13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.G. H. Mackay) took . the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. JAMES presented a petition from 2527 citizens of Newcastle and district, praying that the Parliament would reconsider its recent action in regard to Invalid and Old-age Pensions, and restore the reductions and remove the restrictions imposed under the Financial Emergency Act.
Petition received and read.
– Will the Prime Minis ter inform the House whether there is any foundation for the rumour that a distinguished member of the Commonwealth Ministry is likely tobe elevated to the High Court bench in the near future?
– There is no vacancy on the High Court bench, and the matter of a new appointment has not been considered by the Government.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. Two days agoI acquainted you,Mr. Speaker, of my desire to move the adjournment of the House to-day in order to discuss the necessity for immediate action in respect of the Navigation Act, because of its baneful effect on the commerce of Australia generally and Tasmania particularly. Because of unforeseen circumstances, I shall not proceed with the motion to-day, but shall submit it at an early date.
– Will the Prime
Minister have ananalysis made of the tariff schedule now before the House in order to show what rates of duty are below and what above those in the 1921-30 tariff?
– I shall endeavour to comply with the right honorable member’s request.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs state whether the Government has considered the suspension of the dumping duty on British wire-netting in order that people may be able to obtain this commodity at reasonable prices for the protection of their holdings against the present extraordinary depredations of rabbits?
– The Tariff Board is at present investigating the subject of wirenetting, and when its report has been presented, I shall give consideration to the honorable member’s suggestion.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce whether the Government has been advised that friction is being caused between Australia and commercial departments of the British Board of Trade because the regulations arising out of the Ottawa agreement direct that, in order to obtain tariff preferences, Australian wheat must be consigned direct to Great Britain, whereas vessels frequently call at ports elsewhere for orders? Has the Minister been advised from Australia House thatthe uncertainty is regarded as worse than the definite duty imposed on foreigners, as merchants will not do business unless they know where they stand ?
– My department is not aware of any occasion to vary the opinion alreadyexpressed by me, but the matter is, at the present time, the subject of negotiations with the British Government.
Mr.BEASLEY. - What, is the nature of the negotiations that are now taking place ?
– The reply that I have already given was founded on information received from the Dominions Office, but certain trade representations that were made in this House by several honorable members have been communicated to the Resident Minister in London with a request that he should investigate them.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether it is a fact that notices to quit have been served on certain tenants of government properties in Canberra? Does the Government intend to obtain eviction orders if the orders to quit are not obeyed? If thu tenants are to be evicted, docs the Government propose to find accommodation for them elsewhere?
– Owing to the depression, several persons in Canberra are unable to pay rent for the houses they occupy. I am not aware that eviction notices have actually been served, but it is the intention of the department to ask tenants who are unable to pay rent for the Government houses they now occupy to remove to other adequate quarters.
– Will the Treasurer recon sider the request made to him by the Australian Dried Fruits Association for the remission of sales tax upon their products? The production of dried fruits is a primary industry, and requires assistance.
– I shall inquire into the request, but I can bold out little hope that the list of exemptions can bc increased.
– In view of the careful analysis of the wool industry, and the constructive suggestions contained in the report recently presented to the Government by the Wool Committee, will the Prime Minister appoint a similar body to investigate and report upon the wheat industry?
– The suggestion will be considered.
– Has the Prime Minister yet given consideration to the request that I submitted to him some time ago that the sales tax should he lifted from brattice cloth, rails, and oils used in the coal mining industry?
– The request was considered, and the Government decided that it could not add to the list of exemptions already granted. The exemption of explosives at thu request of the honorable member was a substantial concession to the industry, and the Government is of opinion that it cannot grant further remissions of sales tax at the present time.
South Australian Timber
-Is the Prime Minister aware that the Commonwealth Bank intends to extend its premises at Cairns, and proposes to use special timber grown in South Australia?
– I have no knowledge of the matter, which is wholly the concern of the Commonwealth Bank Board.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs when and where is the proposed conference between the Government and representatives of the tobacco manufacturers to be held? Will the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs consider the suggestion that the representatives of the Australian Tobacco Growers Association be allowed to attend the conference and to participate in the negotiations for arenewal of the agreement?
– I intend to confer, during the coming week-end, with the manufacturers in Melbourne. 1 do not think that it would be advisable to allow outside representatives to be present at the discussion.
– Will the Assistant Minister ensure that any agreement with the tobacco manufacturers shall be drawn up in writing and a copy of it submitted to tihe Australian Tobacco Growers’ Association for consideration and approval before the agreement is finally ratified ?
– There is no objection to the agreement being drawn up in writing as was done previously ; but I do not think that it should be submitted for the approval and consideration of the Tobacco Growers’ Association. I have already given consideration to the representations of the growers. They have had ample opportunity to make representations to the Government. Mr. Jones, the Secretary of the Growers’ Association, recently submitted to me certain information amplifying the previous request made by the growers to the Prime Minister at a deputation. Yesterday I received another letter from Mr. Jones supplying me with further information. I therefore do not think that it would be wise to submit to the growers for their approval any arrangements come to with the manufacturers.
– Will the Assistant Minister convene a conference of tobaccogrowers, and discuss with them as well as with the manufacturers the price to he paid for the new season’s crop?
– The representations of the tobacco-growers have already received the attention of the Government. A deputation of the growers recently waited on the Prime Minister, and I, too, have conferred with them. In addition, I have frequently been in communication with the secretary of the association. Therefore I do not think that any good purpose would be served by holding another conference.
Recruiting of Juniors
– Is it a fact that, because of the lack of juniors, the Commonwealth Public Service is getting into a serious state, and will the Prime Minister, therefore, ask the Public Service Board for a report indicating what has been the effect upon the Service of the lack of young blood, and what will be the probable effect if early action is not taken to bring juniors into the Service?
– The honorable member raised this subject when we were discussing the Estimates, and I promised to look into it. I regret that I have had no opportunity since then to investigate the matter, but I shall call for a report, as suggested by the honorable member.
– In the event of the Sales Tax Act being further amended, will the Prime Minister give full consideration to the advisability of abolishing the necessity for furnishing bonds to the department as is now required under the Sales Tax Assessment Act?
– There is no intention at the present stage to amend the act, except so far as increases of exemptions are concerned. Those increases have already been indicated to honorable members. The matter raised by the honorable member will be given full consideration when it is proposed to amend that legislation.
– On the 19th October, I asked the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs a series of questions relating to the importation of merchandise into Australia. On the 20th October, the Minister replied to some of those questions, and I now ask him when I am likely to receive a reply to the remainder ?
– I shall look into the matter, and give the honorable member a reply later.
The following paper was presented : -
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 121.
SUPPLY [“Grievance” Day].
Question - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 4th Novem ber (vide page 1926), on motion by Mr. Guy-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This measure is of great importance, because it deals with an industry in which approximately 8,000 sugar-farmers are engaged, and 30 sugar mills and five refineries used. The annual payment for raw sugar is £10,000,000, and 22,000 persons are directly engaged in the industry. The average annual wages bill over the last few years has been approximately £6,000,000, and the industry represents permanent assets amounting to £50,000,000. Honorable members will, therefore, realize the great importance of this industry to Australia. It is, in addition, a large labour-employing industry and an efficient means of settling the north-eastern portion of tropical Australia. This bill provides for parliamentary’ approval of a new Sugar Agreement, which is to operate up to and including the year 1935-36, and for an embargo against the importation of foreign sugar except with the consent of the Minister. I know that there has been a good deal of vacillation in regard to the sugar policy, and that the Government is faced with many difficulties in trying to placate all its supporters.
The Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) when a member of the Opposition, made the following statement, when discussing the Sugar Agreement as renewed by the Scullin Government: -
I have no hesitation in describing the sugar agreement which the House is now discussing us the greatest political ramp put over iti the Australian Parliament. I do not think there is a more striking instance of conspiracy between the growers on the one hand and the worker on the other at the expense of the genera! public than in this industry. The Government is not justified in re-imposing the embargo. I am entirely opposed to the agreement. It is amazing that the Labour party should continue this arrangement. This is not the only instance in which the public is being blackmailed into paying for the maintenance of industries conducted on an uneconomic basis . . . the system will have to be altered some time and the sooner we begin the better.
This gentleman now occupies an important position in the Cabinet, and I can believe that he has expressed similar views at the Cabinet table. “We know that members of the Country party are not united upon the subject. Some of them would allow black-grown sugar to come into Australia from Fiji, Java or anywhere else, provided cheap sugar were made available to the public. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), speaking on the 18th of May, 1932, when the Sugar Agreement was last under discussion in this House, said -
I am not supporting the sugar industry; it is not a natural primary industry. I have no sympathy with the development of any industry that is not natural to the country. If Australia were to do the right thing in regard to its sugar industry, it would pay attention to the possibilities of the Mandated Territory.
– Hear, hear !
– That is where black labour is employed. The honorable gentleman continued -
The Queensland sugar-growers obtained their best varieties of cane from New Guinea and tha Mandated Territory. There is a coloured population in that territory and they have to live. If we grew, our sugar there we should be able to purchase it at half the present price.
The honorable member for Forrest i.3 a leading member of the Country party in this Parliament. In Queensland there was a big electorate to be won, and the Prime Minister, an leader of the United Australia Party at the last election, expressed the policy of his party in these words -
The United Australia Party will regard the Sugar Agreement as binding.
That statement was cheered by the electors in the sugar producing districts. Immediately the election WaS over, feelers were thrown out with a view to bringing about a reduction in the price of sugar. It was said that the agreement was insecure, that there was a possibility of its being upset by a High Court judgment. The agreement and embargo in one form or another had been in operation for fifteen years, but this was the first we had heard of any possibility of a High Court decision. It was also stated that the Commonwealth Parliament might amend the Customs Act in such a way that the sugar industry would no longer be protected by an agreement and an embargo against the importation of foreign sugar. When I expressed to the electors in Queensland some doubt that the United Australia Party could be relied upon to safeguard the interests of the sugar industry, I was told that the leader of that party had definitely stated that he would regard’ the agreement as binding. Yet hardly had the present Government taken office than steps were taken to modify the agreement.
Senator McLachlan, as the representative of the Government, visited northern Queensland. He selected a very good time for the trip - one of the coolest winters experienced for 35 years. North Queensland is a delightful place to visit in the middle of the winter. The representatives of the sugar industry did their part nobly in entertaining this affable club man, who went north to negotiate with them. He informed them that he had been connected with one of the great founders of federation; that he was junior partner in the firm controlled by the late C. C. Kingston. He had, he said, the interests of Australia at heart, but there were indications of a gloomy future for the sugar industry. The embargo might be withdrawn, and the agreement was in danger if the growers did not voluntarily consent to a reduction in the price of sugar. In Brisbane the honorable senator said that there was no doubt that there would have to be an all round reduction in wages and costs in the sugar industry. He emphasized the absolute need for a substantial reduction in wages, and compared the wages paid in the seasonal sugar industry in tropical Queensland with those paid in the temperate southern States. He said that cane cutting was mere child’s play. In the middle of winter, when fires were needed to keep one warm, it might seem that cane cutting was child’s play, but we have to remember that the cane cutters work in the middle of a tropical summer, and they have to be athletes to work with bent backs in the cane-fields under the tropical sun from early morning until nightfall. Those who depreciate the work of the cane cutters in northern Queensland have obviously never spent a summer in that area.
We know that, under duress, the representatives of the sugar industry agreed to accept a reduction in the price of sugar. The same party which, through its leader, pledged itself to uphold the sugar agreement, used its influence when it had a majority in both Houses to intimidate the sugar interests into accepting a reduced price. The attitude of the official Opposition towards this measure is similar to that adopted by the Queensland Labour Government. This agreementwas accepted by the representatives of the sugar industry under duress. ‘ The official Opposition is totally opposed to repudiation, and we believe that the Government made a mistake in repudiating the sugar agreement and intimidating those connected with the industry into accepting the alteration.
– The use of the word “intimidating” in reference to an action of the Government is out of order.
– I withdraw the word intimidate and substitute the word “misrepresenting.” By misrepresenting the case, the Government made the sugargrowers believe that something dreadful would befall the industry if they did not accept a reduction in prices. By repudiation and the breaking of promises, the Government forced representatives of the sugar industry, under duress, to accept an alteration of the agreement. While the official Opposition does not stand for repudiation, which has been practised by the Government in regard to the sugar industry-
– Order ! I ask the honorable member touse more temperate language.
Mr.FORDE. - The official Opposition will not oppose this measure, because it realizes that if the bill were defeated, the sugar industry would be left in the air, at the mercy of an unsympathetic Government, and its future would be jeopardized. It was most unfair of the Minister, in his speech, to use these words -
At the Canberra Conference, the delegates of two organizations of the sugar-growers unanimously agreed to recommend to their respective bodies that the ordinary wholesale price ofrefined sugar should be reduced to the equivalent of½d. a lb., retail as from the 1st January, 1933, until the 31st August, 1930.
I realize that the Government resents any suggestion that it has broken any of its pre-election promises.
– Is it not true that the representatives did accept those proposals ?
Mr.FORDE. - Under duress, with a pistol at their heads. They were told of the dreadful things that would happen to the industry if they did not. When one of the representatives of the canegrowers drew the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that the agitation in the south came from about 4 per cent. of the population of Australia, the right honorable gentleman said -
If you believe that, all right; go ahead. If you think you are safe as you are, well then, I have nothing more to say. “We will, as a Government, when the time comes, use our right to fix that price. You have got another couple of years and then the Government fixes the price. That is my point, and we will leave it at that.
I am prevented from using the words “intimidation” and “repudiation,” but I regard that as a threat.
– The honorable member should quote the whole of my remarks, and not separate some words from their context.
– I have quoted what the right honorable gentleman said to the deputation. He left those gentlemen in no doubt as to what the action of the Government would be if its terms were rejected. The Scullin Government, faced with >an agreement which would expire on the 31st August, 1931, with the knowledge that it had to determine whether the embargo should be continued .or another system of control adopted; bearing in mind the great value of the industry to Australia, its employing capacity, and its relation to the cost of living and the basic wage, appointed a committee of inquiry to investigate and report upon it. The desire was to be absolutely fair to all sections of the industry. All those who have read the majority and minority reports submitted by that committee, must agree that the inquiry was made most carefully and systematically; that nothing was overlooked. All parties interested were represented at that inquiry. There were representatives of the employees of the industry, the consumers, the Australian Sugar Producers Association, the fruit-growers and the manufacturers who use sugar. Mr. John Gunn, the Director of Development, the accountant of the Department of Trade and Customs, and a representative of the Queensland sugar mills were also members of it. Those gentlemen began their task with open minds. The Scullin Government adopted the majority -report of the committee.
I know that many persons are opposed to any system of government control in an industry, but that employed in regard to the sugar industry is not a new one. The Fisher Government, in co-operation with the Queensland Government under the premiership of Mr. T. J. Ryan, entered into- the first sugar agreement, in 1.915. It was about that time that the Federal Government first imposed a- pro hibition on the importation of sugar except with the consent of the Minister for Trade and Customs. On five of the six occasions when that agreement has been renewed, the Leader of the Government in another place (Senator Pearce) hasbeen a party to the negotiations. Although the Scullin Government came in for a good deal of criticism because it renewed the agreement under that system of control, it must be remembered that it was merely continuing the policy laid down by the Fisher-Ryan Governments in 1.915, and followed by successive Federal and State Governments.
When the Scullin Government renewed the embargo for a period of five years, and the existing prices for a further three years up to the 1st September, 1934, it introduced new conditions into the agreement. These were designed to limit the returns of the sugar industry in conformity with the times, and to adjust retail selling prices as and when necessary on a fixed basis to be determined by fluctuating costs of production. It also adopted a special plan, put forward by persons representing the large majority of the fruit-growers of Australia, designed to assist the fruit industry in its present time of need. Honorable members who represent Tasmania will admit that that assistance, to the extent of £110,000 per annum, has been of great value to the fruit industry. When the Scullin Government made those arrangements, it gave due regard to the tendency towards falling costs, and it inserted a clause in the agreement providing that the selling price of sugar might be altered as and when costs altered sufficiently to warrant that. A reduction in the cost of production equivalent to Jd. per lb. of refined sugar would be passed on. to the sugar consumers at any time if such a situation were brought about. The agreement also contained a special clause restricting the average basic price of raw sugar to £22 a ton, so that if the phenomenally low world’s prices rose considerably, thus enhancing the value of the surplus raw sugar exported from Australia, sugar producers would not obtain more than the limited basic average return on the total production. That new provision was deemed to be essential, as a recurrence of unduly profitable returns would result in inflated land values and increased production, to the ultimate detriment of both producers and consumers in Australia.
A trust account was established under this agreement, and placed under the joint control of the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments, to make adjustments along the lines I have mentioned. Each season, this account was to be credited, on behalf of the sugar consumers, with the excess return for any raw sugar over and above the adjusted price of approximately £22 per ton for the season, or itwas to be debited, on behalf of the sugar producers with the deficiency, if any, in the actual return from raw sugar below the adjusted price calculated on the basis I have indicated. Any net surplus in the trust account at the end of any season was to be made available by the Queensland Sugar Board for the purpose of enabling an effective reduction to be made in the selling price of refined sugar, to be passed on to manufacturers and domesticconsumers for such a period as the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments might consider would exhaust the net surplus. The basie price and trust account arrangements have been omitted from the new agreement. The benefit of any reduction in the cost of production that would have come to the sugar consumers under the Scullin agreement will not be available to them under this new arrangement. I can quite imagine that the Government hopes for big reductions in wages, and a considerable lengthening of working hours in the sugar industry.
The sugar agreement made by the Scullin Government also provided that, for the first three years of the period of its operation, the sugar industry should contribute £315,000 per annum for the benefit of the fruit industry on the lines recommended in the. majority report pf the Sugar Inquiry Committee. For six years, the sugar industry had been contributing £205,000 a year for this purpose in a home consumption rebate of £6 5s. per ton on. refined sugar used by fruit processors, and with an export rebate paid on the sugar content of fruit products exported from Australia. The Scullin Government considered that the necessitous state of the fruit industry was such that this assistance should he increased by £110,000 per annum. Having had something to do with the appointment of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, whose duty it was to distribute this £110,000 per annum, I am glad to learn from the representatives of the fruit industry that its work has been greatly appreciated. Paragraph b of clause 4 of the agreement dealing with this matter, which was drawn up while I was Minister for Trade and Customs, reads as follows : -
The said committee shall furnish to the Minister of State for Trade and Customs an annual report of its work, and statement of receipts and expenditure pursuant to this paragraph, such report and statement to he in respect of the period ending on the thirty-first day of August of each year and to be furnished to the said Minister not later than the thirtyfirst day of October of each year and such statement to be then submitted by the said Minister to the Auditor-General for the Commonwealth for certification.
I wish to know whether that report of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee has been received, whether it has been submitted to the Auditor-General, and whether it Will be made available to honorable members? It should be a most interesting document. In. the year before the establishment of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, the position of the fruit industry was so bad that only one-half of the main varieties of fruit available was purchased, and that at a price only a little more than half the cost of production. That was one of the problems which the Scullin Government had to face. The making available of the additional £110,000 per annum to which I have referred has made possible the purchasing of all suitable fruit for processing at reasonable prices fixed by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. Needless to say, the establishment of this tribunal was not favoured by the big fruit processing companies. They did not want any interference with the law of supply and demand, but wished to he .free, as they had always been, to offer the fruit-growers any price they liked for their fruit. In the old days, the sugar millers used to offer the canegrowers any price they liked, and if the growers were not prepared to accept th<.> pri.ee offered to them, they were told that they could let their cane rot in the field.
Remarks of a similar nature were made by the fruit processors to the fruitgrowers. The work of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee has been invaluable to the small fruit-growers of Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales.
The Assistant Minister quite unfairly suggested in his speech that the sugargrowers had made no sacrifices during the last four or five years. One might have gathered from his remarks that they were getting the same price for cane as they got previously. The honorable gentleman said -
Yet sugar remained practically alone, outside the arena of Australia’s great struggle for economic reconstruction.
Many people overlook the fact that our sugar-growers are not getting any more for their raw sugar now than they got in 1915-16. In thatyear the price of raw sugar was approximately £18 per ton, while in 1932 the price was £18 6s. 6d. per ton. Since 1915-16 costs have gone up in the sugar industry, as they have in other industries. The reason for the low price of raw sugar is, of course, overproduction. After the making of the sugar agreement of 1921, during the Hughes Administration, the price of sugar ross to £30 6s. 8d. per ton. This led to a great increase in the acreage put under cane, and to a consequent overproduction from 1924 onwards. The average over-production is 33 per cent. of the total production. In 1930 the surplus production was 41 per cent. of the whole production. Some people have said that we should limit our sugar production to Australia’s requirements. If that were done approximately 120,000 acres now under sugar cane could not be used for this purpose, and this would mean a reduction of 40 per cent. in the employment given by the sugar industry. It would also mean the loss of £2,000,000 a year which we are getting from Great Britain for raw sugar which we sell to her. Surely we cannot face such a loss at a time when it is necessary that we shall increase our return from exports.
– That is being protected under the Ottawa agreement.
– The sugar-growers get absolutely nothing from the Ottawa agreement. These exports are being made pursuant to the provisions of the British. Finance Act of 1926.
– The sugar-growers have got a guarantee for another five years.
– They had a ten years’ preference before the Ottawa agreement was made, and this still had about four years to run. The Agent-General for Queensland, Mr. Pike, discovered some little time ago that South Africa had an agreement with the British Government for a preference on sugar for a year longer than the preference granted by Great Britain on Australian sugar, and he at once communicated with the Premier of Queensland on the subject, and that gentleman approached the Prime Minister of Australia. Mr. Pike also got into touch with the Resident Minister in London. The negotiations which were thus set on foot after the Ottawa agreement had been made resulted in the term of preference for Australian sugar being extended for the period of the sugar agreement made with South Africa. I say definitely that the Ottawa agreement has given the Queensland sugar-growers absolutely nothing that was not theirs already under the British Finance Act.
It is not generally realized that the sugar industry of Queensland has done a great deal to assist other industries in Australia. We are always being told that it exploits the people of Australia. But ever since the beginning of the control period, the Australian manufacturers of confectionery, jams, condensed milk, beer, and biscuits have been able to obtain, at the equivalent of world parity, the sugar that they require for their businesses. For nearly two years they obtained their sugar at prices ranging between £29 and £46, although the world’s price of refined sugar averaged over £60. For several months, in that period the price of sugar for the manufacturer of jam in England was £160 per ton as against about £46 in the Commonwealth. The Australian jam manufacturers lose sight of that fact when they condemn the sugar industry for alleged exploitation of the public.
– The jam manufacturers did very well.
– They did, for they obtained their sugar supplies at half the world’s parity. From 1915 to the end of 192U the Australian sugar cost £16,000,000 less than world’s parity sugar free of duty would have cost. In other words, the Australian consumers were saved £16,000,000 by the existence of the local sugar industry.
The proposal in this bill means to domestic consumers a reduction of a -Jd. per lb. in the price of the sugar from the 5th January, 1933. On the basis of an average weekly consumption of 6 lb., each family will save 3d. a week.
– But those domestic savings will aggregate £1,000,000.
– The agreement will result in a reduction in the price of sugar to the manufacturers from £36 lis. 9d. per ton to £32 10s. 9d., a saving of £4 ls. on sugar used for alL manufactures except fruit products. Fruit processors will still pay £30 6s. 9d. per ton, as hitherto, for their home consumption requirements, or £2 4s. per ton less than other manufacturers.
– They are perfectly satisfied.
– Yes, but they were satisfied with the agreement drawn up between the Scullin Government and the Queensland Government last year. The concessions to the big confectionery manufacturers is very great. The saving to the average housewife who has to cater for a husband and three children is only 3d. per week, but the big manufacturers will save £4 ls. per ton, which on the normal consumption of about 75,000 tons means an annual saving of £300,000. One big manufacturer of confectionery alone will save about £20,000 per annum,, another £15,000, ‘and yet other amounts varying from £5,000 upwards. No doubt the now ‘agreement is very popular with these gentlemen. As a matter of fact the urge for a reduction in the price of sugar came not so much from the householders as from these large industrialists. It will be interesting to note whether the consumers are to got any benefit from the advantage given to the manufacturers, or whether the profits will be pocketed by the big shareholders in an industry which has produced more millionaires than any other branch of business in Australia. The late Sir Henry Jones, the head of the great jam combine, wrote to the then Prime Minister in 1925, saying that it did not matter what the manufacturers paid for the sugar for processing fruits for local consumption, so long as they obtained it for processing for export at world’s parity. At that time “the Australian domestic price was £46 per ton. To-day it is £30 6s. 9d. per ton, but fruit processors will not only get sugar at the equivalent of world’s parity for the export trade, but also an additional £110,000 by way of bounty to assist export.
Both the majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee contain tributes to the high standard of efficiency which the Queensland industry has attained. Taking all phases of the industry together, Australia is now preeminent in efficiency amongst sugar producing countries. Queensland produces a ton of sugar from a smaller quantity of cane titan any other cane-producing country. Its raw sugar mills have a milling recovery second only, and almost equal, to the famous Hawaian mills, and cultural ‘ operations on the Queensland farms have been the subject of exceptional commendation by experts from Hawaii and Fiji. These advances could not have been made without hard work, and the expenditure of much capital on research. Indeed were it not for the very high all round efficiency in Australia it would not be passible to produce raw sugar in competition with that produced by coloured labour abroad. In Java male labour is paid from lOd. to ls. and female and child labour from 4d. to 5d. per day for twelve hours as against ruling Australian wages. The serf conditions of Java permit of field wages equal to about 4 per cent, of the Australian rate, but the more efficient methods of cultivation and manufacture in Australia and the superiority of white labour, go far towards counteracting the enormous disparity in wages. If the Australian industry had not kept abreast of the times, and sent representatives abroad to collect the latest ideas regarding machinery, methods of cultivation, milling, and refining, its product could not be put on the market at present prices. It is important to note, as pointed out in the majority report, that the first material advance in Australian efficiency commenced in 1921, or six years after the embargo was instituted. This improvement has been added to since, and it is attributable to the stability afforded by the embargo, which enables the producers to introduce and develop improvements with confidence and security.
Unfortunately the Ottawa Conference did not consider the sugar position at all. Before the conference, the British Finance Act of 1926 had stabilized for ten years the preference on dominion goods, which was also effective in 1925. South Africa was given a preference extending a year beyond that which applied to Australian exports to Great Britain, and I have already pointed out that the acting AgentGeneral for Queensland brought this matter under the notice of the Commonwealth Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce), and the Premier of Queensland discussed it with the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). Because of the negotiations which followed these representations, the Australian industry has been put on the same footing as South Africa. To say that the Queensland sugar industry has -obtained something from the Ottawa Conference, which it had not previously enjoyed under the British Finance Act, is mere casuistry.
The Queensland sugar industry has been subjected to a good deal of condemnation, because of the operation of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. It is true that the company makes a big profit, but a large portion of its operations is in Fiji, where it owns five of the sugar mills, two of them larger than any mills in Australia, not excepting the newest at Tulley, north Queensland, which COSt £800,000. The company’s production of sugar in Fiji averages about 140,000 tons per year. The minority report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee stated -
Taking the total capital of £8,589,212 required to handle all the company’s Australian sugar operations, it will be found that the average net profit of £472,000 >er annum remaining to the company (after payment of income tax) is equivalent to 54 per cent, per annum, and it is not considered that this rate of earning is excessive.
I am not competent to investigate the whole of the ramifications of the company, and learn where its moneys are invested. We know that Mr. Knox, the general manager of the company, refused to disclose its accounts and balance-sheets to a royal commission a few years ago, and an alteration of the Constitution would be necessary before a full inquiry into the operations of the company could be made, But I know that the company has four sugar mills in Queensland and three ‘in New South Wales, producing approximately between 100,000 and 120,000 tons of raw sugar annually. Of the 34 mills now in Queensland, only four are the property of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The company has refineries in each State capital except Hobart, and in New Zealand. It has altogether twelve sugar mills, six refineries, 900 miles of tramways, 105 locomotives, 13,000 trucks, 275 ships, launches and lighters, 1,300 buildings and one distillery. The statement that the company makes all its profits in Queensland is entirely wrong. When Australian sugar growers were limited to a price of £30 6s. Sd. during the boom period following the war, when the world’s price rose to £120, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company was selling its products from Fiji at world’s parity and made fabulous profits. Those profits were invested in al! sorts of enterprises, and the company makes available up to £10,000,000 to finance the Queensland sugar industry to-day. The company, like a banking institution, is paid for giving financial accommodation. Sir Arthur Duckham, who reported on the sugar industry when he visited Australia some years ago, made the following statement regarding the Colonial Sugar Refining Company : -
This company is certainly very efficiently run and as its profits do not exceed one-twelfth of a penny per lb. of sugar, and as from this profit it has to finance the sugar crop, I do not consider that its returns are in any way excessive.
On the question whether this company is making abnormal profits, I make no further comment, because it is a subject that should be carefully investigated by some tribunal clothed with adequate powers, but as a representative of Queensland, a State which has thousands of sugar-growers, I do object to the sugar industry being condemned because of the alleged’ rapacity of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the ramifications of which extend to Fiji and New Zealand. That company would not be at all dismayed if the sugar embargo were re- moved, because it could’, with its huge financial resources, import sugar from Java and Fiji.
– Has not the company invested funds in Queensland?
– It has invested funds not only in Queensland, but also in other parts of Australia and in New Zealand. It has a refinery in every State capital of Australia. Would it not suit that company to import black-grown sugar, say, from Java, and sell it in, say, Western Australia at £8 10s. a ton instead of £18 10s. a ton, which is the price ruling at .present ?
– Did not the honorable member say that the company acts as a banking institution in Queensland?
– The company finances the sugar crop in Queensland, but at a lower rate of interest than that charged by the banks. It would no doubt suit the company to invest its money in sugar enterprises in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea or in Java. In conclusion, E would point out that we oppose, definitely, .the breaking of the solemn contract between the Queensland Government representing the sugar industry and the Federal Labour Government. That contract was entered into for a specific period - up to the 1st September, 1934, aud it was grossly unjust for this Government to put a gun at the heads of the representatives of the sugar industry in order to bring about a reduction in price, and then to place upon the industry the responsibility for the reduction that has since taken place.
Although this Government has shown itself to be unsympathetic with the sugar interests, the withdrawal of this measure would give no consolation to the growers. It is better that we should support it than that we should leave the industry in a position of uncertainty. This Government has given a succession pf kicks to other Queensland industries, such as the cotton-growing industry, the tobacco-growing industry, the banana industry, and the canned pineapple industry, and, therefore, we could not expect from it anything better than the repudiation of the sugar agreement.
.- The commencement and the termination of the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), being purely political and therefore of little value, did not do him much credit, but I am in agreement with his remarks as to the position of the sugar industry of Queensland. I have lived in that State. During last winter, I “made a visit there and undertook an intense study of the sugar industry. From the knowledge that I gained, I must admit that the remarks of the honorable member as to the condition of the industry are true, but it is a pity that he could not have put his case before this House without spoiling it by introducing political propaganda. In considering this bill, I am not much concerned about the proposed reduction in the price of sugar, and whether it is sufficient or insufficient, nor am I concerned about the duration of the proposed agreement. To those matters I shall refer at a later stage. I wish to view this bill as widely as possible, and to level some criticism, not . only at the sugar industry, but also at the State of Queensland. I do this, not in a spirit of vindictiveness, but merely because my criticism will, in the long run, do no harm. I wish to view the sugar agreement from the standpoint of federation and section 92 of the Constitution, and of Queensland’s attitude towards interstate trade, because, that State depends for it’s sugar market upon the remaining States of the Commonwealth, which, as buyers of sugar, cannot disregard Queensland’s attitude, as a buyer of their products. Finally, I wish to view the agreement from the standpoint of Queensland’s attitude towards the Ottawa agreement, because we cannot, now that that agreement has been practically ratified by this Parliament, disregard its effect upon the domestic trade of Australia. It is necessary that the northern areas of Australia should be populated, preferably by white people. The sugar industry has done that, but at a price, and whether that price is too great or too little does not concern me at the moment. A strong plea that’ has always been put forward on behalf of the sugar industry is that it provides some means of defence. There is no doubt that the industry has led to settlement along the eastern coast of North Queensland, but the people there cannot be said to be in a position to adopt an active role in the defence of that area, because they possess no armaments, and have had no training, and thus could not effectively assist in the defence of North Queensland.
– Were not some of the cane-cutters of Queensland among, our finest soldiers overseas?
– Yes, but there are no armaments in North Queensland, and if an enemy invaded that area, it could not be repelled with cane-cutting knives.
I come now to Queensland’s attitude towards interstate trade. In the Canberra Times of this morning’s issue, appears the following paragraph: -
Interest lias been aroused in local marketing circles at the action of the Queensland Government in appealing to the High Court of Australia against the Queensland Supreme Court’s decision that the State Marketing Acts were ultra vires of the Commonwealth Constitution.
The story attaching to that paragraph is this: In Queensland, which is the peanut-producing State of Australia, there is a- compulsory pool, out of which has arisen this lawsuit between the Peanut Board and the Rockhampton Harbour Board, relating to the dumping of peanuts on the Rockhampton wharfs for transhipment south. The proceedings come under the Primary Producers Organization and Marketing Act of 1926-30. The idea ofthis organization, which is composed almost solely of producers of peanuts in Queensland, was the establishment of a compulsory pool, sanctioned by law, to enable it to regulate the peanut trade, and to extract the highest possible price in the peanut markets of the southern States. This might have been all right had not the pool had the sanction of law, but in that respect there is a violation of section 92 of the Constitution. The dis.pute will presently be settled by the High Court. I have before me the Queensland Law Reports of Friday, the 30th September, 1932, in. which mention is made of the case as heard by the trial judge.
– Judge Webb. His Honour, at the conclusion of his remarks, said -
Then the question is, what is the real object of the Primary Producers Organization and Marketing Act, and of the order in council of the 28th August, 1930, made under it, in relation to the commodity peanuts? . . . Briefly then, the real object of the act is marketing - the complete control of the sale of the commodity by a board for the growers’ benefit - and no mere incidental step in that direction, such as acquisition of the commodity, can, I think, extend the range of the board’s jurisdiction in the face of s.92. If one direct step - a covering of the gap - is obnoxious to s.92, I cannot see why an intermediate step or a number of intermediate steps should be unobjectionable whore the destination is clearly the same.
– On a point of order. I wish to know, Mr. Speaker, whether the honorable member is within his rights in discussing a case which is now before the High Court of Australia?
– I have no knowledge whether the ca3e in question is now before the High Court, but the honorable member for Denison must understand that it is the general rule of the House that matters which are before the court cannot be discussed.
– I am not discussing the case, but merely reading an extract from the Queensland Law Reports.
– The honorable member need not discuss the details of the case.
– The next point to be considered is the operation of the Sugar Acquisition Act of 1915. Under this act, the State Government has power to acquire sugar, and also to acquire foodstuffs, commodities, live stock, and all other goods whatsoever. Flour was dealt with in a proclamation dated the 16th June, 1931. Under the sanction of the law, there is in operation a scheme which provides a fixed price for wheat and flour in Queensland. The price of wheat .is a good deal above Australian parity, but that does not make the Queensland wheat-growers any less inclined to accept a bounty if one is obtainable. If Queensland can satisfy its own requirements in wheat, all is well, but the shoe begins to pinch when she finds it necessary to import. It is here that the federal idea is breaking down. A merchant in Brisbane cannot import a parcel of flour from Sydney at the price at which it is offered to him. When flour comes over the border, it goes into, the pool, and is sold at pool prices. Free trade between the States does not exist. This is an important point, and one well worthy of consideration. The Sugar - Acquisition Act might quite as well have been called the “ Anything Acquisition Act because it covers all manner of things besides sugar. One cannot emphasize too strongly the possible effects of this act, if administered by a prejudiced government. In this connexion, I propose to quote a letter which I received recently from a firm producing cement in one of the southern States. It ls as follows : -
Just recently we were successful in securing an order for 9 tons of cement from the contractor who was the successful tenderer in connexion with one of the Government wheat sheds that are being built throughout our wheat-growing areas for the storage of wheat. Before sending “ Goliath “ cement, we perused the specification, and found that preference was, as far as possible, to be given to Queensland products, and, in the case of cement, special mention was made that, “where practicable “, the Queensland product was to be used. However, we secured the order on our merits and price, and after arrival, at its destination the Government inspector refused permission to the contractor to use “ Goliath “. Fortunately, we were able to dispose of the cement without any very serious loss, but we consider it manifestly unfair that there should be such discrimination shown against southern merchandise.
Nothing to our mind was more clear when the Constitution was framed than that there should be absolute freedom of trade between States. That was the reason for federation, and to do away with the silly customs tariffs at the border of each State. Queensland has far too much to lose by carrying on this unfederal spirit by the State Government. In spite of the small reduction in the price of sugar, what would we do without the southern consumption. We already hare an embargo ;against importations of southern flour, and this embargo is now becoming more pronounced :against interstate trading generally.
I put it to the representatives of the sugar industry in this Parliament, that, in their own interest, they should not push this spirit of self-contained nationalism too far. If they try to keep Queensland for the Queenslanders, they cannot expect to keep the rest of Australia for Queensland sugar and bananas. The sugar industry, which is the largest and most important in that State, should throw its weight in favour of the principle of interstate freetrade.
– Queensland purchases more from the southern States than she sells to them.
– That has been so in the past; but Queensland is trying to reverse the position. This is a new movement, and should be nipped in the bud. Queensland cannot have it both ways. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) almost wept yesterday when recounting the attacks which, he sand, were being constantly made by the southern States and the Commonwealth on Queensland industries. He said that Queenslanders were becoming bitter, and that is true. I have been there, and have observed the bitterness; but that feeling has been fostered by the utterances of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), and of the honorable member for Kennedy, who are doing a disservice to Queensland and to the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Kennedy said that city interests were scheming to undermine the Queensland sugar industry by launching an enterprise to grow sugar in New Guinea. I am able to inform the honorable member that I heard of this scheme, not in any of the cities, but on the cane-fields themselves. I was told that it was proposed to produce sugar at £5 a ton in New Guinea from Badilla cane.
I propose to quote a few facts relating to the sugar industry which I gleaned while in the sugar-producing districts. From 1920 to 1930, the area under cane increased from 162,000 acres to 296,000 acres, and the production of raw sugar increased from 167,000 tons to 516,783 tons. It is evident, therefore, that although Queensland growers did not receive the benefit of peak prices for sugar during the war, the reward was, nevertheless, sufficient to induce them to double their acreage in ten years, and more than double their output.
– They were not encouraged by the price they received to do that.
– Well, the price was sufficient to inflate land values, and other costs, and those costs are to-day sitting on the back of the industry; so much so, indeed, that, on the admission of the sugar-growers themselves, notwithstanding the artificial price of their product, only 13 per cent. of the growers pay income tax on the basis of a £150 exemption. If that is the best the industry can do under a system of bolstered-up prices, there is surely something wrong.
I believe that the industry is efficien tly conducted. The refineries are almost, if not quite,the last word in efficiency. The mills for the production of raw sugar are well run, and the growers have shown steady improvement intheir farming methods. There is in operation a scheme of subsidized research, financed by a levy of½d. a ton on the sugar produced. During the ten years up to 1908, the average production of cane per acre was 15.04 tons, while the production of raw sugar per acre was 1.63 tons. It took, on an average, 9.20 tons of cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. By 1930 the position had so improved as to give the followingresults. The average yield of cane per acre was 15.89, and the average yield of sugar per acre was 2.33. Whereas in 1908it took 9.20 tops of cane to produce a ton of sugar, in 1930a tonof sugar was being produced from 6.93 tons of cane. This isan important industry, and it has an important influence on the economy of A ust ralia, butwe must not be awed by size. We must not accept, without question, the producers’ opinions, but must take into consideration also, the interests of the consumers and the public generally.
Last year, as the Deputy Leader of the Oppositionpointedout, the averageprice obtained for sugar was £18 6s. 6d. a ton. Practically 50 percent of the sugar produced has to be exported, and the world parity price for sugar is now £9 ‘7s. a ton. The sugar sold in Australia fetched £30 6s. 8d. a ton, giving, as I have said, an average priceof £18 6s. 6d. for the total crop. When the Government proposed to review the existing agreement witha view to reducing the price, it was natural that those interested in the industry should protest. Just how vigorous was that protest honorable members have learned for themselves, because their lockers in the partyrooms have been filled with circulars and periodicals dealingwith the sugar industry. An advertising campaign wascarried on in the southern press, and the advertisements were well-framed and informative. The burden of the protest was that the price of sugar should not be reduced. It has been found, however, upon inquiry, that the industry can get along with something: less than it has been receiving. We have been informed that the Opposition in this House will support the revised agreement, and this bears out the Government’scontention that the industry can survive with a price of 4d. per lb., as against 4½d. per lb., for its product. If this reduced price speltruin to the industry, it is hardly likely that it should be accepted by the honorable member for Capricornia.
Letus, for a moment, consider the costs of production in the sugar industry. The amazing growth of the industry has been reflected in inflated land values, resulting in heavy overhead costs. Interest is another item at which members of the Opposition will point the finger of disapproval, and I shallnot object to their doing so. However,theprincipal item in the costof producing sugar is labour, which represents 63 per cent. of the total.This,of course, bears out the statement of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the sugar industry is a big employer of labour.
-Where did the honorable member obtain his figures ?
Mr. HUT CHIN.They were supplied to me by the growers’ association. Another important item in the cost of production is. the high price which. : the growers ‘have to pay for necessary supplies bought in the southern States. 1 was informed, though it seems difficult to believe it, that tram lines for laying 2-ft. light portable tram tracks through the cane-fields have cost £700 a mile. That information was given to me in good faith, and Iaccept it as correct.
– What proportion of the cost of producing those tram lines is represented by labour?
-I cannot say definitely, but I think it is about 45 per cent. The weekly wage payable to farm hands continuously -employed on the sugar-fields is£47s. The farmers are required, under -the 1932 -award for sugar workers andcook?, to give themen freeaccomodation, andtoprovide light and supply food -to the value of £1 4s. 6d. a week. A scale of rations is laid down.
– ‘That award applies to North Queensland.
– Yes, and that is where most of the sugar is produced. After the employee has paid the farmer £1 4s. 6d. a week for his rations, he has left £3 3s. 6d. a week. These workers have no particular skill. It has been stated that the high wages are justified because of the severe climatic conditions under which the men have to work. I admit that the climatic conditions can be severe ; that they are more severe than in these latitudes. But North Queensland is not the only place iii Australia where climatic conditions are severe. As a case iti point, I mention the west coast of Tasmania, which is subjected to falls of snow and to almost, continual rain. When wages are fixed for that district, no consideration is given to climatic conditions. The net wages paid in North Queensland to labourers who require no skill, and who frequently are southern Europeans, is £3 3s. 6d. It cannot be denied that the percentage of southern Europeans . in the northern part of Queensland is noticeably higher than anywhere else in Australia. Coinpare that rate with the wages paid to people employed in the southern States. A trained fitter in Tasmania, South Australia, or Victoria certainly does not get £4 10a., while labourers in the south do not receive as much as Queensland’ sugar workers, even after the latter have paid their board. Is it fair that the man who is growing something in1 the south for the man in the north should be paid so much less? There should be a nearer balance of things. Is it surprising that the man in the south, who is trying to keep his family on this comparatively small wage, asks for sugar at a little cheaper price? Australia must be regarded as a whole - which is necessary for the. sugar industry - or as a number of parts. This agreement contemplates Australia as a unity, and seeks to arrange with the sugar industry something that will serve the whole of Australia. Therefore, we must bring into our consideration Australian conditions generally, taking the cons as well1 as the pros.
I have mentioned that, in the sugar industry, labour represents 63 per cent, of the total cost. In North Queensland one frequently hears the phrase that “ the farmer takes all the risk, and the workman takes all the profit.” That is just a handy way of putting it, and it is true. At least it is so far as the half of the sugar crop which is exported is concerned-, although it does hot apply to the 50 per cent, required for home consumption
This agreement entails a reduction of ll per cent, in the reduction of the retail price of sugar. That basis was arrived at after conference between the parties concerned, the growers, millers, refiners, shippers, and employees. We do not know the details. Nor do we know how much each of the sections has contributed towards the general cut. But we do know that the workers have contributed nothing. Quite recently the employers of Queensland endeavoured to effect a reduction in the basic wage, in conformity with the reduced cost of living and reduced business turnover, but the Queensland Industrial Court, in its wisdom, said, ““Oh no’, we shall push that on one side’/’ and the ease has been deferred until February. Until no* the workers iii tha sugar industry have made none of the sacrifice, and yet only 13 per” cent, of the growers paid income tax when sugar was at 4$d. If that is equality of sacrifice I do’ n6t know thi? meaning of the English language. The farm labourer who is not regularly employed gets a wage of 16s. a day, and the gentleman who cuts the cane, who commands the sympathy of so many people, receives’ a very attractive rate. His work is on contract, and he can cut from 3- to 4 tons a day without breaking his back. These are the rates -
If those- gentlemen carry out their duties as responsible’ citizens of the State of Queensland, they certainly have income tax: to” pay.
I cannot help referring again to the evidence”’ of the prosperity of North Queensland compared with most other parts of Australia. The people of the north are lucky that prosperity has stayed with them. We all wish that similar prosperity could be enjoyed by everybody throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. The towns of Townsville and Cairns are most attractive; model country towns which reflect the general prosperous condition of the people of North Queensland. The Australian public should appreciate that, -for the past ten years, the average price of sugar in Australia, as compared with the price of sugar in England, has been as 4$d. compared with 5£d. For that period sugar has been cheaper here than in Great Britain. To an extent, that result is due to the control that has been exercised. Over a number of years the price of sugar in Australia has been as follows : -
The high price charged from 1920 to 1923 was to compensate the Commonwealth Government for the money that it paid for the import of the sugar necessary to make up the quantity needed for consumption. In 1919, the Commonwealth Government imported sugar at a cost of £4P 6s. 2d. a ton, and in 1920 such sugar cost £60 19s. fid. a ton. While this is a favorable comparison between the price in Australia and Great Britain, it does not necessarily follow that the price in this country has not been a fair one, having regard to the prices of commodities generally.
I believe that the Government has car,ried out a public duty , in effecting this reduction. But as a supporter of the Government, I resent the suggestion that a p:stol was held to the head of those in the sugar industry. I am confident that responsible representatives of that industry do not make such a claim. I also resent the implication of repudiation. Considering the matter from a Tasmanian point of view, or the point of view of any other State, we must ask ourselves is Queensland prepared to give the other States as fair a deal as she expects for herself.
I return to my original contention, that the people of Queensland would be
Well advised, in their own interest, not to try to shut the gate against produce from the south. That can have only one result. It will breed ill will as time goes on, and the greater - the five other States - will discipline the smaller - Queensland. If that happens it will be Queensland’s own fault. Those honorable members who represent that State in this chamber should, as public men, endeavour to influence Queensland opinion in that direction.
The Ottawa agreement was one of the tests that I applied to this position. On the divisions that were taken in this chamber during the past 24 hours, Queensland members representing sugargrowing districts, were almost unanimously against the Government. The preference which Great Britain has accorded to Australia in regard to sugar, if not actually part of the Ottawa agreement, is at least in keeping with the spirit of Ottawa. In the long run, it will be a portion of any agreement with the Old Country which may follow this one. The honorable members for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan), Herbert (Mr. Martens), Capricornia (Mr. Forde), Oxley (Mr. Baker), and Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) voted against the Ottawa agreement.
– The honorable member is not in order in reflecting on a vote recorded by any honorable member.
– The Ottawa agreement cannot be dissociated from the internal trade and commerce of Australia. It is part and parcel of it. Those honorable members have acted to the detriment of one trade interest, and yet, on the other hand-
– Order ! I again warn the honorable member that he is not in order in reflecting on a vote east by another honorable member in committee.
– We must look at the thing with both eyes. The inclination is too frequently to regard them through one eye. I should be better pleased if the agreement were not for such a long term. The general conditions of the world are such that it is difficult to know what will be the value of any commodity in twelve months’ time, . let alone four years hence. I believe that this reduction in the price of sugar is necessary, and that it is sufficient for the time being. One cannot proceed very quickly without doing more harm than good. Still, I believe that further reductions are inevitable as time goes on. For that reason I should like to see a shorter term agreement. The agreement is distinct from another that we have recently discussed, for it fixes prices, and does not lay down principles. It is because prices represent such an uncertain factor that I raise an objection to the length of the term of the agreement.
.- I congratulate the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) on the thoughtful and informative speech that he has just made. But I cannot subscribe to his view that Queensland is the only State in the Commonwealth which sets up barriers against the produce of other States. In this respect the honorahle member’s reference to the sugar industry was rather unfortunate. The arrangement made with those engaged in the sugar industry provides that, despite the cost of transporting the commodity to distant parts of Australia, the price of sugar shall be the same in each State. There could not be a better example of interstate freetrade. Reference to the alleged unfriendly action of one State towards another is to he deprecated. It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, for Queensland is not the only offender. Certain districts in Tasmania had to go out of potatogrowing, because it was stated that they were subject to disease, and Tasmanian potatoes generally were, therefore, denied entry into Victoria. Again, but a short time ago, the use of a trade mark was employed to prevent the sale in New South Wales of articles made in the other States. I trust that the time is not far distant when interstate freetrade in Australia will be an actual reality and not an ideal.
I approve of this agreement mainly because it has already been signed by the Queensland Government and accepted by the sugar-growers. Its rejection would mean that the agreement made eighteen months or two years ago, would remain in force, and this would be dangerous legally and politically, and would make the position of the sugar-growers most unstable. I congratulate the sugar-growers of Queensland upon having accepted the compromise embodied in this agreement. In doing so, they have made definite sacrifices, but they have secured the stability which will result from the embargo being imposed by legislation instead of by proclamation. [Quorum formed.] The sugar-growers are making practically all the sacrifices which the industry will be called upon to suffer under this revised agreement, for their cane had already been cut and much of it milled before the alteration was made. All the charges in connexion with this cutting and milling were paid by the growers. On this account, I greatly regret that the Government could not see its way clear to fix a later date for the coming into force of the reductions of the price of sugar. The sugargrowers would then have been recompensed to some extent for their actual out-of-pocket expenses in wages to canecutters and charges of millers. The sugar made from this cane will not come into consumption until next year, so that the ½d.reduction will actually be taken out of the pockets of the sugar-growers of Queensland. That, in my opinion, is nothing short of a scandal. The only consolation which the growers have is the knowledge that the embargo will, henceforth, have an element of permanence and certainty that was previously missing. It is much more satisfactory to all concerned that the embargo should be approved by both Houses of the Parliament. In the past, the proclamation applying the embargo was liable to be withdrawn at any time, for although the agreement was for a specified term, changes in government and policies could easily have affected it.
– What element of uncertainty is in a proclamation that is not in a legislative act?
– The right honorable gentleman had experience while he was Prime Minister of the difficulty in some circumstances of securing the repeal of legislation. A proclamation can be withdrawn without reference to Parliament.
– Is the Leader of the Country party suggesting that a government might come into office which would withdraw the embargo ?
– Even that might happen. Rut as only one-haif of the Senate has to offer itself for re-election every three years, the whole body is not likely to change its political character for a long time.
– I take it that theright honorable gentleman is sometimes in favour of embargoes?
– I am in favour of an embargo on sugar. The sugar industry has been the subject of frequent investigation during the last 25 years. I suppose that in that period half a dozen impartial inquiries have been made into it. On every occasion, the inquiring body, whether it was a royal commission, such as that of Mr. Justice Piddington, or an inquiring committee, such as that set up by the Scullin Government, which consisted to a considerable extent of persons undoubtedly hostile to the industry when they began their inquiry, has concluded that there is no possibility of giving any protection to the sugar industry worthy of the name by means of fixed duties. Sugar is one of the great gambling stocks of the world. The production of sugar is, in and out, largely dependent on seasons.It is estimated that, at present, there ‘is an over-production of 2,000,000 tons of sugar a year, and stocks of 5,000,000 tons are held in reserve at this moment. Sugar, probably more than any other commodity, has been the subject of commercial speculation. In consequence of this, the fixing of a duty, even on a sliding scale, would be of no value as a protection to the industry.
– What about the sugar consumer ?
– In the last two years, the Australian consumers have been better off than the sugar consumers of almost any other part of the world. This fact has been established by investigating tribunals consisting of sugar consumers and sugar processors. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) holds no brief for the sugar industry, but he informed us only a few moments ago that the price of sugar in
England to-day is5¼d. per lb., while in Australia it is only4½d. per1b., and will shortly be only 4d. per lb. In Czechoslovakia there is a duty of £20 a ton on sugar.
– What about New Zealand?
– The honorable member should consider the experience of the New Zealand and Australian sugar consumers during the war, when our sugar industry was cut absolutely to the bone and many sugar-growers forced off their holdings. At that time sugar cultivation was abandoned on 40,000 or 50,000 acres of land in Queensland. The result was that we found ourselves compelled to buy 100,000 tons of sugar a year, in two successive years, at a price of almost £100 per ton, or nearly ls. per lb. But because we were paying only about 2d. per lb. for the sugar produced in Australia, it was possible to retail sugar in this country at 6d. per lb.
– I suppose we shall hear that story in Heaven.
– That is quite possible, because it is a true story. Since the war, and particularly in 1925 and 1926, the price of sugar outside Australia has been higher than the price of it inside Australia.For this reason, impartial investigators who, in most instances, have been southern men without any personal interest in the sugar industry, have concluded that if the sugar industry of Australia is to be given any real protection, it must be by embargoes. The question, therefore, arises, what conditions shall govern the embargo, so that the people of Australia shall be fairly dealt with. Since 1923 the embargo has been applied in accordance with the terms of various agreements, and we have every justification for saying that the sugar industry has given a measure of assistance to other Australian industries to some extent dependent upon it. In this respect it is singular among our protected industries. Under the present agreement, for instance, substantial concessions are being made to the fruit industry. That this is appreciated will be shown, I believe, by the representatives of fruit-growing constituencies in this Parliament giving their solid support to the ratification of tins agreement.
– I ask again, what about the sugar consumers?
– The Australian sugar consumers are getting sugar at as low a price as the consumers of any other country, and at a lower price than most of them. Since 1923 our confectionery manufacturers, and the manufacturers of certain other commodities which use sugar on a large scale, have had the. advantage of a definite rebate of £4 per ton in the price of the sugar they use. They have been getting sugar for £33 6s. 8d. per ton. This has meant that the price of their ‘manufactured goods is lower than would otherwise have been the case. At present our fruit processors, jam makers, and canned-fruit manufacturers are getting their sugar for £30 6s. 8d. a ton. It is estimated by the fruit canners that, this concession is worth about £60,000 a year to them. We must also remember the concessions that are being given to our manufacturers of export commodities - and, after all, this is one of the most important aspects of the subject. The sugar industry gives our exporting industries which use sugar, the right to buy all their sugar at world parity prices. It is estimated that this advantage is worth abour £30,000 a year. In addition to all this, provision is made under this agreement for a concession of £110,000 a year to be made to our fruit exporters. In this respect the sugar industry stands alone among the protected industries of Australia. In every other case our protected industries take the fullest advantage of the protection granted to them, and do nothing to assist our exporting industries. Because the sugar industry does assist our exporters, and is playing the game by the people of Australia-
– -Playing a game by them !
– Order ! The right honorable member for Cowper is entitled to be heard without interjection. Other honorable members, who wish to express their opinions on this bill, will have an opportunity to do so.
– The preferences granted to other industries under thi3 agreement are valued at about £200,000 a year. In these circumstances, it is amazing that honorable members of this House should decry the sugar industry. The British Government thinks this industry so valuable that it is giving us a preference of £4 5s. a ton on refined sugar; but because most of our sugar is sent away in the raw state to British refineries, this preference is actually valued at between £3 12s. and £3 15s. per ton. Both the United Kingdom and Canada, by according this preference to the Australian industry, recognize that it is worthy of assistance. On the sugar used in canned fruits for export we are given an additional concession which is worth £70,000. That is an indication of the perspective in which the industry should be viewed. I have no hesitation about supporting the agreement, because I regard the sugar industry as essential to Australia. Its value was demonstrated during the war period. Four hundred years .’igo, because these commodities were not then known to them, European peoples did without cane sugar, as they did without tea and tobacco, but to-day sugar is an essential article of the diet of all civilized people. We have proved our capacity to produce cane sugar as efficiently as it can be produced in any country, and we should make some effort to uphold and develop the industry.
I support, the industry, first, because it is par excellence, one which will not merely settle white people in agricultural districts, but by reason of the labour associated with mills and refineries, will also provide employment in the towns and cities. Secondly, I support it because it has now reached the exporting stage; last year it sent abroad 200,000 tons of refined sugar, worth £2,500,000. Having regard to our unfavorable trade balance, we must be appreciative of any industry that will earn money for us abroad. A third reason for. supporting the industry is that throughout it the system of. payment by results operates. The grower is paid for his cane according to its sugar content, and because of that, during the last ten years in which the industry has had a monopoly of the Australian market, the quality of the cane has improved enormously. Whereas, a few years ago, 12 tons of cane were required to produce 1 ton of raw sugar, only 7 tons are needed now. In no other country is such a high average sugar content maintained throughout the crop. Simultaneously with this development in cultural methods a wonderful improvement has taken place in the efficiency and equipment of sugar mills. The milling is as efficient as in any part of the world, and our refining methods are pre-eminent. Throughout the industry there has been continual progress towards greater efficiency. Finally, I support the sugar industry, because it allows manufacturing export industries which are dependent upon it to have their supplies of sugar at world’s parity. I am pleased that the Government has submitted this agreement to Parliament, because it will give to the industry a degree of permanence and security which it has not hitherto enjoyed, and I trust that the agreement will operate so satisfactorily that when the time for its renewal arrives no dissentient voice will be raised. The sugar industry deserves well of Australia, and this agreement embodies the best manner of assisting it.
.- -I am at a loss to understand the statement that manufacturers are getting their sugar at world’s parity rates.
– On the quantity used in their exportable surplus.
– That may be so, but those manufacturing for the local market will still have to pay £33 10s. 9d. a ton. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) represents an electorate in which sugar is produced, and I can understand his difficulty in reconciling the interests of his constituents with the general interests of other rural industries.
– There is no difficulty. Before and since I entered Parliament, I have never hesitated to support the sugar industry.
-Outside the sugargrowing districts, rural communities will not appreciate the attitude of the right honorable member. This agreement has been brought about, not by the spontaneous action of the Government, but by the force of public opinion throughout Australia. There has been a widespread demand in all States, except perhaps Queensland and New South Wales, for a substantial reduction of the price of sugar. Even in prosperous times the sugar industry occupied a privileged position on account of the price it was able to extort from the public. Two years ago, owing to the prevailing depression, Parliament found it necessary to adopt a scheme for a general reduction of costs. As a basis, all fixed incomes were reduced by 22^ per cent. The reduction of private incomes has been in most cases very much greater. Prices have collapsed, industries and businesses have toppled, and many investors have lost their entire income. Throughout the general depression, however, sugar has remained untouched. The general reduction of costs throughout the community started two years ago. Already the sugar industry has enjoyed two years of complete immunity, which will continue until the end of this year, after which, even under this agreement, the industry will suffer a reduction, not of 22J per cent., but of 11 per cent. An examination of the profits which have been made shows that the industry has enjoyed an unreasonably favorable position, and has become a great burden on the Australian people. Information extracted from the balance-sheets of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is contained in the report of the Sugar Inquiry Committee. According to that document, in the five years immediately preceding, the net average profit made by the company, after the payment of taxation, wa3 £910,000 per annum. This enormous earning lias been made upon an original subscribed capital of £2,425,000. In other words, for the last five years the company has been earning 40 per cent, on its subscribed cash capital. Even at the present time its prosperity is being well maintained. The gross profits have not been substantially reduced, and at its recent annual meeting the company declared its usual dividend of 10 per cent, and a special bonus of 2i per cent, per annum. It has been able to build up reserves amounting to over £7,000,000. The values of land on which sugar is grown in Queensland have increased extensively on account of the profits of the industry. The Sugar Inquiry Committee’s report states that these lands are not of much value for dairying, and but for the highly-profitable nature of the sugar industry would not be worth much. The wages paid in the industry have been mentioned by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), and all the facts indicate that the effects of the slump experienced elsewhere throughout Australia have not yet reached Northern Queensland. In other parts of the world sugar values are very low. This commodity is one of the necessaries of life, and consumers should be able to take advantage of the low prices prevailing throughout the .world. New Zealand imports sugar, subject to a revenue duty of £2 10s. per ton, and. until recently its people were supplied at 2¼d. per lb.; to-day the price is 2½d. The figures quoted by the honorable member for Denison regarding the prices in England must have referred to earlier years.
– They represent the average prices for ten years.
– But not recent years, because the present price in the United Kingdom is 2½d. per lb. That statement is in accordance with information obtained from the department controlling the sugar question.
– It has to be remembered that a bounty of £6 10s. is paid to the beet-growers of Great Britain.
– About 20 per cent, of the sugar used in England is produced by the British beet sugar-growers, who are receiving a bounty of £6 10s. per ton. The revenue to provide that bounty is obtained by means of duties on sugar ranging from about one-third of a penny per lb. on Empire sugar, to l£d. per lb. on foreign sugar. Although Great Britain collects duties sufficient to pay the bounty on local production, the consumers are still able to obtain sugar at 2id. per lb. It is quite obvious that the people of Australia are paying an unreasonable and unfair price for sugar. It is equally obvious that the sugar industry of Queensland is occupying an exceptional position which is in no way comparable with that of other primary industries or the manufacturing industries of Australia. Costs generally have declined, yet the sugar ‘industry remains in the exalted position which it reached during the boom period of years ago. It has been argued that this legislation amounts to repudiation of the agreement made in 1931, in rather indecent haste, not by Parliament, but by the Government of the day, with the sugar interests of Queensland. The sugar industry is in a privileged position. [Quorum formed.] We have not hesitated because of altered conditions to reduce bounties given under act of parliament to other industries. The capacity of the people to pay is not what it was when, the bounties were first granted. Parliament has, therefore, reviewed and reduced them by in no case less than 25 per cent. The gold bounty was practically abolished altogether. Although nominally it is in abeyance, from all appearances it will remain in abeyance permanently.
– There is a reason for that.
– Quite so, but we cannot deny that the gold bounty has been removed, notwithstanding the fact that it was granted by Parliament for a term of ten years, largely for the purpose of attracting capital to Australia. Capital was brought here, but notwithstanding that, this Parliament, because of the alteration of conditions in Australia, saw fit to review the bounty. There is, therefore, in view of the altered conditions, no reason why we should not review the Sugar Agreement. I submit that the proposed amendment of the agreement is imperfect and that a reduction of 1.1 per cent, is not a fair reduction. This industry should suffer a much heavier reduction, so as to bring it into line with other industries. It is easy for the sugar interests to maintain their costs. No provision is made in the agreement to the effect that when the cost of production is reduced, a reduction in the selling price of sugar will automatically take place. Those engaged in the sugar industry are shrewd enough to ensure that there will be no decline in the cost of production of sugar. So long as this Parliament tolerates that position our impoverished people will have to pay extortionate prices for sugar. There is not much difference between direct taxation and indirect taxation in the form of high prices for sugar. The only material difference is that the public does not seem to appreciate the full effect of indirect taxation.
– In recent years there has been a reduction of 1½d. per lb. in sugar.
– Abnormal prices ruled during the war period, not only for sugar, but also for wheat and wool. Wheat at one time was 9s. a bushel, and wool 2s. 6d. a lb. The wool and wheat industries have had to carry on despite the fact that prices have fallen to a fourth of what they were during the peak period. But the price of sugar has not fallen to anything like the same extent. The sugar industry is in. an exceptional position. It is the one industry that has secured political protection to enable it to maintain exorbitant prices. Mention has been made of the Maffra sugar factory. That is a small concern in the Maffra district, which is manufacturing beet sugar. It has been in operation for nineteen years, and has made a profit of £128,000. Its last balance-sheet, which was issued a couple of months ago, shows that it has made a factory profit of £52,000. As the total area under cultivation was 3,045 acres, this factory has made a profit of over £17 per acre.
– That has relieved the Victorian taxpayers, even if it has bled them in another direction. I refer, of course, to the fact that the Maffra factory is a government concern.
– That does not alter the fact that the consumers are paying a high price for sugar. I wish to be fair. We should not try to destroy the Queensland sugar industry, but should fix the price of sugar upon a reasonable basis, somewhat approximating the prices prevailing in other industries.
I take exception on various grounds to clause 16 of the agreement, upon which I propose to move an amendment in committee. It relates to the determination of wages and the conditions of employment. It provides that the employees in the sugar industry and in such sections of the Australian fruit industry as are set out in clause 7, shall be entitled to have their wages and conditions, of employment determined by arbitration and conciliation. The fruit industry is, generally speaking, not under .any arbitration award, but under this provision, on the application of, say, a union secretary or the representative of the employers, the Commonwealth Govern ment, can be called upon to set up a new tribunal of arbitration and conciliation. I object to that provision, because we already . have sufficient arbitration and conciliation tribunals in Australia. Why should we set up an additional tribunal to deal with purely State matters? The fruit industry, which is one of the poorlypaid industries of Australia, will not stand Arbitration Court awards.
– Under this provision those employees who may be excluded from the Arbitration Court and have not come to some agreement with their employers, have the right to appeal to another tribunal.
– Employees who are excluded from the Arbitration Court may call upon the Commonwealth Government to set up a tribunal, as provided in clause 16. I do not think that provision is an essential part of the agreement, and I propose to move in committee’ that it be deleted.
.- I desire first to refute some of the statement of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). He suggested that the people of this country had, in effect, been robbed for the past 20 years by having to pay excessive prices for the sugar that they consumed. As a matter of fact, the Australian price of sugar during that period has been very little higher than the world price. The higher price in Australia has been fully justified in view of the fact that the Australian product, in regard to quality, is second to none in the world. It was suggested by . the honorable member that the price of sugar in .New Zealand, and in Great Britain, to-day is 2$d. per lb. Let me inform him that sugar refined in New Zealand is planted, cultivated and crushed by black labour at a wage of about ls. a day. Would the. honorable member stand for the consumption in Australia of sugar produced under such conditions? Is it not fair that the people of Australia should pay 2d. per lb. more to get the product of white labour in this country. If the honorable member advocates the consumption of blackgrown sugar in Australia, it is just as well for the people of Western Australia to know that we -on this side of the chamber are prepared at all times . to support Australian industries. He also objected to section. 16 of the agreement, which provides for the setting up of a tribunal in certain circumstances to . determine wages and . working conditions. I am very glad that the Government saw fit to include that section. If it should not be necessary to act under the provision, it will be so much the better for every one. , If an agreement can be arrived .at in conference between those who do the work and those who employ them, it is much ‘better for both parties than if an award has to be obtained from an outside tribunal.
– Section 16 is identical with a provision which is inserted in every bounty act.
– That is so. The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) said that Europeans began to use sugar only about 500 years ago; but the sugar cane was known in India centuries before the birth of Christ, and was brought to the knowledge of Europeans through the invasion of India by Alexander in 327 B.C. The refining of sugar was for a long time a secret in the possession of the Venetians, who, in the fifteenth century, divulged it for the benefit of other countries.
The honorable member for Denison (Mr: Hutchin) made this afternoon what I regarded as a very good and temperate speech, but some of his statements were not quite correct, as I shall proceed to show. During the war, the price paid for sugar went as high as £120 a ton. The whole of the sugar sold by Mauritius to Great Britain was. disposed of at £95 a ton in its raw state. One can understand why the growers in Australia wished, at that time, to obtain world parity prices for their sugar. I myself came into conflict with growers and others interested in that industry because I opposed the payment of world parity price for Australian sugar, believing that it would lead immediately to undesirable inflation of land values. I recognized also that, if Australia obtained- world parity prices for her sugar while prices were high, she could not object to world parity prices when they were low. Last year, the world parity price for sugar was £5 16s. a ton. So low has the price of sugar fallen that a million acres of cane land have gone out of cultivation, and mills are standing idle. It is impossible, to produce sugar at world parity prices even in such countries as Fiji and Suva, where the adult male wage is ls. a day, and the female and junior wage is 4d. or 5d. a day for a 60-hour week. During the war, sugar was retailed in England at ls. 2d. per lb., when it was being retailed in Australia for 6d. per lb. The retail price would not have been so high in Australia had it not been necessary for the then Prime Minister, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), to allow a certain quantity of raw sugar to be imported into Australia to satisfy local requirements. In order to recoup the Government for the purchase of this sugar at high prices, the local retail price of sugar was fixed at 6d. per lb. The Government at that time did not pay £95 a ton for the raw sugar it imported, but it paid considerably more than £60 a ton, which was more than twice as much as the local growers were receiving.
The growers in Australia were induced to increase their acreage because of the action of Mr. Hughes in increasing the price of sugar to £30 6s. Sd. a ton. [ maintained at the time that a mistake had been made, because the increased price would lead to inflation in land values. Honorable members have complained that the valuations placed on sugar land are excessive; but high prices have been paid for other lands as well, and this, to a great extent, is responsible for the troubles of our primary producers. Those engaged in dairying, for instance, would be much better off if they had not bought their land at such high prices. When the sugargrowers approached the right honorable member for North Sydney, and asked for an increase in the price of sugar, which was then £21 a ton, they pointed out that the world parity price was between £70 and £120 a ton. Mr. Hughes said that, if the growers would promise to increase their production so as to .supply the whole, of Australia’s requirements, he would agree to the price being increased to £30 6s. Sd. a ton, which represented an increase of Id. -per lb. in the retail price. At this price, the return to the growers was so satisfactory that many more began growing cane, and land prices increased. I have previously stated that the only canegrowers who are doing well at the present time are those who are still farming the land which they obtained from the Government at about £1 an acre. According to the report of one of the land tax valuators for the State of Queensland, the average prices of sugar land in North Queensland are as follow: -
Mossman district, from £3 to £20 per acre.
Cairns, Babinda districts, from £5 to £35 per acre.
Innisfail, from £5 to £30 per acre.
Ingham, from £5 to £25 per acre.
Ayr and Homehill, from £3 to £20 per acre.
Proserpine, from £5 to £15 per acre.
Mr. H. P. Franklin, the valuator for the Bundaberg district, reports as follows concerning the lands in that area : -
Those values are not excessive compared with the prices that have been paid for land for other purposes, so that the argument that the present price of sugar is due to high land values falls to the ground. I am not justifying present land values. I do not believe in freehold at all; I believe that if all lands were held on lease from the Government, there would not be the same inducement to speculate, and commodity prices would be reduced. It has been said that cane-farms have realized high prices. That is so, but I am- sure the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), whom I met when he was in Cairns, and who conducted a close investigation into the industry, will agree with me that the high prices are generally accounted for by improvements, such as up-to-date machinery, &c.
The honorable member for Denison said that Queensland was somewhat hostile to the other States in the manner in which she had administered the Sugar Acquisition Act. That act was passed to empower the Government to acquire certain primary products so as to prevent the exploitation of consumers. The administration of that act gave rise to the famous Mooraberri cattle case, which Mr. T. J. Ryan, as Premier, fought from the Full Court of, Queensland to the Privy Council, and won. Under legislation introduced during the war, the Queensland Government was prevented from handling certain base metals needed by Great Britain and her allies, and was required to hand them over to Dalgety and Company for disposal. I believe that if an account were kept of what Queensland buys from the southern States, and what she sells to them, the balance would be in favour of the southern States. Queensland buys apples and potatoes from Tasmania, and potatoes from Victoria, while the wellknown IXL brand of jam, a Tasmanian product, is to be seen in all parts of the State. The rice used in Queensland is grown in New South Wales, and I can remember meetings of the Australian Workers Union in the sugar districts of Queensland passing resolutions declaring that, unless the storekeepers stocked Australian rice, they would be boycotted. That is how the people in Queensland support Australian industries. The commodities I mention are not produced to any extent in Queensland, but come from the other States. Certain jams made from tropical fruits are manufactured in Queensland, but other jams are made from pulp brought from the south.
The honorable member for Denison spoke of the high wages paid to those employed in the sugar industry. In Northern Queensland there is an allowance of 10s. extra on all awards made by the Queensland Arbitration Court, and an allowance of 4s. on awards covering the central Queensland district, which extends from St. Lawrence to Burdekin. These allowances have been made because of the severe climatic conditions in the north. With all respect to the honorable member for Denison, I cannot agree with him. that there are other parts of Australia in which working conditions are so severe as in Northern Queensland. When I inform honorable members that, in parts of the district which I represent, the annual rainfall is up to 7 yards - not feet - and that the summer temperature is often as high as 120 degrees, they will realize the conditions under which mcn have to work. Over the whole district from Cardwell to Cairns, the average rainfall is more than 5 yards a year. I have a daughter who worked as a chemist in the sugar mill at Babinda., and in a letter home some time ago she stated that the rainfall from the time she left the mill at midday on Saturday until the following Monday morning, was 21 inches. When I was at Innisfail recently, I was amused to see a builder and his men working in the pouring rain on the construction of new premises for the Bank of New South Wales. I was informed that if they did not work in the rain, they would never get the job done.
By way of interjection recently, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) said that the wages paid to cane-cutters were very high. This afternoon the honorable member for Denison made a similar remark. The wages paid to cane-cutters this year and last year will average about 24s. a day for the season. When one considers their conditions, the cost entailed in travelling to and from the north, their average working time each year, and the impossibility of their obtaining employment elsewhere, one finds it difficult to justify the statement that, if they played the game, these men would have income tax to pay. Very few of them earn sufficient to pay income tax. The Queensland income tax authorities are shrewd, as the primary producers know to their cost, after the recent investigation of the Secret Commissions Inquiry. Professor Brigden, who occupies the chair of economics at the Queensland University, and was temporarily on the Queensland Arbitration Court, gave evidence before the sugar committee. He pointed out that, if anything were done which worked to the material disadvantage of the sugar industry, Australia’s unemployment would probably increase by 10,000. He said that until something was done by other sections of industry to absorb those people the Government should exercise care, and not interfere with the sugar industry.
The Sugar Inquiry Committee went carefully into all the facts. I shall make one quotation from the unanimous section of the report, which appears on page 9, and is as follows : -
From the evidence given before the committee, there seems to be no doubt that the enhancement in land values in 1023 was duc to the fixation of the price of raw sugar at £30 6s. 3d. per ton for the years 1020, 1921 and 1922. This gave great stimulus to the industry, owing to the feeling of security which was engendered, and the increased demand for land for sugar-growing to take advantage of the profitable returns from thu industry.
There is certainly nothing abnormal in that regard, so far as the sugar industry is concerned.
The Government has brought about this agreement by conference. I do not say that it is the effect of duress, because to say that would be out of order. I do say that suggestions by the Government that certain things might happen if the price of sugar were not reduced influenced the growers, but the effect of the statements of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) on those who represent the sugar industry, and the growers themselves, many of whom I know personally, was noticeable. They were exercised in mind as to what might happen if no reduction were brought about. However, they agreed to a reduction, and, as a representative of the sugar industry and of Queensland, I have no option but to support the agreement. I do so without equivocation.-
It is alleged that the Government has not effected a sufficient reduction. Those who presented the minority report - Mr. John Gunn, who represented the Government and is Director of Development; Mr. Dutton; representing the jam manufacturers; and Mrs. Morgan, who represented the consumers of Australia - gave it as their considered opinion that a reduction should take place in the price of sugar to the extent of id. per lb. So that this Government is bringing about, a reduction which is 100 per cent, more than that recommended. It must also be remembered that the minority recommendation was based upon an accompanying recommendation that definite steps should be taken to reduce the unprofitable surplus production which now- goes overseas.
On several occasions writers to the Melbourne Age have taken me to task for having the temerity to suggest that the export of our surplus sugar production has enabled us to build up a credit of £2,000,000 overseas, which materially assists the credit of the country. Inspired, no doubt, by members of the Sugar Consumers League, that journal declared that, if my contention is logical, it is merely necessary for all our industries to produce and export a surplus to enable us to meet the whole of our obligations overseas. Undoubtedly, Ave can meet our obligations only by marketing pur products overseas. No less an authority than Mr. P. H. M. Goldsmith, the general manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, stated that Mr. Hughes asked the growers to grow sufficient sugar to meet Australia’s needs. Otherwise something might happen to destroy the then existing agreement, which provided a price of £30 6s. 8d. a ton.
It is pleasing to me that the embargo has been retained. This was unanimously recommended by the Sugar Inquiry Committee. It is generally recognized that, it is the only way to protect the industry. I am glad that so much, at least, is left.
The honorable member for Denison said that he resented the use of the word “ repudiation “ in. connexion with this agreement. During the last election, I was campaigning at Ingham. My opponent, Mr. Grosvenor Francis, was also in the district. He was asked whether, if it were returned to power, the United Australia Party would honour the sugar agreement entered into by the Scullin Government and the Queensland Government under the leadership of Mr. Moore. Mr. Francis wired to what he termed his leader, the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Latham) - not the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) - and received a reply which stated that the United Australia Party would honour the agreement in its entirety. Realizing, from ray knowledge of a number of the supporters of the United Australia Party, that the principle of arbitration might be endangered if the party were returned to power,”*! asked a question on that subject. Mr. Francis again wired to his “ leader “ and received a reply that arbitration would not be interfered with. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn.) stated that we had too much arbitration, and 1 know that’ there are other honorable members opposite who want it wiped out.
– The honorable member does not suggest that that is the view of the Government.
– I know that it is the view of a number of honorable members opposite. I shall not attribute those sentiments to all of them until they express them, when I shall not neglect to do so. It is suggested that this agreement will continue for four years. That is wrong. It Will come into ‘force on the 5th January, 1933, and continue until August, 1936, but will not cover the sugar production of 1936. So that the fears of the honorable member for Denison on that score should be allayed. The honorable member also said that, because there are no guns and other armaments in the north of Queensland, it is of no defensive value to Australia to have that part of the country populated. I remind him that Tasmania and practically every other part of Australia is not at the present time in a position to defend itself against enemy attack. But many of the field-workers of the north, to whom he referred, spent a number of years at the Great War fighting for Australia and the Empire. The majority of them are members of the organization of which I bad the good fortune to be the leader when I came into Parliament. They would put up as good a fight for the Commonwealth as any other citizen of Australia, and their presence in the north is of the greatest value to the nation from a defensive point of view. The fact that they have homes there makes those men all the more ready to defend- their country.
It was suggested by the honorable member for Perth that the country in the north of Queensland is practically of no use other than for the growing of sugar-cane. I want .him and other honorable members to disabuse their minds of that erroneous impression. Butter factories are springing up in many parts of North Queensland, but it is necessary to wait for a couple of years for the exotic grasses which have been planted to become established. The natural grasses are too sour: I have a son and a son-in-law engaged in dairying near
Silkwood, and they have planted their land with kikuyu, an admirable African grass of recent introduction, Rhodes grass, and paspalum. When those grasses are thoroughly established they will be able successfully to carry on the production of butter and kindred products.
-I presume that it is true that some places in North Queensland are suitable only for sugar growing,
– Because of the enormous rainfall some of the areas are pre-eminently suited to sugar growing; rio other crops will, thrive so well in those districts. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) said on one occasion, speaking of sugar-growing, “ let it go to its natural place”, meaning that we should import blackgrown sugar. With all due deference, I suggest that he should go to North Queensland during a wet season and realize what the tropics really are, with their rain, heat, mosquitoes, and every other curse to which mall is subject’. He would then be a wiser man. No place in the world is producing better sugar, of more cane to the acre, than. North Queensland. The honorable member for Denison quoted figured showing how enormously our production has improved iri the past tcn years. Sugar technologists from all over the world admit that the Queensland industry equals that of any other country in efficiency. I know tha’t, a year or so back, statistics indicated that Hawaii was a trifle more efficient in milling. But our own industry baS since’ improved, and it is now second to none iri its production and technique. Australia would sustain an irreparable lo3s if its sugar industry went out, of existence.. Honorable members must bear it in mind that: in the aggregate; -Queensland’s imports from other States are tremendous. Queensland is not a manufacturing State, for outside of Brisbane) there are practically no manufacturing establishments except an occasional brewery or foundry. As to the loyalty of the people of that State to 6ur White Australia ideal, in the cane-cutters camps, resolution’s have been carried declaring that Other . than Australian products are not to be used. Similar resolutions have been carried in goldmining camps, shearing sheds and other places where large numbers of men have gathered. This does not suggest that the people of Queensland are antagonistic to anybody. When Queensland adopted price-fixing machinery, it did a good service to the primary producers of Australia generally. If the primary producers are not now getting a fair return for their produce, it is because of the actions of middlemen, who come between them and the consumers. I believe that the case for the protection of the sugar-growers is unanswerable. If honorable members had seen the country in North Queensland before it was put under sugar, and could see it now, they would realize what vast changes have taken place there. Many years ago the Melbourne Herald sent a special reporter to North Queensland to investigate conditions there, and this commissioner expressed the opinion that it was very doubtful whether white men would be able to clear such dense scrub country, and do the other initial work- necessary to bring it into production ; but this work has been done, and it has been done better by our own people than it would have been done by any other people. Our Australia* people are still doing the best work iii the tropics. Notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary, Australians’ are the best cane-cutters and mill-workers in this area. I have no desire to say anything against the Italians who are there; they work hard, and, perhaps, are better plodders and stickers than the Australians, but the best work is .done by the Australians.
The sugar season extends over only from three to six months of the year, and it is almost impossible to find employment during the other six months of the year for the great number of people required during the sugar season. For this reason the wages during the working period are high. It has been said that the wages are abnormally high ; but I dispute this. Persons engaged in certain industries in the southern. States of Australia are actually getting more for their work than the sugar-workers of Queensland. Workers in the Sydney and Melbourne abattoirs, for instance receive higher wages than the sugar-workers, and have constant employment. I also say, with all due deference to those “who disagree “with. me, that their work is less arduous than that of the cane-cutters. Wages in North Queensland were better two or three years ago than they are at present. The lowness of wages at present is due to the depressed condition of the industry. But wages were never so high as has been suggested by the honorable member for Denison. The price of sugar is now only about £18 6s. per ton, whereas it. lias been between £22 and £23 per ton in recent years. We know very well that, in consequence of the good conditions in this industry in the early stages of its development, many people invested their money in it. But to-day some of them undoubtedly regret having done so.
It has been suggested that the Ottawa agreement is worth an additional £1,000,000 a year to the sugar industry. That statement cannot be substantiated with facts. The value of the agreement will depend entirely upon the amount of sugar exported from this country. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) told us in his speech that sugar to the value of £1,000,000 was exported last year, but I disagree with his statement. Last year we exported 271,000 tons of sugar, and that was a big year. The normal annual export is 170,000 tons, though it may vary a little one way or the other from time to lime. If the present depression of the world’s sugar market continues, it will be a poor outlook for the people in the sugar areas of Queensland and the northern rivers of New South Wales. There is every possibility that sugar-growing south of Gympie may be abandoned, and I think that perhaps it may be abandoned even farther north than that before long. One mill has recently been closed in the Childers district. When I first knew this area there were three mills in it, but now there is only one. This is due to the adoption of more efficient methods of handling the crop, and to concentration in milling and sugar production generally. The honorable member for Denison said that if only 13 per cent, of the sugar-growers were able to pay income taxation, it was questionable whether the industry was worth maintaining, but he must realize that this low percentage is duc to the depression which has affected Queensland in common with the other
States of the Commonwealth. The sugargrowers are not responsible for the world depression from which we are suffering. Many of these people were encouraged to become sugar-growers by the promises of the former Prime Minister. The developments which followed the protection afforded to the industry by the Government led by that right honorable gentleman caused its expansion at a much more rapid rate than was expected; but I believe that before long the industry will be stabilized. The position will gradually right itself, and we shall not then have an excessive exportable surplus. It has been said frequently that assistance has been given to the sugar industry at an excessive cost to Australia; but these arguments are nearly always based on unsound premises. Personally, I do not object to the granting of adequate protection to an industry. In this connexion I may well ask how much more the people of Australia are paying per lb. for butter because of what has been called the Paterson scheme, or the Paterson “ curse “. Still, I cannot remember that any body of industrialists in any part of Australia has carried a resolution protesting against the price of any primary product, including sugar or butter, which is produced under Australian conditions. Generally speaking, our working people are prepared to pay a higher price than world parity for the things they need, because they believe that by so doing they will assist to build up Australian industries. I shall have no hesitation whatever in supporting this agreement.
.- I am glad that the Government has given this opportunity for the discussion of the sugar agreement. It was time that we were granted an opportunity to discuss it. I appreciate the fact that the agreement which we are now asked to ratify provides for a slight reduction of the price of sugar to the Australian consumers. But I must, nevertheless, oppose the bill. We have heard a great deal of special pleading this afternoon in the interests of this industry. I listened with a good deal of pleasure to the speech of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), who has recently visited Queensland and personally investigated this industry. I try to look at the sugar industry in its broad national aspect. I wish for equality of sacrifice in this as in all other Australian industries. We have industries which are of very much greater importance to Australia than the sugar industry of Queensland, and yet have not been accorded the favoured treatment that this industry has received. The sugar industry has been put in what might be called the A class; but I can see no justification for a differentiation or a grading of our industries. The application of different standards of living and different wages and conditions to various industries in Australia is one of our greatest troubles. It cannot truly be claimed that the sugar industry is advantageous to Australia. ‘ In my opinion it is a hindrance to the Commonwealth. It is sheltered behind a price which is approximately three times higher .than the world price of sugar. One would expect to hear sound reasons advanced in the National Parliament for a continuance of the protection of this industry by embargoes ; but so far, . no honorable member has made out. a reasonable case for continuing to load upon the people of Australia the heavy cost of this industry.
We know very well that our defence expenditure has been reduced to a very great extent. We are frequently told that the north-east coast of Australia needs defending. Yet Australia is spending twice as much on the sugar industry as she is spending on the whole of her defence services. If the north coast of Australia is so greatly in need of defence, I suggest that we should spend on the provision of that defence what we are now spending on the protection of the sugar industry.
I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) say that the country now under sugar cultivation in North Queeusland is capable of producing other commodities. I knew that of my own knowledge, for I lived in Queensland for 2£ years. I knew the north coast of Queensland before it was put under sugar cane, and’ while it was still under bananas, and I have seen it since. It could be successfully developed for dairying purposes, and, in my opinion, it would be more to the advantage of Australia to allow it to be used for dairying than to permit its continned use for the development of such an unnatural primary industry as, the sugar industry which must always be a burden on the people of Australia. [Quorum formed.] The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) quite correctly stated that on a previous occasion when I spoke on the sugar industry in this House I said that it would be better for the people of Australia to develop the sugar industry in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea than to persevere with the development of this uneconomic industry in North Queensland. The honorable member has tried to make political capital out of the fact that the Mandated Territory is worked with black labour, and that if we obtained sugar from there it would be black-labour sugar. But it must be remembered that we are under an obligation to develop the Mandated Territory, and to report annually on our conduct of the mandate that has been entrusted to us. There would be nothing improper or infra dig. in our establishing a tropical industry such as the sugar industry in this area. In my opinion, it would be infinitely preferable and to the advantage of this country for us to do so than to bolster up the sugar industry of Australia. Whenever we discuss this industry in this House. we are told about the humid and sweaty conditions under which white people have to work in North Queensland. Thi3 simply supports my view that we should not attempt to establish here industries which are .not suited to the country. We would do better to leave this industry to be carried on in a country to which it is natural, and allow Australian consumers to buy sugar from abroad at less than half the present price. It is clear that there are varying standards set up for those engaged in primary production. Only this week, a representative deputation from all the States waited upon the Prime Minister to ask for assistance to the wheat-growing industry, which is of far more importance than sugar production. The wheat-farmer is producing at less than cost; he has asked for certain assistance, which has been refused. Over 75 per cent, of the growers are bankrupt, yet those people are asked to pay for their sugar approximately three times the price at which they could buy it iri the open market. The wheat export trade upholds the financial credit of Australia, provides a market for the secondary industries; and makes it possible for the sugar industry to continue. It i3 true that during the wartime, the sugar industry proved of , great value to Australia, but so did the wheat industry. The wheat-growers of Australia sold their wheat within the Empire, and for an aggregate return £140,000,000 less than would have been received had the price in the world’s markets been obtained. They supplied the Australian market at one-third of the price which other people were paying, for wheat. But what is being done, for this industry in its time of depression? Parliament has burdened it with taxation, high customs duties, embargoes and the like. Is it fair that a Parliament which is supposed to deal out even-handed justice should askthe producers, who are in dire straits,, to continue to make sacrifices for the benefit of the Queensland sugar industry? The honorable member for Capricornia (.Ifr. Forde) referred to the fact that a rebate is allowed on all sugar used in manufacturing for export, lt is: all very well to provide canned fruits and other commodities for. people abroad- at cheap prices but the people in Australia have to’ pay for such concessions. If sugar could be bought, as wheat is sold, at world’s parity,, the people now engaged in growing sugar in Queensland-1 would be1 employed in factories making Australian commodities for export. Cheaper sugar would mean cheaper jam’ and confectionery, and a lower cost of living. The high price of sugar has increased the cost of- living, and production throughout Australia, so that it is almost impossible for other primary industries tq compete in the markets of the world. This is a problem which is worthy of the attention of the National Parliament.The assistance given to the butter industry was mentioned as a reason why the bolstering of the sugar industry should be continued. 1 have heard the author of the Paterson sChem’e say in’ this” House on more than: one occasion that if customs duties were reduced, and the bounties, embargoes. and prohibitions now imposed for the benefit of other industries were removed, he would be the first to propose that all artificial assistance should be withdrawn from’ the butter industry. The system of bolstering industries- has forced the wheat-grower, in self protection, to adopt an uneconomic policy. He is obliged to ask the National Parliament for assistance so t’ha-f he may continue, not to make profit- for himself, but to make a bare living while producing wealth for the nation. That has been refused.
– Is Queensland more prosperous than the other States?
– Undoubtedly. Queensland sugar-g] owing districts’ have au air of prosperity that is immediately ap parent to the visitor. Other industries throughout Australia are struggling for an existence and yet they are taxed- to maintain in affluence a privileged section in Queensland. Workers in Western Australia receiving ki thos time of depression perhaps £1’ to £2- a week have to pay high prices for a commodity produced under uneconomic conditions. Australia would be infinitely better off if the sugar industry were transferred to Papua and New Guinea, or if sugar were bought from abroad in1 th-e ordinary process of reciprocal trawls; 1]ke sugar industry imposes upon the Austraiian people a tax of approximately £1 per head per annum-; and, Unfortunately, it has little; or no hope of further development. Reference has been made to the offence given to other countries by our shortsighted fiscal policy. Western Australia exports twice as much per head of population as any other State. It should be able to exchange its commodities for those of other countries, and but for the obligation imposed on it under Commonwealth law to huy sugar grown: in Australia it could obtain 3 lb. .from abroad at, the price it’ now pays- for 1. lb., and, it Would not have to pay one penny in cash; it Would merely exchange for the sugar its own exportable commodities, the production of which would he keeping people on the land, and adding to the prosperity pf the nation.
– Such a policy would mean a loss of prosperity to North Queensland.
– North Queensland Would have to transfer to other industries which would enable its people to stand on their own feet. From a defence point of view, the north-west coast of Western Australia is just as important as the Queensland coast; in fact, it is nearer to the region from which trouble may arise. But an economic policy which is loaded in favour of the eastern States interferes with the development of that area. The unreasonable bolstering of certain industries in Queensland is one of the main reasons for the great dissatisfaction with federation that exists in the western State.
The State which has the greatest export trade per head of population deserves better treatment than Western Australia is getting. The average export production of the whole of Australia is £1.5 per head ; the average for Western Australia is £37. The latest report of the Tariff Board emphasizes that the export trade is of prime importance. The people of Western Australia are struggling to produce in competition with people in other parts of the world, and while so engaged they should not have the additional burden and responsibility of maintaining pampered industries in the eastern States.
– The honorable member has asked for a wheat bounty.
– That is true. ‘The five economists who voluntarily reported to the Bruce-Page Government on the effect of the Australian tariff on export industries, declared that the then tariff imposed a handicap of 9 per cent, on primary production. That warning was ignored, and injury has been added to injury, until to-day the tariff imposes a burden of 15 per cent, on the export industries. At the same time, the price of wheat is lower than it has been at any other time since the 16th century. Australian wheat has to compete with the products of other peoples, black and white; yet the grower is unfairly penalized. Is it any wonder that he asks Parliament for assistance in the form of a bounty on his production ? In the days of their prosperity, the farmers were robbed of their profits by having imposed on them conditions that make their costs of production greater than in any other country. The continuance of the export industries is essential to the solvency of the Commonwealth, but there is ‘a great risk that they will collapse. The wheat-growers have placed their case before the Government, upon which a. grave responsibility rests. A false step taken now will be difficult to retrace.
– Order ! The honorable member is wandering from the subject of the bill.
– There must be something rotten in the state of Denmark. When the value of land which, nominally, is about £13 an acre, increases to £100* au acre merely because of its utilization for the production of sugar cane, honorable members can well understand that this is a very promising industry to those engaged in it. Why should we bolster up an industry which charges twice as much for sugar -sold locally as for sugar exported? Is the industry giving a fair deal to the people of Australia?
– The same conditions exist in respect of the butter industry.
– I have already dealt, I think adequately, with that industry. The value of the sugar lands of Queensland has been enhanced because of unnatural conditions. At the committee stage I propose to move an am.endm.eut which, if carried, will enable this House to review the agreement every year, and to adjust prices on the basis of the previous agreement in accordance with the index figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician.
– The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) was extremely pessimistic in, his references to the sugar industry. In view of the fact that he resided for some years in the north of Queensland and watched the development of that industry, it is strange that he should tell us, now that he has become a wheat-grower, that the land there is utterly unsuited for the production of sugar. His opinion is contrary to that of leading experts who have inspected the sugar-growing areas of Queensland, and have expressed their surprise at the wonderful growth of the industry there, arid its great value to Australia. The honorable member rose to speak, so he said, ou broad, national grounds, yet he began his speech by referring to the conditions of Western Australia, ignoring altogether the remaining, two-thirds of the Australian continent. Even then he made little or no reference to the north of Western Australia, where there are good pastoral and farming lands needing development.
– I said that the development of the western coast .of Australia was as important as that of the eastern coast.
– I agree; but because little has been done to develop the north of Western Australia, the honorable member is not prepared to support Queensland industries, which have an excellent chance of success. Because the wheat industry has recently not been too successful, he objects to supporting any proposal to give the sugar industry a reasonable prospect of success. The honorable member has certainly not considered this great problem from a national view-point.
– The sugar industry must stand on its own feet as other industries do.
– The position of the sugar industry is somewhat different from that of other industries. It has been pointed out by almost every commission which has investigated the conditions of the sugar industry that its development is part and parcel of the national policy which we instituted at the time of federation. At that time Western Australia was faced with the problem of railway connexion with the east, and South Australia with the problems of the administration of the Northern Territory and the conservation of the river Murray waters. Every State had its peculiar problems. At federation it was known that Queensland’s problem of developing its large areas of sub-tropical and tropical country would be transferred to the Commonwealth, and become part and parcel of the national policy. The development of the sugar lands was for years a troublesome problem to the “Queensland Government, and when transferred to the Commonwealth it became increasingly difficult of solution, because of the decision of the Commonwealth to set up the White Australia policy. Associated at that time with the sugar industry was the employmerit of coloured labour, and when coloured labour was removed from Aus tralia, enormous difficulties faced the settlers in the sub-tropical and tropical areas of Queensland. Large areas of land were held, and because of the abolition of black labour, it became necessary to introduce a scheme of closer settlement, so as to enable these holdings to be developed under new economic conditions. Those engaged in the industry accepted the responsibility for the White Australia policy, and applied it to practical working conditions on the cane-fields in the north of Queensland. For the first twenty years those settlers worked hard to re-organize the industry, and they, in common with their wives and children, endured many hardships. These men had to bring into actual being the ideals of the nation. No other country in the world has been faced with the problem of developing large areas of tropical and subtropical country under standards and conditions similar to those obtaining in Australia. The industry was gradually established, and from 1920 onwards it increased its efficiency and organization. I doubt whether any other industry in the British dominions has such an effective organization. Every operation from the planting of the cane to its actual marketing is carefully regulated, and is open to the scrutiny of the public.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) this afternoon delivered a7> admirable speech. He approached the subject in a spirit of fairness which onn could not but appreciate. Perhaps the fact that he has resided in both Queensland and Tasmania has helped to broaden his outlook. We should realize the value of the sugar industry to Australia as a whole. Its maintenance is part of the national policy of Australia. The honorable member was inclined to take a somewhat narrow view of the value of the sugar industry as regards national defence. He asked of what use would be the present population of northern Queensland should an enemy invade that State, seeing that no effective method of defence has been organized, and little military equipment is available. I remind the honorable member that the idea behind the development of the sugar in- dustry is to settle a permanent population in the north which would form the basis of an effective defence. One might ask the honorable member of what use would be the present population of Tasmania were that State attacked by a hostile fleet, seeking to make the island a base for an attack on the mainland.
I doubt whether the people of Australia as a whole understand what the .sugar industry means to this country. At least £50,000,000 has been invested in the ‘ industry, of which £20,000,000 represents the capital value of sugarproducing land, and £10,000,000 represents the value of the mills. The last mill erected on the Tulley River by the State Government for the growers cost £800,000. It is estimated that 120,000 persons are dependent on the industry. There are 10,000 cane-growers, and about 20,000 persons are engaged in the production of raw sugar. When we consider the population which the industry supports, the benefit derived from it by the shipping companies and the railways; when we note the growth of such towns as Cairns, with a population of 9,000, of Townsville, Mackay, Bundaberg, and Maryborough, we begin to understand how deeply rooted is the industry throughout northern and central Queensland. About £10,000,000 worth of sugar is produced each year, and the population engaged in its production provides a valuable home market for the products of southern industries. If the- sugar industry of Queensland were wiped out, a serious blow would be struck at the industries of New South Wales, Victoria, and even of Tasmania. People in the north are prone to turn their attention to the products of the south and consume a good deal of southern jams and fruits, instead of using exclusively their own tropical fruits. Large quantities of tinned fruits and jams from the southern States are consumed in Queensland. An injury done to any important industry would hurt the whole nation, so that the preservation of the Queensland sugar industry is a matter of national importance.
The honorable member for Denison referred to the wages paid to those employed in the sugar industry. Mr. Brigden, the economist, in a paper read in Sydney before the Australian Association for the advancement of Science, analysed the cost of producing sugar in Queensland. For a ton of sugar, he said, labour costs amounted to £9, materials to £5, and interest and depreciation to £4, making a total of £18. It will be seen, therefore, that labour costs represent about 50 per cent, of the cost of production. We have to ask ourselves whether the workers in the north are being paid such extraordinarily high rates of wages that we are justified in making serious inroads into the return which the industry receives. I suggest that an examination of the facts will reveal that they are not. It will be admitted, of course, that workers in Queensland must be paid rates relatively the same as those paid in the south, but something extra must be paid because of the peculiar conditions under which they work. This is recognized by the Commonwealth Government, which pays its married employees in Cairns £40 a year as a tropical allowance, and single employees £20 a year. These public servants are employed in customs or other offices doing indoor work, yet they are held to be entitled to a tropical allowance. Surely the men who are doing field labour under tropical conditions are entitled to such an allowance. According to figures supplied to me by the Commonwealth Statistician, the weighted cost of living index figure for the six capital cities in November, 1931, was 1276. Fo] Hobart the figure was 1281, but for Cairns it was 1421. These figures cover the cost of food and groceries and a fourroomed cottage. Thus it is evident that workers in the north are entitled to something extra to compensate for the higher cost of living.
– Can the honorable member say why the cost of living should be so high in a district which is so rich?
– Cairns is more than 900 miles north of Brisbane, and depends largely for its supplies on shipping. Those engaged in production there are not responsible for the conditions which make for high costs. The honorable member for Denison quoted the wages paid to the field workers as £4 7s. a week. That is in the northern district, but in. the central district it is £4 ls., and in the south, £3 17 s.
The wage for field labourers works out at 2s. an hour. Included in the wage paid to sugar-workers cutting under contract is an allowance of 10s. Wages in the sugar areas are not excessive when compared with wages paid in southern States. Wages are fixed by duly appointed tribunals, and are revised from time to time. Men working under contract earn about 30s. a day, but their work is seasonal, and they are paid an allowance of 10s. a week because of that. The same condition applies to shearers, wharf labourers, &c, whose occupations are seasonal. During certain months of the year there is no cane-cutting to be done, so that it is not fair to compare the wages paid to cane-flutters with those paid to workersin regular occupations, in Tasmania, for instance.
– When their job is finished they come into the cities and get the dole.
-General observations of that kind are unfair to the working men of Australia. It is only just that men who are employed for only part of the year should be able to earn enough - not, perhaps, to keep them for the whole year - but something extra to make up for the time they will be out of work. It cannot fairly be claimed that this industry is being unduly pampered. It is working under similar conditions relatively to those of the industries in. the south. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) also raised the subject of land values. It is true and perfectly natural that when high prices for sugar prevailed, high land values existed. Is that characteristic only of sugar lands in North Queensland?
– It has general application. On this subject, the sugar inquiry committee states -
There is little doubt in our opinion that proper ties have changed, hands at prices in excess of their productive value, and are based upon the remunerative price obtained for sugar prior to the time that the loss on exported sugar commenced to lie felt in reduced returns to the growers and millers. It is questionable whether this tendency is any more marked in the sugar industry than in other rural industries where therehas been a keen demand for land largely as a result of the encouragement which has been given by governments to land settlement, the creation of a sheltered market, and high world prices forprimary products.
According to the evidence there has been a falling off in the demand for sugar lands during the past few years owing to the present low prices of sugar in the overseas market, which render the exportable surplus unprofitable and have resulted in diminished returns to the industry.
The committee did not base the cost of production on high land values. It fixed a value of £46 an acre, and applied it to this land, originally jungle country, which was cleared and, by intense cultivation, brought up to its present state of perfection. As a comparison, take potato land in Victoria, for which a price of £100 an acre is not unusual.
– Atpresent £40 would be an unusual price.
– Some years ago, land in the Warrnambool district brought £130 an acre.
– When peak prices reigned, land in the south went up to £100 just as did sugar land. Land values everywhere have now come down to a normal basis. When you make an agreement which is intended to stabilize an industry, you must base it on stabilized land values. The value adopted by the committee was arrived at afterexhaustive investigation by valuers, employed by the Government.
I remind honorable members who represent southern parts of Australia, that a portion of the cost of carrying on the sugar industry is represented by the amount which those engaged in the industry pay to maintain other Australian national industries. Of this they make no complaint. Professor Bridgen subjected the matter to careful and critical analysis from an entirely impersonal point of view, and reports -
The sugar industry and its cost to Australia cannot be discussed intelligently apart from other protected industries. A very substantial part of the gross cost to Australia is imposed upon it by the protection given to the industries whose products it consumes. Both the capital and the running costs are “ inflated “ from this cause.
What follows is Professor Bridgen’s opinion, and does not necessarily have my endorsement -
It is quite possible that the remarkable and unexampled feat could be accomplished of sustaining a white labour sugarindustry at no cost at all; if it produced only for home consumption, and was relievedof the costs of protecting; other industries.. But we have to make the best of things as we find them. We cannot assume a complete reversal of traditional policy nor a quick change-over of the surplus sugar lands and labour to other production.
Not a stick of sugar cane is grown in the area that I represent, which is devoted entirely to pastoral, agricultural, dairying, and timber producing pursuits such as are common to temperate’ climates. The climate of the Darling Downs is very much the same as that of Canberra, except that it is warmer in winter, and, at times, perhaps, a little cooler in summer. The farmers whom I represent have always been anxious to assist in developing Australian industries, realizing that that is in their interest as well as in the interest of Australia generally. That has also been my attitude ever since I have been in public life.
An impartial investigation of all these facts makes it evident that; the sugar industry is of great importance to Australia, and is run on most economical, arid efficient lines. No other industry in the Commonwealth has been so completely overhauled and subjected to such microscopical! examination by public committees. Yet every report concludes with the observation that the industry is of immense importance to Australia, and is efficiently conducted.
It is sometimes suggested that the policy of protection encourages inefficient industries. Here you have a complete embargo in connexion with a protected industry: When it is considered that the Australian sugar industry was an entirely new experiment, to determine whether sugar-cane could be grown under White Australian conditions, and that it has conformed to our economic conditions; it must be admitted that the results achieved are marvellous. So wellorganised is it that those engaged in industry in other countries come to Australia to learn how to conduct a big industry.
On the matter of efficiency, the sugar inquiry committee reported -
As regards efficiency, 1.88 tons of raw sugar were produced in 1920, from each acre harvested, and in1929,the yield was 2.41 tons per acre. The yield in 1900 was. 1 . 19 tons per acre: Hence, the yield per acre has doubled in 30 years; Each triennial period’ shows a steady increase in this respect.
The following figures show, in tons, the quantity of cane required to make 1 ton of sugar of 94 net titre:-
A comparison is also given of the relative efficiency of production by the Queensland and other sugar industries, which is to the credit of the northern State. The result is just as favorable when the comparison applies to milling. Regarding; the application of science to industry, the report reads-
With regard to future progress in efficiency, this will be ensured, by a continuation of the current practice,whereunder the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, the sugar organizations, and the Colonial Sugar Refining CompanyLimited, periodically send officers abroad to keep in touch withthe latest developments in cane production and sugar manufacture. Forexample, the sugarorganisationshave sent representativestothelasttwo conferences of theInternational Society of Sugar-cane Technologists.
Those engaged in theindustry employ every known scientific’ means’ to increase productivity; and to combat disease.
I am pleasedthat the Government is going on with this agreement which will, I believe, give’ seine stability to the industry. The fact of the Government introducing and giving this bill their approval is a public admission that the present Federal Government is of the opinion that the sugar industry is of vital importance to the Commonwealth, also that these men in the north are per- forming a national service. At the game time, the Government admits that those engaged in the industry are entitled to a fairdeal. It is an admission by the Government that it intends that’ those peoplewho have settled in the large and fertile areas of the north shallcontinue tohave fair conditions of living; also, that it Will stand by those great industries which are natural to and must assist in the development of Australia.
Mr.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [8.28.] . -It was a pleasure for me to listen to the honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom), I must congratulate him on his Australian outlook.
– His Queensland outlook.
– The honorable member can claim to be a greater Australian than the honorable member who interjects. He paid the price of adhering to principle by being forced to remain for three years out of Parliament. The honorable member for Darling Downs does not stand for the production of our foodstuffs by black people while our men, women and children walk aboutthe streets unemployed. He advocates decent living conditions for Australians.
I was pleased to hear the honorable member put the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin) right. Listening to the latter, one would imagine that the workers who cut cane in North Queensland were making a fortune from their endeavours. He would also have one to believe that, although to-day the sugar consumers of Australia will pay the same price for sugar as they did in 1922, the growers are receiving the price that was paid to them in that year. That is not the case. Undoubtedly, the sugar industry has for a long time been the stalking horse of ‘ the Federal Parliament. Only last year an exhaustive inquiry was held into the sugar industry, as the result of which an agreement was made which the sugargrowers thought gave them security in certain respects, though not in regard to price, for three years. That committee presented both a majority and a minority report. In the minority report it was recommended that, definite steps should be taken to reduce the amount of unprofitable production. The minority considered that if this were done the price of sugar could be reduced by id- per lb. Rut why should so much fuss be made about a variation in production? If the Australian sugar consumers are to be assured of continuity of supplies there must be a surplus in some years. We cannot govern seasonal conditions. Why should a surplus worry us so long as the industry is worked on economical and efficient lines and the price is averaged? Roth the majority and the minority reports of the committee made it clear that the Australian sugar industry was conducted more efficiently than the sugar industries of many other countries. Yet we find members of the United Australia Party and the United Country Party condemning this industry. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has condemned it this afternoon because a certain measure of protection has been granted to it. But this honorable gentleman held out his hand last year for the wheat bounty! If sugar were grown in his electorate he would be fighting harder for the industry than the men who were actually producing the sugar. The honorable gentleman has said that this industry is unsound because it needs protection. He thinks that industries should be allowed to find their natural level. Apparently he would like to see kanakas in Australia growing both wheat and sugar, for both these primary producing industries are at present in need of assistance. As the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) pointed out last night, in discussing the banana industry, a great deal of employment is given to the people of Queensland by this industry. The honorable gentleman said that only white people were employed in the industry, and that the only unemployed person in one district was a black man.
If the honorable member for Forrest had his way all the black men would be given employment and all the white men would be left unemployed. The honorable gentleman is one of the leading members of the Country party. It will be remembered that last year when it was proposed that the Country party should fuse with the United Australia Party, it was commonly said that the three big P’s of the Country party, Page, Paterson and Prowse, would become members of the Ministry. It is interesting, therefore, . to read the comment which appeared in an article headed “Not Natural “ in the Queensland Producer of the 9th November, 1932, on the honorable member for Forrest. I make the following quotations from the article: - “ I am not supporting the sugar industry ; it is not a natural primary industry. I have no sympathy with the development of any industry that is not natural to the country. If Australia were to do the right thing in regard to its sugar industry, it would pay attention to the possibilities of the Mandated Territory. The Queensland sugar-growers obtained their best varieties of cane from New Guinea and the Mandated Territory. There is a coloured population in that territory and they have to live. If wc grew our sugar there we should be able to purchase it at half the present price. The unnatural sugar industry can never be of advantage to Aus- tralia.” So declared Mr. J. H. Prowse, a Western Australian Country party member in the House of Representatives (vide Federal Han- sard, 18/3/32).
If the honorable member for Forrest were consistent he would not have stretched out his hand last year for the wheat bounty, but would have said that as wheat production was unprofitable in Australia he intended to move his plant, lock, stock and barrel, to the Mandated Territory, where wheat could be grown under natural conditions. The article from which I have just quoted continues as follows : -
For an example of muddled thinking this, we think, is without parallel in this year of grace. Although we have become more or less accustomed to the vapourings of politicians during the depression, and the presentation of “wildcat” theories, the above statement is surely the most extraordinary ever emanating from an individual outside of Bedlam. In this connexion the following jingle from the pen of Stephen Leacock, is particularly apposite: - “ When the politicians’ politics are written out in ink,
And their true convictions set in black and white,
Then a chemical analysis of what they really think
Would leave nothing but a vacuum in sight.” “ Vacuum “ certainly seems to be the right word to apply to the weird views expressed by the honorable member from Western Australia, and “ vacuum “ fittingly describes the mind that is responsible for them.
Those comments were made by a newspaper which supports the party of which the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) is a shining light, and, in fact, one of the three big P’s. The honorable member told us this afternoon that he had lived for 2½ years in Queensland, but he was there as an insurance agent, not as a sugar expert. When he knew the country now under sugar cultivation’ it was impossible to cut a way through it with a scrub knife, and it was thought that it would never be settled by white men. The honorable member would have found it impossible to get an insurance policy in these areas at that time because the White Australia policy was not then in force there. All the country along the Queensland north coast railway is now settled permanently by a white population. These people are living on land which is their own and developing an industry which is of great value to Australia. The object of the sugar agreement made by the Scullin Government was to assure to them a reliable market for their products.
I shall now make some reference to a public servant of this country, the Commonwealth Auditor-General. This gentleman is not an expert in the sugar industry, but he has seen fit to poke his nose into a business of which he knows nothing, and he has been allowed to do so without being challenged by the Government. I believe that he was challenged by Mr. Curlewis, of the Australian Sugar Producers Association, and Mr. Doherty, of the Queensland Cane-growers Council, through the Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis), but this honorable gentleman did not stand up to the fight, and was not prepared to bring the Auditor-General to his bearings. This public servant having stated, in his official report, that the old-age pensioners of this country were getting too much when they were getting 17s. 6d. a week, went on to say that the Australian sugar consumers are paying too much for their sugar, and should be permitted to buy sugar from Java, Cuba and other black-labour countries. In my opinion, the Government should have taken him definitely to task for his comments on the sugar industry. The Country party prates often enough about being the friend of the man on the land. If it would join with the members of this party and certain other honorable members of the House it would be possible to compel the Government to protect the interests of this section of the primary producers.
We are faced with the position that an agreement reached by two governments can be broken on a change of government. Although the Scullin Government made an agreement with the Queensland Government, the Lyons Government has seen fit to interfere with it to such an extent that it was not worth the paper it was written on. This Government has dealt with this agreement as it has dealt with the determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator. If this kind of thing is allowed to continue our people will soon think that even agreements made between governments cannot be relied upon even for 24 hours. Even if this bill were passed and a double dissolution occurred to-morrow, with , a consequent change of government, we might find the new government interfering again with this, the sugar industry.
I wish to place on record a statement made by the Secretary of the Australian Sugar Producers Association Limited, Mr. F. C. P. Curlewis, and the Secretary of the Queensland Cane-growers Council, Mr. W. H. Doherty, dealing with the remarks of the Auditor-General on the sugar industry. I should like afterwards to hear the views of the Assistant Minister (Mr. Francis) on the same subject. The statement reads -
It will be remembered that that section of the annual report of the Commonwealth Auditor-General dealing with the sugar industry was recently reproduced in every paper of importance in Australia, with the result that leading articles and general comments that are unfavorable to the industry have been published in most of these journals. A statement by the secretaries of the two sugar organizations, dealing with this report and commenting upon its many inaccuracies, appeared in the Brisbane papers, and it is understood that this statement was telegraphed to the southern papers, though, in most cases, it appeared in a condensed form only.
One of the statements of the Auditor-General that called for particular comment was as follows : . “ To import the sugar required for Australia would cost about £ 2.000,000.”
The Hon. J. Francis, a Queensland member nf the House of Representatives, and Assistant Minister for Defence, was asked to tiring the matter before the Federal Cabinet with a view to the Auditor-General being asked to review the sugar section of his report. Figures were quoted in the communication placed before the Government, showing that on the latest determinations of imported sugar values, the Auditor-General was in error to the extent of £2,000,000 on a duty free basis. On the 20th March, a communication was received from the Hon. J. Francis, advising that the Auditor-General had replied to a letter from the Prime Minister on the subject, to the effect that he (the Auditor-General) had nothing to add to his report.
As a public servant, the Auditor-General should have been asked to adduce facts and figures in support of his statement that sugar could’ be imported more cheaply than it is being supplied by the local industry. He implied that both the majority and minority reports of the Sugar Inquiry Committee were false, and that the members of the committee Were scoundrels who were working in conjunction with the sugar industries to defraud the people of Australia. The Government having failed to make the Auditor-General stand up to his allega tions, this Parliament should do so. The statement continues -
The Auditor-General stated that, ‘"”To import the sugar required for Australia would cost about £2,000,000.” This, on his own estimate of local consumption, is equivalent to stating that sugar can be landed in Australia for £6 13s. 4d. per ton. Now, on the 1st February, about three weeks before the issue of the Auditor-General’s Report, the official committee whose business it is todetermine the price at which sugar can be landed in Australia, held its usual monthly meeting. This committee consists of three representative men, namely, Mr. A. R. Townsend, representing the Commonwealth Government, Mr. O. J. Matthews (of Matthews, Thompson &, Co., Sydney), representing the export manufacturers, and Mr. W. J, Short, representing the Queensland Sugar Board. It has been functioning for many years, and as the result of its determination each month, the rebate payable to manufacturers using Australian sugar in goods for export is arrived at. This committee, at the meeting above referred to, found that to land Czechoslovakia refined sugar, which at that time was the cheapest refined sugar available, in store in Sydney or Melbourne, would cost £13 7s. 6d. per ton, free of duty.
Whose word is Parliament to accept? If the Auditor-General is right, the members of the committee of inquiry must be discredited. They were appointed to look after the interests of the Commonwealth. Did they play the game ? Where do Messrs. Townsend, Short and Matthews stand? What has the AuditorGeneral to say about them, and what do they think of him ? He suggests that they are three crooks. If their report is bona fide, they must regard him as a crook, or at any rate, as one whose statements cannot be relied upon. I continue the quotation -
The committee also found that to land Java raw and to pay all refining expenses, would cost £14 13s. 2d.,free of duty. This plainly shows that to land 300,000 tons of refined sugar in Australia would cost over £4,000,000 free of duty, and to land and refine 300,000 tons of Java raws would cost over £4,300,000 free of duty, and not the £2,000,000 stated by the Auditor-General. It must be particularly noted that the above calculation is on a duty free basis : but, there has been a duty of £9 6s. 3d. per ton on raw sugar, and of £14 per ton on other sugars since 1922; so, to land foreign sugar under the statutory conditions that have obtained in Australia for the last ten years would, at present, cost £5,700.000 in the case of Java raws (to which would have to be added the cost of refining - £1.250.000) and £8.200.000 in the case of refined sugar. And yet the Auditor-General says that he has nothing to add to his report.
And the Government allowed him to evade his responsibility in that way. Was his statement regarding invalid and oldage -pensions and other social services as unreliable as his statement regarding sugar? The statement continues -
The calculations set out in this statement are confirmed in a memorandum furnished by Mr. A. R. Townsend relative to thu price of sugar in connexion with the fruit industry, and which recently appeared in the press.
We know Messrs. Townsend and Short; every member of the House would back their knowledge and experience of sugar against those of the Auditor-General. Continuing, Messrs. Curlewis and Doherty say - lt is therefore to be borne in mind that the figures submitted herein are based, not on information supplied by those interested in the sugar industry, but upon the official finding of a special committee, and that they are supported in a statement prepared by an officer of the department administering the sugar industry control. There is no question, therefore, of a special cose being stated in the interests of the sugar industry.
In view of the attitude taken up by the Auditor-General we are, not only in justice to our industry but to the community generally, constrained to bring this matter under public notice, and we therefore ask that the fullest publicity be given to this statement, because if the Auditor-General’s assertions arc not challenged, they will naturally be accepted as the true basis of the comparative costs of producing sugar in Australia, and. of importing it.
If the Government will not accept the reports of Messrs. Townsend and Short, I hope that it will give credence to the information here furnished by Messrs. Curlewis and Doherty, both of whom are actively engaged in sugar production, and understand the industry from A to Z.
– If the committee’s estimates were wrong, the exporters would soon have cried out.
– That is true. Messrs. Curlewis and Doherty continue -
There are one or two points in the statement just issued by us dealing with the Auditor-General’s Report which evidently require further explanation.
It has been pointed out, and rightly so, perhaps, that our rejoinder deals with the landing of refined sugar and is not comparable to the Auditor-General’s figure, which deals with the cost of landing raw sugar. As can bc seen from figures quoted by us later in the statement, it would cost £5,700,000 to land Java raws, duty paid. Deduct from this the present duty of £9 0s. 8d. per ton, and it will be found that even at the present low -world’s value of sugar, the cost of landing 300,000 tons of raws would be £2,900,000 duty free. The Auditor-General is, therefore, £900,000 out on a hypothetical basis of free trade.
At this stage, it is well worthy of note that if freetrade were the policy pf Australia, costs of production in Australia would necessarily be lower, as wages and all living costs, as well as implements and machinery, would be much reduced in value on the present system or wages determination. In that case, .sugar could be produced in Australia at a lower rate than at present, and therefore, the margin between the value of the imported article and the Australian article would be considerably diminished. It must, therefore, be granted that the figure , of £7,000,000, as the annual cost of the sugar industry to the community, so often quoted in southern publications, is not based upon sound premises.
The opinion of these experts cannot fairly be challenged. Anybody seeking reliable information regarding the sugar industry would not go beyond Messrs. Townsend, Short, Curlewis and Doherty.
The Australian people are pledged to the maintenance of a White Australia, and surely the people in northern Queensland have some rights under this national ideal. How can we have a White Australia if our people are to carry on their industries under black conditions? We have proved that by efficient control of industry, Australia can compete in the production of sugar with black labour countries, for the statement I have just read shows that imported sugar would cost a great deal more than the AuditorGeneral has stated. Let us compare the development in northern Queensland with that of the Northern Territory, which is in the same latitude. In 1890, the Northern Territory had a population of 5,000 whites; to-day the number is reduced to 3,000, notwithstanding that the Commonwealth has expended £8,000,000 upon the upkeep of the territory. In the same period, the population of northern Queensland has increased by over 200 per cent. It would pay the Commonwealth to move the 3,000 white residents of the Northern Territory into northern Queensland, and establish, them in the cane-growing industry or to the metropolitan areas, and there maintain them on the basic wage with nothing to do. Some critics of the sugar industry ask why an embargo on imports is necessary. If the embargo were withdrawn, surely the industry would be entitled to reasonable protection so that it could compete on a “business basis,” as the British manufacturers are to be permitted to do under the Otttawa agreement. With reasonable protection of the local industry, the people would not be getting their sugar more cheaply than at the present time. At the retail prices now ruling, sugar costs a family of four approximately £1 9s. per annum; the reduction of d. per lb. under this agreement will reduce the cost to £1 6s. If the demands of the Housewives Association were conceded, the husbands of many of those women would be robbed of their employment. The Sugar Bounty Act was repealed in 1913, but Australia is pledged to the maintenance of the White Australia ideal, and surely our people are prepared to pay an additional ^d. per lb. for sugar to preserve the industry of the white people in the north. I remind the one-eyed city protectionists that the machinery installed in the sugar industry has cost about £10,000,000, of which £3,000,000 worth was bought from the United Kingdom, and the remainder was produced in Australia by Australian artisans. Where do the representatives of the workers engaged in the iron and steel industry stand in regard to the sugar producers? Nearly £2,000,000 worth of sugar is exported each year and to that extent the sugar industry is helping to balance Australia’s accounts. In addition, the raw sugar for home consumption is worth about £9,000,000. If this were imported, we should have to pay for most of it in gold. We have exported practically all our gold, and if we were dependent on imported sugar and could not pay for it in gold, we should have to do without sugar. Some people take sugar in tea, some in beer, and others in sweets. I, for one, should not like to do without sugar. Over 20,000 people are employed in the sugar industry, many of them coming from the southern States. It is estimated that after the crushing season the sum of £1,000,000 in wages is taken, out of Queensland to the southern States, in particular to Victoria and Tasmania. Did the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), when he visited the sugar areas of Queensland, compare the conditions of the workers there with those obtaining at the zinc works on the Derwent River? Did he inspect the workers’ huts, which have been built under the Hut Accommodation Act of Queensland? I can assure him that there is nothing elaborate about them and that they would not compare with, say, a room at the Kurrajong Hotel. The worker of this country should be given reasonable conditions. The misfortune of having to work may, before long, befall many members of this House, and those who are to-day criticizing the cane-cutter may, to-morrow, be anxious to obtain his job. Many honorable members would like to see a return of the conditions which prevailed before legislation was passed compelling employers to provide proper conditions for their employees. At least 120,000 people are directly, and probably 250,000 indirectly, dependent on the sugar inindustry. I am making these facts known to honorable members and to the public generally so that the people of the southern States may refuse to heed the propaganda that is being spread there in an effort to injure the sugar industry of Queensland. It has been suggested that that industry could be replaced by other industries. One honorable member has suggested that it could he replaced by the dairying industry, but I assure him that that would be impossible. I admit that the sugar lands could be used for the growing of citrus fruits and maize, but the difficulty would be to find a market for those products. Even the maizegrowers on the Atherton Tablelands cannot find a market for their products. The honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) has declared the value of the sugar lands to be far too high. Land values in Australia have previously boomed and declined. In the ‘nineties they boomed and collapsed. A few years ago there was another boom in land values, and many people burnt their fingers by overcapitalizing their lands and securing bank overdrafts. When the owners are ultimately sold up by the banks, their lands will resume their normal value. Cane farms, like all other lands, are affected by boom periods. For a well improved farm, equipped with up-to-date farm implements and buildings, with a standing crop ready for harvest, £100 per acre is by no means an excessive price. The average price of cane farms, however, is about £40 per acre. A well-equipped cane farm of 40 acres, cleared for cultivation, with buildings, implements, and horses, will cost £80 per acre without a crop of cane. The cost of clearing stunted timber on tobacco areas is £14 an acre, and of- clearing scrub areas about £30 an acre. The raw sugar industryreceives for the sugar consumed in Australia a fraction over 3d. per lb. That sum is divided between the producer and the raw sugar manufacturer on a basis of approximately two-thirds to the grower, and one-third to the miller. The grower, therefore, receives for his sugar for home consumption about 2d. per lb., or the price at which the manufacturing companies say that the same class of sugar can be imported from Java where men, women and children are employed at less than ls. a day. In 1931, because of the exports of sugar, the average price of raw sugar was £18 6s. 6d., which represents a fraction over lid. per lb. to the grower. The sugar industry of Queensland is interested in refined sugar only to the extent of the requirements of that State, because the balance of Australia’s requirements is refined in the other States. Therefore, the sugar industry of Queensland provides considerable employment in the other States, and if it wore allowed to languish, those engaged on the refining process would become unemployed. It is admitted by sugar experts from all over the World, that our mills compare at least favorably with factories in other sugar countries. In no other country in the world is less cane required to mate a ton of sugar. The output per acre has increased. About 30 years ago, Queensland produced letona of sugar per acre, and to-day it produces over 2 tons per acre. A tribunal was appointed by the Federal Government to ascertain what was a fair and reasonable price for raw sugar. That tribunal consisted of two accountants appointed by the Federal Government, one representing the consumers, and one the Federal Government, and two representatives of the raw sugar industry. It inquired into the wages paid under the “White Australia policy, the cost of cultivation, harvesting, the capital required to establish a sugar farm, the cost of manufacture, including overhead charges in’ the mill, interest on capital, and depreciation of plant, and after a most exhaustive inquiry decided that raw sugar could not be produced in an average season in an average district at under £27 per ton. Of course, as in all other industries, there are exceptions in especially favorable circumstances.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As one who has always been a keen supporter of the sugar industry in Queensland, I was particularly pleased to hear honorable members, on the first occasion given to them to discuss the sugar agreement, express their general approval of it. There has been practically little or no hostile criticism of the industry. On the contrary, there has been a general appreciation of it3 national importance, and particularly of its high standard of efficiency. As the people have gained a knowledge of this industry and its problems, it has grown in their estimation. Honorable members have discussed the details of the industry. They have referred to its growth, the number of persons employed, and the capital invested in it. I propose not to traverse that ground, but merely to reply briefly to the criticism which some honorable members, particularly the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), have levelled at the industry. He had the audacity to say that the price charged to the consumer in Australia was three times world parity. If this agreement is approved by the Parliament, the price of sugar on and after the 5th January next, will be 4d. per lb. The average retail price in the six principal countries of Europe is 3.8d. per lb., which almost equals the price that will rule in Australia under the agreement. In effect, the European price will be much higher than the Australian price, because the standard of living, and the purchasing power of money in Europe are much lower than they are in this country. The honorable member for Forrest, in his criticism, was a lone voice crying in the wilderness. He was practically the sole opponent of the agreement. The honorable member -for
Denison (Mr. Hutchin), although he made a carefully prepared and able speech, erred glaringly in his criticism of the bill. He intimated that the tendency in Queensland was not to favour reciprocal trade with other States. That is not so. The balance of trade between Queensland and the other States is definitely in favour of the latter. During 1931, the latest year for which figures are available, Queensland imported goods from the south to the value of £11,332,617, and exported to the southern States only £9,314,658 worth of goods, of which twothirds was raw sugar. The significance of these figures lies in the fact that, while the balance of trade in favour of the southern States was something over £2,000,000, two-thirds of Queensland’s exports was represented by sugar, which does not come into competition with any of the goods manufactured in the other States. In all the capital cities of the southern States refineries and processing works have been established which handle Queensland sugar and give employment to large numbers of workers. Every year considerable sums are paid in freight to the shipping companies and railway services of other States on sugar produced in Queensland. In order to show the value of the sugar trade to Tasmania, I quote the following extract from The Australian Sugar Journal of Queensland : -
Another light on inter-State relations as affecting the sugar trade is seen in the latest report of the Registrar-General, Mr. George Porter. It appears that in the year 1030-31, whilst exports from Queensland to Tasmania were valued at £12,034, the imports into this State from Tasmania amounted to £179,751. Mr. Porter, of course, recognizes that sugar does not come into the returns of our exports to Tasmania, from the fact that her supplies are received from the refineries in Melbourne and Sydney, and these amounted to £421,000. A substantial proportion of this sum was due, however, to refining charges earned in Victoria or in New South Wales. Owing probably to the depression as well, perhaps, as to seasonal vicissitudes, 1’930-31 was an unfavorable year for Tasmania’s trade with Queensland. In 1929-30 the primary industries of Tasmania found a market in Queensland to the amount of over £250,000 sterling, but little of which would have been available but for the .existence of the sugar industry in this State. It is liable to be forgotten that the labour employed in North Queensland canefields is probably the largest source of demand for Tasmania products, except,, perhaps, in respect of fresh fruit; but fruit in other forms exported to Queensland .in 1 929-30 represented a total of nearly. £72,000, and of this ‘the largest item was for jams and jellies, which, of course, included quite a substantial proportion of the sugar manufactured in Queensland,, refined, say, in Melbourne, and processed in Tasmania, returned to North Queensland in Australian manned ships, whose home ports are in the southern State’s. Perhaps no -more striking example of the wide distribution of benefits from the Queensland sugar industry could be quoted.
I trust that the honorable member for Denison is beginning to understand ‘that, far from it being a fact that Queensland will not trade on a reciprocal basis with the other States, -the balance of trade is definitely in favour of the southern States, while the trade with Tasmania is overwhelmingly in favour of that State.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) complained because the price of sugar had been reduced by only 11 per cent., whereas the general reductions provided for in the Premiers plan averaged 22£ per cent. I remind the honorable member that this industry began to suffer cuts as long ago as 1915. The moderate peak price of sugar, which stood at 6d. per lb., was reduced by Id. per lb. in 1922, and by a further $d. in 1923. Thus the industry has had applied to it a series of financial emergency reductions which did not begin to apply to other industries on anything like the same scale until 1930. During the war, when the price of sugar in Australia was 6d. per lb., the price in Great Britain and European countries varied from ls. 6d. to ls. lOd. per lb. At that time the price of wool went as high as 44d. per lb., and wheat went up to 9s. a bushel. The present reduction of £d. per lb. brings the price down to 4d., which is 33 per cent, below the peak price. The Commonwealth Statistician’s figures show that the average retail price of commodities is now 32 per cent, below the peak period in 1920, showing that the new price for sugar is in line with, the average price for all food and groceries. During the period 1920 to 1930’co.nsumers have enjoyed the benefits, of a lower price relatively for sugar than they paid for other commodities. At 4d. per lb.., the price of sugar is only S3 per cent, above the usual pre-war price, whereas the present prices of other commodities are 40 per cent, higher. Moreover, the price of 4d. per lb. is uniform throughout all the States of the Commonwealth.
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) took exception to the fact that there was no reference to sugar in the Ottawa agreement. V remind the honorable member that, as a result of the Ottawa agreement, the sugar industry will continue to benefit to the extent .of the ?1,000,000 preference which it has been enjoying for some years past. In this connexion, the Resident Minister in London has cabled to the Govern ment-
T have now received a letter from the British Government giving the following assurance that so long as the agreement (five years) with Australia remains in force the existing preferential margins on sugar and wine (except those otherwise provided in -the .agreement) will not be reduced without the consent of the Commonwealth Government.
The honorable member for Capricornia is the only one who has endeavoured to make this . agreement a football in the party political game, and I regret that tie has done so. He contended that r..h,e agreement had .been forced upon the growers at the point .of the pistol. I remind him, and other honorable . members, that, the .agreement was entered into voluntarily. At the Loan Council in Melbourne, the Prime Minister .stated definitely that if there was, to be any alteration of the sugar agreement it must be’ a voluntary one, arranged between the parties concerned. At the conference held in Brisbane, and also at the conference in Canberra, that statement was repeated again. and again. If honorable members choose to look through Hansard, they will see -that the Prime Minister, in reply to numerous questions on the subject, said that there would be no alteration to the agreement except with the consent of the parties. I have before me the notes of the last conference held in Canberra between the Prime Minister and the representatives of’ . the sugar industry. The honorable member for Capricornia made quotations, from this report, but he chose to omit some vital passages. Here is one of them -
Mr. Doherty. We will be quite right in assuming, I think-, that if your government do review it (the old agreement) in two years time that they would be fair and reasonable.
The Prime Minister- Of course, We would, not think that because you people do not agree, of punishing you for it, No suggestion of the kind, but we would take all the. facts into consideration, and the circum stances of other industries in the country. Do not ibo afraid that any punishment will be inflicted if we cannot come to an agreement, but I point out that you have got to take all the political chances of the future in regard to that matter, because suppose even the price will be fixed to the end of the term,, you have no guarantee whatever that this whole thing will not be turned up. That is the point. You have no guarantee that it will remain. You have got my promise that this Government will take no part in that. In so far as we .can do it we will maintain it. The other Government committed us, and we -have simply taken their place, as a new set of directors of a company as it were, and we are under the same moral obligations. But we cannot answer for Parliament, nor for the law. I tell you this, if the law said immediately, “ This thing is not valid,” that would not alter my attitude.
Here is another extract in which the Minister refers to the terms of the proposed new agreement -
If the industry prefers that, we cannot touch it (the agreement), because I refuse to. touch it without your consent.
It is evident, therefore, that the Prime Minister made it clear that no alteration would “be made without the consent of the growers. The delegates to the conference voluntarily agreed to a reduction, and forwarded their recommendations to the growers, who later decided to accept the agreement we are now discussing. The agreement was drafted and sent to the Queensland Government. The Premier of Queensland signed it, and returned it for the Prime Minister’s signature. There was no alteration of the agreement, and no recommendation for any alteration. It was suggested by the honorable member for . Capricornia (Mr. Forde) that bogies have been, raised to scare those in the sugar industry. In my judgment, no. other industry is better organized or controlled, or has more efficient officers. They were satisfied that the difficulties under which the industry laboured under the Scullin, agreement were udt bogies. There is no doubt that tie so-called bogies were carefully considered at the conference by representatives of the growers, whose members were perfectly satisfied that the decision of the High Court in the Wool Tops case made it possible that the old agreement might be scrapped. The decision of the High Court indicated clearly that, though the individual who took action to try to have the agreement offset had no standing in the eyes of the court, “ the public is not nor should be without a remedy; the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth or of any of the States sufficiently interested might take proceedings necessary to protect their rights and their interests “. It is well known that the Attorney-General of at least one State was quite willing to assist in taking proceedings for a variation of the old agreement. Growers and every one else who know the facts of the case will admit that, had that action been taken, it would not have been possible to maintain the industry in its previous position. I also point out the dangers to which the industry would have been subjected had the amendment been made to the Customs Act which was proposed in another place. All those factors played their part in influencing representatives of the industry to arrive at their decision.
To the sugar-growers the main advantage of this agreement is that it gives them for at least four years a security which cannot be challenged. Even the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) declared that the other agreement was not worth the paper it was written on. More than £30,000,000 is invested in the sugar industry, and thousands of growers, and many towns and cities in northern and southern Queeusland are entirely dependent upon it. If, because it had no security, it were abolished, the damage to those cities, those people, and Australia generally, -would be incalculable. Therefore, I commend the growers for having accepted the agreement and gained a fouryears’ security of tenure. I am glad that the growers have voluntarily amended the old conditions and ensured the industry against any proceedings of the court designed to destroy the previous agreement. In conclusion, I am particularly glad that honorable members have adopted an entirely new attitude towards the Queensland sugar industry, due, I feel sure, to a greater knowledge of the facts, gained as a result of the investigations by the Sugar Committee inquiry, and subsequent negotiations and conferences in Brisbane and Canberra. I feel confident that, under the new agreement, the industry will live to experience greater security and prosperity than ever before. [Quorum formed.]
– We are considering the ratification of the sugar agreement, which was formulated by the Commonwealth and Queensland Parliaments in co-operation with the sugar-growers. When we consider the past history of the sugar industry, we must admit that anybody who opposed the ratification of the agreement would be doing a disservice to Australia and an injustice to the people who are inhabiting the tropical and sub-tropical portions of Queensland. And when we think of the money that has been expended in a vain endeavour to populate, the Northern Territory, and compare with that expenditure the value which has been won from the soil by the producers of sugar, we must concede the immense advantages that that industry has conferred upon the people of Australia. Those stout-hearted pioneers have set an example to the world by proving that the white man is capable of producing sugar under White Australian conditions. We must think, too, of the enormous sums of money that the sugar industry has saved the people of Australia since its destinies have been guided by the Commonwealth Government. Undoubtedly, we are under a moral obligation to those engaged in the industry to ratify this agreement.
I greatly appreciate the criticism of the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Hutchin), whose contribution to the debate was valuable and interesting. His criticism was intelligent.. But the honorable member based many of his arguments on false premises. It was conceded by the sugar-growers that the old agreement was not watertight, that there was a possibility of the enemies of the industry at any time nullifying the privileges that were given to the growers as a right. That was emphasized by the action taken in another place, when an endeavour was made to amend the Customs Act and cancel the sugar agreement. The decision of the High Court in the wool tops case showed that the sugar industry was in jeopardy. I believe, therefore, that the representatives of the growers were right in agreeing to a modification of the old agreement, and obtaining security of tenure, even though it meant a loss of £1,300,000 to the growers and a like advantage to’ the consumers. I regret that that reduction was a necessary condition of the new agreement, for I know perfectly well the benefits that the sugar industry has conferred upon the people of Australia. During the war, the sugar-growers were the only section of the producers of the Empire who did not benefit by the extraordinary conditions then prevailing. If the Australian consumers had been required to pay the price actually paid by British consumers during the years 1915 to 1921, their sugar would have cost them £40,000,000 more than it did. Of course, the British prices were increased by varying amounts of customs revenue duties during most of that time, hut, on an absolutely freetrade basis, Australian sugar cost, during that period, about £15,000,000 less than black-labour sugar. The following isan interesting table showing therespective prices in Great Britain and Australia during the term I refer to : -
The minimum retail price in England during those years was1s. 2d. per lb., and in Canada and the United States of America1s. 3d., while it reached1s. 6d. per lb. in France, Italy, and other countries. During most of that period the maximum Australian retail price was only 3½d. From March, 1920, to November, 1921, the price was certainly 6d. per lb. in Australia, but1d. of that was required to reimburse the Commonwealth Government for the huge expenditure it incurred in buying foreign sugar during the war period. Our importations of sugar grown by black labour cost us £50 a ton, but the sugar was sold to the Australian consumers at3½d. per lb. Critics of the Queensland sugar industry should remember these facts. They should also remember that sugar is being held in black-labour countries to-day. which can be bought at a price at which it could not possibly be produced now. This’ is not our refined sugar, but “ mill white “ or some inferior quality which our people would not use. The critics who attack the Queensland sugar industry are usually speaking for such organizations as the Sugar Consumers’ Association, of Temple Court, Melbourne, the Town and Country Union, the members of which are also connected with the first mentioned organization, or certain housewives’ associations. The former organization issues the infamous literature, which I regard as piffle, that is so frequently distributed throughout Australia. Such criticism should be compared with the reasonable criticism of the honorable member for Denison.
The value of the sugar industry to Australia will be better understood when it is realized that there are 10,000 sugar growers in the industry, and 35 rawsugar mills, and that 20,000 persons are employed in it, including engineers, mill workers and others in the towns adjoining the sugar districts. Large numbers of men are also engaged in transporting sugar throughout Australia or in refining it in the capital cities of the Commonwealth.. The capital expended in farms alone has reached the colossal figure of £20,000,000, and the expenditure on plant £10,000,000. A huge sum has also been spent on tramways, roads, and workshops in the towns and farms in the sugar districts. In a normal year, we produce no less than 4,000,000 tons of sugar-cane, which yield 550,000 tons of raw sugar, practically half of which is exported to assist Australia to maintain her trade balance. This exported sugar brings £2,600,000 of foreign money per annum into. Australia. The industry is also worth £500,000 a year in coastal freights. In view of these facts it is not too much to ask that this industry should be regarded from a national and not a parochial point of view. Queensland purchases at least £12,000,000 worth of goods from southern States, while she exports £9,000,000 worth ‘to them, £6,154,000 of which is in sugar. The industry will also be contributing, under this amended agreement, no less than £315,000 a year to the fruit industry of Australia.. The Australian manufacturers who use sugar are getting it for less than world parity price. During the war period our exporting industries were in the happy position of being able to obtain sugar at a lower price than the manufacturers of any other country in the world. All these considerations must force any unbiased person to the conclusion that the sugar industry is of immense value to Australia.
A good deal has been said at various times about the distance of certain Western Australian towns and districts from the centres of population in the eastern States, but Cairns and the sugargrowing districts are further away from the capitals of the eastern States than even Perth and fremantle, and the districts within 100 miles of them. The cost of transporting boots from Melbourne to the Queensland sugar-growing districts is quite as heavy as is the cost of sending them from Melbourne to Western Australia, but the Queensland sugar-growers do not squeal about it as the people of Western Australia do.
It has been said during this debate that sugar can be bought in England for 2^d. per lb., but it has to be remembered that the British duty on sugar is £11 13s. 4d. a ton and the bounty for the encouragement of the beet sugar industry of Great Britain is £6 10s., making the total impost £18 3s. 4d. per ton. This works out at about two-thirds of a penny per lb. which must be added to the 2-Jd., making the price three and one-sixth of a penny per lb. When we take sterling values into consideration, we must put the English price of sugar down at 4d. per lb. which is the price the Australian consumers will be asked to pay under this agreement. The average price of sugar in European countries is 3.6 pence per lb. If this amount were expressed in Australian currency it would be 4.5 pence per lb. It will be seen, therefore, that the Australian consumers will actually be paying less for their sugar after this agreement comes into force than the con- sumers of European countries pay for their sugar. This is to the credit of the Australian sugar producers. Moreover, it is a complete answer to the lying propaganda which is circulated from Temple Court to disparage the sugar industry and inflame the minds of the people of Australia against the sugargrowers.
I must offer objection to some of the inferences of the honorable member for Denison, although I admit that his statements were reasonable enough from his point of view. The honorable gentleman said that if Queensland exploited the other States in regard to sugar, the other States should be permitted to exploit Queensland in regard to wheat. The position is, however, that Queensland has taken steps to assist the wheat-growers of that State by establishing an organization to control the local marketing of wheat, with the object of increasing the price of locally consumed wheat. I wish that the other States of the Commonwealth had also established an organization for this purpose; but, as they have not done so, it is not fair that they should be permitted to exploit the Queensland market, where the price is higher solely because of the organized marketing arrangements in force there. Queensland should be complimented, not criticized, for the steps she has taken to assist her wheat-growers.
The honorable member for Denison also argued that it was erroneous to say that the sugar agreement was of valuable consideration from the defence point of view. I disagree entirely with the honorable member on that point. The people of Australia approved of the conversion of the Queensland sugar industry from a black-labour to a white-labour industry in order that the national policy of a White Australia could be implemented. In dealing with the unsettled areas of North Queensland from the stand-point of defence, the royal commission which reported on the sugar industry in 1912, stated -
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.
The Commonwealth Sugar Inquiry Committee of 1931 endorsed this view, for it stated that the opinion expressed by that royal commission had not been refuted or shaken by the evidence given before the committee. That, I submit, is a complete answer to the honorable member for Denison.
I appreciated the honorable gentleman’s reference to the high cost of the rails used to construct tramlines on our sugar farms, but the sugar-growers have never complained about these exorbitant prices. They have, without protest, bought all their commodities from the southern States at the ruling prices. It might interest honorable members to know that more than 1,000 miles of tramlines have been laid in the Queensland sugar districts.
The observations of the honorable member on the wages paid in the sugar industry of Queensland were misleading. The ruling wage in North Queensland is £4 16s. for a week of 48 hours. This is not high in comparison with the wages paid in certain other industries of Australia. Under the Queensland shearers’ award, shed hands and station hands are paid £4 ls. a week, and get their keep, which is valued at 27s. a week. In the meat export award, it is admitted that slaughtermen were earning 32s. a day for a day of six to six and a half hours. Under the Brisbane abattoirs award, made last November, slaughterhouse assistants are paid 16s. 42d. a day, and slaughterhouse labourers, 15s. 6d. a day, and they work only 44 ‘hours a week. In the sugar districts of the southern districts of Queensland the ruling wage is 14s. 4d. a day. It should be clear, therefore, that the wages in the sugar industry are not high compared with the wages in certain other Australian industries.
Reference has been made to the fact that land has been sold in the sugar districts of Queensland for £100 an acre. A few years ago I was in the Warrnambool district of Victoria a fortnight after a sale at which land for onion-growing was sold for £200 an acre ; but reports of that nature do not evoke adverse criticism in North Queensland. The statement that Queensland sugar lands are worth £100 an acre is erroneous. The average value in 1929 was £46 an acre. The land had to be cleared of dense jungle, and before it was suitable for ploughing, stumps had to be removed to a much greater depth than is necessary for wheatgrowing. Included in the £46 was £28, representing the original cost of the land plus the cost of clearing, and £18 for fencing, sheds, tractors, implements, horses, &c. No reasonable objection can be taken to this industry. On the contrary, it is entitled to the confidence and gratitude of every section for the efficiency it has developed in all its branches, from the field to the refinery. Even the great Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which is the subject of so much adverse criticism, charges only one-twelfth of a penny per lb. for refining, arid returned to the growers last year as a gratis payment £30,000 in excess of what it thought was a fair return. That vast organization is deserving of praise for what it has done to develop an important Australian industry.
For the education of critics of the sugar industry, I shall briefly review its history. The facts will show that if blame is attachable to anybody for the claim which the industry undoubtedly has upon the Australian people, it is attachable to the Commonwealth Parliament and not to the producers. ‘ In 1901 the newlyopened Commonwealth Parliament repatriated the kanakas from- the sugar plantations in Queensland and passed legislation imposing an excise duty on all raw sugar produced, subject to a rebate of £1 a ton on sugar produced by white labour. This rebate was wrongly called a bounty. That arrangement lasted until 1913, when practically all the coloured labour had been removed from the Queensland cane-fields and the growers were carrying on the industry with white labour under a guarantee of adequate protection by the Commonwealth Government. The Commonwealth had then collected £6,591,870 in excise duty, and, after payment of the rebate to the growers, the revenue had benefited to the amount of £2,692,329. That was the first windfall to the Commonwealth
Treasury from the sugar industry under white-labour conditions. Parliament had also imposed a customs duty of £6 per ton on foreign sugar and £10 per ton on beet sugar. In 1922 these rates were reduced to £9’ 6s. 8d. and’ £14 respectively, and the revenue further benefited accordingly. In 1913 this Parliament abolished the excise duty. Throughout the war the industry was wholly controlled by the Commonwealth Government and did not participate in the inflated conditions enjoyed by other industries. As a result, the people of Australia were saved £40,000,000 if the local price is compared with that paid in Great Britain during that period.From 1915 to 1919 the wholesale price did not exceed £29 10s. a ton, and the retail price, from which the growers had to be paid, was only 3½d. per lb. - the lowest price in the world, notwithstanding that Australia is the only country producing sugar by white labour. The price of sugar in the United Kingdom was £102 a ton, and in Canada and America the retail price was ls. 6d. per lb. The cheap sugar supplied by the Australian industry enabled fruit processors and manufacturers of condensed milk, confectionery, and biscuits in the southern States to undersell all foreign competitors, and to market overseas their surplus products to the value of £17,772,129. Direct Commonwealth control, with varying prices, lasted from 1915 to 1923. In 1920 the Commonwealth Government, realizing the serious diminution of production, increased the low price of raw sugar from £21 to £30 6s. 8d. The Government, not the growers, raised the retail price to 6d. per lb. to recoup itself for the loss incurred in importing dear foreign sugar to make up the shortage. From this increase the grower received no direct advantage. The Government having been reimbursed, the retail price was reduced to 5d. per lb. in 1922. In the following year, the financial and marketing control was transferred to the Queensland Government, under certain conditions, including a reduction of the price of raw sugar to £27 per ton, and of refined sugar to 4½d. per lb. retail. Later the industry itself granted a concession of £6 5s. Id. per ton on sugar used for fruit processing. In the 1928 and 1931 agreements those prices and the rebate were renewed. Now we are again ratifying an agreement which takes from the grower a further½d. perlb. Even when the wholesale price was £30 6s. 8d. per ton, and until recently, when sugar was being exported at a loss of £18 a ton, the growers’ returns were not nearly so generous as critics of the industry suggest. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Guy), when moving the second reading of this bill, said -
It was contended that the sugar industry should agree to share in the practically universal sacrifice.
It has always done that. He continued -
It is a tribute to the fairmindedness and patriotism of the sugar producers of Queensland and New South Wales that they have given consideration to the plight of Australian consumers generally by deciding to render a contribution to the spirit and purpose of the Premiers plan.
The reduction now being effected represents a concession of £1,300,000 to the consumers and the manufacturers. This amount is being taken from an industry which, during the war, was prevented from enjoying world’s prices for its product, and, by supplying the Australian public at a fixed price, saved to them over £40,000,000 during that period. It has relieved the pockets of the consumers, has been a great employing medium, and has facilitated the extension of many other industries. I hope that the critics in and out of this Parliament will appreciate the national value of the industry, and not indulge in petty attacks in the endeavour to secure sugar produced by black labour in other countries in preference to the product of an efficient enterprise conducted’ by white labour in the Commonwealth. [Quorum formed.]
– I congratulate the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Guy) on the excellent speech with which he explained the first bill he has introduced. He did an excellent job with material that is not of the best. So far the bill has had a smooth passage; apparently honorable members are disinclined to debate it, because of the agreement which has been made between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Governments. A matter which will meet with the approbation of moat people is -that, if this bill is passed, the agreement will have the authority of Parliament. The agreement made by the Seullin Government had no parliamentary sanction, and, consequently, its validity was challenged, and a good deal of litigation occurred. The sugar problem has agitated the minds of the Australian people for years. The Queensland representatives have stated their case very well; but there is another aspect of the subject. Few honorable members other than those from the northern State have participated in this debate, and it is significant that all of them have objected to even this generous agreement. The Queensland representatives are fortunate, indeed, that this House has been asked to ratify the agreement embodied in the bill, and they would be ill-advised to offer any objection to it. “We have heard from honorable members the views of the growers, and now we want to hear the views of the consumers, who are receiving a raw deal in respect of the price of sugar in this country. It is estimated that the other States pay annually to Queensland the sum of £7,000,000. South Australia alone contributes £750,000 per annum. That is no mean sum. The sugar agreement is one of the factors that has from time to time caused South Australia, in common with Western Australia and Tasmania, to approach the Commonwealth Government for financial assistance. The present proposal is to reduce the price of sugar by ^d. per lb. It should at least be reduced by Id. per lb. I had hoped that the sugar industry would be able by this time to stand on its own feet like the wool, wheat and other industries. The term of the agreement should be one year and not four years as is proposed in tho bill. An inquiry should be made into the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which is a profitable concern. The company started with a capital of £5,800.000. It has returned in cash bonuses, the whole of the money subscribed by the shareholders. The market value of the concern is £16,000,000. The value of the original shares was £20 each and to-day their market value is £55 each. The reserves of the company amount to £7,198,000. Can honorable members point to any other industry in Australia that is thriving to such an extent ? Many industries that are supposed to be sound are not even in a position to pay dividends. A full inquiry should be made into the operations of this company to ascertain whether the assistance which it will receive under this agreement is necessary. Most of our industries have had to make sacrifices under the Premiers plan, but the sugar industry has escaped scot free. I protest against the fixation of the price of sugar for another four years. The term of the agreement should be not more than one year. The clause which prevents price reductions should be eliminated.’ I hope that when the bill is in committee it will be amended in the interests not of one section, but of all sections of the community.
.- Today we have heard the praises of the State of Queensland sung from all parts of the House. Honorable members representing that. State have referred in glowing terms to its productivity and prosperity. The boast has been made that there is no opposition to the agreement, but I myself do not see eye to eye with its supporters. The agreement has been challenged by no less an authority than the Auditor-General who, in his report of last year, said -
As the sugar agreement is not specifically authorized by any legislation of the Commonwealth it is presumably ultra vires.
Section 99 of the Constitution provides -
The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade, commerce, or revenue, give preference to one State or any part thereof over another State or any part thereof.
That provision has not been seriously challenged. What also would be the attitude of honorable members .if, as the result of an inquiry, it were shown that the price of sugar could be still further reduced? I believe that I can answer the question for them. Over and over again in this House we have heard them, especially those who comprise the group from New South Wales, declaim their solicitude for the poor and distressed, the widows and children. Every person in the Commonwealth is to some extent a consumer of sugar, and if honorable members consider the matter for one moment they will bo forced to admit that any possible reduction of price should be brought about. Why, then, should we unanimously accept this agreement, and extol it? There is nothing to congratulate ourselves upon, in having secured a reduction of id. per lb. We can go much further. Recently, in this House, I presented a petition on behalf of Mr. Purbrick, of Surrey Hills, Melbourne. I am not competent to say whether the matter that it contains is unchallengeable, or the figures accurate. [ submit, however, that honorable members should read it, so that they may learn whether there is even a smattering of truth in it. If they accept as facts the statements made, they should insist upon a full inquiry, with a view to a further reduction of the price of sugar. I can add to the figures quoted by the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) with respect to the operations of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. It is with those operations that the petition that I have presented deals. The shares issued total 292,500, at £20 each, and they equal the present capital of £5,850,000. But no fewer than 186,250 of them are bonus shares, which were paid for out of surplus profits after provision had been made for the usual dividends and cash bonuses.
Mr. Bernard CORSER. That includes the operations of the company in Fiji.
– I am aware of that. There arc also included the enormous depreciations that have been made. Who has been responsible for those bonuses, and the increase from the initial value of £20 in the case of the shares that were paid for, to a value of £54 or £55. Have those profits descended from the air ? Or have they come from overseas?
– Only to a very slight extent have they come from overseas, because the export price is considerably below the Australian price. They have been taken from the consumers of Australia, to the extent of £7,000,000 more than would have been the case but for this agreement. A reduction of id. per lb. in the price of sugar represents a difference of £1,750,000 to the Australian people. If, as the result of an inquiry, the reduction could be made Id., and thus double the saving, would not honorable members support it ? If those who cry “ Down with capitalism “ consider that the people are being given a fair deal in regard to the price of sugar, let them laud every claim that has been made to-day on behalf of the industry. I have been absolutely consistent in this matter. When I was in opposition, I opposed the agreement, and moved an amendment to it with the object of reducing the price of sugar. I received strong support, but it was not sufficient to carry the amendment. Honorable members are aware that a large quantity of sugar is used in manufacturing processes, and that certain concessions are given in that direction. But a large quantity is used also by the members of that association which the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) attempts to deride, the Housewives Association. He says “ Give the leaders of this women’s organization a job, and they will quickly forget all about sugar “. That is an insult to an organization which voluntarily, in conjunction with other organizations, primary producers, and manufacturers, has endeavoured- to prove that the price of sugar is too high. There are many pertinent facts awaiting disclosure. Honorable members who represent Queensland electorates are well acquainted with views of the growers, and have elaborated them admirably. But unquestionably inordinate profits have been made. If it can be proved that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is a monopoly, and as such is exploiting the people, there is room for inquiry. Monopolies are one of the greatest evils that arise out of excessive protection or embargoes. I support an embargo that will maintain a White Australia. Our White Australia policy is more than a policy; it is a doctrine as sacred to us as the Monroe doctrine is to the people of the United States of America, and we must defend it at all costs. It was established, not by any action or legislation of recent parliaments, but by men of vision who many years ago initiated measures that would protect Australia from thu influx of a horde of Asiatics. We must support it, not only by embargoes, trade agreements, and adequate defence, but also by every other means that will enable us to keep our community fit for the white race. It is creditable to the people of Queensland that they are populating tropical areas, and that industries are thriving there. It is creditable also ‘to the manufacturing community, and to those who are responsible for the refining operations, that such a high degree of efficiency has been attained. Bo efficient is the refining side of the industry, that its cost is a mere fraction of Id. per ton. But because of the absence of competition, except that provided by the beet sugar industry in victoria - which could be extended considerably, with advantage to Australia - the Colonial Sugar Refining Company enjoys a monopoly; and monopolies, as I have said, are ono of the evils that grow up behind embargoes and excessive tariffs. Small industries have adequate local competition; but an industry which enjoys a monopoly and requires immense capital for its development - the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is only one of a number of such industries in Australia - is able to exploit the public by means of price fixation. I think that price-fixing is wrong, and it is wrong for this Parliament to support the practice.
– The Colonial Sugar Refining Company has not fixed the price ; that has been done for it.
– This Parliament is being asked to approve of an agreement between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government, the object of which is to fix the price of sugar. I believe that a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into this matter.
– One cannot be otherwise than pleased at the tone of this debate. The bill has been received favorably by honorable members generally, and the speeches have consisted largely of a review of the history of the sugar industry in Australia, with references to its importance and efficiency, regarding which there is no room for complaint. I desire briefly to refer to some of the statements of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). He repeated the old phrases about intimidation, and holding a pistol to the heads of the producers.
– The honorable member for Capricornia withdrew those statements at the request of the Chair.
– The agreement was voluntarily reviewed by the parties concerned and the new agreement, as drafted by the Commonwealth, was accepted by the Premier of Queensland without request for alteration. The voluntary review of an agreement is quite a common thing in other circles, and in this instance there was no attempt to force delegates to accept a lower price. Certain dangers to the sugar industry, if it continued under the old agreement, were pointed out to delegates of the sugar industry who attended the two conferences called by the Government, but it was definitely laid down that, if the industry preferred to adhere to the existing agreement, the Government would do its best to see that the agreement was maintained intact. The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis) has already referred to the risks which the industry would have run had it insisted on retaining the old agreement. .In the first place, there was a danger that the High Court might decide that the agreement was ultra vires. It has already been held by the High Court that the Commonwealth Government cannot effectively bind itself by an agreement which has not received specific parliamentary sanction, and no sugar agreement has ever yet been approved by this Parliament. When a case was before the High Court, in which certain parties sought a declaration that the agreement was ultra vires, it was demonstrated that if the Attorney-General of of the Commonwealth or of any of the States were to approach the court on behalf of the people, seeking the annulment of the agreement, there was every possibility that the agreement would have to go. It was also pointed out by the Assistant Minister that there was a possibility that Parliament might amend he Customs Act in such a way that the sugar industry would be no longer protected by an embargo on the importation of foreign sugar.
– It was suggested, therefore, that the Customs Act might be amended by this Parliament, in which the Government has a majority.
– Not necessarily by this Parliament. If the honorable member had been a member of the last Parliament, he would know that action could have been taken in another place.. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition put up Aunt Sallys, and then proceeded to knock them down. It is to be regretted that we cannot discuss a subject of such national importance as the sugar industry without honorable members voicing political propaganda. It is a pity that honorable members should endeavour to make political capital, and score off one another. Thehonorable member for Capricornia referred to a certain report which is to be submitted by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. This is an annual report which has to be supplied in accordance with the terms of the agreement. It has been certified by the Auditor-General, and I hope to have it laid on the table of the House before the sitting is ended to-night.
It has, been suggested that the new agreement is not so advantageous to the fruit processors as the old one, so that it is well, perhaps, that I should explain that the fruit processors will be better off under the new agreement. The old sugar agreement provided that the sugar industry should contribute £315,000 per annum for the benefit of the fruit industry. Out of this fund a domestic sugar rebate of £6 5s.1d. a ton, involving about £175,000 . per annum, had to be paid to manufacturers in respect of the sugar used in the production of fruit products - the balance of the fund being available for the ordinary export sugar rebate, which costs about £30,000 per annum, and for special export assistance, costing about £110,000 per annum. The domestic sugar rebate had the effect of reducing the ordinary manufacturing price of sugar from £36 l1s. 9d. a ton to £30 6s. 8d.. a ton net to fruit processors only. The old agreement, however, provided that, when the ordinary manufacturing price of sugar was reduced, the fund of £315,000 per annum had to be reduced by such an amount as the Commonwealth Government might determine, provided that the reduced amount did not exceed £315,000 per annum, less the value of the reduction of the ordinary price, multiplied by the consumption of sugar by fruit processors. It also provided that, in the event of such a reduction, it had to be applied specifically to ‘ the domestic rebate of £6 5s.1d. a ton. This is exactly what is being done under the new sugar agreement, with the exception that the Commonwealth Government made only the consequential reduction in the old fund rendered mandatory as a minimum by the old sugar agreement, whereas, in view of the very large reduction made in the income of the sugar producers, the Government might well have further reduced the special temporary concessions to the fruit industry.
The coming reduction in the ordinary manufacturing price is £41s. a ton, and the new domestic rebate on fruit products will be £2 4s. a ton - the odd1d. was disregarded. Similarly the total fund has been reduced by £115,000, making the contribution £200,000 per annum. The £115,000 was an approximation of slightly over 28,000 tons of sugar now consumed in fruit products, multiplied by £41s. a ton. The new ordinary manufacturing price of sugar will be £32 10s 9d. a ton, and the fruit processing rate will be £2 4s. less, or £30 6s. 9d. a ton, which is virtually the same as at present. The1d. difference was agreed to quite readily by H. Jones and Company Proprietary Limited, and other leading manufacturers.
The old sugar agreement was given very wide publicity, and it is known that most manufacturers concerned were well aware of the automatic reduction to be made in the domestic marginal rebate of £6 5s.1d. a ton in the event of the general sugar price being reduced. Most of them were doubtless equally well aware that this rebate was originally given by the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce purely as a temporary expedient, pending the recovery of the fruit industry from the depression caused by overproduction, and that its continuance was recommended by the 1931 Sugar Inquiry Committee for a limited period only. Under the new sugar agreement, fruit processors will obtain their sugar at £2 4s. per ton less than the price charged to all other manufacturers. Even this smaller preference has been strongly opposed by other industries which claim that they should not be required to pay more for sugar for home consumption than is paid by the fruit processors, since the latter are protected by prohibitive duties, and have advantages at least equal to those of other manufacturers in selling their product in the ‘protected Australian market. In addition to this particular advantage, the new sugar agreement gives the fruit industry £110,000 per annum for special export assistance. The export sugar rebate constitutes a long-standing right enjoyed by all exported goods, and is therefore not peculiar to the fruit industry. The combined value of the domestic sugar rebate, and the special export assistance to the fruit industry, is £170,000 per annum, which is equivalent to that industry being allowed for .the next four years to receive its sugar at £6 per ton less than the price charged to all other industries.
I add that the Government has just arranged with the principal exporting sections of the fruit industry to forgo for one year £30,000 of their share of the special export assistance. This sum will be paid to manufacturers of jam and canned fruits on next season’s output, in addition to the new domestic sugar rebate of £2 4s. a ton. The following statement shows the concessions to the fruit industry under both the old and the new agreement : -
Notes. - The fruit industry will thus be at least £91,000 per annum better off than before, without taking into account consider able savings from the recent abolition of sales tax and primage on agricultural implements, fertilizers, lime, and many other items used on orchards.
Fruit processors will still have the sole advantage of. the specially low net price of £30 (is. 0,d. per ton for home consumption (“worth in future £00,000 per annum compared with what all other manufacturers will pay). They will also enjoy a continuance of the exceptional privilege of the £110,000 per annum for export assistance. These two valuable concessions are equivalent to fruit processors receiving sugar at £6 per ton less than the price to be charged to all other manufacturers. This advantage is extraordinary when one considers that the fruit industry is as completely protected in the Australian market as any of the other industries which have no such concessions.
The claim for the retention of the old temporary fruit concessions at their former grandiose scale would, if granted, permit of the price of jam being reduced by only Sd. per dozen tins, and canned fruit by the negligible amount of lid. per dozen tins.
Instead of granting this claim, which was untenable in view of the explicit terms of the old sugar agreement, the Government gave a much greater concession by abolishing the sales tax on fruit products - this being worth about 7d. per dozen tins on both jam and canned fruits.
The largest organizations of fruit-growers, and very prominent processors have accepted exactly what the Government has provided in the new sugar agreement and expressed their appreciation.
The rejection by Parliament of the new sugar agreement would result in one of two things -
The destruction of the old sugar agreement would result in -
a disaster to the sugar industry of the first magnitude which would very considerably reduce the market for Victorian and Tasmanian fruit products; and
The statements of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) regarding the affairs of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have been investigated by the department and found to be quite inaccurate. [Quorum formed.] In 1931, the Sugar Inquiry Committee, comprising Mr. JohnGunn, Mr. A. R. Townsend, Mr. Dutton, of MacRobertson’s, Mrs. Morgan, of Western Australia, representing the Housewives Association, Mr. W. Young, of Victoria, representing the fruit-growers, Mr. Curlewis and Mr. Short, representing the sugar industry, and Mr. Fallon, representing the Australian Workers Union, after a full investigation, unanimously found that the net profits of the company were only 5½ per cent. of all the capital employed in its Australian operations. The basis of the statement contained in the petition referred to by the honorable members was that practically the whole of the profits were made on the company’s Australian undertakings. That is wrong. It has been established beyond doubt that from 45 per cent. to 75 per cent. of the company’s profits have been earned outside Australia from time to time during the last fifteen years.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) complained of the proposals in relation to industrial conditions which are set out in paragraph 16 of the schedule. That provision is similar to clauses contained in every bounty act. Only once has the Government been approached to set up a Commonwealth tribunal under clauses of this kind, and only as a last resort would it do so. Under the sugar agreement, the State tribunal fixes wages and conditions for the industry. Should it not do so, the employers and employees may come to an agreement among themselves. The Government is of the opinion that, not only should the benefits of the sugar agreement be reserved for the employees, but that they should be shared by employees being given reasonable wages and conditions of employment in the industry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
.- - Clause 3 provides for the prohibition of the importation of sugar. At an earlier stage, I intimated that in committee I would move certain amendments. With a protection of £9 6s. 8d. a ton on cane sugar, beet sugar is protected to the extent of £14 a ton. In my opinion, the industry is handsomely treated with that protect tion, and therefore I now move -
That clause 3 be omitted.
Amendment put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 34
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to, and reported without amendment ; report adopted.
Bill -by leave - read a third time.
. -by leave - I move -
That Standing Order No. 70 - Opposed business after 11 p.m. - be suspended for the remainder of this sitting.
I do this in order that we may deal with the Public Works Committee Bill, so that certain works may be proceeded with immediately in Canberra and provide work for the unemployed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from the 8th November (vide page 2040), on motion by Mr. Perkins -
That the bill bo now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
.- The greatest care should be exercised in connexion with the public works which the Government intends to carry out, particularly as it is proposed to suspend the Public Works Committee Act. During the regime of the Bruce-Page Government enormous sums of money were spent throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory, where the taxpayers’ moneywas squandered. Before we agree to the suspension of the act, we should have a definite assurance from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) that expenditure will be most closely watched, and that there will not be a repetition of such fraudulent practices as those associated with the faulty foundations of the administrative block in Canberra. The present Minister for Health (Mr. Marr), when Minister for Home Affairs, authorized the expenditure of £77,000 on Yarralumla House, whichis now the residence of the Governor-General, notwithstanding the fact that the Public Works Committee Act was in operation. That act provides that all works, the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000, shall be referred to that committee for investigation and report. If we suspend the operation of the act, and the Minister in charge of works authorizes unnecessary expenditure such as has been incurred in the past, the results may be serious. In view of the enormous waste which has already occurred, we should have a definite assurance from the Prime Minister that all expenditure will be closely scrutinized.
.- I regard the suspension of the Public Works Committee Act as a retrograde step. That committee was established for the specific purpose of investigating and reporting to Parliament upon all proposed public works, the estimated cost of which exceeded £25,000. It is true that years ago a tremendous amount of money was wastefully expended by Commonwealth and State governments on unproductive undertakings. Such unnecessary expenditure would not have been incurred had there been in existence a committee whose duty it was to report to Parliament. The expenditure in some instances can be regarded only as political logrolling. If Parliament deliberately suspends the Public Works Committee Act the Government will be able to incur expenditure without any oversight, as was done before the act was in operation. With the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Riley), I trust that the Government will exercise the greatest possible care, and report very fully to Parliament on all proposed expenditure. As one who was a member of that committee,” I have a fair knowledge of the way in which Ministers deal with expenditure on public works, and, although in most instances such expenditure may be fully justified, the Government should give to Parliament the fullest details regarding its proposals. The Public Works Committee conducted a careful examination into the suitability of sites, design of proposed buildings, and estimated cost, and then submitted reports to Parliament. Had I known that the debate on this measure was to be continued to-night, I could have given particulars demonstrating the value of the work of that committee. In one instance the committee recommended that an expenditure of £55,000 on a proposed work in Canberra was unnecessary.
– What work was that?
– A proposed sewerage system at Westbourne, which was never carried out. The work which the Government proposed to undertake almost immediately is estimated to cost £12,000 ; but, in view of the proposed suspension of the act, it would appear that the total cost will exceed the £25,000, otherwise the Government would not he adopting this course.
– The total cost is estimated at £34,000.
– In view of all the circumstances, I trust that the Government will submit a full report to Parliament on all important public works.
.- Unless it is the intention of the Government to put to work to-morrow morning the men who are to be engaged on the proposed work, there should be no need to dispose of this bill to-night, and we could discuss this bill to-morrow. This is an important measure, for it proposes a vital alteration of the practice of this Parliament iri regard to public works.
.- The Public Works Committee has been in suspense since before this Government assumed office. No appointments have been made to the committee. In a time of depression there is naturally very little public work to be carried out. The work which the Government has in mind at present- is intended to improve the Canberra water supply. The total cost of. the proposed undertaking is £34,000, but only £12,100 is to be spent this year. The matter is urgent, because it is hoped to put the work in hand at once and so provide employment before Christmas. At this period of the year every day makes a difference to those who are expecting employment to help them over Christmas. The Government has no ulterior motive in asking honorable members to agree to the passage of this bill to-night. No other public works than those mentioned are in view. Deputations have waited upon me this week, and requested that the Black Mountain reservoir work be pushed on with at once. If this bill is passed to-night, the Senate will be able to deal with it to-morrow. The Government does not think it wise that the Public Works Committee should remain in operation, because that would involve a certain amount of expenditure for staff. A saving of about £3,000 a year will be effected by the passage of this bill. We hope that prosperity will soon be restored to such an extent that the resuscitation of the committee will be necessary; but I urge honorable members to agree to the passage of the bill to-night so that the public work to which I have referred may be put in hand without unnecessary delay.
Bill agreed to, and reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
.- I move-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next at 3 o’clock p.m.
– Has the Government no work for us to do?
– Owing to the rapidity with which honorable members have disposed of the Sugar Agreement Bill only the measure for the suspension of the Public Accounts Committee is now awaiting the consideration of honorable members. Several small bills in charge of the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) are ready for introduction; but the motion for the second- reading of them cannot be moved to-morrow.
– If the Queensland members had known last night of the proposal to adjourn this evening until Tuesday, some of them could have made arrangements to return to their constituencies.
– I regret that inconvenience should have been caused to honorable members. Some honorable gentlemen have left for their homes this evening on the understanding that the House would adjourn to-night until Tuesday. When honorable members re-assemble next week, the smaller bills to which I have referred will be submitted for consideration, and it is also hoped that the bill providing for relief from taxation will be presented.
.- This is an extraordinary development after the hurry-scurry of yesterday. I do not think that any honorable member anticipated that the Sugar Agreement Bill would take more than a day, for it was not regarded as contentious by the great majority of honorable members. It is unfortunate that an important measure like the bill for the ratification of the Ottawa agreement should have been bludgeoned through the House yesterday, and that now we find ourselves with a day on our hands. I can see us- reaching the stage again in a week or two of having to rush business, and the Government may desire to apply the guillotine again. My Government was in office for two years, and it did not once apply the guillotine. I have never known the proceedings of the House to be curtailed by that means without trouble resulting. This is natural, for honorable members who have views to express are denied the opportunity of expressing them. I ask the Prime Minister to take steps to’ arrange the business of Parliament, so that it will be unnecessary to curtail debates by the use of the guillotine. The Opposition has been reasonable, and has facilitated the conduct of business, and it expects the Government to be reasonable in submitting business. I make this early protest against a repetition of the use of the guillotine. Twice recently that unsatisfactory method of expediting public business has .been adopted. On one occasion eleven clauses of the Financial Emergency Bill, which amended six acts of Parliament, were forced through the House without any discussion whatever.
– Does the honorable member think that the Ottawa Agreement Bill would have been available for the Senate to-day if the guillotine had not been applied ?
– If the Government had submitted the measure to the House earlier, it would have been unnecessary to curtail the debate. “We certainly lost a week recently. There is no business ready for to-morrow and only two or three small bills will come up for consideration on Tuesday. What are the Government’s intentions with regard to its other measures? A few days ago we had what was, in effect, a second budget speech, in connexion with which there will be incidental legislation. Then, doubtless, we shall be told that the Senate is waiting and we shall again be subjected to the guillotine. I warn the Government that we are not going to submit, without a strong protest, to the application of the guillotine to important measures. This afternoon we were asked how many speakers from this side of the House would take part in the debate on the Sugar Agreement Bill, and the information was supplied. I am not at the moment concerned about the Government’s proposal to adjourn over tomorrow, but- 1 am concerned about t the limitation of the time allowed for the discussion of the more important bills that come before this chamber. If the guillotine is to be applied, ample notice should be given to honorable members, so that they may occupy less time in the secondreading stage of a bill and allow more time for consideration of the bill in committee. Nothing like that was done in connexion with the bill which was passed through this chamber last night. Full time was allowed for the secondreading debate, but the fixing of the time for the consideration of the committee stage gave rise to a situation that was a discredit to the Government. Ministers should know what their policy is, and they should have their measures ready. We have been informed that there are to be certain remissions of taxation. Bills dealing with those matters should be ready for presentation to the House. If the House were sitting to-morrow we could take the second readings then and resume the debate on Tuesday; but as the Government is not ready and the House will not meet to-morrow, I assume that the taxation bills will be introduced on Tuesday. Reasonable time should then be allowed before resuming the debate; but I suppose that we shall be told that the Senate is waiting for this legislation, so we shall probably have another all-night sitting, or the application of the guillotine. I urge the Government to get its bills ready and allow the House a reasonable time for their discussion.
.- I protest against this procedure. Yesterday the Government closured the debate on the United Kingdom and Australia Trade Agreement Bill and prevented honorable members on this side from saying certain things which they intended to say. This is the second time that we have been subjected to this kind of treatment. The most important legislation which this Parliament has been called upon to consider for a long time was forced through this House by the application of the guillotine. To-morrow, because the Government has no business ready, I, and other honorable members from distant States, will be forced to remain here in idleness. There is to be a long week-end adjournment because some one has gone away to do propaganda work in Adelaide. It is not fair to ask honorable members to come from distant States to remain idle’ in Canberra merely to suit -the convenience of the Government, which is not prepared to go on with its legislation.
– I am not complaining of the decision of the Government to adjourn over to-morrow, but I complain of the time occupied on unimportant legislation. In view of the approaching end of the session, the Prime “Minister should indicate to the House what new business the Government proposes to introduce. Certain legislation will, of course, arise out of the financial statement delivered a day or two ago. I am within a few hours’ journey of my home in Sydney, so that a short notice of a long week-end adjournment does not mean so much to me as it does to honorable members from distant States. They should receive more than a few hours’ notice so that they may make the necessary arrangements to use the time during which the House will not sit. Personally, I should prefer the House to meet tomorrow, as usual, instead of adjourning until Tuesday next. As we are approaching the end of the session, the Government should arrange the business so as to make the most of every hour that is available in Canberra for the benefit of members from South Australia, “Western Australia and Queensland, and endeavour to dispose of its legislation as early as possible before Christmas.
.- I protest against the action of the Government in failing to give notice earlier of the intention to adjourn the House until Tuesday next. It is important that members representing Queensland constituencies should be advised promptly of any contemplated alteration of the usual sitting days, because we all have a considerable amount of work to do in Brisbane. If we had been informed before 8 o’clock to-night that the House would not be meeting to-morrow, we could have got away by the night train, and spent the week-end in Brisbane attending to business which-cannot very well be done by correspondence. Some honorable members, particularly those from Sydney and Melbourne, can board the train to-morrow night, be in their homes on Saturday, and leave for Canberra on Monday night. Other members also are deserving of consideration.
Those from distant States should have been advised of the proposed long weekend adjournment. Yesterday, we were led to believe that certain Government business was so urgent that the use of the guillotine was necessary. There is not sufficient business on the noticepaper to keep the House busy beyond the middle of next week. What will happen then? If the House were to adjourn on Friday until Wednesday, Queensland members would have an opportunity to visit Brisbane at the week-end and attend to public and private business, including matters affecting old-age pensions,, repatriation, and taxation. I hope that in future the Opposition will receive from the Government the courtesy that is usual between parties.
.- I thank the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Riley) for his consideration for members from far-distant States. Western Australian representatives have no chance during the sessions to return to their homes, and they are always here to assist the Government in the transaction of business. The long adjournment at the week-end is very convenient for some honorable members, but those from Queensland and Western Australia have to idle their time in Canberra. I shall be glad if the Government will indicate what business if proposes to transact during the next few weeks, and when the session is likely to terminate.
.- I urge the Government to withdraw the motion, in order that the House may sit to-morrow. The consideration of the tariff schedule is a gigantic task, and we should clear the way for it by disposing of other business as quickly as possible. Yesterday, Ave listened to an undignified debate. No fewer than 57 speeches were delivered on the motion for the secondreading of the bill to ratify the Ottawa agreement. Perhaps some of the time occupied at that stage might have been more usefully devoted to the consideration of the measure in committee, but there was no justification for the unseemly demonstration that occurred yesterday.
– I cannot accede to the suggestion that the House should meet to-morrow. Some honorable members have already left Canberra on the understanding that only the Sugar Agreement Bill, the Public Works Committee Bill, and the Committee of Public Accounts Bill would be dealt with before Tuesday.
– Were they informed of that before the train departed this evening ?
– Yes. The Government Whip endeavoured to advise all honorable members of the intention of the Government, and I am sorry if, through a misunderstanding, members .from Queensland and other distant States have not been able to take advantage of the long week-end adjournment. I was of the opinion that, if certain bills were disposed of to-night, it would suit the convenience of honorable members if the House were to adjourn until Tuesday instead of reassembling to-morrow to deal with matters that might occupy only a comparatively short time. In regard to the protests of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) against the application of the guillotine yesterday, I assure him that that course would not have been adopted but for the fact that the Government particularly desired that the Sugar Agreement Bill should be disposed of early, so that arrangements could be made for the colossal task of distributing the sugar supplies throughout Australia.
– Could not the “ consideration of the bill dealing with the Ottawa agreement have been postponed for a day to enable the Sugar Agreement Bill to be disposed of?
– No, the Ottawa agreement had already been dealt with by the British Parliament, and the Government desired that it should be -ratified by the Senate as early as possible. Unless it is absolutely essential, the Government will not restrict the debating privileges of honorable members. I desire at all times to extend courtesy to honorable members, and to study their convenience.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Can the Prime Minister indicate on what date the House will be likely to adjourn over the Christmas holidays ?
– The House has been sitting fairly continuously, and the Government proposes that it shall rise as early as possible in December. It will endeavour to so arrange the business that the adjournment may take place even earlier than the date which has been tentatively mentioned, namely, the 15th December.
– I desire some information regarding the loan now being raised by the” Commonwealth. In the first place, I should like to know whether the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) can indicate what measure of success is being obtained. I understand that half of the money proposed to be raised is to be used in carrying out public works for the purpose of providing employment. A noticeable feature of this loan is that the publicity given to it has been extremely meagre. Apart from a few posters placed outside banks, and several trifling advertisements, in newspapers, no enthusiastic effort seems to have been made, as in the case of previous loans, to arouse public interest. Perhaps the Prime Minister is in a position to inform the House what progress has been made. I realize that at the present time it is not easy to obtain loan money, and the difficulty is considerably increased because the rate ofl interest offered is lower than has previously been offered. Is it intended_ to allow the period during which applications by investors are invited to lapse without further publicity being given to the matter? It seems to me that, for the sake of the credit of Australia, we cannot afford to permit this loan to fail; but I fear that .if enthusiastic publicity is not given to it, failure may result. If the Government is serious in its statement that the money is required partly for the purpose of relieving unemployment, we should certainly advertise the loan more extensively, in order to make it a complete success.
– I am unable to state exactly what progress has been made, but I shall endeavour to obtain the information sought by the honorable member. It is not always advisable to publish from time to time the amount subscribed towards a loan; but, in the matter of publicity, we have followed the procedure that has been adopted in connexion with other loans in normal times. The Government is doing everything that it can to bring under the notice of possible investors the advantage of participation in this loan, and if it is possible to do anything further to promote its success, that will be done. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said that we should make sure that the full amount asked for is obtained. I point out that the loan is underwritten, and, therefore, cannot fail ; but I sincerely hope that none of the money will be left with the underwriters. The Government is doing everything possible to make the loan a success.
– Does the right honorable gentleman consider that the publicity now being given to the matter is sufficient, in view of the difficult times through which we are passing?
– I am guided largely by the officials of the Treasury, who have handled loan business in the past, and they are particularly keen on ensuring the success of this loan.
– If those officials offer any suggestions in regard to increased publicity, will the Government place no obstacle in their way?
– We shall do all that we can to achieve success.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.51 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Unemployment Relief Work in Canberra.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In the case of an applicant for an old-age pension who has property or land which is unproductive, but the valuation of which prevents the applicant obtaining the full pension, will the Government provide a condition that if such property is handed over to the department as security, the applicant may receive a full pension?
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 November 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321117_reps_13_137/>.