12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– On the 7th May,
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to supply the following particulars: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
Will he lay a copy of the agreement in respect to sugar upon the table of the Senate?
– The sugar agreement has not yet been completed, hut it will be laid on the table as soon as it is available.
What was the total amount of gold held in Australia when the Government assumed office - (a) by the private banks; (b) by the CommonwealthBank ?
What is the amount held now -(a) by the private banks; (b) by the Commonwealth bank?
Will the Minister state the total amount of the note issue - (a) when the Government assumed office: (b) at the present time?
What has been the value of the gold produced in Australia since the Government assumed office?
What is the total amount of gold shipped from Australia each month since the Government assumed office, and during the whole period ?
By how much does the total gold shipped from Australia since the Government assumed office exceed the reserves now held by the Commonwealth Bank?
– The information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
Great Britain to Australia : Dutch Offer
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Wearing of Badges
– On the 1st May, Senator Dunn asked the following questions upon notice -
The following reply has been furnished by the Commonwealth Bank : -
As the bank is called upon to serve all sections of the community irrespective of cither parties or organizations, political or otherwise, it is desired that no action on the part of any officer should give rise to offence to any section of the community. It is requested, therefore, that officers of the bank whilst on duty will refrain from indulging in this practice, but there is no desire to interfere in any way with the privileges of officers as private citizens in this particular matter. The request contained herein shall not apply toany badges connected with war service.”
Debate resumed from the 13th May (vide page 1819) on motion by Senator Barnes -
That the paper be printed.
Upon which Senator Sir Hal Colebatch had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the motion: - “and that after the thirty-first day of August, 1931, the date of the expiration of the agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, no agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, or between the Government of the Commonwealth and any other party relating to the sugar industry, and no duty, embargo, or prohibition on the importation of sugar into Australia shall have any force or effect until approved by the Parliament of the Commonwealth.”
– I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Sir Hal Colebatch. It reads as follows: -
That the following words be added to the motion: - “and that after the thirty-first day of August, 1931, the date of the expiration of the agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, no agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, or between the Government of the Commonwealth and any other party relating to the sugar industry, and no duty, embargo, or prohibition on the importation of sugar into Australia shall have any force or effect until approved by the Parliament of the Commonwealth.”
I am pleased that my colleague from Western Australia has submitted his amendment in a form which affirms the important principle of the supremacy of Parliament over the executive. We should get back to basic principles in government. We must insist on the unquestioned control of the executive by Parliament, so as to prevent the continuance of the present autocratic methods of this Government, which refuses to consult Parliament concerning matters of the gravest moment to the people of Australia. The Government in this, as in other matters, is showing clearly that it wishes to govern in absolute defiance of the Parliament. Only two days ago the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), in another place said that it would go on making regulations under the Transport Workers’ Act in defiance of the Senate.
– The Prime Minister did not say that the Government would act in defiance of the Senate.
– The right honorable gentleman said that, as often as the Senate disallowed the regulations in question, his Government would go on making new regulations. Doe3 not that mean that the Government will act in defiance of the Senate?
– No one can doubt that the real intention of the Government is to defy this branch of the legislature. That attitude is unworthy of the Prime Minister, and the leader of any democratic party. The manipulation of regulations behind the back of Parliament in this and other matters, represents a form of political control which should not be countenanced. I feel sure it will not be tolerated by ihe Senate.
– Order! Is the honorable gentleman speaking to the first order of the day?
– Of course I am, Mr. President. I submit that I am in order in declaring that just as in the recent test case, the judgment of ,the High Court upheld the action of the Senate in disallowing the regulations made under the Transport Workers’ Act, so, in regard to the sugar agreement, we have every right to expect that the Government should consult Parliament.
– The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the subject-matter of the motion.
– I contend that, in the discussion on this subject I am entitled to touch upon a certain part of the Government’s policy, which came before the High Court quite recently in respect of which the attitude of the Senate was upheld. It is significant that, although the renewal of the sugar embargo was announced as part of the Government’s policy, the Ministry nevertheless in December last appointed a committee to inquire into the whole subject. Since there had been a prior announcement of the Government’s policy to renew the sugar agreement, the appointment of the commission was a needless waste of time and money, particularly in view of the fact that the constitution of the commission clearly indicated the lines which its ‘ recommendations would follow. Nevertheless, I believe that even the people engaged in the sugar industry expected the commission to pay some regard to the altered economic circumstances of the Commonwealth, and that to that end it would suggest a reduction of at least Id. per lb. in the price of the commodity to the Australian consumers.
– The honorable senator made no protest against the personnel of the commission when it was appointed.
– Protests were made by representatives from Tasmania, particularly concerning the appointment of the representative of the fruit-growers, who really represented the interests of the fruit canners.
– The honorable senator himself made no protest.
– I cannot be for ever protesting. A considerable part of my political life is spent in protesting against the actions of this Government. Since they have been of no avail, I fail to see that another protest from me concerning the personnel of the commission would have been successful after the appointments had been gazetted.
– The honorable senator acquiesced in its appointment.
– I did not. But I was fully aware that since it had been nominated by the sugar interests, its recommendations were a foregone conclusion.
On the 2nd July, 1930, I asked Senator Daly, who was then the Leader of the Government in the Senate, if it was a fact that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company had made a disclosed profit of £910,S29 during the year ended 31st March, 1930? To that the honorable gentleman replied in the affirmative. Then I asked if it was a fact that the wholesale price of sugar in Australia had been fixed at £37 6s. 3d. per ton, and the retail price at 4$d. per lb. in the State capitals. Again the reply was in the affirmative. Thereupon I asked was it a fact that Australian sugar was exported, and sold at from £9 to £11 a ton in Great Britain and New Zealand ? To that question the honorable senator replied that Australia did not export sugar to New Zealand, and that, on account of the abnormally low world prices, our exports to Great Britain had been giving a net return of from £9 to- £11 per ton. I then asked about the embargo, and was informed that it would expire on the 31st August, 1931* Then I asked the Minister if, in view of the necessity to reduce the cost of living in the Commonwealth, Parliament would be consulted before the embargo was renewed which enabled the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to make a profit of nearly £1,000,000 per annum at the expense of the Australian householder. To this Senator Daly replied that part of the Government’s policy, on which it was elected, provided for the renewal of the sugar embargo. From this reply honorable senators will see that, as far back as July last, the Government intended to renew the embargo. But the appointment of the committee was made as a result of protests from all parts of Australia.
– Does the honorable senator know the terms of that inquiry?
– I do. I have studied both reports very carefully. Senator Daly, in a further reply to my question, said that previous Ministries had not submitted the terms of renewals of the sugar agreement to Parliament, but that the Government would give every consideration to the reasonable interests of Australian householders, and all others concerned. The measure of reasonable consideration may be judged from the fact that the present wholesale price in Australia is £37 6s. Sd. per ton, and the agreement has been renewed for a period of five years. Previous governments fixed the term at three years, but this Government has extended the term to five years.
– The honorable senator had no objection to raise concerning the payment of a gold bounty for ten years.
– That is true, but the Minister must admit that I said that if the Government would review its protective policy, and relieve the goldmining industry from the heavy burdens that had been laid upon it through the tariff and other legislative acts of the Commonwealth, a gold bounty would not be necessary. Senator Daly, in further answering my question, said -
The embargo’ has not enabled the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited to make
A profit of nearly £1,000,000 at the expense of Australian householders. Nearly half of that company’s profits are derived outside Australia, viz., from its Fiji trade, and on a much smaller production than it handles in Australia.
I wish to show the reckless fashion in which that question was answered.
– The honorable senator must realize that I answered his question on information which was supplied to me. Therefore, I cannot be accused of having been reckless.
– I absolve the honorable senator entirely from any desire to mislead. I am always prepared to admit that no one could have been more courteous to honorable senators who sit on this side,’ than was the honorable senator while he so capably led the Senate. These words were placed in the mouth of the Vice-President of the Executive Council at the time.
– On a point of order I ask whether the honorable senator is in order in quoting from Hansard of the current session. If my memory serves me correctly, you, Mr. President, ruled last year that the Standing Orders did not allow me to quote from Hansard of the current session.
– Standing Order 409 reads -
No senator shall read extracts from newspapers, or other documents, except Ilansard, referring to debates in the Senate during the same session.
Therefore Senator Johnston is quite in order. Another standing order provides that quotations may not be made from the official report of the debates in another place during the current session.
– I regret that Senator Dunn has sought to limit the debate on such an important matter.
– That was not my intention, and I respectfully submit that the honorable senator is out of order in making that statement.
– The honorable senator is not called upon to explain his action. I point out to Senator Johnston that he must not impute motives.
– After receiving that reply from the Leader of the Senate, I studied the balance-sheets of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, to see whether it was correct that nearly half of its profits were derived outside Australia. I found that the balancesheets did not show whence its profits came. I, therefore, directed the following questions to the Leader of the Senate, to which I received replies on the 23rd July last : -
Tho replies that I received were -
It will thus be seen that the Department, upon further inquiry, could not in any way substantiate the statement it had previously made, that nearly half of the profits of the company were derived outside Australia. I venture to affirm that the reason for the altered form in which the balance-sheet was presented was that, owing to the low prices prevailing for sugar outside of Australia, the operations of the company in other places were probably being carried on at a loss, and that the whole of the profits disclosed were made in Australia. At all events, we have as much justification for assuming that that was the case as for accepting the Minister’s statement, seeing that upon further inquiry the department abandoned that statement and admitted that it had no information or knowledge on the subject. It is open to the company to publish a clearer balance-sheet.
Six months after the declaration of the Government that it intended to renew the sugar embargo, and that it did not propose to consult Parliament in the matter, because a previous government had been guilty of the offence of withholding the agreement from Parliament, it appointed a committee to inquire into the sugar industry. The Tariff Board is a tribunal that has been set up by Parliament to make inquiries of this nature, and it might reasonably have been expected that the Government would delegate this duty to it. But, instead of appointing such an unbiased tribunal, the Government appointed eight gentlemen, the majority of whom are fairly deeply interested in the sugar industry. They were: The Honorable John Gunn, Mr. F. C. Curlewis, of the Australian Sugar Producers Association; Mr. C. G. Fallon, a representative of the employees in the sugar industry; Mr. 0. J. Matthews, a representative of Australian manufacturers in connexion with whose products sugar is a raw material; Mrs. Morgan, Mr. W. J. Short, chairman of the Queensland Cane-growers Council; Mr. Townsend, an officer of the Trade and Customs Department, whose ministerial head had announced that the embargo would be renewed, and Mr. Young, who was said to be a representative of Australian fruit-growers, but whose interest in fruit-growing is largely concerned with the canned fruits industry. At the time, exception was quite properly and reasonably taken by Tasmanian and other fruit-growing districts, which rely on fruit for export and jam-making, to the appointment as the representative of Australian fruit-growers of a person who was mainly a representative of the fruit canners. Mr. Young is a citizen of excellent repute; but it is not surprising that ‘ he should have paid chief regard to the interests of the fruit-canners. So much was that the case that he joined with those whose interests are connected with the sugar industry, on the condition that the industry which he represented obtained a fair share of the plunder which was to be extracted from the pockets of the people by the renewal of the agreement and the embargo. The majority report of the committee contains the following remarkable recommendation : -
That tlie provision in the present agreement for the special price payable by manufacturers engaged in processing of all fruit products for home consumption, and the provision for the rebate on the sugar content of fruit products exported, be eliminated, and, in lieu thereof, a clause be inserted providing that a sum of £315.000 per annum be made available by the sugar industry for the assistance of the fruit industry, as set out in par. 298 of this report. This provision to be subject to review, as in the case of the rest of the sugar agreement, at the end of the three-year period mentioned in recommendation 2 hereof.
It appears that in the existing agreement concessions in regard to the price of sugar have been given to the fruitcanning and other kindred industries to the value of £205,000 a year. Mr. Young supported the majority in saying that the embargo and the present high price for sugar should continue, provided a sum of £315,000 a year was paid for the relief of the industry which he directly represented. In other words, having secured an additional £110,000 a year and the whole amount of £315,000 in hard cash instead of in rebates, he agreed to support the embargo. Apparently, he did not care how much the householders or those engaged in the manufacture of confectionery and home-made jam or any other kindred industries suffered in consequence of the high price of sugar so long as the interests he chiefly represented - the canning industry - could get its share, and having got it, was prepared to assist in plundering the whole community. According to this report the retail price of sugar in New Zealand to-day is 2-id. a lb.
– Is not that Australian sugar ?
– It is the product of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company; but it is manufactured in Fiji. Although the consumers of sugar in New Zealand receive their supplies at a retail price of 2£d. a lb., Australian consumers in all State capitals, with the exception of Perth, where it is 5d., have to pay 4£d. a lb. In this, as in practically all other matters under Federal jurisdiction, the people of Western Australia have to bear an additional penalty.
– The people of Hobart have also to bear an extra penalty.
– The retail price in Hobart is supposed to be 4-Jd. a lb., but the retail price in Perth is 5d. a lb., so that the people in that city are penalized to the extent of 11 per cent.
– I think that the honorable senator will find that the merchants in Perth are responsible for the higher price.
– The difference is due to the taxation imposed by this Government. The sales tax imposed by this Government was fixed at, 2^ per cent, on practically everything, and the way out of the difficulty adopted in Western Australia was to increase the retail price of sugar by id. a lb. Although sugar is -Jd. a lb. dearer in Perth than in other State capitals, it is of course, much dearer in other parts of the State. While table sugar is sold at £37 6s. 8d. a ton, the average Australian price last year, after allowing for the concession on sugar used by fruit canners, was £36 lis. lOd. a ton as against the world’s parity which for the same year has been estimated a* £11 ls. On an Australian consumption of 300,000 tons yearly Australian consumers of sugar pay £25 a ton more than the price at which it could be imported, which represents £7,500,000 above world’s parity. The committee states that the additional cost is £5,500,000.
– The honorable senator’s calculation is ridiculous.
– I have shown the basis on which the amount is made up.
– We should take the committee’s figures.
– On that point, the committee states -
The Australian domestic price of sugar was compared by some witnesses with the world’s . parity price, and this comparison was put forward as an indication that, in recent years, the cost of maintaining the Australian sugar industry has been from £4,000,000 to £7,000,000 per annum.
I shall be glad if any honorable senator representing Queensland or any other State can show that the additional cost of £7,500,000 is wrong. I believe that my figure is accurate. Such an additional impost is equivalent to almost 25s. per capita. In the case of a small householder using 6 lb. of sugar weekly, the annual cost in New Zealand at 2½d. a lb. would be £3 5s., whereas in other capital cities, with the exception of Perth, the annual cost would be £5 17s. a year, or £2 12s. a year more than is paid in New Zealand. In Perth, where the retail price is 5d., the annual cost on the small weekly consumption on which I am basing my figures would be £6 10s., or double the cost in New Zealand. This is only one of the many disadvantages that the people of Western Australia are suffering is consequence of their association with the federal incubus.
So far as can be seen from the statistics available, the industry is not expanding as one would expect, particularly in view of the amount which the people of Australia are paying for its protection.
– The honorable senator is opposed to the federal system.
– It has Been a costly undertaking to such States as Western Australia and Tasmania.
– Why does not Western Australia withdraw from the federation ?
– If the honorable senator can show the people of Western Australia a way out they will immortalize him by erecting a statue in his honour in the finest park in Australia, which is in Perth. The following table shows the number of persons engaged in the sugar industry at different periods : -
According to the figures supplied by Mr. Gunn, a member of the committee, the total number now employed in the industry, including a proportion of foreigners is 29,999. Honorable senators will see that in 1912-13, when there was a duty of only £6 a ton on sugar, 27,380 white persons and 1,383 coloured persons, a total of 28,763, were employed in the industry. To-day it employs only 29,999 persons. Notwithstanding the embargo, there has been practically no increase in the number of the white employees in the industry. Since 1906-7 there has been a decline of nearly 12,000 in the number of white employees.
In his able defence of the sugar monopoly yesterday, Senator Crawford said that those who wished to get a knowledge of the sugar industry should visit Queensland. About three years ago I paid a very brief visit to the sugargrowing districts of North Queensland. Wherever I went I heard complaints from all classes of the community against the restrictions imposed on the industry, mainly by the State Government. It was then the cane-cutting season. I met a number of men who were cutting cane under contract, and paid by the ton. They said that they were not permitted to work in the hours that they desired. They complained particularly t&at they were not permitted to start work at 5 o’clock when, owing to climatic con- ditions, they could obtain the best results from their efforts. They complained that they were too strictly regulated by the Government. We also met a number of farmers who wished to grow sugar cane but were not permitted to do so. There is a body which grants permits to settlers to grow sugar cane on a specified number of acres. Senator Crawford said yesterday that land suitable for sugar-growing was obtainable in Queensland at low prices. It is not so much the nature of the land as the obtaining of the permit to grow sugar cane that is of value. In the northern districts of Queensland there is some of the best sugar-growing country in the world. The cane grown there has a high sugar content, and it matures in one year. But before a man can engage in the business of cane-growing he must obtain a permit to do so; otherwise the mills will not take the cane from him, excepting in rare instances when there is a failure of the crop. I was shown some magnificent country near Babinda which was obtainable at reasonable prices. That was because a permit could not be obtained to grow sugar cane on it. Adjacent land which had been granted a permit was valued at £100 an acre. The. Munro estate, near Cairns, was valued at £100 per acre because it had permits for large areas of cane. New settlers wishing to take up land for sugar cane cultivation are frequently informed that they had better go in for dairying.
– The same thing applies to hotel licences; it is the licence that gives the value to the building.
- Senator Crawford did not mention these things yesterday, and they do not apply to other primary industries in which expansion is always encouraged.
– Does not that showthat the land is suited for the growing of sugar, and nothing else?
– The people want to grow sugar, but they are not permitted to do so. The most urgent requirement is that the sugar industry shall be relieved from the harassing labour and other restrictions to which it is subjected.
– Does not the honorable senator agree that production should be restricted?
– I would let the growers have a free hand. Does the honorable senator suggest that the output of wheat, wool and fruit should be restricted? It is contended that the sugar-growing industry could stand on its own feet if given a moderate measure of protection for a time, that protection to be removed gradually. In my opinion, there is no need for an embargo at all. It should be removed at once.
I have here a report on the Australian tariff by Professor Brigden, Professor Copland, Mr. Dyason, Professor Giblin, and Mr. C. H. Wickens, in which they make particular reference to the sugar industry. In paragraph 86 of the report, they say -
The embargo on sugar imports allows of any price being fixed in Australia at which the consumers will continue to purchase without reducing demand, and that the Commonwealth Government will allow. The price fixed for Australia is £27 per ton of raw sugar.
There is a footnote which reads -
Of this the producer gets £26, and the remaining £1 goes in cost of administration and rebates to certain manufacturers using sugar.
The report continues -
This price is fixed at a sufficiently high rate to cover a loss on exports. In 1925-26 only 56 per cent, of the crop was consumed in Australia, and paid for at £27 per ton. The remaining 44 per cent, was sold abroad at £11. 6s. per ton.
The overseas price is less than that to-day. The report of the economists goes on to say -
The average price received was, therefore, £19 10s. per ton. The Australian consumer paid £7 10s. more than this in order to make up the loss on exports, and the subsidy to these exports amounted to £2,175,000. In 1920-27 exports were less, and the cost was reduced to £750,000, but it doubled this figure for 1927-28. Vor 1928-29 the exportable surplus has again increased, with prospects of still lower prices for it, so that the cost may easily exceed £2,000,000. The total cost of protecting the sugar industry, both at home and abroad, may be gathered by comparing Australian with New Zealand prices. These prices were given officially in Hansard of the 5th October, 1927, page 213, and the excess cost for 1927 amounted to £4,000,000. This is exclusive of the cost of protecting the sugar refineries, a cost which is common to Australia and New Zealand. At present raw sugar in Cuba is £9 per ton, against £27 in Australia, and the excess cost is substantially greater.
We export 220,000 tons of sugar each year at £9 a ton, and use locally 300,000 tons a year at a cost of £37 6s. 8d. a ton. It seems to me that we are an extraordinary people, if we are prepared to go on penalizing ourselves to that extent, in regard to one of the greatest necessities for every-day household use. In another part of the report these economists came to the following conclusion : -
We do not wish for the reasons given in paragraph 83, to take particular industries as examples of excessive costs, but an exception may be made of sugar, because the facts of sugar are public property, the excess price is actually fixed by the Government, and the case for protecting sugar does not pretend to rest on economic grounds. We pay £4,000,000 annually to subsidize the production of sugar which might be imported for £6,000,000. It is clear that sugar might be imported by the Government and sold for the same price as at present, so that prices would not bo changed from’ the present level; but the Government would have £4,000,000 in hand to subsidize other production to take the place of the £10,000,000 of sugar production.
We can see the extent to which Australia is penalizing itself, and, of course, if Parliament consents to this the people can only complain, and when the opportunity arises take steps to alter their parliamentary representation, but the gravamen of the offence of the Government in this matter is that it intends to renew this embargo for a further period of five years without consulting Parliament. It is no defence for Ministers to say that a similarly objectionable course was taken by some other government years ago.
I should like to contrast the positions of the sugar producers with that of other primary producers of Australia, particularly those engaged in growing wheat - the people who are doing the greatest possible service to the country in the direction of providing employment for returns which are at present less than the cost of production. The present Governmentwill not tax flour at £7 4s. a ton in order to provide for a bounty of 6d. a bushel to the wheat-grower; it will not tax the people’s bread, to give effect to the 3s. guarantee approved by this Parliament as assistance to the wheat-growers ; but it is quite prepared to tax sugar and double its price, and to tax tea and clothing to the heaviest extent. From 1905 to 1914, the average price of.’ wheat in Melbourne was 3s. 10ld. a bushel, and at the same time the average price of sugar was ?21 12s. 8d. per ton. It thus took 111 bushels of wheat to buy a ton of sugar during that period. From 1925 to 1929, the average price of wheat in Melbourne was 5s. 6-Jd. a bushel, and the average price of sugar was ?38 18s. 4d. a ton. It thus took 140 bushels of wheat to buy a ton of sugar during that period. In March of this year the price of wheat was 2s. 4d. a bushel, and the price of sugar in Melbourne was ?38 17s. lOd. a ton. It then took 333 bushels of wheat to buy one ton of sugar. In “Western Australia, however, the man who buys sugar in small quantities has to pay 11 per cent, more than the Melbourne price. It thus takes 374 bushels of wheat now to buy a ton of sugar there, compared with 111 bushels between 1905 and 1914.
The embargo on sugar has been obtained by the political pull of Queensland on successive Commonwealth Governments, and without any direct vote of Parliament or legislative sanction. Furthermore, it has been continued in direct opposition to the recommendation of a tribunal appointed by Parliament to guide it in matters relating to the tariff. The question of sugar has not been referred to the Tariff Board since 1922. On. the 30th September of that year the board submitted a report on sugar, and in the course of its report remarked -
Tlie members of tlie Australian Sugar Producers Association Limited, of Queensland, through their president and secretary, have now applied to tho Federal Government stating “ that they are unanimously of opinion that it is vital to the interests of the sugar industry that an immediate and substantial increase in the amount of the present import duty on sugar should be granted. . . Wo would ask for a duty of 1?d per Hi.”
The highest duty that the Sugar Growers Association asked for in 1922 was l$d. per lb. The Tariff Board went on to say-
This request means an increase in the import duty on cane sugar from ?0 per ton to ?1.4 per ton. The granting of this request would naturally mean the conclusion of the sugar agreement.
It then dealt with the economic condition of the industry. Its remarks on the point are very interesting. It commented on the inefficiency of a number of the mills in Queensland. I think that that matter has since been rectified. Certainly the mill at Babinda, which I inspected, struck me as being very efficient. The Tariff Board went on to say -
As a means of protecting the sugar industry, the board strongly endorses tlie granting of a protective duty in preference to an extension of an agreement. The latter is neither satisfactory to the producer, the manufacturer, nor the consumer. As soon as an agreement is made the general question is what is to happen at the conclusion of the period - is the agreement to be continued on the same terms or reduced, or what is to happen? The producer has no real security which would lead him to invest his savings in an industry not on a secure basis. It should not be forgotten that, while the present agreement has meant very much more money to the producers, it has not meant that the natural increase in the production of sugar has been very much augmented. The good seasons recently prevailing have helped the agreement. On the other hand, a protective duty is a permanent assurance on which the public may rely when considering the investment of their money and time.
There is probably no other commodity which enters so largely into the household cost of the consumer. Sugar is freely used in nearly everything in Australia, with the result that we are classed amongst the two greatest sugarconsuming countries in the world.
I am sorry that Senator Crawford is not present to hear this further paragraph in the Tariff Board’s report -
The next argument used by the applicants in favour of the increase in duty of ?14 per ton is by reference to the report of the royal commission which inquired into the sugar industry in 1912, and reported in very strong terms on the great importance of the industry to Australia from the industrial, social, and political points of view. With this the board entirely agrees, but it must point out when that inquiry was made the industry was being maintained by white labour against outside competition, and yet the commission, with one exception, recommended a duty of ?0 10s. per ton. The exception was Commissioner Crawford, now President of the Australian Sugar Producers Association, who recommended ?7 per ton.
Senator Crawford to day is persistent in his desire to maintain an embargo, but in 1912, as a member of the royal commission, he recommended a duty of ?7 compared with the ?6 10s. recommended by the majority of the commission.
– The conditions have altered since then.
– Of course they have, but I do not think that they have altered sufficiently to justify the adoption of an embargo against a duty of £9 6s. 8d. a ton, as recommended by the Tariff Board. It pointed out that the existing duty on sugar was £6 a ton in the case of sugar the produce of sugar cane and £10 a ton on sugar n.e.i., and then recommended that the import duties on cane sugar be fixed at1d. a lb., and on beet sugar at l1/2d. a lb. Perhaps that is why the Government in December last appointed a special committee to inquire into the sugar industry, instead of adopting the proper course of referring the whole subject to inquiry by the Tariff
Board. The Tariff Board’s previous report fairly considered the consumers of sugar.
As a result of a series of investigations into international commercial policy, Professor Wright, with the aid of the council and staff of the Institute of Economics of the United States of America, has published a book entitled Sugar in Relation to the Tariff. On page 152 I find the following table relating to tariff changes under successive acts and sugar prices during their maintenance : -
Looking at this table we find that from 1890 to 1894 there was no duty on sugar in the United States of America, but there was a bounty of two cents per lb. on its production. At the latest date available in this book the duty on sugar in the United States of America is 1.7 cents, which is less than the1d. per lb. recommended by the Australian Tariff Board as a sui table protection for the sugar industry of Australia. This professor, in his summary, says -
It is for the interests of the masses of the people that sugar should be admitted free of duty, or, if subject to duty, that the rate should be low. The Government, however, needs revenue and, because of the enormous public debt, the need at the present time is pressing. To obtain revenue the people must be taxed. If it be assumed that the tariff is to serve in the future as in the past the double purpose of protection and revenue, sugar admirably adapts itself to this double purpose. Its revenue-yielding capacity is very great; for many years about one-fourth of the entire customs receipts have been derived from sugar; while the burden which the sugar duty, in its protective capacity, imposes upon the people, though great in the aggregate, is widely diffused and comparatively light upon any individual consumer.
I should like to point out the difference between our policy and that adopted in the United States of America. A little less than half of the domestic consumption of sugar in the United States of America, in recent years, has been of local production. The figures are -
The annual burden of the sugar industry in the United States of America is set out by this economist as 1.97 dollars per head of the population, of which 1.13 dollars is the taxpayers’ contribution to the
Treasury, and 84 cents or 3s. 6d. of our money, is his contribution for protection to the sugar industry, whereas in Australia we pay well over £1 per head of population, on the basis of a burden of £7,t)00,000 mentioned previously. I estimate 25s. per head per annum as the taxpayers’ contribution to the sugar industry. It must also be remembered that the whole of this amount goes into the pockets of the sugar producers. The Treasury gets nothing. The United States of America is regarded as one of the most highly protected countries in the world. It obtains, in round figures, according to this work, no less than onequarter of its entire customs receipts from sugar, the duty on which is less than Id. per lb.
The burden of the present embargo and the agreement is one which the people of Australia should not be expected to carry. If, however, it is to be continued, the very least the Senate can do is to insist that this heavy taxation shall be imposed only with the approval of Parliament. Everything should be done in the open. Both branches of the legislature should be consulted. All members of another place and of this chamber should be prepared to take their full share of responsibility in connexion with such matters. No executive should be allowed to place this burden upon the people of Australia. The action of this Government in renewing the agreement for a further period of five years is, in my opinion, nothing short of monstrous. Parliament has been entirely ignored. It appears that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is to be permitted to continue to exploit the people to the extent of nearly £1,000,000 a year. Consumers in this country will be compelled to pay for their sugar, double the price charged to consumers in New Zealand. I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment, particularly on the ground that the object is to ensure to Parliament complete control over the taxation of the people.
– Speaking to the amendment, I suggest that, in view of the important principle involved, it should be withdrawn, and another opportunity taken to discuss this matter. While not disputing the ruling which you, Mr. President, have given, I suggest that the principle involved is so important-
– On a point of order, Mr. President, I should like to know if the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) is closing the debate. It is usual, I understand, when an amendment has been submitted, for all honorable senators to speak to the amendment and the motion, and for the mover of the mot101 to close the debate.
– The Leader of the Senate has no greater and no less privileges than any other honorable senator. He has spoken to the motion and is now entitled to speak to the amendment, without surrendering Iiia right to reply to and close the general debate.
– I repeat that the principle involved in the amendment is so important that it is difficult for honorable senators to deal with it adequately in a discussion which must necessarily be restricted to the terms of the motion and the amendment. I suggest, therefore, that it be withdrawn. The honorable senator who has sponsored it may take another opportunity to submit a substantive motion which would open up the entire field of debate. We should then be able to discuss the right of the Government to submit tariff resolutions and collect revenue under them, without the authority of Parliament, and the right of Parliament, to discuss and deal with matters such as that which recently was the subject of a judgment by the High Court. The whole question could be passed in review, and dealt with thoroughly. If I were now to attempt to discuss the general principle involved, I should be very properly called to order by you, Mr. President, and I should be required to confine my remarks strictly to the subject-matter of the amendment. It is, I think, desirable that honorable senators should have a full range in debating a subject of such farreaching importance.
– I am not at all impressed the the reasons given by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) in support of his suggestion that the amendment should be withdrawn.
The field of discussion is, I think, quite wide enough.
– Although the discussion on the motion and the amendment will probably be futile, it is, I think, desirable that I should place before the Senate the views of my own State concerning the sugar agreement and the embargo. Yesterday, Senator Crawford stated the case for the sugar interests. I remind him that other interests are involved. It is regrettable that, up to the present, little consideration has been given to the interests of the domestic consumers. The majority and minority reports of the committee are just what one would have expected from the committee, having regard to its personnel. It consisted of members representing conflicting interests. It. was, therefore, obvious that we should be presented with majority and minority reports reflecting the views of the conflicting interests concerned. Naturally, the majority* report of the representatives of the sugar industry favours a continuance of the existing arrangements, and the existing price. The minority report, submitted by representatives of the consumers, and including the Director of Development, Mr. Gunn, while agreeing, in the main, with the recommendations contained in the majority report, urges a reduction in price to the Australian consumer. Because of the personnel of the committee, the investigation carried out by it was almost farcical, and, I may add, very costly. To have been of any value, the committee should have consisted of, say, three independent disinterested persons. We might then have obtained something of value. Neither report contains very much that is new. Although the price of meat, bread, and clothing, rents and practically everything else in the Commonwealth has been trending downwards for some time, the price of sugar, it appears, is to be sacrosanct. The price of sugar must be static; - subject to no fluctuations.
Since the .Government has renewed the agreement for a further period of five years, apparently the sugar industry will wax fatter than ever at the’ expense of the rest of the community. Representatives of the sugar interests raise their hands in horror at every suggested criticism of the benefits which they have received from this and previous governments. One hardly has the temerity to voice any objection to what has been done to encourage the sugar-growers in Queensland. But I remind the Senate that there are always two points of view to every question. Personally, I have the highest regard for Queensland and its people. For four and a half years I was associated with a Queensland battalion during the war, and I have had the privilege since then to visit Queensland and obtain first-hand information of the sugar industry from Mackay to Cairns.
In the discussion of this agreement and the embargo, I am endeavouring to bring to bear a mind entirely free from bias - to study the question from every angle. The renewal of the agreement means that the high cost of sugar is to be maintained. The sugar interests are well dug in. Honorable senators will recall the extraordinarily clever and very costly propaganda with which they were inundated during the last twelve months. The nature of that propaganda suggested that the sugar industry was not a struggling one; but that, on the contrary, those interested in it have a rich prize which, up to the present, they have defended with extraordinary skill. Some of the propaganda was well thought out and most artistic. It certainly was most effective.
– The honorable senator must bear in mind that that was in reply to an intensive anti-sugar industry propaganda.
– The sugar interests are well dug in. The fruitgrowing industry in my little State has to stand on its merits. Not so the sugar industry. Further, where in an industry sugar and fruit are combined - and there are quite a number of industries in which that is the case - the sugar industry gets the cream, while the fruit industry gets the skim milk - and precious little of that.
Both the majority and the minority reports of the committee favour the continuance of the sugar embargo for the next five years; but as a sort of thankoffering, douceur, sop - call it what you will - the majority report recommends that the sugar industry shall make available to the fruit-growing industry a grant of £315,000 per annum. It is laid down, however, that the assistance shall be given by the clumsy method of subsidizing jammaking and fruit-processing through a committee to be set up.
The firm of Henry Jones and Company Limited, Tasmania, is, I suppose, one of the best known jam manufacturing firms in the British Empire. It practically pioneered the export overseas of fresh, pulped, and manufactured fruit, and the State owes it a debt of considerable magnitude. The name of Henry Jones should be revered in Tasmania. I wrote to that firm asking for its opinion of this suggestion in the majority report of the committee, that the sugar industry should annually make available the sum of £315,000 for the subsidizing of jammaking and fruit-processing. The reply that I have received reads as follows: -
The report of the majority of members of the Sugar Inquiry Committee recommends that an independent committee should be formed consisting of representatives of the Commonwealth Government, the Sugar Board, the growing and manufacturing sections of tho fruit industry, and that a very great power be put into the hands of this committee. On the face of tlie recommendation there is nothing to suggest that anything of a revolutionary character is proposed. To those of us, however, who have endured the severe competition during the past five years of canneries and jam factories run at a loss annually (this, of course, has only been possible through the guaranteeing of the concerns’ overdraft with their respective banks by the State Governments in question) ana who have had to endeavour to keep our factories solvent and pay taxes, which tho co-operative concerns in question do not do, to us I repeat there is something oven sinister in this suggestion “that the committee may require the manufacturer to pay such prices to the growers for their fruit as the committee declares to be reasonable “.
There can be no question that if the “ manufacturers “ in question were all operating under similar conditions with the same burdens to bear, then such an arrangement need not cause much alarm, excepting for one particular aspect which I shall deal with later.
Generally, however, there is a widespread difference between the position of growers and manufacturers in the respective States and their particular burdens.
Let us take this case to illustrate the possibilities of the developments. Suppose the committee fixes the price of apricots at £11 per ton for every factory in Australia. We in Tasmania would then pay £11 per ton, pay the same for our sugar, a little more for our wages, the same for our tinplate, our freight to the Australian markets is very much higher than say the Goulburn Valley packers, but, of course, we would not be able to obtain a higher price than the other fellow and we have no government to support our losses (Ardmona’s loss was £5 per ton in 1929 and £6 per ton in 1930 on fruit purchased). Is that a sound position for us to be placed in, more especially when it should be remembered that we can produce fruit cheaper than most mainland growers but would not be allowed to avail ourselves of this natural advantage to overcome our disadvantages, i.e., distance of markets and the necessity to pay our way and contribute to the taxes of the Commonwealth of Australia, and in all States as well, individually, in which we do business. We pay income tax on our sales in every State in which we do business (I am not referring to sales tax) and, of course, on the whole of our business we pay taxation to the Tasmanian Government and the Australian Commonwealth Government.
It is well understood that the grower is the man who is to get the benefit of this lower price for sugar supplied to the manufacturer for the processing of fruit products, and he can get this benefit, of course, in either one of two ways, i.e., increased price for his fruit (which encourages further production of fruit), or greater distribution at a lower price of jam and canned fruit which works surely though slowly in the direction of a balanced situation in the production and consumption of jam and canning fruits in the Commonwealth. It is not so well realized, apparently, that he has had this benefit for some years past. Had the price of sugar to the fruit processor been £6 5s. Id. per ton higher and no export rebate been available against the contents of sugar in canned fruits and jam, then undoubtedly manufacturers could not nave continued to receive and process the growers’ fruit and pay him the prices that he has received for his fruit without sustaining such losses as would very soon have precluded the manufacturer from continuing to receive and buy fruit from the grower, unless, of course, the fruit was all to be processed by cooperative companies receiving as distinct from the proprietary manufacturers, as has been the case, still further support of a substantial character in the shape of bounties on export and other government financial assistance.
In support of this contention as to the unprofitableness of the operations of processors of canned fruit and jam, particularly jam, I attach a circular letter issued by the agent of tlie principal Goulburn Valley factory dated 18th March, 1931. This letter “is enlightening as to the real position of the government-aided factories making jam and canned fruits, and I have underscored the salient portions, some of which have a deep significance.
Referring to the special aspect of the manufacturers’ comparative positions in the price of fruit, take strawberries. These are grown in Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland in the main. The committee would be called upon to fix a price for strawberries satisfactory to the growers. A different variety of strawberry is grown in each of these States, in fact several varieties are grown in Victoria and Tasmania, but practically one type only in Queensland; and some of these varieties are much cheaper to grow than others. In Tasmania, all strawberries are cheaper to grow than any strawberry in Queensland, for example. Again, the cost of delivery to the factory varies according to the type of container in which the goods are delivered, and also the value of output to the factory for jam-making purposes varies by as much as 25 per cent. in accordance with the condition of the fruit and the type of container in which it reaches the factory.
Whilst a high price for strawberries might appear advantageous to many Tasmanian strawberry growers, if it meant that they finally lost the sale of strawberry jam to Victorian or Queensland strawberry growers, or, on the other hand, lost their market through having a too high comparative price for strawberries as against the price for apricots, plums, &c, then the grower’s last state would be worse than his first. This could easily occur through any attempt at artificial regulation of prices to be paid by the manufacturer to the growers.
The natural advantage that the mainland States have as regards the sale of their own products (at their doors so to speak) should be quite sufficient protection for them without mainland interests seeking to further handicap Tasmania by forcing up the costs of the Tasmanian article. This is what the Sugar Committee’s recommendations could speedily result in.
We (H. Jones and Company Proprietary Limited) handle twenty varieties of fruit in Tasmania for canning and jam making, and if this suggested committee is to fix the price we are to be expected to pay the grower for same from time to time, I consider that such a serious dislocation could take place in the fruit industry in this State that it would almost disappear, unless, of course, the London market for pulps should re-awaken and the London and foreign buyers be willing to pay the price per pound for the fruit (plus charges) fixed by this committee.
We have purchased 1,200 tons of raspberries from growers this year (under pressure from the Tasmanian Government to take all possible in) and we hope sooner or later to ship about 600 tons of this to London as pulp. But if we do not accomplish this, then this fruit must perforce be used up locally. How though are we to differentiate between what we buy designedly for local use and that which we are compelled finally to use locally owing to lack of the export trade we anticipated or hoped for.
If the sugar industry really desires to help the fruit industry of Tasmania the simple plan is the best, i.e., increase the amount of £6 5s.1d. per ton of sugar used by Tasmania’s share of the extra £110,000 based upon the actual sugar used by processors and jam manufacturers in Tasmania and continue the supply of sugar for export purposes on the present basis. This would enable manufacturing on the present scale (consistent, of course, with the market demand) to continue. Under the committee’s proposals with the uncertainty what the cost of sugar to the manufacturer would be, or what favoured competition the Tasmanian manufacturer might have to face, one with any knowledge of the trade cannot see how manufacturing could possibly continue.
There can be no just or fair application of the reduction in price to sugar users unless it is based on the actual percentage of sugar used in the processing of the whole of the fruit, whether for canning or for jam. Yet this committee would apparently have the power to favour canned fruit or jam, according to the uncontrolled determination of its members, though all soft fruit growers are suffering from the self-same problem of overproduction and assuredly are entitled to the same consideration.
In objecting to this further interference with this business, I should like to add that whilst, no doubt, the intention of the committee might be to give us some medicine that would do us good, we are very loth to place ourselves in any one’s tender care, having regard to the fact that entirely owing to outside influences and interference in trade and unfair competition on the part of people whom I believe would carry the greatest influence in the deliberation of this committee, we in Tasmania have already dropped from 10,000 tons of soft fruit in 1927 to 5,000 tons in 1931. No wonder we are apprehensive of the efforts of any one to control us still further.
In an editorial article in the Hobart Mercury, of Wednesday, 15th inst., in which the inquiry by the Sugar Committee is characterized as “ a mere farce . . . “, the following outspoken statement is made: -
It is unfair discrimination of this kind that breeds so much disgust in Tasmania with federal administration . . . “ and this statement, while really alluding to the question of depots in capital cities, is particularly fitting also to the unfair position in which the Tasmanian fruit industry is likely - indeed certain - to be placed, if these proposals in the majority report of the Sugar Committee are brought into effect.
It will not be denied that we people in Tasmania - our own company especially - have always endeavoured to study and express our views on the Australian sugar question with due regard to what was fair to the Queensland sugar producers as well as to the fruit-growers and processors in our own State - and if on these grounds alone we claim that our interests should not be sacrificed for the benefit of competitive fruit-growers and processors in the mainland States, who already have totally unfair advantages over the Tasmanians who pioneered the business and yet our trade has been ruthlessly interfered with and lessened, regardless of the cost and loss of revenue to the mainland States responsible.
SenatorMcLachlan. - They operate on the mainland.
– They operate all over the world. If the honorable senator was soldiering in South Africa, as I was 30 years ago, he would have seen that their jams and other produce were the best. That is where they made their name -
In conclusion we would suggest that the fairest method of distributing this £315,000 for the benefit of the fruit industry, failing acceptance of the simple plan of reducing the price to manufacturers, is to maintain the present system without alteration, and as regards the extra money, make this available direct to the fruit-growers. The Sugar Board could distribute this to the growers themselves against certificates issued to the growers by the processors of the fruit. There would be no need to set up a special committee, and the sugar industry would have the satisfaction of knowing that the fruit that actually carried their sugar into consumption as jam or canned fruit, was bonused by them on a per pound basis without favour to any particular fruit or type of product, and in proportion to the actual quantity of sugar which it carried into consumption.
For H. Jones and Company Proprietary Limited,
Peacock, Managing Director.
That sums up the views of a firm of high repute. It does not want any more government interference in its business, and I am entirely in agreement with Mr. Peacock, its managing director who, on behalf of his firm, has expressed the opinion that the less governmental interference there is in trade and industry in this country the better it will be for every one.
The majority and minority reports are very disappointing to me, although I did not expect very much as a result of the committee’s inquiry. The fruit-growers will not take very kindly to the crumbs thrown to them from the over-loaded table, so . to speak, of the sugar industry. What of the domestic consumer? It is interesting to turn back to 1912. In pre-war days it was stressed that we must support the Queensland sugar industry as part and parcel of our White Australia policy. We have been told that if Northern Australia is not effectively settled the door will be wide open to an invader, and that by encouraging the sugar industry we are assisting to protect ourselves and build up an industry which will be our shield and defender. In 1912 a royal commission referred to the unsettled areas in Northern Queensland in this way -
They are not only a source of strategic weakness, they constitute a positive temptation to Asiatic invasion, and may give the White Australia policy a complexion which must inevitably weaken the claims of Australia to external support. As we have already remarked, the ultimate end and, in our opinion, the effective justification of the sugar industry, lies beyond questions of industry and wealth production. It must be sought in the very existence of Australia as a nation.
What is the position in No. 1 district northern in which the largest number of persons are employed. We find that there are 6,034 British and Australian workmen, the percentage being56.6.
– Is the honorable senator referring to Northern Queensland?
– Yes. The number of naturalized workers in that district is 2,130, or 20 per cent., and wholly foreign 2,488, or 23.4 per cent. To what extent could Australia depend on naturalized persons and foreigners in the event of another world war or an invasion of this country?
The majority report states that -
In our judgment this considered opinion of the royal commission has not been refuted nor shaken by any of the evidence given before this committee.
Yet in the same report the committee states -
That if the flow of aliens to Australia of a few (? ) years ago had been maintained, the dilution of British personnel engaged in the industry, and the measure of foreign control of the settlements “ would have been a matter of some concern “.
With respect to the sugar business, I should like to know who, to use a vulgarism, gets all the “ sugar “ ? Is it the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the merchants, the cane-growers, or the canecutters? Although I have heard, in this chamber and outside, some enthusiastic advocates of the sugar industry extol its advantages to Australia, I have never been able to find out who derives all the benefit from the protection it receives. It is rather interesting to glance now and again at the “Wild Cat Column “ in a certain weekly publication or at analyses of the balance-sheets of certain companies published in other newspapers in order to see exactly what they are doing. As a result of these investigations I am inclined to think that this great Colonial Sugar Refining Company gets a good bit of “ sugar “ but of sugar. A reference to Ryde’s Business Journal shows that the original capital of theColonial Sugar Refining Company was £150,000 and the nominal capital £7,000,000, of which £5,850,000 has been issued and fully paid in shares of £20 each. In addition to the excellent dividend record, £11,225,000 has been distributed to members by way of bonus shares issues or cash return of capital. For the last four years the company’s net profits have averaged over £900,000 a year, and it has paid dividends averaging 121/2 per cent. The total reserves up to 30th September last year were £1,450,590. The company has also a replacement and depreciation fund of £2,421,158, and a suspense account which has figured around £3,000,000 for the last few years. It is not disclosed if there is anything else: It will be seen that the company is not doing too badly out of sugar.
– But the company is conducting operations in New Zealand and in Fiji.
– From these two reports it will be seen that the consumer is not to obtain any relief. Although the minority report recommends a reduction of something like1/4d. a lb., in effect the consumer is not to have one atom of relief. Having regard to the personnel of the committee and the futile inquiry it conducted, the domestic consumer who imagined that he was going to get any relief was an optimist or a fool.
The committee also reported against Hobart’s claim for a sugar depot. I wish to say at once that if persistency and perseverance can do it the people of Tasmania are going to compel the company to provide a depot in the capital city of the State which I have the honour to assist in representing. I should like to read to the Senate a letter which I received on this subject from the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin). In company with my Tasmanian colleagues, I waited on the Prime Minister on two or three occasions, and he was good enough to write us early this month. Under the terms of the original agreement it was provided that the wholesale price of sugar should be the same in all capital cities; but the people of Hobart are paying £1 0s.2d. per ton more than is being paid by residents of the capital cities on the mainland. I mention this matter because it should be our endeavour to encourage a federal spirit. When my little State came into the federation she did not drive a hard bargain as did some of the other States. She entered the federation in a spirit of patriotism in order to secure a united Australia. But having done so, she expects to be treated in the same spirit as that in which she entered the federation.
– And she has been begging on the door mat ever since.
– Tasmania has never begged for anything. She has asked for justice, but has not yet received it.
SenatorFoll. - It is a suppliant State such as Western Australia is.
– No, Tasmania has never begged for anything. Tasmania asks only for justice. The people of that State do not want charity; indeed, they would scorn it. But when these fat and bloated sugar lords start squealing, I feel full of contempt for them.
The only reason why I rose to participate in this futile debate - for it will be futile - was to express the views of the people of Tasmania, who are suffering as the result of national policy. If pegging away will get us justice we shall keep on pegging away. Our very importunity will probably get us a depot at Hobart. Why cannot a depot be established there? Is it because the Colonial Sugar Refining Company objects to the expenditure of the necessary money? That monopoly has been so well-fed that it has become lethargic; it is so arrogant that it thinks that it can rule Australia. I submit that it is the duty of the Commonwealth Government to compel the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to carry out the terms of the first agreement and establish a depot in Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, in order that that State may be placed on the same footing as the other States.
We have to go back a long way to get to the genesis of the recent inquiry into the sugar monopoly. Tasmania has good reason to complain of the composition of the committee that was appointed. In face of the desire of an overwhelming majority of the fruit-growers - I do notmean processors or canners of fruit - that a certain gentleman should be appointed to represent their interests on the committee, the Government appointed another person. A deputation waited on the Prime Minister in that connexion, and also to urge the necessity for establishing a depot at Hobart, but without obtaining any satisfaction. Knowing the views of the gentleman who was appointed, I was not surprised that he signed the majority report. His interests were not those of the fruit-growers. Small though it may be, Tasmania produces a very considerable proportion of the soft fruits grown in Australia. In reply to the propositions placed before the Prime Minister, the following reply, dated the 2nd May, 1931, was sent to each member of the deputation : -
With reference to your personal representations at the deputation that waited on me recently in regard to several aspects of the sugar position in Tasmania, I now desire to furnish you with the following information: -
With regard to the proposal that a sugar depot ‘ be established at Hobart, I desire to point out that a system was inaugurated about two years ago by the Queensland Sugar Board whereby business people in Hobart may obtain extra supplies of sugar from the agents of the Queensland Sugar Board under a bank guarantee - such extra sugar not requiring to be paid for until actually used. This system was introduced in order to prevent, as far as possible, any shortage of supplies of sugar as had previously occurred owing to transport or other difficulties. I have been informed that witnesses appearing recently before the Sugar Inquiry Committee at Hobart admitted that no shortage of sugar had occurred during the past two years. Furthermore, the Sugar Inquiry Committee found that quite a number of business people in Hobart were not aware that it was possible for them to obtain extra supplies of sugar under the arrangements indicated above.
In tho circumstances, I am of opinion that it would bo unreasonable to compel the Queensland Sugar Board to incur the considerable expense of establishing a sugar depot, whilst there is no evidence that the present system for supplying extra sugar under a bank guarantee is not working satisfactorily. However, the Government recognizes the necessity for doing everything possible to ensure sufficient supplies of sugar at Hobart at all times, and it is, therefore, including a special clause in the new sugar agreement under which the Commonwealth Government may compel tho Queensland Sugar Board to establish a sugar depot in Hobart, if at any time the Commonwealth Government finds that Hobart purchasers, although making adequate use of the guarantee system, are suffering from u shortage of sugar.
With reference to the second question raised at the deputation in regard to the statement that retail grocers in Hobart were required to pay approximately fi per ton more for sugar than grocers in mainland capital cities, this matter was brought under notice in the report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee which recommended that an amount of 4s. 9d. per ton be allowed in the new sugar agreement to wholesale merchants in Hobart to cover certain wharfage and cartage charges - provided that same is passed on by the wholesale merchants to the retail grocers. This recommendation has been adopted by the Government in connexion with the new sugar agreement. A preliminary inquiry regarding the excess charges imposed upon retail grocers in Hobart shows that they are partly due to wholesale merchants not abiding by the conditions governing cash sales of sugar under the sugar agreement. It appears that wholesale merchants are - levying certain charges in excess of their prescribed discount of 2 per cent., but that the total excess charges, on a properlycomparable basis, are not as rauch as the £1 per ton claimed. Suitable representations arc being made to the Queensland Sugar Board in the matter, with a view to rectifying the position, and I shall advise you of the result of the action now being taken as early as possible.
A request was also made at the deputation that refined sugar should be supplied to ports on the north-west coast of Tasmania at the same price as obtains for refined sugar delivered at Hobart and Launceston. I desire to point out that the policy of uniform selling prices for refined sugar only applies to the capital cities of the Commonwealth with the exception that Launceston has been regarded as being tantamount to a capital city for this purpose, due to the fact that that city obtains its supplies from the Melbourne refinery, whereas Hobart is supplied from the refinery at Sydney.
After carefully considering all the circumstances, I cannot agree that the principle of uniform selling prices should be extended to towns on the north-west coast of Tasmania, as such an extension would involve very many similar extensions to towns and cities in the other States of the Commonwealth and would tend to a re-adjustment of all the selling prices of sugar.
I forwarded a copy of that letter to the people concerned in Hobart, and asked them for their views. In reply, I received from the Grocers Association of Tasmania, the following letter, dated the 8th May: -
High-street, Sandy Bay.
Copy of letter from Prime Minister to ha.nd in reference to representations made by deputation of Tasmanian members in regard to several aspects of the sugar position in Tasmania.
The system inaugurated by the Queensland Sugar Board was brought about three years or more ago, when Mr. Seabrook ( late M.H.R. ) , brought up the matter for a depot.
The arrangement was made with Messrs. H. Jones and Company, and representations were then made by the Chamber of Commerce and the same privilege was granted to merchants or other manufacturers, Jones and Company, is the only one who has taken advantage of the system, and that is because there was no depot and it was necessary then, as now, that they should have supplies of sugar on hand, otherwise their business would suffer considerably and hundreds of jam workers would be out of employment should a strike occur or any other difficulty of obtaining supplies.
Why should a manufacturer or merchant be made to provide stocks of sugar, under the guarantee system, when it is absolutely the duty of the monopoly to provide those facilities. It is very evident to me the Commonwealth Government also the monopoly arc of the opinion that manufacturers and merchants are in business for the good of their health, and should be nothing more than benefactors for the sugar monopoly. The point I desire to stress is: Tasmania is an island, our shipping service at the best of times is rotten (a Commonwealth responsibility), we used to have strikes summer after summer - our fruit season (and bear in mind, a vital industry to Tasmania), irregular running of steamers, wet weather prevailing at time of ship loading in Sydney, has also caused shortages. The Commonwealth Government then wants manufacturers and merchants to provide a store to hold a fair quantity, make it vermin proof, cart-in cart-out, provide a bank guarantee (which is doubtful if they could get one if they wanted one), all extra expense for thorn, to provide against shortages, but nothing extra in the way of remuneration, for the capital outlay, and on the miserable profit they are making now. We had shortages the other week-end, the boat not running to time.
The Tasmanian fruit industry is being stifled through the excessive price of sugar, and the value of sugar Tasmania uses exceeds over £500,000a year and the organizations and people I represent are emphatic that Hobart should and must have a depot, and the price to be the same as in other capital cities. Tasmania, without exaggeration, is seething with indignation over the sugar business, and I can assure you, if my humble efforts count for anything, it will seethe more, if Tasmania does not get a fair deal. Other manufacturers and merchants I also emphasize will not take advantage of the guarantee system, which is rottenly unfair, even to expect them. A perusal of the shorthand notes taken at the Hobart sitting of the inquiry will divulge that there was one only person (not several) who did not know of the guarantee system. I was there at the inquiry and know for sure, but it is typical of the majority report (hands off the sugar monopoly ) .
The clause the Commonwealth Government intends to insert, in reference to should a shortage occur, and if Hobart purchasers are taking advantage of the guarantee system, may get a depot.
The clause is absolutely useless, as they will not take advantage of that system and I don’t blame them and for the reasons stated before, merchants, according to the Prime Minister’s letter, have not abided by the conditions governing cash sales of sugar under the sugar agreement. The evidence I gave before the commission proved that, and until pressure was applied, they would not recognize it.
The present time is then opportune for Tasmania and Tasmanians to fight for a fair deal in this matter, and I know Tasmanian federal members can be relied upon to do their share in protecting our most vital primary industry, fruit industry, and to help protect that, Hobart must have a depot and the price is to be the same as in other capital cities.
I shall not labour the question, but I feel that the Senate is entitled to hear views other than those which have been expressed by honorable senators from Queensland. For months we have had one side of the sugar question placed before us, in the press, and by means of circulars and letters. There have been propaganda ad nauseam in favour of a continuance of the embargo. I do not blame the sugar interests of Queensland for indulging in elaborate and well thought-out propaganda. In so doing they are acting within their rights. They know that they have gained an advantage, and they are entitled to fight for its retention. I want honorable senators to realize that there are two sides to this question, as there are to all questions. Yet because I dare to express the opinion of the people of the State from which I come, my remarks are regarded by some honorable senators as heresy; I am told thatI have no business to say such things. I reply that, “ fair play is bonnie play.”. I think that I have said sufficient to show that the sugar embargo presses very heavily on certain interests in Tasmania.
– I am. The honorable senator’s trouble is that he cannot see beyond the horizon of his own State. Queensland is not Australia, but it does not matter a tinker’s curse to the honorable senator and other Queenslanders what the people in the other States have to pay so long as they get their fat dividends, or rake-off. I have nothing further to say about the majority and minority reports; they are just what any one with intelligence would expect in the circumstances. The recommendations in either the majority or the minority report are not very helpful and will get us nowhere. The whole tenor of them is, “Do not upset the status quo. This industry is sacrosanct. It must not be touched.” One could speak ad lib about the over-production of sugar. We shall have a surplus of 240,000 tons to be sold for £7 10s. or £8 a ton, while the people in Australia are paying over £38 a ton. It is madness. No wonder Australia is in a chaotic financial condition when such a policy is pursued year after year. It is ridiculous to expect the people of Australia to pay four or five times more foi’ their sugar than the price which can be obtained overseas for our surplus product. Production must be cut down, and the sooner an impartial and disinterested tribunal investigates the whole condition, the better it will be for this country. But we shall get nowhere by setting up committees of the nature of that which has just reported on the industry, if before Chey commence they are suspect, by reason of the fact that they are interested in some phase or other of the sugar business. I have nothing more to say on this subject.
Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia [5.8]. - Of all the subjects I hear discussed in this august chamber from time to time, nono seems to ripple the surface of the otherwise smooth waters of the Senate so much as does this much-vexed question of the sugar embargo. It appears to me that in order to understand where the trouble lies we have to do more than make a mere examination of it from the view-point of sugar. Even my placid friend, Senator Crawford, is moved to indignation when we attempt to deal with this question in any other way than, that which he thinks right, and the calm and dispassionate soldier senator who has just resumed his seat waxes indignant from another point of view. I can understand the mental attitude and outlook of both honorable senators, but we who come from southern and western States are inclined to join forces in this matter with the distinguished senator from Tasmania. We have to look at this question as we find it. We find in it an established principle which Ave all applauded at the time it was first applied; but the application of that principle to the cultivation of sugar may have been done under a misapprehension from one or two points of view. It has certainly enabled a huge monopoly to be formed at the expense of the Australian people. It is a legislative monopoly which could only have led to the dire consequences this country is experiencing to-day.
It is interesting to examine the view-point put up by Professor Brigdean He touches upon the fundamental folly that has pervaded our fiscal and economic system in Australia. The sugar industry appears to me to be a sweet darling of the Federal Parliament. It always has been. It embraces in its ranks companies de luxe, growers de luxe, and workmen living de luxe, because, compared with the current wages in Queensland, the wages paid in the sugar industry are altogether out of proportion. While everything else in the community has had to be pared down, wages, returns and everything else, no attempt has been made to bring this particular industry down to the same level and apply to it the same conditions which have to be endured by the rest of Australia. On page 79 of the report of the sugar committee, Professor Brigden is quoted as having said, “ It is an indisputable fact that sugar has cost Australia far too much.” Professor Brigden, whose economics have been so much extolled by some honorable senators, went on to say -
To my mind the sugar industry is only one of the examples of an unfortunate drift on the part of a too-optimistic protectionist policy.
There is no doubt that our protectionist policy has been applied in its highest possible form to this particular industry. It is, in fact, the new protection policy. The result is that Australia groans under a burden of what may be £5,500,000 in excessive payments, but possibly the greater amount mentioned by Senator E. B. Johnston to-day. Whatever the cost may be, we have to look a little beyond the sugar industry itself; we have to examine our fiscal creed. Before we have passed through this period of depression now upon us we shall have to revise that creed, in the light of the conditions prevailing in this country, and in the light of the purchasing power of the community, its depleted wages and earnings. We shall not be able to keep the sugar industry any longer in that Elysium it has hitherto enjoyed in Australia in prosperous times.
One cannot blame the Government for persisting in what was its declared policy at the time it went to the country. If any one is to be blamed, it is the people who returned Labour with a majority. In Tasmania the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) boldly announced that he was in favour of the sugar embargo, and that the -agreement would be continued if his party was returned to power. When Mr. Frost was seeking election for Franklin, a fruit-growing district, he advocated the sugar embargo, and said that he would support the Scullin Government upon it. In another place Mr. Scullin said that his Government stood by the sugar embargo. We cannot, therefore, find fault with the Government for having given effect to its pledged policy. But .1 find fault with the Government on another score. Immediately public attention was drawn to the fact that the existing agreement would need to be renewed during the current year, it must have recognized that there was a strong force of public opinion, particularly in the southern and western States, in fact in all the States except two, against the continuance of the embargo without giving Parliament an opportunity to pronounce upon it. I, therefore, blame the Government, not for giving effect to its policy, but for not giving Parliament an opportunity to discuss the matter, having regard to the fact that the whole of Australia was considerably moved upon the question. Australia was just beginning to realize that it was about to embark upon an era of lower price levels, that the cost of living must come down, that everything was in the melting pot, and that presently we should not be in a position to stand the tremendous impost inflicted on the community by the sugar agreement.
There is no suggestion, as Senator Crawford thinks there is, that we are breaking faith with anybody or seeking the extermination of the sugar industry.
The point is that the people engaged in the industry should have had the sense to bow their heads to the gale; they must have known that the winds of adversity were blowing over the country and, instead of adopting the sugar committee’s report, the Government would have acted more wisely if it had adopted, or even modified, the minority report which was subscribed .to by Mr. J. Gunn. If any one was likely to be disinterested in the sugar question, he was. He had no axe to grind; he was trying to look at the matter from the Australian, viewpoint, and he and two colleagues on the committee recommended some reduction in the cost of sugar.
Suggestions have been made that the report of the committee is exactly what it was expected to be. It seems to me, at any rate, that there was absolutely no need for the report. After all the expenditure, travail and time involved no new light has been shed on the sugar question ; not one word has been added to our knowledge of the subject. Certainly, here and there through the reports there are extracts from various sources, but no new light has been shed on the position. The principle applied to the sugar industry is probably wrong, but we, as a Parliament, stand committed to it, and the people of Australia will most likely have to continue paying for a mistake of the past. But what I feel is that the report ,of the sugar committee is all so much political kite-flying. It is simply a cushion on which to ease down the policy the Government enunciated, but which it found did not exactly please a number of its supporters in some of the States. The committee was appointed with the full intention of permitting the Government to give effect to the position as it stood in the past. The Government was, no doubt, disappointed at being presented with a majority and a minority report, but it said, “ We shall stand by our policy.” But the Government is to blame for the continuance of this arrangement. The figures quoted by Senator Johnston indicate that the sugar industry is conducted efficiently. We, therefore, should direct our criticism to the viciousprinciple in which Parliament has acquiesced for many years. For my part I am totally opposed to embargoes in any shape or form. The principle is objectionable. Its application to any industry encourages the creation of monopolies inimical to the best interests of the community.
– Was not the honorable senator a member of a government which imposed the previous embargo?
– That is so. But I remind the honorable senator that cabinet responsibility and individual responsibility are entirely different matters. I consider the imposition of an embargo as a vicious form of protection. Although I realize fully the difficulties which the Government might have experienced in administration, I think it would have been better if, instead of placing an embargo on imports, it had imposed a duty for the protection of the sugar industry. From all that one can gather from reports about the position in other countries, the sugar industry throughout the world is in the melting pot. I have read a number of speeches delivered by interested parties in London concerning this matter, and I know that there is a movement to ensure some form of inter-Empire control. But we must do what we consider best and in our own way for the industry in Australia, and I am not going to be a party to any proposal that may ruin it. I fully realize, of course, that those associated with it are getting a great deal more out of it than can be said of people engaged in other commercial activities. The companies, the growers, employers and employees, are all in alliance. We had unmistakable evidence of this recently when there was a discussion in Canberra concerning the future of the industry. The Government of Queensland, the Australian Workers Union, of which the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) knows something; the growers and every one else connected with it, spoke as with one voice in its defence. They cast aside all their political or other differences in order to present a united front for the renewal of the agreement and the reimposition of the embargo on imports, all at the expense of the Australian taxpayer.
It is the duty of the Government to stand between the consumers, for whom Senator Sampson made an eloquent appeal just now, and the exploitation - I do not use the word offensively - of people by the sugar industry of Queensland and northern New South Wales. It would have been well if, in the agreement which has just been renewed, provision had been made for a reduction in the price to be charged to the Australian consumers. Those connected with the sugar industry must acknowledge that the price levels for all other commodities have been reduced in recent months, and that it would have been only reasonable to provide for a corresponding reduction in sugar prices., Honorable senators should have an opportunity for a full dress debate on the general principle involved in this issue. Although I believe that the amendment might well be carried, I realize the futility of this debate, because the Government is committed to the agreement and will sign it. All that we can do is to voice our protest against the manner in which it has been made; but any objection which we may have to it should apply to all other proposals of the like nature. This debate, it is true, may be a starting point. Possibly, we are embarking upon a wider field of discussion than even the Minister contemplated when he suggested that Senator Colebatch should withdraw the amendment for the time being so as to afford an opportunity for the submission of a substantive motion dealing with the general principle involved.
The agreement and the embargo impose on the taxpayers a burden ranging from £5,500,000, as indicated by the commission, to £7,000,000, as suggested by other outside authorities. Be the figure what it may, the taxation is excessive and we might very well complain that Parliament was not consulted before the Government decided to renew the agreement and re-impose the embargo. Under this arrangement the sugar industry is a taxing machine. Whether the amount which it levies is 15s. or £1 per head, is beside the point. What I and other honorable senators complain about is that the Government should have committed itself before giving Parliament an opportunity to express an opinion on the subject. It is no answer to say that this Administration merely followed the procedure of previous governments. Our economic circumstances were entirely different when previous administrations entered into these arrangements. In our present circumstances no government should have inflicted this further burden upon the people without consulting Parliament.
Senator Sampson made reference to the fact that the Commonwealth Sugar Refining Company had not established a depot at Hobart. While the honorable senator was speaking I was reminded of a paragraph in Professor Shann’s evidence given before the select committee on’ central banking not so long ago. It may, I suggest, have some bearing on the point. This is what Professor Shann said -
I may mention that, looking down the Swan River from my study window I noticed recently that a new smoke stack had appeared above Rocky Bay. This is the chimney of a refinery erected by the Commonwealth Sugar (Incorporated) Refinery Company. In its report of this year I read that this refinery cost twice as much to build as the total cost of the two refineries established on the same scale at Brisbane in 1891 and at Adelaide in 1895 or 1896.
The honorable senator may find, in that statement, the answer of the Commonwealth Sugar Refinery Company to the complaint that it has not erected a refinery at Hobart. The reason fa* this is not far to seek. We must lay the blame on embargoes of this character, and the consequent high wage costs in industry. As we all know, the cost of living goes up with every award that is made in the Arbitration Court, but we shall have to re-orientate our views with regard to such matters before we have finished with the present depression. The amendment submitted by Senator Colebatch will serve to bring under the notice of the Government the views of the Senate with regard to embargoes or other arrangements made by it.
It is clear that, before long, we shall have to put our economic house in order. This amendment may be the starting point - a step in the right direction. Yesterday, when the honorable senator submitted his amendment, I thought that perhaps it went a bit too far, because it deals with the duty which the Government may impose on sugar as well as the embargo and the prohibition of importations. While it may be a little wide in its terms, it does enable us to express our views concerning this class of protection. Speaking for my own State, we feel strongly that we should have been given an opportunity to discuss, not the extermination, as Senator Crawford would put it, of the sugar industry, but the quantum of benefit that should be extended to it before the agreement becomes effective. But it is now too late. All we can do is to enter a protest against the action of the Government. Ministers were well aware that the people were viewing with some concern the probability of an extension of the agreement. Accordingly, they deferred a definite announcement from month to month until the committee of inquiry had presented this document, which contributes nothing to the knowledge which, I believe, all honorable senators had concerning the industry. My criticism of the entire business is, I would emphasize, directed only to the general principle. It is reasurring to know that the sugar industry is efficiently managed and progressive. But we cannot have one section of the community living de luxe, so to speak, while other sections find it difficult to make ends meet. That, unfortunately, is what is happening in Australia, and that is one reason why objection is raised to this levy on the taxpayers for the benefit of one particular industry.
Yesterday I heard Senator Crawford, in reply to an interjection by Senator Johnston, make some reference to the arrangement that had been made in the interests of the dairying industry. Our small dairy farmers are not in the same category as the sugar-growers and their employees, as is disclosed by the reports of the commission which we are now discussing. Very few dairy farmers have been earning anything like the basic wage that is paid to employees in the sugar industry of Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
– If the dairying industry were conducted under the same conditions as is the sugar industry, butter would be 4s. a lb.
– A considerable expenditure of effort is now required to carry on that industry. When the Paterson butter scheme came into operation all went merrily and well with our dairy farmers. But what is the position to-day? It is quite a common sight to see, in the windows of grocers’ shops in the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, announcements advertising the sale of margarine and dripping. These are portents for ill. They indicate that the condition of the dairy industry is not quite so satisfactory as we should like to think it was. How much longer can we continue in this way to ignore the old economic law? I realize, of course, that I am digressing somewhat from the subject under discussion, so I shall not pursue that line of argument further. All I need add is that no comparison can be drawn between the sugar industry of Queensland, living, as it were, in the lap of luxury, and the unfortunate small dairy farmers who are eking out an existence in the southern States. Before I resume my seat, I invite Senator Colebatch to eliminate from his amendment the word “ duty “, because I realize that we cannot very well ask the Government to act in contravention of its statutory authority. With this reservation, I give my support to the amendment which is moved as the only means available to us to express our opinion upon a matter that is un fait accompli.
.- With a good deal of the speech delivered by Senator McLachlan I can heartily agree. It is now generally recognized in Australia that economic laws must be obeyed more readily in the future than they have been in the past. But it is an altogether different proposition to be asked to vote for the amendment that has been moved by Senator Colebatch. I do not think the honorable senator will claim to be the only member of the Senate who desires to see the industries of this country conducted on sound economic lines. His amendment picks out for special treatment the Queensland sugar industry.
– In what way ?
– It reads - “ and that after the 31st day, of August, 1931, the dato of the expiration of the agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, no agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Government of the State of Queensland, or between the governnent of the Commonwealth and any other party relating to the sugar industry, and no duty, embargo, or prohibition on the importation of sugar into Australia shall have any force or effect until approved by the Parliament of the Commonwealth.”
There are thousands of industries iu Australia that are protected by a duty from the moment that that duty is tabled in another place. Yet the honor.orable senator suggests that the protection of the sugar industry should cease.
– If that is the only objection of the honorable senator to the amendment, I shall strike out the word “ duty “.
– That is not my only objection to it; nevertheless I am glad that the honorable senator is willing to go to the length that he has indicated. The views that he expressed during the course of his speech would lead one to expect that he would at least be consistent in his attitude towards all agreements of this description that come before the Senate.
– This has never been brought before Parliament; that is my complaint. I might support it, if it were placed before us.
– At all events, a similar attitude might be adopted in every case in which an agreement was entered into between the Commonwealth Government and another party.
– We are given the opportunity to consider other agreements on their merits.
– The honorable senator objected to this agreement being entered into without Parliament first having an opportunity to say whether or not it- approved of the action proposed by the Government. I was not in Australia last year when an agreement embodying a guarantee, was entered into by the Commonwealth Government on behalf of the Wiluna .Gold Mines Limited, of Western Australia; but I am given to understand that when the matter came before the Senate a number of honorable senators from different States, including some from my State, protested against such agreements being entered into without Parliament being given an opportunity to discuss them, just as Senator Colebatch has protested against the action of the Government in connexion with the sugar agreement.
– The agreement made on behalf of Wiluna GoldMines Limited stated expressly that it wis entered into subject to its ratification by Parliament; and it was sent to the Senate for ratification.
– It was entered into prior to its being brought before the Senate. Senator Johnston knows that, no matter what action the Senate might desire to take, the conditions associated with the making of that agreement were identical with those affecting the agreement entered into by the Commonwealth Government with the sugar industry.
– I protest that the honorable senator i3 making an absolute mis-statement. That agreement was subject to the ratification of Parliament, and if it had been rejected by the Senate it would not have been given effect.
– Nevertheless the honorable senator has always argued against government assistance to other industries. It has been argued that, because the sugar industry occupies the fortunate position of being relieved from the competition of sugar grown in black labour countries, it is able to pay higher rates of wages than are paid in some other industries. Senator McLachlan and other honorable senators have said that while wages have come down in many industries, the sugar industry has not suffered in that respect. I point out that not very long ago the Arbitration Court agreed to a reduction of the wages paid in the gold-mining industry, which Senator Colebatch always so capably champions, to the extent of something like 10 per cent. The employers in that industry, however, did not avail themselves of that concession, but kept wages at the existing level, on account of the bounty that is paid by the Commonwealth Government on the production of gold in Australia - a payment that has been severely criticized by many students of economics as well as by members of this and another place.
– They did not say anything of the kind.
– That is the main reason why they did not avail themselves of the reduction granted by the Arbitration Court.
– That is utterly incorrect.
– It is quite apparent that the bounty enabled the existing standard of wages to be maintained in that industry.
– It was due entirely to the exchange.
– I cannot assign any cause for the fact that, as Senator McLachlan has pointed out, there is always a ripple on the usually placid waters of the Senate whenever the sugar industry comes up for discussion in this chamber. That industry is now, and it has been, in a reasonably flourishing state. But as a Queenslander I do not tear my hair and rave when I find an industry in another State carrying on in a flourishing condition. Times out of number, since I first entered the Senate, I have voted to assist industries whose operations are conducted entirely outside my own State. I have supported proposals designed to assist farmers in the Mallee, and fruitgrowers in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. When Tasmania has come along with its annual plea for monetary assistance, I have always shown myself charitably disposed towards it. When Western Australia has knocked on the door of the Commonwealth Parliament and made its annual appeal for assistance. I have never hardened my heart against it, as Senator Colebatch does when assistance is sought for the Queensland sugar industry. I consider that I am justified in asking Senator Colebatch and other honorable senators to display the same broad national outlook. When additional protection was asked for the dairying industry, I and my colleagues did not inquire whether it would help Victoria or New South Wales to a greater extent than Queensland. We considered that the matter was one which affected an Australian industry that gives employment to our people and brings to this country a tremendous amount of revenue from overseas.
I assure Senator McLachlan that every man who grows sugar in Australia is not what may be termed a rich sugar baron. Thousands of small sugargrowers are merely scratching along, and earning just sufficient to keep themselves and their families in reasonable comfort. There appears to be a general opinion that a person who engages in the growing of sugar cane in northern Queensland, or on the northern rivers of New South “Wales, has only to obtain a few acres of land suitable for the production of cane, plant his crop, and in a comparatively short time he becomes a millionaire. If any honorable senator holds such a fantastic idea he should visit northern Queensland to see the way in which the industry is conducted and the conditions under which the men work. Some years ago, Senator Newlands and other members of the Federal Parliament paid an extended visit to northern Queensland to obtain first-hand knowledge of the conditions under which the industry is conducted, and have since realized the immense benefit it is to Australia.
Criticism has been levelled against the wages paid to those engaged in the industry. I do not wish to see those employed in the industry receive an unfair advantage over those engaged in other industries, but I submit there are very few men in the southern States who would work in the northern parts of Queensland, particularly at canecutting, at rates lower than those at present ruling. The sugar industry has now become stabilized, as I should like to see many other industries in Australia, and the disadvantages which some experience by having to pay ¼d. or £d. a lb. more for sugar are more than compensated for by the benefit which the industry is to the Commonwealth.
– Would the honorable senator be in favour of totally prohibiting for five years the importations of commodities being produced by other industries?
– The people engaged in the industry and the representatives of Queensland in this chamber would be agreeable to a protective policy provided the duty was imposed to adequately protect the sugar industry, as is done in the case of other primary and secondary industries. In view of the fluctuation in prices which have resulted in overproduction, the retention of the embargo is essential. If the point raised by Senator Duncan is the bone of contention, I would be prepared to advise those controlling the sugar industry in Australia to accept a duty sufficient to adequately protect Australian sugar against the products of cheaplabour countries, in lieu of an embargo, but the fluctuations in the price of sugar are so great that it would be necessary to continually vary the duty, and the embargo is simpler and more satisfactory. That is only fair and is in keeping with the attitude adopted by the Senate in affording protection to other industries. What is the difference between imposing a. prohibitive duty on, say, butter, and a total embargo on importations of foreign sugar? In the case of butter the duty is made so high that it becomes an embargo. As mentioned by Senator Crawford, the portion of Australia in which the sugar industry is thriving is vulnerable, and if sugar-growing and refining were discontinued I do not know what other industries could be established in its place. The land in northern Queensland on which sugar is now produced is rich, there is a heavy rainfall, the percentage of moisture in the soil is high and, consequently, it is peculiarly suitable for sugar-growing. The industry is carried on most efficiently, millions of pounds having been spent in wages, in the erection of modern mills and refineries, and in the purchase of plant, most of which is manufactured in Australia. Moreover, many thousands of pounds are spent by the residents of northern Queensland in purchasing the products of industries in the southern States. Northern Queensland provides an extraordinarily good market for the products of other industries. It ill becomes honorable senators such as Senator Sampson to refer in sneering terms to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I hold no brief for that company, I do not possess a single share in it, and probably will never have sufficient money to buy any. It is incorrect to say that the huge premium at which the shares of the company are sold are due to profiteering on the part of that company. In addition to its Australian interests, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has also vast interests in Fiji and New Zealand. The fact that the refining of sugar is Australia is practically limited to one company - another refinery is operating in Bundaberg - does not suggest that consumers of sugar in Australia are being robbed. There are no more modern sugar refineries in the world than exist in Australia. I should like, sir, to compare the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company with the HenryFord motor works in America.
– I do not see that such a comparison has any bearing on the subject under discussion. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the fact that the underlying principle of this amendment is the tabling in the Senate of any agreements with respect to an embargo upon the prohibition of imports of sugar before they become operative.
SenatorFOLL. - I merely wished to institute a comparison between the refining operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company under one control - in that respect it differs from other forms of primary production in Australia - and the operations of theFord motor works in America. Owing to a system of mass production Ford motor cars can be produced and sold at a rate cheaper than any other make of car. In the same way the Colonial Sugar Refining Company has brought refining up to such a state of efficiency that its work is not excelled in any other country. Instead of honorable senators treating this industry in a more or less hostile manner, they should endeavour to bring other industries up to a similar state of efficiency.
– That could be done if those industries possessed similar advantages.
– Similar advantages are enjoyed by many other industries. I do not wish to repeat what I have said concerning the gold-mining industry.
– The honorable senator does not suggest that that industry enjoys similar advantages to the sugar industry.
– At present the bounty paid on the production of gold is provided by taxpayers all over Australia. The sugar industry is of vital importance not only to Queensland, but to the whole of Australia. It became stabilized, and in every sense efficient, in consequence of the embargo placed upon the importation of foreign sugar by the Bruce-Page Government. It gives employment to thousands of Australian workmen, is a means of livelihood for thousands of small farmers, and the portion of Queensland in which the industry is established provides an extraordinarily good market for the protected products of industries operating in the southern States. Queensland has always been willing to assist primary and secondary industries in the southern States, and all that the representatives of Queensland now ask is that similar consideration should be extended to this most important industry in the north. I trust that the majority of honorable senators will support the continuance of the embargo in order to afford the great sugar industry of Queensland that protection which it deserves.
.- Apart from the financial and economic position of Australia I suppose that there is no question that is agitating the minds of the Australian people more to-day than the question of sugar production, and the price which consumers have to pay for that commodity. Throughout Australia, and particularly in Tasmania, the question is a live one. Every housewife is keenly interested in the price of sugar, which is used in every household. Australians are large consumers of sugar. Any honorable senator may well be pardoned for saying that no subject that comes before the Senate is of greater importance to the whole of the people of Australia than is the price of sugar. In reading the majority and the minority reports of the committee which was appointed to investigate the sugar industry, one finds widely different views expressed regarding some aspects of the question while on other aspects there is agreement.
– There is not a great deal of difference between the two reports.
– They both recommend a continuance of the embargo.
– Honorable senators who have spoken have not drawn special attention to the over-production of sugar in Australia. The report shows that 31 per cent. of the total Australian output of sugar in 1927 was exported. The following year, 35 per cent, of the sugar grown in Australia was sent abroad. In 1929, the sugar exported represented 30 per cent, of the year’s production. .Fortyone per cent, of the sugar produced in Australia in 1930 had to be sent overseas in order to find a market, and it is estimated that this year 45 per cent, of the output of the sugar mills will have to be disposed of outside Australia. In the light of those figures, it. is difficult to understand why those engaged in the sugar industry in Australia did not long ago attempt to put their house in order.
– The question of the exportable surplus is governed to some extent by seasonal conditions.
– I realize that. The figures which I have quoted support the honorable senator’s contention. I know the sugar districts of Queensland. As far back as 1903, 1 visited that State in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the sugar industry. I have taken a keen interest in the industry ever since, because I realize its value to Australia. I have no desire to see it crushed out of existence; but I do want it to be carried on in such a way that it will not place too heavy a burden on the people of Australia. 1 want the industry to be a benefit, not a burden, to Australia.
– Who gets the huge profits made in the industry?
– I am not dealing with that aspect of the question at present; I am dealing with the overproduction of sugar. If a person engaged in any other industry continued year after year to produce in such quantities that a lara;e proportion of his total output had to be sold at a price considerably lower than the cost of production, he would immediately set about putting his house in order. Those engaged in the production of sugar should do the same. I believe that the sugar industry can be carried on successfully in Australia if an attempt is made, over a period of years, to reduce the area under cultivation, until eventually Australia will produce only sufficient for her own requirements.
– That would increase the cost.
– I cannot see that that would be the case. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6.12 to 8 p.m.
Message received from the ‘House of Representatives intimating that it no longer insisted upon disagreeing to amendments made and insisted upon by the Senate in this bill.
Private business taking precedence after 8 p.m.,
REPORT of Select Committee.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [8.1]. - I move -
That the second report from tlie select committee on the standing committee system, presented to the Senate on the 10th July, 1930, bo adopted.
This matter has been on the businesspaper for a considerable time. It was originally raised on tho motion moved by Senator R. D. Elliott for the appointment of a select committee. After the committee had been appointed, had deliberated, and had submitted a report, Senator R. D. Elliott went on a visit to England, and I somewhat reluctantly assumed the office of acting chairman of the committee. In that capacity, I am now moving the adoption of the second report of the committee; but I shall leave it to Senator R. D. Elliott to deal with the subject more fully. The first report contained recommendations for the appointment of three standing committees, but an amendment was moved by Senator Daly, who was then Vice-President of the Executive Council, providing that the matter should be referred back to the committee with the idea of dispensing with two of the committees. In this report, effect has been given to Senator Daly’s suggestion, and the report contemplates the appointment of a standing committee of the Senate, to be called “ The Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.” It is unnecessary for me to say very much in order to commend this recommendation to the Senate, but there is one point to which I should like to draw attention, chiefly for the purpose of illustrating the extraordinary danger there is in our habit of eleventh-hour legislation. We pass bills through Parliament with practically no consideration, and almost in a moment, in what is usually termed the end of the session rush. Of course, many ofus who have been in this Parliament for some years do not know what it is to end a session. It is a happy experience to which we look forward. We hope that we may be spared long enough to see one. But the fact that there is no end of the session does not seem to obviate what some of us have been accustomed to in State Parliaments, and that is the end of the session rush. The only difference between having no end of the session and ending one is that, in the latter case, there is only one end of the session rush, whereas in the former, under the system of having periods of a session and no end to a session, there is an end of the session rush at the end of every period. The danger of passing hasty and illconsidered legislation is, therefore, multiplied. On the 8th August, probably in the night-time between the 7th and8th August, the Senate passed through all its stages, with practically no debate from its first reading down to its third reading, a bill to amend the Acts Interpretation Act, and I venture to say that there are not many honorable senators who know what we did on that occasion. What we did was to agree to alter the law which required that the Government, after making a regulation, should place a copy of it on the table of both Houses of Parliament within 30 days of the making of the regulation, or, if Parliament was not sitting, within 30 days of the meeting of Parliament, and to replace it by a provision which enables the Government to place the regulation on the table of each House within fifteen sitting days of the meeting of that House.
There is some doubt as to the meaning of the expression, “ If the Parliament is not then sitting,” and, consequently, as to the period provided within which regulations may be tabled. It frequently happens that, although Parliament is sitting on the date when regulations are made, it is adjourned shortly after that date, and it is not possible to comply with the section. Clause 3 provides that, in future, all regulations are to be tabled within fifteen sitting days from the date on which they are made.
That point was never again referred to in the course of the debate. Senator Rae made some reference to the consolidation of the two acts, and that completed the second-reading debate. In committee, Senator McLachlan spoke of the date on which the proclamation should be issued, and also asked whether the fifteen days referred to each individual chamber. I am not suggesting any ulterior motive on the part of Ministers, but I venture to suggest that the amendment was made with the idea of simplifying the procedure and facilitating the tabling of regulations as quickly as possible.
In view of the interpretation of the High Court, it seems to me that it is more important than it was previously that we should have in this chamber a recognized statutory body charged with the duty of inquiring into and considering regulations directly they are gazetted. Otherwise, goodness knows how long it may be before we know whether they are in operation or not or what is the effect of their operation. About a month ago, Sir Arthur Robinson, a very distinguished lawyer, who has given a good deal of his time and ability in the service of the country, and who is a man of very wide political experience, read a paper before the Law Institute of Victoria in the course of which he made a remark which is extremely pertinent to the matter we are now considering. He said -
But to-day we have two Parliaments - one in Melbourne, and the other in an otherwise uninhabited corner of Now South Wales. The latter turns out statutes not unduly lengthy, but to the accompaniment of oratory unusually vituperative. But just as the oyster secretes a pearl, so docs something precious to us exude from Canberra. A constant stream of regulations of a range, breadth, and length surely unequalled in any other country pours out with never failing regularity.
Au irresponsible and anonymous expert states that quite 66 per cent, of these regulations are ultra vires, and a goodly proportion of the remainder are unworkable without continuous legal advice.
Sir Arthur Robinson made that statement to the fellow members of his profession as a reason for satisfaction on their part and for hoping that, even in these dull times, there would be a good deal of business flowing to the legal profession.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Then I trust that the honorable senator will take steps to have the contempt punished.
– They are making progress in Great Britain, according to Lord Hewart.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.There is a rapidly rising volume of public opinion against this ‘practice. Lord Hewart’s volume, The New Despotism, is perhaps creating more interest than any other publication of a similar kind in recent years, because of the fact that a man occupying the high position of Chief Justice of England has entered into what may be considered a political controversy in order to advocate what he regards as public reform. His book has had a wonderful influence on public opinion in Great Britain. There is a growing feeling against the despotism of governments and the despotism of public servants. There is a growing feeling that these things are altogether repulsive to the idea of democracy and parliamentary government. I suggest that these facts establish beyond all question the necessity for the appointment of a committee such as is recommended in. this report. I merely acted in a temporary capacity in this matter for Senator R. D. Elliott, so I shall content myself with moving the adoption of the report and allow him to deal more fully with the proposals of the committee.
– In seconding the motion I wish to thank Senator Colebatch for the interest which he took in the work of the committee and the ripe judgment which he brought to bear upon its deliberations. I was, fortunately or unfortunately, called to the other side of the world at about this time last year, shortly after the evidence had been taken and the first report decidedupon. Because of the disinterested position which he occupies in this chamber Senator Colebatch was pressed to become a member of the select committee and to act as chairman during my absence. The honorable gentleman presided over the meetings at which this second report was decided upon, and it was he who submitted the first report to this chamber. Since my return I have studied the debate which took place on that occasion, and I have given careful consideration to the suggestions made by the then Leader of the Senate (Senator Daly), supported by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). As a result of the action then taken the committee gave further consideration to the subject and the report now before the Senate is the considered opinion of its members. I trust that the Senate will to-night accept it without hesitation. It is not my intention to adopt the suggestion made by Senator Colebatch, that I should give a lengthy dissertation concerning the value of work which can be done by the suggested standing committee of the Senate. As justification for the proposal the honorable gentleman directed attention to the large number of regulations which are laid on the table of the Senate from time to time. The following apparently innocent section under which these regulations are made, reads: -
The Governor-General may make regulations not inconsistent with this act prescribing all matters which, by this act. are required or permitted to be prescribed or which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed for the carrying out or giving effect to this act.
That provision in all acts under which regulations may be made, is largely responsible for the frequent tabling of such regulations. If we needed further evidence of the value of such a committee as is contemplated, we have only to consider to-day’s business sheet for the Senate. It includes the discussion of a motion for the printing of a paper relating to the sugar industry and dealing with the Government’s policy. Those who have listened to the debate to-day must realize the need there is for more effective parliamentary control over executive action. Further down in the business sheet there appears reference to the pacific settlement of international disputes. I wonder how many honorable senators have sufficient knowledge to express an expert opinion upon this subject. During the last two years we have had many instances of the urgent need for organized committee work. I feel that all honorable senators will agree that the inquiry by the select committee has established beyond all doubt the urgent need for the appointment of Senate standing committees, which will give thorough and intelligent study to the many problems that come before this chamber. There is conclusive evidence on every hand that in all organized activities of men, the more compact the responsibility the better the work done. As a rule the only testimony or argument admitted is that which comes from persons known to be particularly concerned or believed to be particularly qualified to inform or advise. The work of these proposed committees should he done behind closed doors. In this way honorable senators would enter upon the most interesting, important and useful part of their work - the part of which the public knows nothing. Behind closed doors nobody talks to the gallery or to press representatives. Buncombe is not worth while. Sincerity is the only thing that counts. Behind closed doors men drop their masks. They argue to, and not through, each other. The absence of publicity in committee work increases the chance for concession or compromise of thought so necessary in the framing of legislation. It is in the conference room that careful, calm consideration can be brought to bear upon a subject, and men can work harmoniously in spite of party differences. It is there that the qualities and experience of the individual can be applied to matters under discussion.
It is there that opportunity is provided for vision, judgment and experience to be applied and, later, brought before the Senate for open discussion and action. The subject has been well discussed in the Senate, and I feel that there is little that I need add. I commend this, the second report of the select committee, to the consideration of honorable senators, in the hope that it will be adopted.
– I now find myself in the position of being able to support the motion for the adoption of the report. When last this matter was under discussion we differed, I think, only as to whether the activities of the proposed standing committees should include the consideration of external affairs. “Now that the select committee has recommended the appointment of committees that will consider only such matters as reports, ordinances and regulations, I see no objection to the motion. I would, however, like to correct an impression that might be created in the minds of honorable senators by the remarks of Senator Colebatch. Apparently, the honorable senator was under the impression that, prior to the amendment of the Acts Interpretation Act, if a regulation was not tabled within a period of 30 days from the date of its making, it ceased to operate.
– I made no such suggestion.
– I understood the honorable senator to say that if a regulation were not tabled within a certain time certain legal consequences would follow.
– Not at all.
– Under the act, if regulations are not tabled either because Parliament is not in session, or through some act of negligence on the part of the Government, such regulations, nevertheless, have full legal effect.
– That is so.
– The amendment of the Acts Interpretation Act to which the honorable senator referred, imposed on the Government an obligation to table regulations within fifteen sitting days from the date of their making.
– Instead of thirty days.
– I think the honorable senator does not appreciate the point which I am endeavouring to make. The previous Government gave this matter careful consideration and, acting on the best legal advice available, prepared a bill, notice of which was given in another place to overcome the difficulty. When this Government came into office it took up the measure. As Leader of the Senate I was able to assure honorable senators that it was a purely machinery bill, and the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), who was acquainted with its provisions, was in a position to advise his colleagues that the measure was not a contentious one.
– No one at that time contemplated that it would be used to withhold regulations from the Senate.
– If the honorable senator interprets the action of the Government in connexion with regulations dealing with waterside workers, as an intention to withhold regulations from the Senate, I remind him that, under the original law, it was competent for the Government to withhold the regulations.
– For 30 days only.
– Even if regulations were not tabled within 30 days they would still have legal force. It was to get over this difficulty that the bill to amend the Acts Interpretation Act was passed. As Leader of the Senate, I conferred with the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, and, in another place, the AttorneyGeneral consulted the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). Both Houses were assured that there was no desire on the part of the Government to shirk its duty, and that the measure should be passed. In some respects the Commonwealth Constitution is unique. I know of no constitution which gives to the parliament greater control over the executive than’ is vested in this Parliament. I entirely disagree with Sir Arthur Robinson, whose views were quoted just now by Senator Colebatch. Bearing in mind the intricacies of our Constitution, the laws passed by this Parliament are remarkable for their clarity. I agree with Senator Colebatch that we should have a standing, committee of the Senate to study regulations that are laid on the table from time to time. It is better to make it some men’s job instead of allowing it to be no man’s job. The proposed committee could give careful study to the many questions that would come before it and give valuable advice to the Senate. On more than one occasion we have had evidence of the need for such a committee. Under the Northern Australia Act; for example, certain regulations were made affecting the interests of quite a number of people. The party that I have the honour to represent has nothing to hide, nor does it seek to gain any advantage by the making of regulations. All that it desires is to operate to the fullest extent the powers that are vested in it under the Constitution. Every regulation that it has made has been tabled. But for the premature action of the Opposition, it would have tabled the regulations dealing with waterside workers. Therefore, I see no reason why any objection should be raised to this proposal ; and I hope that the motion will be carried.
– I was hopeful that the outcome of the deliberations of this committee would be the provision of machinery for the appointment of a committee from the Senate to consider, and to make recommendations respecting, measures that require the application of special knowledge.
– That will be facilitated.
– If that be so, an objection that I was going to urge has been met. I hope that that provision will be availed of in the future. During this session, and in previous sessions, we have had some striking examples of theuseful purpose that would be served by such a committee. The Bankruptcy Bill was the first that came under my notice. “We flogged that measure for a lengthy period, the discussion being confined to two or three honorable senators who had some knowledge of the subject. The rest of the Senate took no interest in it whatever, with the result that we now have an act that is repugnant to the commercial community of Australia. I hope that an opportunity will be afforded for a review of that legislation, and that a select committee will be appointed of honorable senators who possess an intimate knowledge of the subject, with a view to amendments being made that will improve it, Then there is the bill dealing with life insurance, which Senator McLachlan piloted through the Senate last year. That measure bristled with technicalities, with which only a few honorable senators were acquainted. A very useful purpose would be served by referring such a bill to a select committee of the Senate. Last, but by no means least, is the Central Reserve Bank Bill, which might have been dealt with more expeditiously had a small committee inquired into it and brought in its recommendations promptly. Certainly a select committee was appointed to investigate that proposal, and presented a very valuable report.
– Which the members of the committee failed to uphold in this chamber.
– Honorable senators opposite declined to accept nomination to that committee, therefore they should not criticize it.
– We did not refuse to allow the bill to go into committee so that the amendments suggested by the select committee might be implemented.
– At any time within the next six months the Government can send forward a decent bill. That measure might have been dealt with expeditiously in this chamber, without going so far afield.
I am pleased to learn that my proposal has been given effect, thus disposing of the criticism that I was about to offer.
– The Government has no objection to the passage of this motion, and I have intimated that fact to the honorable senator who is responsible for its introduction to the Senate. The Government accepts the report of the select committee, and believes that it was actuated by the desire to make it possible for regulations to be dealt with in a manner different from what has been the practice hitherto. A Government might find itself in a very precarious position unless it had the power to make regulations when Parliament was not sitting to deal with a situation that necessitated immediate action. Presumably that was the reason for the conferring of this power on the executive. The Committee has simplified the procedure, and as a result of their labours this Parliament will probably be enabled to work with greater wisdom than has been possible in the past.
– The appointment of a standing committee on regulations and ordinances appeals to me as a splendid idea. Many regulations and ordinances are presented to this Parliament every week, particularly in relation to the territories of the Commonwealth. I hope that the proposed committee will examine every regulation most carefully, and let us know exactly what it means. I suggest, too, that as Senator Elliott instigated the formation of the committee, it would be fitting that he should be its first chairman when it is established.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [8.38]. - There are only two points to which I wish to reply. I inform Senator Thompson that the report contains a recommendation that the Standing Orders be amended in such a way as to facilitate the reference of bills to a select committee or a standing committee.
Attention has been drawn to Standing Order No. 194; the phrasing of that Standing Order is such as to suggest that the appointment of a select committee is an act of hostility to the Government or to the bill concerned. There are three ways in which a motion for the second reading of a bill may be amended: By leaving out of the motion the word “now”, and inserting in lieu thereof the words “ this day six months “ - which is a rejection of the measure; by moving the previous question, which also is a rejection of the measure; and, by referring it to a select committee, which makes the appointment of the select committee an act of hostility towards the Government and the bill. That ought to be removed. The bill ought to go to a select committee that has an open mind on the matter.
As the Leader of the Senate has suggested, there is no intention to limit the regulation-making power of the Government, particularly when Parliament is not in session. The only limitation that should be imposed is that which was suggested by Mr. Justice Rich in his judgment the other day, when he pointed out that legislation is the function of Parliament; that the making of a regulation is legislation; and that since legislation can be passed only by both Houses of Parliament, so the making of a regulation by the Government should be confined to the doing of something that will be approved by both Houses of the Parliament.
That is the whole principle involved.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 30th April (vide page 1472), on motion by Senator
Upon which Senator Pearce had moved, by way of amendment -
That after the word “ immediately “ the following words be inserted: - “to lease the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a person or company which could carry out work at the dockyard, which cannot, under the judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government, and would be able among other things “
– The Government does not consider that it is advisable to lease Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and is unable to agree to the adoption of that course. The reasons for such a decision should be obvious.
A previous government called tenders for the leasing of the dockyard, not only in Australia, but also abroad, but no tenders were forthcoming. That attempt was made in prosperous times, when one would think that if there were a possibility of making greater use of the dockyard, there would be a chance of leasing it. The failure to do so proves that there is not much likelihood of anticipations in that direction being realized at the present time. The negotiations eventually reached the stage of the acceptance of the terms by Nicholls Brothers, Limited, of Sydney, provided that a proposed company could be formed with sufficient working capital to carry on operations. Apparently the last administration was satisfied from its investigations that the lease could be gone on with; but another factor entered in, and it was not consummated. From 1924 to 1928 the dockyard was carried on at a profit. That indicates that the loss which is at present being incurred in maintaining Cockatoo Island Dockyard is not the result of government enterprise. For four years, when conditions were fairly prosperous, the dockyard showed a profit.
– Including interest- on the capital expenditure?
– I believe so.
– The huge plant installed at Cockatoo Island has been used for various governmental purposes and naturally the overhead expenses have been heavy. In consequence of the decision of the High Court in the Bunnerong case the Government has been unable to use the dockyard to its full capacity since by that decision it is prevented from entering into competition with private enterprise. During the present depression the construction of public works, which ordinarily would have been undertaken by the Government, has practically ceased, and consequently work at the dockyard has been seriously curtailed. As honorable senators are aware, the dockyard was acquired for use as a naval workshop and has been used almost exclusively for the construction and maintenance of naval equipment. According to the decision of the High Court, in the case mentioned, Cockatoo Island is prevented under the Constitution from engaging in other than governmental work, and therefore cannot undertake private or semi-government contracts. In these circumstances, the Government cannot utilize its extensive and well-equipped plant, which cost a very large sum of money, on such works, and consequently the maintenance of the plant imposes a very heavy burden upon the taxpayers. It is hoped that the people of Australia will agree to an amendment of the Constitution so that it will be possible for the dockyard, not only to function as an aid to defence in time of war, but also in times of peace to carry out work for other than governmental authorities.
– If that were possible what works could be undertaken to-day ?
– The plant is capable of doing all classes of engineering work. We can turn out there anything from a needle to a battleship. It is true that the shipbuilding undertaken at Cockatoo Island has in most cases been more costly than if it had been done overseas, but that is due to the fact that continuous work is available in the ship-yards in Great Britain, and the wages paid, and the conditions of employment there are not on the same high standard as are those in Australia. There are many directions in which the plant could be utilized, and it is regrettable thai it should now be practically idle. When negotiations were previously proceeding to lease the dockyard, the question of tenure was raised. It was suggested that the rent of the dockyard would eventually reach £50,000 a year, but there was very little likelihood of any company entering into an agreement under which such a high rental would be payable unless there was some security of tenure. It is most unlikely that a government would lease any portion of an establishment used for the manufacture and maintenance of war equipment, unless it could again assume control of the dockyard in case of war at very short notice.
– During war, governments can commandeer private establishments.
– No government would put itself in such a position that it could not resume the dockyard at once in case of a national emergency, and no private company, on the other hand, could be expected to lease the dockyard unless there was some security of tenure. That minimizes the chances of leasing the dockyard.
– The Government has the power to commandeer any private works for national purposes in war time.
– I know that, but the owners of such establishments would have to be compensated. In this case it is problematical whether compensation would be paid. I rose more particularly to impress upon honorable senators the need for an amendment of the Constitution to enable the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to be used during periods of peace on other than governmental work. The Government is not opposed to the motion ; I personally prefer it to the amendment. If the motion were carried the only difficulty would be to provide the necessary money to give effect to it. The present financial stringency has made it impossible for the Government to undertake necessary public works, and that is why there are thousands of hungry and poorly clad men walking the roads of the country to-day. Unfortunately, many of these men and their families are on the verge of starvation. At present the Government cannot provide the money to give effect to the motion, and in the absence of increased constitutional powers cannot engage in private work.
– I understand that the question before the Senate is the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). It is to the wording of the amendment that I wish to direct the attention of honorable senators.
– What does it mean?
– That is the point. We may be able to reach a decision on the motion ; but if it is desired to keep the prestige of the Senate upon the high plane that senators wish it to be kept, the amendment needs a good deal of recasting. I propose to show the Senate the ridiculous position in which it will be placed if the amendment is adopted. It was evidently drafted in a hurry, handed in in its present form, and accepted. I hope it will not be passed by the Senate in a haphazard manner. The motion reads -
The Leader of the Opposition has submitted an amendment in this form -
That after the word “immediately” the following words be inserted: - “to lease the Cockatoo Island dockyard to a person or company who could carry out work at the dockyard which cannot, under the judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government, and would be able among other things “.
– The honorable senator should read on.
– That is what I propose to do. If the amendment were adopted the motion as amended would read -
That in the opinion of the Senate the Government should take steps immediately to lease the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a person or company which could carry out work at the dockyard which cannot, under the judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government, and would be able among other things to provide adequate funds for the construction at Cockatoo Island Dockyard of three vessels for the purpose of establishing a continuous service between Tasmania and the mainland. . . .
– That is what we want.
– If such a resolution were carried by the Senate it would be easy to understand why the people have lost confidence in parliamentary institutions. The proposal embodied in the amendment is that the dockyard shall be leased immediately to a company for certain purposes, included among them being the provision of funds to build a number of vessels. Moreover the Opposition, which believes only in the most limited form of regulation of private enterprise, is prepared to impose on private enterprise a condition that the designs for the proposed vessels shall be drawn up and laid before Parliament before the close of the present session.
– If the amendment were carried, that portion of it could afterwards be struck out.
– At the moment I am not concerned with the merits or demerits of the motion. I appreciate fully the point raised by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) regarding the difficulty which the Government would find in financing the proposal, even if the original motion were carried. But before honorable senators agree to the amendment, I ask them to study its significance.
Senator Johnston said that if it was carried, the second paragraph could he struck out later. The amendment suggests nothing of the kind.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that another amendment could not be moved?
– I am now speaking to the amendment which has been moved. If the Opposition believes that effect should be given to the principle embodied in the amendment, I appeal to it, for the sake of the dignity of the Senate, to recast the amendment. We on this side of the chamber do not wish to be held responsible in any way for a resolution couched in the language of the amendment. I admit that the motion could be further amended if this amendment is agreed to. If the Opposition feels that the contest should be between the principle enunciated by Senator Dunn and that which apparently is in the mind of Senator Pearce, I suggest that the amendment be re-cast so that the two proposals can be discussed on a proper basis. I venture the opinion that not one member of the Opposition is prepared to allow a resolution to go forth from the upper chamber of the Federal Parliament in the form that this motion will take if the amendment is agreed to. The amendment proposes that the dockyard should be leased to a company which will, among other things, construct three vessels for the service with Tasmania, and provide the funds for their construction, and that in the preparation of the foregoing, the designs shall be submitted to Parliament before the close of the present session. I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) should re-cast his amendment so that a decision can be arrived at between the relative merits of his proposal and that of Senator Dunn.
– I am somewhat surprised that it should be necessary for a supporter of the Government to move a motion, the object of which is to force the Government to give effect to the policy it declared on the hustings about eighteen months ago. It is somewhat difficult to approach the consideration of the amendment as apart from the original motion.
– The honorable gentle- man can deal with the main question after the amendment has been defeated or agreed to, as the case may be.
– It is strange to hear a’ supporter of the Government urging it to carry out its election promises. The Government should welcome any attempt made by Parliament to relieve it of the responsibility of maintaining the Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The Minister said that it was hampered by the Constitution in making full use of the dockyard equipment, inasmuch as the High Court had ruled that the dockyard could not undertake private work. For that reason, the Government should accept the amendment. If it is agreed to, and a lessee is found for the dockyard, provision ought to be made for any necessary repairs to naval vessels to be effected there.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the Government should accept the amendment in its present form?
– Yes, as regards the general principle, although paragraph 2 might well be deleted.
– Where would we obtain a company willing to provide the funds for the construction of three vessels ?
– The Minister said that the Government could not undertake their construction, although it was desirous of seeing them built. He said that, if funds were available, the Government would willingly give immediate effect to its policy of building these ships. If it is good for the Government to build them, it should be equally good to allow them to be built by private enterprise, especially if private enterprise provided the funds.
SenatorO’Halloran. - What is to prevent private enterprise from building them now?
– Seeing that the Government has not sufficient funds for the construction of these vessels, it should welcome relief from maintaining the establishment which the leasing of the dockyard would bring. In the event of war, the Government could compulsorily acquire the equipment at the dockyard, after making proper compensation to the lessee. If the dockyard can be leased, and private enterprise is prepared to build the ships–
– For whom?
– For private enterprise.
– Could not the vessels be built more cheaply in Tasmania?
– The amendment provides a means of escape for the Government. It should, therefore, be welcomed by the Government.
– I agree with Senator Daly that the amendment as now worded is somewhat ambiguous, and is capable of a meaning not intended by. the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). I do not know whether I should be in order in moving an amendment to the amendment moved by Senator Pearce. I suggest that all the words after “immediately “ be struck out with a view to inserting–
– The honorable senator will not be in order in doing that, unless the present amendment is first withdrawn.
– Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition would be prepared to ask leave to withdraw his amendment with a view to another amendment being moved to strike out all the words after “ immediately “ with a view to inserting in lieu thereof, “ to lease the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a person or company which would carry out work at the dockyard which cannot now, under a judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government.” The motion would then read -
That in the opinion of the Senate the Government (should take steps immediately to lease the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a person or company which could carry out work at the. dockyard which cannot now, under the judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government.
– That would clarify the issue.
– That is so. The passing of such an amendment would enable us to know where we stood. It would be impossible to find a company which would be prepared to lease the works and also find the money to build three vessels. The difficulty which has arisen in connexion with. Cockatoo Island Dockyard is not confined to that place. Ministers who have had control of the Defence Department know that the small arms factory at Lithgow and the ammunition factory at Maribyrnong are handicapped for the same reason. They have tremendous plants, but there is not sufficient money available to keep either the plants or the employees at work, and the Government is losing considerably on the capital lying idle at the present moment. I do not suppose it would be possible to secure from a lessee sufficient to pay a reasonable rate of interest on the enormous capital expenditure at Lithgow and Cockatoo Island ; but we might be able to make up some of the leeway. I do not think that the lessee could take objection to a lease on the ground that the works would be required by the Government in time of war, as was suggested by Senator Barnes. In war time all private enterprises are liable to be commandeered by the Government and carried on in the public interest, compensation, of course, being paid where there is any disturbance to the actual work in progress at the time. I rose to suggest an alteration to the amendment moved by Senator Pearce, but I understand that it is not possible for me to. move any amendment while that of Senator Pearce’s is before the Senate.
– I am quite willing to withdraw my amendment to enable the honorable senator to move his.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
– I move-
That all the words after “ immediately “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following: - “to lease the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a person or company which could carry out work at the dockyard which’ cannot, under the judgment of the High Court, be undertaken by the Government “.
Debate (on motion by Senator Dunn) adjourned. (Senate adjourned at9.21 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 May 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19310514_senate_12_129/>.