no other honorable member intervenes he may continue his second period.
– The retailers have not had the slightest consideration, and in fact have been treated disgracefully. The mill-owners, cane-growers, workers and others have all benefited by the increased efficiency of the industry, but the poor unfortunate grocers, who have no one to support their claims, have been overlooked entirely. I do not think that any honorable member will suggest that a profit of 11 per cent, is sufficient to cover all the costs involved in connexion with the handling and distribution of this commodity.
– They make a profit of 11 per cent, on sugar, but 100 per cent, on some other items.
– The honorable member for Macquarie overlooks the fact that the Prices Commissioner watches all increases of prices, and grocers, unlike drapers, have not the same opportunity to make excessive profits. Those who sell sugar also handle other foodstuffs, all of which are subject to severe competition and to the scrutiny of the price-fixing authority. It is difficult to determine whether drapery prices have increased since the 1st September last; hut it is easy for the Prices Commissioner to ascertain whether the prices of groceries have increased. There is always a strong demand for a reduction of the cost of living, and when prices are reduced or increases are refused, grocers suffer more than any other section of the trading community. Grocers commence work early in the morning, very often long before their shops are open, and, even when they conduct their establishments with the assistance of their families, have to work hours after their establishments are closed. The grocer comes to my home delivering groceries after 6.30 p.m., and he has assured me that it is only by working long hours that he can make a living. Those conducting small businesses on their own account are not protected by awards of the Arbitration Court, and consequently are ground under the heel of the sugar producers and other monopolists. If the grocers were as numerous as the sugar producers they would have more supporters in this chamber. I trust that my amendment will receive the support of the majority of the committee.
– I supported the second reading of the bill because I thought that a retail price of 4d. per lb. was fair, but I intend to support tbe amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). During the debate I have heard a good deal concerning the efficiency of the industry and of the benefits obtained by those associated with it. As practically every one connected with the production of sugar has been assisted, it seems only fair that the retailers, who . are responsible for its handling and distribution, should benefit to a greater degree than at present. Having listened to numerous speeches on this subject, I have concluded that further assistance should be afforded to the retailers. I believe that the industry can afford to pay them an additional1/8d. per lb.
– The honorable member should have supported the appointment of a royal commission.
– I want the grocers to receive an additional commission on their sales. In response to the representations I have made to the Government I have always been informed that the matter is receiving serious consideration. If the Prices Commissioner were asked to grant an additional concession to the grocers I believe that he would favour an additional one-farthing per lb., which is more thaD the increase sought by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). I support the amendment.
– I should like to inform the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) and the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price), who have referred to the attitude which would possibly be adopted by the Prices Commissioner, that I have received the following report, dated the 16th May, on the subject : -
The Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, Professor D. B. Copland, announced that he had received applications from the Retail Grocers Associations of Australia for an increase of the retail price of sugar of id. per lb., and individual applications for increases in the gross profit margins allowed on other commodities, notably butter and tea.
In the new sugar agreement now before the Commonwealth Parliament, no charge was being made in the prices paid to producers under the agreement, but the scope of the wholesale discount had been widened as from the 1st September, 1940, to the extent that any person, firm or corporation complying with the certain specified conditions as to wholesale trade might obtain the discount. Under this provision the way was open from the 1st September, 1940 for retailers to obtain some relief in respect of their purchases of sugar. It was recognized that the retail gross prolit margin on sugar was low and that some increase in costs to the retailer had occurred since the outbreak of war; but the margin on sugar had to be considered in relation to the average profit margin to grocers on all lines. As the sugar agreement was, in general, being continued without any improvement in the remuneration of sugar-growers and wholesalers, and the wholesale discount was being widened, it was not considered desirable at this stage to vary the cash price to consumers under the National Security (Prices) Regulations. The retail price had remained unchanged for some years before the war when there was no official control over the retail price of sugar, though the retail grocers had been making plans just prior to the war to raise the price in order to obtain a higher profit margin on sugar.
Since the outbreak of war some increase in costs in the retail grocery business had taken place, but, on the other hand, on most groceries the percentage profit margin available remained at the pre-war level. It was not possible without inquiry to estimate the net effect upon the position of the retail grocer, but an inquiry was now being conducted with a view to examining the gross profit margin on standard lines and the effect of the war on retailers’ costs. In the light of this inquiry the whole position of margins in the retail grocery trade would be reviewed, but in view of the special position of Bugar under the agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government where all prices up to the retail stage were fixed by Statute, no general variation would be made in the cash price of sugar to consumers under the National Security (Prices) Regulations.
That plainly states the attitude of the Prices Commissioner. Let us consider the position of the retail grocer. The honorable member for Perth has pointed out that, if the retail grocer is favorably situated, he earns a maximum gross profit on sugar of 11 per cent., whereas 20 per cent, is required in order to carry on a grocery. I remind the honorable member that the 11 per cent, gross profit on sugar is 11 per cent, every time he turns that sugar over, and, from my experience as an accountant, it is a poor grocery that does not turn sugar over twenty times a year. That gives a profit of 11 per cent, twenty times. How does that measure up with the gross return of 11 per cent.? Secondly, consider the allowance to the retail grocer compared with the 4d. per lb. sugar. The retail grocers get £4 2s. 8d. a ton. That is the maximum amount to which they are entitled under this agreement. I admit that they all do not get as much as that, but it is the figure that we can take. We find that the millers of raw sugar, who have all the capital costs and the risks incidental to milling, get only £7 12s. 9d. a ton. So, the retail grocer, who turns his sugar over, I repeat, about twenty times a year, receives £4 2s. 8d., or an equivalent of 54 per cent, of the amount received by the responsible miller.
– What does the Assistant Treasurer mean by “turning over sugar”?
– He only turns it over once.
– He keeps turning over the sugar or money for the sugar. He does not turn it over only in 1 lb. lots, which require a great deal of weighing and wrapping, as he or his advocates would make out.
– But once the sugar has been sold, it cannot be sold again.
– The capital is used over and over again.
– If I buy 1 lb. of sugar to-day and use it on my porridge, it is gone for ever.
– But the honorable member would have to go back to-morrow for another pound of sugar. Every 1 lb. he buys represents 1 lb. of sugar turned over by the storekeeper. The grocer makes £4 2s. 8d. a ton, compared with £7 12s. 9d. made by the raw miller. In other words, he gets 54 per cent, of the price received by the miller. In view of all circumstances and, having regard to the general conditions of the industry and to the fact that it is not asking for anything more under this agreement than the stabilized price of 4d. per lb., even if the grocer is not so well treated as we should like him to be, he is relatively well treated compared with the raw miller who has all of the responsibility.
.- If the amendment were carried, the only person from whom the £1 3s. 4d. a ton, which -Jd. per lb. represents, would come would be the grower of the cane. It could come from no other source. The cane-cutters would not have their wages reduced to compensate for the deduction. The millers would not reduce their costs of crushing. The refineries, as has alalready been shown, charge id. per lb. for refining. The concession advocated by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) would be equal to half of the refining charge. The price of £33 a ton is not the price the grower receives. That price covers the whole of the costs associated with the production of sugar. All that the growers receive after the deductional charges for freight and distribution in capital cities, the payment of the concessions to the fruit industry and so forth, is £23 12s. 6d. a ton. As only less than 50 per cent, of the sugar grown is consumed in Australia, and the grower has to sell the remainder overseas at £10 a ton, the average return received is only £15 or £16 a ton, not £33, as has been claimed. The growers were receiving £15 in 1915, so the honorable member for Perth is asking them to accept now less than what was the ruling price 25 year<s ago. The concession of £1 3s. 4d. a ton to retail grocers sought in this amendment would reduce the growers’ cheque by about 7 4 per cent. The honorable member for Perth told a sad story about the plight of the grocers. One appreciates that many small grocers have a struggle to get along, hut part of the grocery business is that the rate of profit varies according to the goods sold. The gross profit is worked out on an average over the whole range of sales. The honorable member should realize that what the grocer loses on the merry-go-round, he picks up on the roundabouts.
– But the small man has no bounty.
– That aspect has been thoroughly dealt with. I content myself by saying that the cost of the amendment to the grower himself would be £1 3s. 4d. a ton, approximately 1 per cent, of what he receives.
– It would amount to about £47 out of each farmer’s income.
– Yes, and it would just about break him.
.- I hope that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) will not be carried, because the cost of £1 3s. 4d. a ton would have to be paid by the growers. To take £1 3s. 4d. a ton from their income would drive them back to the prices they were- receiving in 19.14, whilst the costs of production have considerably increased. The estimated average return for all raw sugar of standard quality in the last four seasons has ranged from £15 2s. 2d. to £15 14s. 3d. a ton as against an average of £15 6s. a ton for 1913 and 1914. The price of sugar from 1920 to 1922 was £30 6s. 8d. and it was £27 and £26 for the next two years. Owing to increased export surpluses being produced the return fell to £24 and then to £15 14s. 3d. in 1939. A total of 365,000 tons of sugar is consumed annually in Australia, and. £1 3s. 4d. a ton on this quantity amounts to £425,800, which would represent a loss of £47 to each farmer. If the farmers suffered this loss they would have to approach the Arbitration Court for a variation of the award so that they would not have to pay so much to their workers. No one pretends that the consumers will benefit if this concession of id. per lb. is given to the retailers. I have every sympathy with the small retail grocers, knowing that many of them are struggling men, but if they make 11 per cent, on their turnover, as the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) has said, they are doing well- enough, assuming that the capital is turned over once a fortnight as we have been told by a public accountant to-night. One grocer told me that he turned over his sugar stock every week. There is no advertising involved, no wastage, and no merchandising difficulties. In the opinion of this grocer, the return is reasonable in the circumstances. The Assistant Treasurer, who has practised as a public accountant for years, has learned that, on the average, grocers turn their sugar stocks over at least 26 times a year. That makes their return very much greater than if they received only a profit of 11 per cent, on one transaction in the year. It would be most unfair to agree to this amendment at a time when the farmers, owing to over-production and other causes, are receiving less than they did in 1914-15.
.- The party to which I belong moved an amendment during the second-reading stage of this bill, the purpose of which was to set up a royal commission to inquire into the sugar industry in order to determine whether it is possible to sell sugar at a lower price to the consumers, and whether those employed in the industry, including the grocers, can get more out of it. As only seven members of the House voted for that amendment, I feel, and the other members of my party feel also, that we cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). Our amendment was not accepted by the House, and therefore we do not feel that this committee should take it upon itself to do what we believed should :be done by a royal commission. It is probable that, if the amendment of the honorable member were agreed to, the agreement would be lost, and we do not wish that to happen.
– What will be the effect of this agreement on clause 3 of the bill, seeing that the Government of Queensland is a party to the agreement?
.- The purpose of this bill is to approve an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland. The conditions are set out in the schedule. If we alter any of the conditions, the Commonwealth Government will have to refer to the Government of Queensland to see whether it agrees to the alteration.
.- Mr. Deputy Chairman-
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr. Collins). - The honorable member having already exhausted his time may speak now only by leave of the committee. [Leave granted.]
– I regret that the members of the new Labour party should put up a partial fight and then run away. That is what they have done. I desire to refer to two arguments that have been strongly urged in this debate. The first is that sugar is an article that grocers turn over very rapidly. Of course., the poor grocer - and many of them are poor, can buy only a bag of sugar at a time, and he may turn it over two or three times a week. However, the grocer in a better financial position, who is able to buy by the ton, does not turn it over nearly so rapidly. Reference was also made to the decision of the Prices Com- missioner when an application was made to him for an increase of the retail price of sugar. He did not say that the grocers were receiving a fair return; all he said was that, having regard to the political factors involved, he was not prepared to increase the price to the consumers. The retailers had asked for an increase of one farthing per lb., which was very properly refused, because there was no justification for increasing the price to the public. The Prices Commissioner had not power to say that the compensation to the grocer should come from the sugar industry. Another argument advanced is that, if the grocer’s commission were increased, the grower would suffer in proportion to that increase; but the fact remains that the sugar industry has had an accretion this year of £900,000, and is well able to pay the small extra sum I ask for the grocer. Another claim is that the grocer gets high percentages of profit on lines other than sugar, and that his business should be considered as a whole. I cannot imagine any meaner argument than the suggestion advanced on behalf of this gorged industry that higher percentages of profit should be received on other lines which the grocer handles in order that the sugar industry might retain its present privileged position. If any section is entitled to contribute to an increase of the grocer’s commission it is the sugar industry.
.- The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has taken exception to the fact that my party does not intend to support his amendment, but our position is perfectly clear. We have asked for a royal commission to be appointed to inquire impartially into the industry from every aspect. We have said that this committee has never been in a position to examine the industry in such a way as to enable it to prescribe the terms of the agreement. It would be totally illogical, at this stage, for us to fix abitrarily and without inquiry the amount of commission to be received by a grocer or any other group affected by the agreement.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be added (Mr. Nairn’s amendment) be added.
The committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman - Mr. Collins)
Majority . . . . 29
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Schedule and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
The following paper was presented : -
House adjourned at 11.43 p.m.
The following answers to questions mere circulated: -
n asked the Minister in charge of External Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister in charge of Scientific and Industrial Research, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice - ‘
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Minister for Supply and Development, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Commonwealth Public Service : Trans- fers from canberra to melbourne.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and will be made available to the honorable member at as early a date as possible.
s. - On the 21st May the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) asked me a question, without notice, regarding the national register.
I desire to inform the honorable member that, while the full series of tabulations have not yet been completed, the tabulations already made have been utilized principally in connexion with statements of an urgent nature required by the Man-Power Committee of the Department of Defence. Co-ordination. The register is gradually being utilized for the purposes for which it was created, and, already, most useful information for manpower purposes has been obtained.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 May 1940, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1940/19400527_reps_15_163/>.