8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister representing the Government in the Senate if he has seen in to-day’s press the notification of .the Canadian Government having appointed a Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States at Washington, and this with the consent of the British Government. The Minister will remember that I had the honour to suggest a similar step on the part of the Commonwealth Government two or three years ago, and I ask now if the Administration will take into consideration at an early date the advisability of securing a similar representation of the Australian Commonwealth at the capita] of the Republic of the United States ?
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether any information is available ‘ with regard to the proclamation of peace with AustriaHungary, because on that proclamation hinges the definite date for the expiry of the War Precautions Act ?
– Not so far as I am aware. In order to be in a position to inform the . honorable senator accurately I shall cause inquiry into the matter to be made immediately.
Development of Oil Resources
– In the event of a Select Committee being appointed in connexion with prospecting for oil in Papua, will the Government see that the Committee shall be a Joint Committee of both Houses, so that the Senate may be represented in the inquiry as well as another place ?
– The Senate has no official knowledge of the matter to which Senator Senior refers. I suggest that if a measure dealing with the subject does come before us, the more correct method to adopt would be for the Senate to appoint its own Committee.
Re-Export from London to America.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether, having read statements appearing in the press, he is aware of the fact that there is a considerable glut of Australian mutton in. the London market at the present time, and that some of the mutton is being re-exported to America at a considerable profit?
– Order! The honorable senator is making a statement, and he is not entitled to do so in asking a question.
– Is the Minister aware that there is a glut of Australian mutton on the London market at the present time, and that some is being re-exported to America at a considerable profit? If so, can he inform the Senate whether there is anything in the agreement with the Imperial Government to prevent Australian mutton being sent direct to America, in order that the increased profit may benefit the primary producers of this country ?
– I, of course, have no personal knowledge of whether (here is a glut of Australian mutton in the London market at- the present time, or whether meat is being re-exported in the way referred to by the honorable senator. I have seen press statements to that effect, but I point out to Senator Foll that the mutton referred to is the property of the British Government, who purchased it presumably from Australia, and that they have paid for it. Beyond that I am not in a position to give the honorable senator any information.
Registration of “ Education
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answer supplied by the Postmaster-General is as follows : - 1 to 5. This matter came before me recently for consideration, and I gave directions that registration should be granted. Members of both Houses who made representations in connexion with the matter were so informed on the 4th May.
Deferred Pay of Dismissed Ratings
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has forwarded the following replies : -
Motion (by Senator de Largie) agreed to-
That two months’ leave of absence be granted to Senator Guthrie on account of urgent public business.
Bill (on motion by Senator Russell) read a third time.
Bill (on motion by Senator Millen) read a third time.
Bill (on motion by Senator Millen) read a third time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is one of four of a type quite familiar to old parliamentarians, and I have not the slightest doubt that in the course of time it will be equally familiar to those who have more recently secured a seat in Parliament. This is a Bill to appropriate £601,982 to cover the expenditure made out of Treasurer’s Advance during the year 1917-18. Full particulars of the expenditure included in these Supplementary Estimates were contained in the Treasurer’s Finance Statement for 1917-18, which was presented to the Senate on the 19th December, 1918. Of the total amount required, £206,398 is for war expenditure, and £395,584 for the usual requirements of Departments. Most of the items explain themselves, but there are some which, perhaps, call for comment. Generally speaking, it may be said that owing to war conditions and the greatly increased prices which have obtained during the last few years, it has been difficult to forecast the expenditure as accurately as in normal years. One item for which additional appropriation is required, under the Prime Minister’s Department,, is the administration and the working expenses of the Port Pirie wharf. The vote is being increased from £2,000 to £13,882. but this amount does not represent a loss on the undertaking. The collections of the wharf amounted to £20,715, so that this service has been conducted on a payable basis. There is an increase in the amount to be voted for the High Commissioner’s Office of £12,977. This extra expense is almost wholly attributable to war conditions. Under the Department of the Treasury a sum of £88,177 is required above the amount originally estimated for Taxation Office contingencies. The administration of additional taxation laws necessitated heavy and avoidable expenditure in this branch. There is an increase of £49,000 for interest on transferred properties under the Department of Trade and Customs. This increase is in respect of lighthouses taken over by the Commonwealth from the States. An additional amount of £28,410 has been provided for rent of buildings. Of this amount over £21,000 was paid to the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, on account of office accommodation for Commonwealth Departments. This sum included a considerable amount for fitting up of offices and arrears of rent from the time the Departments first occupied the offices. Under War Services £172,078 have been provided to cover war pensions in excess of the amount originally estimated, and £23,186 is required for the War Pensions Office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Northern Territory : Commissioner Ewing’s Report - Customs Duties and Ratesof Exchange - Effect of Tariff on Queensland Imports - Post, Telegraph and Telephone Services - Telephone Communication : Sydney-Brisbane - Cable Service : Tasmania and Mainland - Departmental Economy.
– In spite of the explanation of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen), I am unable to clearly see the incidence of the Budget on such Bills as this. We are being asked to appropriate a further sum out of the Consolidated Revenue for the year ended 30th June, 1918. A Budget has been submitted to the country for the period ending at that date, setting out the total estimated revenue and expenditure. If this is in addition to the sum there estimated, we must go back and re-adjust the whole financial figures from the date I have mentioned, and, at present, I cannot clearly see how this Supplementary Appropriation Bill will affect the country’s financial position. To read the measure in one way, one could say that we have spent the amount of this appropriation .
– It has been spent out of the Treasurer’s Advance - for which provision was made, but the specific items of expenditure have not been authorized by Parliament.
– That makes the position much clearer. I now understand that the whole of these amounts have been included in the Estimates for the year 1917-1918, and that the schedule embodies the details of expenditure thus incurred. They will not affect the total one way or the other.
– A special sum was voted to the Treasurer, the money has been spent, and we are now asking Parliament for its approval.
– We are now asking for the approval of the specific items that have previously been agreed to in a lump sum.
– Included in the vote for the Home and Territories Department there is an amount for the Northern. Territory, and I desire to ask the Minister for Repatriation when the report by Mr. Justice Ewing will be available. I do not think the Government . will continue to ask Parliament to vote items in connexion with the Northern Territory until that report is available. May I also point out that there are several persons concerned in connexion with that report, and it is only fair that the document should be made available at an early date;
– I am unable to inform the Committee definitely when the report will be tabled, but there will be no undue delay. There have been numerous matters requiring urgent attention, and it has not been possible for Cabinet to consider the report, but it will be made available in a very short period.
– I wish to raise on the Estimates of the Department of Trade and Customs the question of the whole policy now being pursued by that Department in connexion with duties imposed upon goods from friendly allied countries affected by the current rates of exchange. I propose to-morrow or next day to place upon the business-paper some specific questions about this matter, but I take this opportunity of pointing out that the method adopted by the Department of computing duty upon old rates of exchange is, in effect, very heavily penalizing goods from Prance, and giving practically a bonus to goods from the United States and Japan.
– Order! The honorable senator is not in order in discussing the question of the Tariff upon this Bill.
– I ask your consideration of the fact that I am discussing the administration of the Department of Trade and Customs as regards the fixing of a hard-and-fast line of exchange in collecting duties.
– The honorable senator is in order in discussing any item in this schedule, but he -will not be in order in discussing the whole Tariff.
– I shall confine myself to the question of exchange, and its administration by the Department. I am informed, and I believe it is a fact, that, irrespective of the exchange having greatly fallen as between England and America, the pound sterling being now worth only 3.86 dollars, the United States Customs authorities are collecting duties upon the old basis of exchange. They thus make the goods imported into the United States from Great Britain pay a higher duty than the current rates of exchange would justify. Obviously, if we in Australia are allowing American goods to come in, and computing the duty on the exchange rate of 4.86 dollars, which was the rate before the war, instead of 3.86 dollars, as obtains to-day, we are allowing the goods of the United States to come in here cheaper than they ought to come, as compared with the value pf the pound sterling. The same argument applies, or applied until recently, with regard to the price of the yen in Japan. Reversely and conversely, if the French franc is valued at sixty to the pound, and we are charging duties on French imports on the old basic rate of twenty-five or twenty-six to the pound, we are penalizing the goods of France so far as the present rate of exchange is concerned.
– How is that to be remedied ?
– Only in the administration of the Customs Department. I feel that, after all the promises we have made in connexion with our friendship to France, and what she has done as our most glorious Ally during the war, we ought not to adopt a policy in connexion with the administration of the Trade and Customs Department which so heavily penalizes France, and gives such a great comparative advantage to American imports.
– Do you suggest giving them a preferential Tariff ?
– The Chairman has told me that I must not discuss the
Tariff. This is a question purely of administration.
– But it is administration which may go a long way towards heavier Protection or a lighter Tariff.
– Yes ; that is the effect of the question I am raising. My point is that obviously if the rate of exchange of the French franc is fifty or sixty to the pound sterling, and if we’ are charging duty here, according to our Tariff schedules, on the basis of the franc being worth twenty-five to the pound sterling, then the actual Tariff we are charging on French importations is more than double what it would be in normal times. Conversely, if the rate of exchange in America on the pound sterling is 3.86 dollars, and we are charging duty on American goods on the old exchange level of 4.S6 dollars, then we are charging less duty on American imports than we ought. If it is a fact that we are charging more on French goods, then it must be admitted that we are charging less on American goods. The matter should have the careful consideration of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), in view of the information I have, which I believe is correct, that in spite of the low rate of exchange of the pound sterling between the United States and the United Kingdom, the American Customs Department is still charging duty on British imports at the old rate of 4.86 dollars. I take this opportunity of raising a question that manifestly wants looking into, or at least wants justifying. I have given the facts, and I hope the Minister in charge of the Senate (Senator Millen) will bring my remarks under the attention of the Minister concerned.
.- The point raised by Senator Pratten is not only of considerable interest to those who care to study the very complex question which has arisen in connexion with exchange, but also has a very keen practical side to it. The honorable senator will not expect me to go into any argument now. All I can do is to adopt his suggestion by seeing that a copy of his remarks is placed before my colleague, the Minister foi Trade and Customs.
.- I draw attention to the item “ Clerk, £45,” under sub-division 1 of division 104. This evidently refers to the Customs Department in Queensland, and on it I desire to bring under the notice of the Committee cases where the importing merchants of Queensland have been very adversely affected by the increased rates of duty under the new Tariff being levied on merchandise landed from oversea boats reaching Brisbane via southern ports. In a number of cases the merchandise from these overseaboats was landed in Australia and delivered to the merchants in southern States at the old rate of duty, but while the vessels were on their way from southern ports to Queensland the new Tariff was imposed, and as a natural consequence, when the vessels reached Brisbane the increased duty was collected. The result is that the importing merchants of Queensland are in a very unfair position as compared with southern merchants who had goods on the same vessel. I am informed of the following facts : -
– The honorable senator does not blame the Government for not having given notice of the day on which the Tariff was to be introduced ?
SenatorFOLL. - But the claim is that the administration of the Government
Was responsible for the delay in this particular instance. In his letter to me, Mr. Stephens, honorary secretary of the Queensland Machinery Merchants Association, says -
Here we have the extraordinary position of the old and new rates of duty operating on cargoes landed at this port simultaneously from the same boat. It may be argued that Queensland merchants would gain a similar advantage over southern merchants in the case of oversea cargoes reaching Australian ports viâ the north; but since the Tariff Bill came into operation I do not know of any such oversea steamer going down the coast; and, in any case, the argument is not sound.
It is considered that under Federation all States should be treated similarly, and that a refund should be made of any increased duty paid under conditions as outlined above, and your kind assistance towardsobtaining that result would be much esteemed.
When an oversea vessel with a cargo which has to be distributed amongst the Australian States has landed part of her merchandise at a southern port at a certain rate of duty, it is only reasonable to ask that the balance of it shall be charged a similar rate of duty. If some importing firms are permitted to land their goods at the old rates of duty, and an increase of 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. is charged upon similar goods consigned to Queensland merchants, the latter are being unfairly penalized. I ask whether a refund cannot be made in order that a uniform Tariff may apply to tie whole of the cargoes of oversea vessels in the circumstances which I have outlined ?
– I would point out that when any Tariff is brought forward, it is impossible to avoid the appearance in certain cases of differential results to importers. I can hold out very little hope of Senator Poll’s desire in this matter being acceded to. The position is that Parliament determines that, from a certain date, a particular Tariff shall operate. But because certain traders are placed at a disadvantage as compared with others, the honorable senator wishes that a refund shall be made to them. He might follow that argument all along the line. He might just as reasonably urge that a vessel would have reached Sydney Harbor before the date upon which the Tariff was submitted to Parliament but for a storm which delayed her arrival by twenty-four hours. Senator Foll himself spoke of the advantage which Brisbane merchants would reap by reason erf the introduction of a new Tariff from trade which came from the north. Whilst it may be true that, at this particular period of the year, no vessels come to Brisbane from the north, that does not dispose of the fact that, during some other period, they might come down there. If the honorable senator’s plea is a sound One, every Adelaide or Sydney merchant in . such circumstances would be justified in coming along and asking to be exempt from the payment of the higher rates of duty.
– No doubt they would do so.
– I have never heard of such an argument being yielded to. The consequences to an importer of his being able to get in a day before, a new Tariff has been introduced are innumerable. But, as the result of many years of experience, Parliament has decided that any such Tariff must be imposed from a particular date. Senator Poll will, of course, have an opportunity of reviving this question when the Tariff itself is under review.. But I cannot see any prospect of his wishes, or those of his friends, being realized.
– Can the Minister give us any information as to when we are likely to discuss the Tariff t
– I cannot. Whilst here and there an importer may find himself at a disadvantage, with a competitor in the circumstances related by the honorable senator, upon the whole, importers had sufficient foresight to anticipate ‘the . introduction of the Tariff, and to unload from bond as large a quantity of goods as they possibly could.
– On the vote for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, I wish to make a few remarks in regard to the position generally of the postal service. I do not know whether the Government are aware of what is going on, but from the collective experiences of honorable senators I fear that the postal services of Australia are in a most inefficient position. Generally, amongst the commercial community the use of the green telegraph forms has been abandoned, and the use of red forms substituted at double the cost, in cases where some certainty is required that the wires wil] reach their intended destination. Even the mail service between Sydney and Melbourne is in a most inefficient condition. One cannot be sure that a letter posted at the General Post Offices of Sydney and Melbourne in good time for the mail train will reach its destination on the following afternoon. The telephone services are admittedly in a most unsatisfactory condition, particularly in Sydney and its suburbs. I ask the Government, in all seriousness, to bring under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral the feeling almost of desperation amongst the business community that we shall ever get back to the efficiency of pre-war days. All our soldiers have now returned from overseas, so that there can no longer be the excuse that some of the best hands in the Postal Department are absent at the war. Nor should it be pleaded by any Postmaster-General who is possessed of a personality that the Treasurer is starving his Department. No selfrespecting Postmaster-Genera] would continue in his office in such circumstances. I make these few remarks in the hope that they will be regarded seriously. I can assure the Government that the commercial community are almost in a state of despair in connexion with the present position of these important services, and it is not creditable either to the Government or the Postal Department that such a state of things should be allowed to continue. I am one of those who have given every consideration to the difficulties that were caused by the recent war. I have not overlooked the factors of money, of material, or of depletion of staff. But none of these excuses can any longer hold good, and I do hope that this Department, which affects the people of the Commonwealth more closely than does any other Department, will get back to a reasonable state of efficiency. If it does not do so, it must be manifest that there is something wrong with its administration from the top downwards.
– The honorable senator has limited himself to a general appeal for more efficient service in the Department. I can only assure him that the desire of the Government is to bring that about. We have already made known our intentions in one particular, namely, that we shall endeavour to insure improved facilities in country districts. It is to be hoped that, as conditions become more normal, many of the difficulties which have arisen from shortage of material will have disappeared. Increased efficiency generally predicates .increased expenditure. It has been generally demanded of the Government that the Department shall be run purely on commercial lines, and that the deficit which formerly marked its annual progress should be heard of no more. I wish to say, in fairness to the late PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Webster), that he found himself between the devil and the deep sea. On the one hand was the demand that he square the ledger, while on the other was the continual appeal for additional facilities - which, of course, meant increased expenditure. It is the desire of the Government to make the Department as efficient as possible, within our financial resources.
– I am sure the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) will absolve me from any insinuation that the Government is to blame in this matter. My remarks were based on the fact that opportunities such as the present should be taken to present comments and criticisms which may, perhaps, prove beneficial to the Department concerned. The Minister has mentioned that there was an insistent call upon the late PostmasterGeneral to run his Department on business lines. That call, however, was not that he should make a profit at the expense of departmental efficiency. I hold that we should not seek to profit from our public services. The call upon Mr. Webster was only that the ledger should be squared; but I understand that very big profits were made during the last year or two.
– Surely, in handling a big Department, it was not possible to so set everything out on 1st January as to insure that the ledger would balance to a penny on 31st December?
– No, but the policy of endeavouring to make a profit out of the postal service was wrong. I agree that the ledger should be squared; but I point out that although we pay at least l½d. on every letter posted in this country, only1d. goes to the Post Office, while the½d. goes direct to the Treasurer. My recollection is that, in the last report of the Postmaster-General, there was a large profit shown upon the Sydney telephonic service. The statement indicated, indeed, an aggregate profit of from £250,000 to £300,000 on the telephonic services of the Commonwealth. Yet the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), answering a question which I put before him recently, read a report from the Engineer -in-Chief to the Department, indicating that the’ telephone service in Sydney and its suburbs was in such a bad state because the Treasurer had starved him for money necessary to purchase material for upkeep. Honorable senators should compare that statement, on the one hand, with that of the late PostmasterGeneral, on the other, to the effect that many thousands of pounds of profit had been made out of the Sydney telephone service. No reasonable Government would allow these conditions to continue ; and since I regard this as a reasonable Government, I am convinced that it will not permit matters to go on so. The late Postmaster-General set out to make a profit in order, apparently, to show that something could be made out of the conduct of public affairs under this Government. But the profit was derived at the cost of efficiency. The ideal and only proper administration should be to make the ledger balance, while at the same time rendering the best possible service.
– If the Post and Telegraph Department is still making profits, I desire to indicate a way in which the margin should be spent. My purpose is to bring before the Government the necessity for instituting a better press cable service between the mainland and Tasmania. For some time past, the press of the island State has justly complained that it has been precluded from receiving important messages with that expedition which is necessary in catering for the public demand for news. Some time ago, representative newspaper men from the north of Tasmania pointed out to me that they often received news from the mainland much too late for insertion in the morning’s paper. In fairness to the Department, I should say that an officer was deputed to institute inquiries. It was pointed out that press messages are forwarded at very much reduced rates, compared with messages despatched by the ordinary public. It is suggested that the press, on the whole, are very well served, and cannot expect all the consideration given to the general public in connexion with the forwarding of telegraphic messages. Politicians owe a good deal to the press, although there is a pretended covert hostility between some of us and pressmen. Still, I think that I interpret the feeling of the public pretty correctly when I say that they desire that all reasonable facilities shall be given to the press in regard to the purveying of news. Whether an improved cable service is necessary, or more modern types of receiving machines should be installed at the Launceston
Telegraph Office is a technical matter which I shall not debate. But I do bring under the notice of the Government the fact that there is considerable dissatisfaction existing amongst proprietors of Tasmanian newspapers in regard to the forwarding of important press messages from the mainland to Tasmania, I know that only recently the Launceston newspapers were compelled to delay until Thursday the publication of news of undoubted importance which should have been available for publication on the Wednesday morning, and the delay was attributed to the fact that the messages were forwarded from the mainland at an hour which absolutely precluded earlier publication by the newspapers.
– The honorable senator may be suggesting now that the difficulty might be accounted for by undue expedition - the messages arriving too early.
– I am not hostile to the Post and Telegraph Department, which, I am aware, does good work on behalf of the public; but if I cared to be critical I might voice some complaints. I will, in a spirit of good humour, refer to a few personal experiences of the work of the Telegraph Department. It is my habit to send a telegram to my household when I am leaving Melbourne to return to the State which I have the honour, with other honorable senators, to represent. I sent to my home an urgent telegram from the Bourke-street Post-office to the effect that I was leaving by the Loongana. I arrived at my home, and when my wife w.as giving me a cup of tea next morning, my urgent telegram was forwarded to my house. I sent an important letter to a Commonwealth Department a few weeks’ ago, and it was duly delivered. I had occasion, after sending the letter, to send a telegram. Although I received a telegram acknowledging the receipt of the letter from the officer to whom it was directed, I that evening received a notification from the Telegraph Department that the address was unknown, and that, therefore, the telegram had not been delivered. This us a case of a telegram not being delivered to an address to which I had satisfactorily forwarded a letter. On the Saturday preceding Easter Monday I sent a telegram to a business address in Sydney in one of the principal buildings in Pitt-street. I was assured that it would be delivered on the Easter Monday morning. I left for Sydney on Easter Monday, and arrived there on Easter Tuesday; and when I went on. the Tuesday afternoon to the gentleman to whom I had addressed my telegram, he had not received it up to the time I made my appearance before him. These occasional occurrences indicate some lack of business intelligence on the part of Commonwealth officers in the Telegraph Department. Why should not that Department be able to deliver a telegram to an address to which the Postal Department can successfully .deliver a letter? I have said that the newspaper proprietors of Tasmania are dissatisfied with existing conditions, and as the catering for the public demand for new3 is a legitimate, modern, and cultured occupation, I hope the Post and Telegraph Department will do its best to facilitate the transmission of press messages from the mainland to Tamania
I have at times heard great complaints about the shortage of material, and particularly of copper wire for telephone lines and .other electrical equipment of the Department. I ascertained the other day from a gentleman who was recently a member of another place that he had lately been to Port Kembla, and that the manager of the wire-drawing works there told him that there was sufficient copper wire in stock at the works to girdle the continent of Australia when he was there. I understand that engineering works of importance, in connexion with which electrical equipment will be necessary, have succeeded in obtaining from the Mount Kembla establishment quite a large quantity of the copper wire necessary for installations. I therefore ‘have some authority for stating that there is no shortage of copper wire for electrical or telephonic equipment at the present time. That being so, I hope that the shortage of that kind of material will not be adduced in future as a reason for not proceeding with the improvement of our telephone services.
I do not offer these criticisms of the Post and Telegraph Department in anything like a hostile spirit, because, notwithstanding little misfortunes in regard to delay in the delivery of messages from time to time, every man of common sense knows that the Post and- Telegraph Department does a very great deal of satisfactory “work to meet the needs of a modern community. Although the Department does well, there is no reason why it should not do better, and it is .in the hope, that some effort will be made to do better that I offer the remarks I have just made.
Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) [3.581. - We have had the Economies Commission looking into matters connected with public expenditure, and it has recommended a great many economies. This is possibly a convenient time to again remind the Government that there is a report from this Commission in existence, and to ask whether they are giving attention to it, because a great deal of saving in public expenditure might be effected by adopting the recommendations of the Commission. The Commission reported that in the Sydney Post-office there were some 230 temporary employees who were not required. I should like to know if anything has been done to effect economy in that matter. I should like to know also whether there is any real, efficient control of the Post and Telegraph Department other than that of the Minister, who, wo know, has so many duties to attend to that it is quite impossible for him to look into the various items connected with such an enormous Department. It would appear from the report of the Economies Commission that there is no efficient control of expenditure in the Department. Honorable senators will find, at page 15 of the Commission’s report, in paragraph 144, the statement made -
An examination of the Acting Public Service Commissioner disclosed that he did not exer- éise any check in this direction, and he did not recognise the matter of economical control as a responsibility of his.
So he does not control it, and I say that the Minister cannot be expected to do so. In paragraph 146 of the report I find the following -
The Acting Public Service Commissioner was asked what he considered the most important functions and duties of the Deputy Post masters-General of the Postal Department in each State. His reply was - interviewing, members of Parliament, and going into profposals such as new mail services.
I always thought that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral were men who really controlled expenditure in their respective States, like the manager of a company. I thought that it would be their duty to see that efficient service is Tendered by each officer of the Department under their control. In paragraph 147 the Economies Commission further reports -
He was then asked if their principal duty was not to exercise a check and control upon the economical and efficient working of the Department in their States - to which he said he supposed that should be their principal! duty, but he admitted that he took no steps to see that it was carried out.
I should like to ask the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) who does really control the expenditure of this great public Department? If the Post and Telegraph Department were a business company–
– How can the honorable senator compare a public Department under the present Public Service Act with a private business ?
– If the Minister says that the Public Service Act is? wrong the Government should put ifc right.
– I am not saying whether it is right or wrong, but that the comparison which the honorable senator would institute does not seem to me to be possible.
– The honorable senator surely cannot say that the enormous expenditure of this country is being carried on without any check at all]
– I do not say that. That is quite another matter.
– How is the money spent, and who checks its expenditure? The Acting Public Service Commissioner says that he does not check it, and that the Deputy Postmasters-General do not check it. Any one with common sense must know that the Minister ira charge of the Department cannot possibly check it, because he has almost endless duties to attend to. If no one checks the expenditure, why do not the Government appoint some one whose duty it will be to check it? The Economies Commission has suggested that there should bc a business Board of some sort connected with each of the public Departments, and particularly with the Post and Telegraph. Department, which is a large spending Department. They have recommended hundreds of economies which they estimate, if adopted, would result in a saving of £3,000,000 oer annum. That is not a small matter. We should have some public officer whose billet would depend on running these Departments as an ordinary business man would run them. That is the only way in which we can secure economical working as well as efficiency in the public Departments. So long as we drift along as we are doing at present we can never secure that. We are frequently promised economical management of the business of every Department, but we never seem to get any nearer to it. The Government should deal seriously with this matter. Apart from his splendid parliamentary qualifications,’ the Minister for Repatriation is a first-class business man, whom I would trust to manage any business for me, and that is saying a -good deal. He is at the head of one of our most important public Departments, and he must know that proper control of the expenditure of the Department is absolutely necessary. Some one should be made responsible for the proper performance of this most important duty.
– In view of the substantial credit balance shown by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, I suggest to the Government that the time has arrived when direct telephone communication should be established between Brisbane and Sydney. Both Sydney and Adelaide have the advantage of long-distance telephonic communication with Melbourne, but, so far, Brisbane has not been connected in that way with any other capital city. Brisbane is no mean city, and it is continually expanding.
– It is a distant city.
– I suggest that that is one of the reasons why, if possible, telephonic communication between Brisbane and Sydney should be established as soon as possible.
– Distance adds to the expenditure.
– The charges might be in proportion to the distance, and, judging by the large demand made on the Inter-State lines in Melbourne, I have no doubt that the establishment I suggest would prove to be a very profitable undertaking. 1 trust that the Government will give this matter their immediate attention.
– It is not my intention to enter into a discussion with that stalwart champion of economy, Senator Fairbairn; but I remind him and other honorable senators that the Government have already announced their intention to submit to Parliament, this session, legislation the shaping of which will be governed largely by the report he has quoted. Necessarily, it is impossible, even if the Government had time, to bring in a measure covering many of the suggestions embodied in that report, and at the same time traverse the v whole of the Public Service Act, as that measure has a relation to other Acts which affect the employees in the Public Service. The whole matter has to be dealt with comprehensively, and it is the intention of the Government to do that. The honorable senator has asked for particulars as to departmental expenditure, and has singled out the only Department you, Mr. Chairman, would allow him to discuss, namely, the Post Office. He stated that the Public Service Commissioner or the Deputy Commissioner have no control over the expenditure, and that the Minister could not possibly be responsible. Senator Fairbairn overlooked the organization between the Public Service Commissioner and the Minister - the Head-quarters Staff - and he must realize that the PostmasterGeneral and his staff are largely responsible, as it is their duty, particularly and primarily, to see that the Department is conducted efficiently and economically. But the extent to which they succeed or fail I am not at present discussing. It must not be supposed, however ineffective it may be, that no machinery has been created to do the work. The machinery may not be efficient, but it is there, and I venture to say that if the honorable senator will look more carefully into the matter he will find that many of the troubles in the Public Service are inseparable from other’ public Departments. I have often heard comparisons made between private businesses and Government Departments, and I do not care what system is adopted, Commissioners or any one else cannot conduct a public Department in the way a private business is conducted. The people will not allow the Government to conduct public Departments in that way. If a Minister is in a position to make an excellent bargain he is not allowed to do it without following the ordinary routine. Metaphorically speaking, I believe that if a person came to me and offered me a sovereign for half-a-sovereign, I would not be prepared to accept it unless I followed the usual practice, because experience has taught me that, unless I followed the usual cumbersome methods of Government Departments, I would be severely criticised. A Minister may be responsible for ninety-nine successes out of a hundred, but if he made one mistake, the people would rise and call him a fool or a rogue. Reference is never made to successes, but only to failures, and it is practically impossible for governmental work to be conducted on the lines adopted by private concerns. I hope when the Government bring down their proposals - I am not looking for ideal conditions - they will be found to be a substantial improvement on the conditions at present existing.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without request; report adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This measure serves the same purpose for the year 1918-1919 as did the previous Bill relating to the supplementary expenditure for . 1917-1918, and it is to appropriate £1,016,596 to cover the expenditure made out of Treasurer’s Advance during the financial year which ended on 30th June, 1919. The finance statement submitted in connexion with the Auditor-General’s report on 26th February last contained full particulars of the amounts now under consideration. Of the total amount to be appropriated for ordinary services £61,532 is payable from Trust and Loan
Funds. The expenditure from revenue is made up as follows : -
Owing to abnormal conditions brought about by the war, and to the general and continued increase in the cost of services, the total of these Supplementary Estimates is larger than is usual. Some of the items call for brief explanation. In the Treasury Department, the sum of £68,370 is required above the amount already appropriated for Taxation Office contingencies. Increased activities in the Taxation Office account for the extra amount required. There is also an increase of £9,604 under the Government Printer for purchase of paper and parchment, and £50,071 and £23,274 are required under Treasury - Miscellaneous - to provide a temporary credit under Trust Funds, Government Printer, and stamp printing accounts respectively. These increases were mainly due to large purchases of paper. A sum of £102,609 was required above the amount originally voted for the quarantine service. This was very largely due to the influenza epidemic. Under War Services, an extra amount of £300,000 is required for repatriation of soldiers. In addition to the items referred to, provision is made under the various Departments for war bonuses granted under Arbitration Court awards, amounting in all to £52,281. In connexion with this appropriation, which relates to items on which the expenditure exceeded the estimate, it is desirable to point out that on other items there were unexpended balances amounting to £717,197.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without request; report adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill relates to works and buildings for the year 1917-18, and the total amount asked for is £2,088, which is required to cover several small items not foreseen in the original Estimate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment; report adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This measure appropriates a sum of £44,434 for additions, and new works and buildings. One main item relates to capital expenditure on the Darwin - Katherine River railway, £7,5 68; the other is construction and extension of telegraphs and telephones, £20,123. The balance is made up of sundry small items. On the other items of the original appropriation for works and buildings there was an unexpended balance of £93,729.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 7th May (vide page 1904), on motion by Senator Millen
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I understood from the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) that of’ the £1,000,000 to be appropriated under . this Bill £718,000 was required to make good the loss that would be incurred on imported sugar up to 30th June.
– Not necessarily a loss, but to pay for the sugar we are buying, pending the time when we sell it.
– I have understood all along that any money required for the purchase of sugar either in Australia or from abroad was found by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and that the amount now asked for is really required to balance accounts at the end of the term of the agreement existing at present between the company and the Commonwealth Government. I understood, also, that in addition £220,000 has been expended on the sugar which was lost during the Mackay cyclone, and on that which required re-treatment onthat occasion. I do not think that this isquite a full statement of the position, because at the close of the 1917 season there was a balance of about £480,000 to the credit of the Government’s operations in sugar. The whole of this was made out of Australian sugar, after paying for some loss incurred on the sugar which had to be imported, and this amount was transferred to revenue account. In considering the question that fact ought to be kept in mind. I understand, although I do not think the Senate has had any information on the point, that the Government contemplate continuing the control of the sugar business, following the example set by Great Britain and many European countries. While the control of quite a number of commodities was considered necessary during the war, I think control has been extended to sugar supplies in almost every country, and the shortage of sugar has been more acutely felt than that of any other important commodity. The Government of the United States of America for some years purchased sugar abroad and controlled its sale, but last year the Act giving authority for that was allowed to lapse, and as a consequence the price of sugar in the United States of America has almost doubled in the past few months.
As a result of the control by the Government of sugar in Australia and of the production of considerable quantities within the Commonwealth, we have had a more abundant supply, at a cheaper rate, than has been the case in almost every other country in the world. Considerable doubt seems to exist in the minds of the people regarding the price paid before the war. The average price paid during the three years before the war, taking into accountduring part of that time the operations of our Excise and bounty legislation, was £16 2s. 6d. per ton, while the average price paid for raw sugar since the outbreak of war - during which time 1,303,000 tons have been produced in Australia, for which the manufacturers of raw sugar received £24,756,000 - was exactly £19 a ton, or only £2 17s. 6d. a . ton above the average for the three years preceding the outbreak of the war. When that fact is remembered, it must be agreed that there has been no profiteering on the part of the sugar producers of Australia. Instead of finding fault with those engaged in sugar production, or with the Government of the Commonwealth, the people of Australia have every reason to be thankful that they have received such favorable treatment in connexion with their supplies of sugar. Unfortunately, Australia has not been able during the past couple of years, and will not be able during the current year, to supply herself with sugar.
In this connexion the Government have been blamed for a provision in the agreement between the Commonwealth and the Queeusland Government covering the years 1918 and 1919. In that document the following clause appears : -
That, in view of the large financial responsibility incurred by the Commonwealth Government under this agreement, and in order to avoid, as far as practicable, the production of raw sugar in excess of the normal requirements of Australia, the Queensland Government will not during the said seasons of 1918 and 1919 erect, or assist in. or encourage the erection of any new mill for the treatment and manufacture of sugar cane into sugar, or remove, or assist in, or encourage the removal of any sugar mill from its present site, or alter, enlarge, or extend, or assist in, or encourage the alteration, enlargement, or extension of any sugar mill so as to increase its present crushing capacity.
– Was that not rather an unfortunate provision?
– It was an unnecessary provision.
– Did it not check production?
– Not in any way, nor was it, so far as I can see, calculated to check production. It refers only to increasing the milling capacity, and restricts only the Queensland Government from doing it. It does not interfere in any way with private enterprise, nor has it anything whatever to say with regard to the extension of cultivation. In view of the fact that our Australian mills, including the three in New South Wales, in 1917 made 327,000 tons of sugar, and in the following year made only 202,000 tons, or 125,000 tons loss than in 1917, and that in 1919 they turned out only 166,000 tons, or just a little over half of their 1917 output, it is clear that it was not the shortage of milling capacity, but the shortage of cane which reduced the output. The exist-‘ ing mills could have made twice as much sugar if the cane had been there.
– Was there a bad crop?
– There was. It is evident from those figures that that provision in the agreement could have had no effect whatever upon the output of sugar. What would have been the effect of even doubling the number of mills, seeing that we had a reduced crop of cane? I speak with a full knowledge of the position, because last year I visited every sugar centre in the State, and met the management of every mill and a great many of the growers. I say without the slightest hesitation that that provision in the agreement did not reduce the production of cane by a single stick, nor the production of sugar by a single pound.
– No, because you had a bad crop.
– We had, but the Government have been blamed for the inclusion of the provision in the agreement. Negotiations in connexion with the agreement began just after we had had a record output of 327,000 tons in Australia. I am speaking in terms of raw, and not of refined, sugar. That output was 20,000 or 30,000 tons in excess of the Australian consumption. When the negotiations began, the outlook was that in 1918 we would have a still bigger crop. There was at that time a carry-over of some 50,000 tons, and it was expected that, if the estimates made early in 1918 were realized, the Government would have in that year a carry-over on its hands exceeding 100,000 tons. In view of this, it was felt, and I do not think any one can blame the Government for it, that it .would be wise to impose some restriction upon the production of sugar, but it was a restriction which I felt at the time would not have any effect, because I knew that nobody contemplated the erection of mills. At that time . a single mill would cost, with its equipment of tram lines and rolling-stock, at least £500,000. That in itself was sufficient restriction, and will be for many a long year to come.
– The honorable senator told us earlier that the Australian production had never met the consumption.
– I do not say so. It has done so only on three occasions, but never in the whole history of the sugar industry for two years in succession. Early in 1918 we had a most disastrous cyclone in the Mackay district. That district had the worst cyclone, the worst flood, the worst frost, and the worst drought ever experienced. That was a combination of circumstances which, surely, no Government could be expected to foresee. Following that, there was a cyclone in the north of Queensland, and this in turn was succeeded by a drought which materially reduced the crop that might have been anticipated under more favorable circumstances.
– Evidently, it is a pretty hot, windy shop up there.
– Frosts do not suggest a hot shop.
– I omitted to mention that in ‘the Mackay district there was also a tidal wave which drowned about twenty persons - a- combination of adverse circumstances which, fortunately, is not common in Worth Queensland.
Then the Government are blamed for not having made large purchases of sugar in Java during 1918, when that commodity is said to have been procurable there at a very low figure. It is quite true that in that year there was a large quantity of sugar in Java for which there was no outlet. Yet the whole world was in need of that sugar, and the reason wiry there was no market for it was because there were no ships available to carry it. Only a few months before, the Allies had seized all the Dutch vessels engaged in the trade for use on other routes, and the remainder of the Dutch mercantile fleet immediately went into hiding in neutral ports. But there was only a limited quantity of sugar for sale at the low prices quoted, and it was for sale for a very limited time. This was the sugar which was held by a few weak speculators - not that which was in the hands of strong corporations, who, a9 soon as they realized the position, erected large stores for the purpose of holding their sugar. I would remind honorable senators that it was open to buyers in any part of the world to purchase that sugar, and yet nobody bought it. Why? Because just about that, time the minds of men were concentrated on the battlefields of France, although there were evidently a few jam manufacturers in Australia who were even more concerned about the price of sugar in Java.
Anybody who studies the position will find that when the fortunes of the Allies were at the lowest ebb, the price of sugar in Java touched the lowest point. On the other hand, when the fortunes of the Allies rose, the price of sugar in Java rose correspondingly, until to-day it is nearly £100 per ton. Although it is true that the production of sugar in Australia has not been equal to our home consumption, it is nevertheless a fact that that production has had a material effect upon the price which our consumers have had to pay for sugar purchased from other countries.
– Can the honorable senator explain why sugar is the only one of our primary products which has not been produced in sufficient quantity to meet our own needs?
– It is because, under pre-war conditions, it was impossible to produce sugar for export. This commodity is affected in precisely the same way as other commodities are affected, by the seasons. It would be very difficult, indeed, to grow sufficient sugar in an adverse year, and to avoid having a big surplus in a particularly favorable season. However, I believe that that difficulty can be overcome to a great extent by a continuance of Government control of the industry, and especially if we rid ourselves of the fear that a carry-over of 50,000 or 60,000 tons would be a calamity. It is quite impossible to regulate the production of sugar so that we shall always have enough, but never have too much.
– Production, therefore, ought to be increased sufficiently to meet the needs of the Commonwealth.
– It should be encouraged in every possible way, and I hope that the honorable senator will use his influence to secure the establishment of the beet sugar industry in his own State.
– The cane-sugar industry would be then like Othello’s occupation - “ gone.”
– I do not think that the sugar-producers of Queensland entertain any fear of that kind. If Senator Bakhap will launch a scheme for the production of beet sugar in Tasmania we shall wish him all the success which such a commendable venture will deserve.
– We grew sugar beet in Tasmania with very high sugar con- tents a quarter of a century ago, but we did not have a sugar beet factory.
– One of the effects of the Australian production of 1,300,000 tons of sugar during the five years which have passed since the outbreak of war has been to keep down the price which we would otherwise have had to pay for sugar purchased abroad. But for that production we should have been entirely dependent upon Java, where the sugar stocks are in the hands of strong companies, which could have compelled us to pay any price that they chose.
– That was not the case in 1918.
– There is no denying that statement.
– Of course that is theory.
– My statement that the low prices which ruled for sugar in Java continued for only a few months in that year and applied only to a limited quantity of sugar is one of fact.
As the result of these abundant supplies of cheap sugar, we were enabled to manufacture and find a market for very large quantities of jams and preserves, with very satisfactory results to our manufacturers. From the report of the Royal Commission on the SUgar industry, dated 27 th February of this year, I desire to quote the evidence of two or three manufacturers of jam. I find that one manufacturer whose name is not mentioned said -
I might say now that nearly every confectionery manufacturer in Australia has added very considerably to his plant and buildings. In my own case I have expended over £100,000 in building and plant, and I know my competitors are acting similarly in every State. The expenditure of £100,000 in new buildings was contributed to very materially by the embargo placed on confectionery from abroad. The inducement for the expenditure was the flourishing condition of the industry under the embargo plus the commercial outlook in comparing the price of sugar in Australia with its price abroad.
Then one of our largest jam manufacturers stated -
During the last four years we have had a. better time as jam manufacturers than ever before. We have not been at any disadvantage during the past four years in respect of the price of sugar.
– Was not that largely owing to the war demand?
– Their market was due to the war demand, but if they had had to pay the same price for sugar as their competitors overseas, they would not have been able to sell their jams at the prices at which they did sell them. The manufacturer whose evidence I have quoted continued -
I should think we have had an advantage over competitors in other parts of the world owing to the price of sugar.
I know that some of these gentlemen have complained that whilst their oversea trade has increased, there has been a big shrinkage in the home consumption of jam owing to the increased price of- that product consequent upon the increase in the price of sugar. In this connexion I desire to make a very brief quotation from the annual report of the Cockatoo Preserves Company Limited. Amongst other things, that report states -
Owing to the rapidly increasing local demand, the company has been able to supply only one-eighth of the three and a quarter million pounds of jam for France ordered early in the year.
That statement seems to discount, anything which may be said by jam manufacturers in regard to an alleged shrinkage in home consumption.
– The statement by the company may have been an excuse to get out of a difficulty.
– I do not know. I. would not be surprised if there were a shrinkage in the consumption of factorymade jam in Australia, because there is such a big difference - largely owing to the price of containers and to the high wages paid - between the price of that jam and the price at which jam can be made in the home to-day. Only a few weeks ago a request was made to the Fair Profits Commission in Victoria that an increase should be allowed in the price of ordinary jam to 15s. 9d. per dozen 27- ounce tins, and to 16s. 9d. per dozen for apricot jam. I understand that the price of apricots has recently been fairly high, and that the prices of other fruits have advanced proportionately. The present price of sugar to manufacturers is £46 10s. per ton, and it is said that a ton of jam contains half a ton of sugar. In other words, the sugar -which is contained in a ton of jam costs £23 5s. If we allow a further sum of £16 for the fruit contained in a ton of jam, we shall bring its cost up to £40. Upon the basisof 16s. 9d. a dozen 27-oz. tins, I work it out at £92 10s. a ton - showing that the difference between the cost of the raw material, excluding containers, and the wholesale price of apricot jam, amounted to no less than £52 a ton. In these circumstances one can readily understand that housewives would -prefer to make their own jam, seeing that they would only be put to the cost of raw material.
SenatorSenior. - But during the past year housewives could not get the sugar to make their jam.
– I believe that was so. I do not know whether the honorable senator has read a recent statement of the chairman of directors of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to the effect that during the previous six months the company’s deliveries of sugar - raw and refined- had been 30,000 tons in excess of deliveries for the same period of the previous year. The reason, I understand, is largely due to the great quantity of sugar required by manufacturers. It was reasonably held that if manufacturers did not get the sugar, a very large quantity of fruit must be wasted.
– It might have been much better to supply householders with sugar for jam-making, in order to save the fruit.
– That contention would appear to be sound until one remembers that in the case of factories there could be an assurance that the sugar would be used for manufacturing purposes, while, with respect to. the general householder, there could be no assurance that the commodity would not be hoarded against the day when sugar would cost more.
I desire to quote again from the published report of Cockatoo Preserves Limited, since it is typical of reports issued by other companies engaged in similar manufacture -
The Hon. W. Angliss, M.L.C., expressed surprise at the progress that the company had made, and stated that the results had been remarkable, and it was more than likely that they would be better. He strongly advised shareholders to enlarge their financial holdings in the company, as he himself had decided to do. Shareholders could not find a better investment.
– That, I understand, was in 1918. The price of the company’s shares to-day is about 22s.
– The firm has increased its capital. For the year quoted in the report it showed a profit of 17 per cent. The Royal Commission, from whose report I have already quoted,, pointed out that there was no general evidence of prosperity among cane-growers, nor, with few exceptions, were there any signs of further development. The report continues -
It may be added that the past two seasons, including damage by cyclones and floods, have proved unfavorable to the industry generally, and that in many cases the returns tothe farmers, and not a few of the millers, have been extremely unsatisfactory.
– What price did the Commission recommend that cane-growers should be given?-
– Honorable senators might expect that it would have recommended an increase of at least £10 a ton; but, instead, it recommended only 20s. a ton, which was more than absorbed by the increase in wages occurring while the Commissioners were conducting their inquiries.
– That indicates the value of spending good Government money upon investigations of the kind.
– I believe in the appointment of business men to make business investigations.
– In this instance, the Commissioners should have consisted of senators representing Queensland.
– Particularly those interested in sugar.
– It is very diffi- . cult to get away entirely from people who are interested in the commodity, either as producers or consumers. In 1914, when we asked for an increase in price, we had to appear in Melbourne before a State tribunal upon which ‘ the grocery trade and the jam manufacturers were directly represented. That is to say, Queensland producers had to ask a body of large consumers for an increase : and, as honorable senators know, we did not get it. At the price of £30 6s.8d., which the Commonwealth Government has agreed to pay for Australian sugar for the next three years, the public will be obtaining a commodity at a cost greatly below that which rules in other parts of the world.
– At present.
– And probably for the future as well, because the cost of producing sugar in all countries, with perhaps the single exception of Java, has increased enormously. In Java, the position is altogether different from that obtaining elsewhere. I have been informed by the general manager of three large Javanese mills, w’ho recently visited Australia, that it will be impossible to increase the production of sugar in that region.. Production is limited there by the area of suitable land available; and, even if growers could get more land, their operations would be limited by the water supply. In Java, sugar can only be grown successfully under irrigation.
I desire now to quote figures indicating the cost of production of sugar in other countries. Cane sugar in the United States, in 1918, cost £33 10s. a ton to produce. In 1919, owing to very adverse seasonal conditions in Louisiana, it cost £65 6s. 8d, per ton. In fact, the cost was even higher than that. The United States Government allowed Louisiana producers to charge 14 cents per lb. for raw sugar, which was officially stated to be below the cost of production. In 1918, in the United States of America the cost of production of beet sugar amounted to £30 a ton. The cost in Hawaii amounted to £22 18s. In Cuba - according to the report of a company which, in 1919, made no less than 640,000 tons of sugar in its own mills - the cost was £23 2s. 6d. So, quite apart from the shortage of the commodity, the cost of production is likely to maintain the price of sugar at a high level for a number of years. Beet sugar-growers in America recently held a convention, and decided that they could not possibly grow beet at less than 50s. a ton. Last year, in Holland, the suppliers of beet to cooperative factories received £4 a ton. Notwithstanding these high prices, production of sugar during and since the war has decreased in practically every country except Cuba. It was thought that, as soon as peace was declared, there would be an immediate revival of the beet sugar industry in. Europe. Yet there was a smaller output in 1919 than in 1918 ; and in March last - which was the period for sowing beet in Germany - the whole of that country was practically in a state of revolution. But, quite apart from those considerations, there are other circum stances operating in Europe which are likely to keep down the production of beet sugar for a number of years. For instance, in Germany, there is a shortage of nitrates; and, although that country is at present producing 400,000 tons of synthetic nitrates annually, that is insufficient for requirements owing to the serious depletion of the soil during the war period. And even that quantity is being produced at very high cost. Sugar beet soil requires a lot of fertilization, and, when we speak of cultivation in Germany, and in fact in all other European countries, we are referring to land which has been under cultivation for centuries - land which requires considerable fertilization. Therefore, apart from shortage, there is the high cost of production in Germany to be taken into consideration. One might imagine that potash would be particularly cheap in that region. Yet, according to the latest information, the price of potash a few months ago was six times as high as before the war.
– Is the honorable senator’s illustration with regard to potash for export, or for internal consumption ?
– For internal consumption.
– Of course, there is the depreciated mark. Would that account for the position ?
– The mark would not have depreciated in German j itself, I presume.
– Yes; it would have depreciated by the fact of the increase in the price ‘of commodities. There would be, of course, no face depreciation.
– There is no hope whatever of the public securing cheap sugar within a measurable period.
The world production of sugar the year before the war was 18,677,000 tons, and 63 per cent, of it was cane sugar. The estimated product for 1919-20 was 16,000,000 tons, or 2,677,000 tons below pre-war figures; but this estimate has been revised lately with regard to certain countries: Production in Germany is much less than was estimated, and the same may be said of Austria; so that, in all probability, the production for 1919-20 will be fully 3,000,000 tons less than it was in 1914. In addition, it must be remembered that there has been a large in- crease on the consumption of sugar during pre-war years.. It is stated that if the United States of America could get sugar she would consume an extra 1,000,000 tons, and in Great Britain, which consumed very nearly 2,000,000 tons before, and about 1,500,000 tons during, the war, the position, is so acute that consumption has been cut down to 1,100,000 tons this year. As showing the difference in price paid for sugar in Australia and in Great Britain, I may say that whilst last year the Australian manufacturer could buy at £26 per ton, British manufacturers were paying up to £118 per ton. Permission having been given to manufacturers to import sugar outside the supplies which they were obtaining through the Royal Commission, a considerable quantity was introduced into Great Britain for manufacturing purposes at prices ranging from £115 to £118 per ton.
– What is the price in New Zealand?
– The New Zealand price recently was £23 10s. per ton. This was fixed under an arrangement made with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company at the outbreak of the war; but nobody believed then, that the war would last so long. For the future I do not know what the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are going to receive for the New Zealand supply, but I understand that after the 30th June the retail price in the Dominion will be 7d. per lb. It has to be remembered, too, that the New Zealand supply is grown by coloured labour in another country, whereas most of the sugar consumed in Australia is grown by white labour in this country, and, therefore, money paid for it is kept within the Commonwealth - a most important consideration during the war.
SenatorSenior. - A considerable quantity of sugar used in South Australia during the war period came from Fiji, from whence New Zealand drew her supplies.
– During the war Australia produced 1,300,000 tons of sugar. If we had been compelled to buy this product abroad, it would have meant an expenditure of many millions of sovereigns, because Java, which would have been our source of supply, would not have taken very much in the way of commodities from us in exchange, and we would have been expected to pay for the sugar in gold.
– The honorable senator must be aware that up till 1919 Java sugar was much cheaper than the Australian product.
– I have not contended it was otherwise; but I remind the honorable senator that if, during the war, we had been drawing our supplies from Java, our competition for that sugar would have made a material difference in the price. The fact that we were largely independent of foreign supplies enabled us to obtain sugar at a reasonable price.
I repeat that throughout the world production has not increased except in Cuba, and even there the position is changing, the cost of labour in connexion with sugar production is much higher than ever before, so that there is not very much difference now between wages in Australia and wages in otheT countries. We cannot, therefore, expect to get sugar from abroad at a much lower price than that at which we can produce it ourselves. I say without hesitation that it will be in the interests of Australian consumers to adopt an attitude of friendliness towards the Australian sugar producers. This has been lacking of late. Only a few months ago, at a meeting in Hobart, and later at a similar gathering in Melbourne, fruit-growers and jam manufacturers expressed the hope that there would be free trade in sugar, and declared that it would be in the interests of fruit-growers and jam manufacturers if the Australian sugar industry were destroyed and the Commonwealth drew all its supplies from abroad.
– Did they limit the agitation for Free Trade to sugar ?
– They did. Thev did not ask for free trade in jam or confectionery, although at that time not only were they protected by the higher price of sugar in other countries, but also by an embargo on the importation of confectionery into Australia.
– I believe they have been converted since then.
– I hope they will give some practical proof of their conversion. Any honorable senator with a knowledge of the position in Queensland must be aware that this hostility shown by the consumers of the southern States has had a serious effect upon sugar production in Queensland. But for this hostility the sugar growers there would have had greater confidence in the future of the industry, and as a consequence would, have extended their operations and been in a position to produce more sugar than they are likely to do for the next year or two.
– Are the sugar growers satisfied with the present arrangement ?
– Yes. They could not very well be otherwise; but it is likely that if they had known as much as they do now concerning the sugar position of the world they would not have preferred such an extremely moderate request. The Government, however, realized it was a good bargain for the consumers, and we cannot complain, seeing that the Government gave us really something more than we asked for, because our request was for a five years’ agreement and the Government made the period three years. It is quite possible that the Government, in arranging for the shorter term, were not conserving the interests of the consumers so much as would have been the case had they entered into au agreement for a five years’ term.
– I prefer the viewpoint of the Government.
– I think that, taking a comprehensive view of the sugar situation in Australia, especially during the war period, the people of this country have every reason to congratulate themselves upon having had such an abundant supply at so reasonable a price, and they should be prepared to give considerable credit to the Government for this satisfactory state of affairs.
– I should like to preface my remarks by stating that, in my opinion, the whole crux of the future in relation to sugar turns upon the position of the pound sterling. We are apt, and I must plead guilty myself, to make comparisons in pounds, shillings, and pence now with the position as it was before the war. I do not think the pound sterling will ever buy the same amount of the world’s com modities in future as was possible in the past. In other words, we shall not be able to get as much cotton, as much wool, or as much pf any other commodity. Gold itself is worth more, and for this reason the world’s parity is likely to be higher for many years to come. 1 think the Government made a very good bargain indeed with the Queensland sugar growers. My honorable friend who has just resumed his seat has given us a most lucid exposition of the sugar position; but I cannot quite follow him in his statistics, nor do I indorse his pessimistic view of the future in regard to sugar prices. I do not think the world’s present parity will be maintained for very long.
– It will be a long time before sugar comes back to £30 6s. 8d. per ton.
– I do not think it will ever come back to the previous world’s parity. It is not at all likely that beet sugar, on the continent, will ever be sold for £8, £9, or £10 per ton ; nor is it likely that Java sugar will be sold for £10 or £11 per ton. I do not know the source from which the honorable senator has drawn his figures, and upon which he has based his conclusions, but I remember reading some statistics a short time ago setting out that the world’s sugar production before the war was, approximately, 17,000,000 tons, including, of course, a fair proportion of beet sugar; and the figures for this year were set down again at about 17,000,000 tons, the diminution in beet sugar having been made good by increases in the production of cane sugar.
– My statistics were Willett and Gray’s.
– They are not the only compilers of sugar statistics.
– I referred to the actual pre-war production.
– I am quoting the statistics obtained from another source, and showing that the production of sugar in the coming year will approximately equal that obtained during the last pre-war year. The diminution in the production of beet sugar in the .coming year, as compared with that in the last year before the war, has been made up by the increase all over the world in the production of cane sugar. If these statistics are correct, I cannot take such a pessimistic view as the honorable senator regarding the future sugar position.
– Everything hinges on the point whether the figures are correct or not.
– Senator Crawford is not going to claim that the figures of any firm he quotes are sacrosanct. Sugar statistics are published in the United Kingdom, United States of America, and on the continent, and there are many influential men connected with the sugar business who hold entirely different views, but most of them agree on some of the points on which I differ from Senator Crawford.
The present sugar agreement does not give the Queensland cane-growers the world’s present parity, but I think the Commonwealth is entitled to expect reasonable treatment’ from them, seeing that in the past, even from the inception of Federation, the sugar-growers have had a considerable amount in the aggregate to assist them in preserving the industry. I am going to say freely and frankly that the sugar-growers of Queensland have repaid their moral debt to the Government and the . Australian consumers for preserving their industry through times of stress and difficulty. During the war Australiahas been in a unique position as regards sugar production and prices. Senator Crawford quoted statistics relating to the jam and confectionery industries, and, I think, manufacturers freely admit that they have been in a unique and favorable position in connexion with the price they had to pay for sugar used in their manufactures.
– Did not they pass a resolution condemning the agreement?
– I am not aware of the jam manufacturers themselves having passed such a resolution.
– In Tasmania they did.
–I think the honorable senator is referring more particularly to the fruit-growers.
– And the jam manufacturers also.
– I say most deliberately, from personal knowledge, that the bulk of the jam manufacturers in Australia have recognised the favorable position in which they have been placed, and, for the benefit of the Commonwealth, have taken full advantage of the situation, not as regards prices, but by increasing production. For instance, the exportation of jams and preserved fruits has increased tenfold since the outbreak of war. There has also been an extensive development in the confectionery industry, and although the products of such businesses have not been exported to any extent, the manufacturers have been using Australian sugar, and practically meeting the local demand, which had previously been made up by importations. As a result of securing that trade, they have developed their businesses in the way Senator Crawford has suggested. There has also been a great increase in the export of jam and canned fruits to other countries, which has been a great benefit to the fruitgrowers. I do not think Senator Crawford and others interested will hear much more in regard to the handicap that fruit-growers have experienced as the result of’ sugar prices prevailing in the Commonwealth, although he may be pessimistic as regards the future price of the world’s sugar.
– I do not think it is going to remain at £80 per ton, but it has to fall a long way before it reaches the Australian level.
– I admit that. But all high-priced commodities have ahabit of falling very rapidly once’ they start.
I would remind Senator Crawford that the Queensland sugar-growers operating under an agreement covering a period of three years places the Australian consumers in a favorable position during the first year of the agreement, but it may be that they will have to pay a price that may be considered high three years hence.
– There is no danger of that.
– I have already stated that the pound sterling will not in our time purchase as much of the world’s commodities as it would in pre-war days. In other words, £20 per ton for sugar in pre-wartimes would be no cheaper, so far as our world’s outlook is concerned, than £25 per ton would be in the future. We cannot expect to purchase commodities at the same price as we did before the war,- because due consideration must be given to increased wages, higher costs, and the scarcity of the commodity.
– Is the honorable senator not making any allowance for reductions that may be made in consequence of scientific discoveries and improved methods ?
– In a minor way such reductions could be placed against the increased price, but as wages have increased the world over following on the cost of living the’ cost of production will never be reduced to the pre-war price.
– Does it necessarily follow that if wages are increased the cost of production must also increase?
– Not necessarily, but costs will go up unless reduced by other means. The present condition of affairs exists, not only in the “Western, but in the Eastern world, and the production of metals, rubber, tea and sugar, is costing much more to-day than previously, and I believe we have made a good deal for the consumers in the Commonwealth. The producers have been placed in a reasonably good position, the Government have safeguarded all interests, and have effected a fair compromise. If I had any criticisms to offer on the sugar agreement they would perhaps be to the effect that it is for a year too long.
– I am glad it is for only three years.
– Seeing that we are indebted to the sugar-growers t for providing us with cheap sugar it may be that they will require us to pay that debt during the third year of the agreement.
The fostering and preservation of the. Queensland sugar industry by the Government has been repaid to the people of the Commonwealth by virtue of the cheap sugar received during the currency of the war. When the agreement comes before the Senate I shall support it, and as this measure is an integral part of that document I shall support its passage also. I am hopeful that under the agreement the production in Queensland will considerably increase, and it seems that if we can produce in Australia all the sugar we consume, that the retail price will automatically drop Id. per lb. The real basis of the agreement with the
Queensland sugar-growers is a retail price of 5d. per lb., but the artificial basis of 6d. per lb. has been created because we have to average up to the extent of Id. per lb. for the higher priced imported sugar. If the world’s parity comes down to the co3t of production in Queensland, it will not be necessary’ to pay ,an extra Id. per lb. as we are doing at present. I am hopeful that during the third, if not the second year of the agreement, the consumers of the Commonwealth, instead of paying a retail price of 6d., will be paying only 5d. in consequence of the automatic drop I have mentioned. The Queensland producers and the Common-wealth Government are no worse -off, and this elastic and clever agreement will bring about that state of affairs as soon as the world’s price justifies it.
– My remarks on the Bill now before the Senate will be very brief. I always recognise that it is an honorable senator’s duty to put up as good a case as he can on behalf of any industry or interest appertaining to the State he helps to represent. There is no doubt that an honorable senator’s duty in regard to the interests of his own State are overshadowed only by the greater and more important interests of the Commonwealth as a whole. Senator Crawford has made out a good case for the industry in the State he represents, and, no doubt, although he did not expressly say so, his remarks were intended to be in support of the arrangement entered into by the Queensland sugar-growers and the Commonwealth Government. I must say, however, that he spoke in somewhat deprecatory terms concerning the supposed action of the fruit-growers in Tasmania. Just as cane-growing and the manufacture of sugar are vital to the State of Queensland, and the northern portion particularly, so is the production of small fruits vital to the interests of the hardy settlers in the small State of Tasmania.
– Could you riot grow beet sugar there?
– We have all the time there is to grow beet, and we shall grow some later on. We cam grow it. but the manufacture of beet sugar has only lately become a moderately successful industry in Victoria, so we intend to hasten slowly in that regard.
There is not the slightest doubt that, if cheap sugar were available to jam manufacturers in other countries, while jam manufacturers in Australia had to pay a high price for sugar in order that cane might be locally grown and manufactured into sugar within Australia, the grower of small fruits in Australia would be to a very large extent prejudiced and, in fact, his industry would quite conceivably be absolutely destroyed. It must, of course, be understood that for many years the jam manufacturers of Australia did have available to them cheap sugar, from Mauritius. Java, and other sugar-producing countries.
– That was for thenexport trade.
– Yes. Anything that tends to disturb the equilibrium of an important industry is always viewed with apprehension by the people engaged in it. and just as the sugar-growers of Queensland nave in their service men like Senator Crawford to lock after their interests, to come down here to the capital city of the Commonwealth, even before they are in the Legislature, to voice those interests, and to see that justice is done to them, so it is perfectly natural that the growers of small fruits in the State of Tasmania should voice any feeling of hesitation with which they may regard any agreement entered into between the Commonwealth and the cane-growers of Queensland, concerning a factor so vital to the successful manufacture of jam. While sugar is at a high price right through the world, I do not anticipate from this agreement any unsatisfactory results to the growers of small fruits, but directly sugar cheaper than it can be produced in Australia is available to the jam manufacturers of other countries, the growers of fruits necessary to the manufacture of jam in Australia will be prejudiced. The jam manufacturers will be prejudiced in regard to their export trade beyond all doubt, although they may not suffer anything specially prejudicial in regard to the Australian market; but the Australian market in. itself is not sufficient for the manufacture of Australian jam. Australian jam is a commodity manufactured in such quantities that oversea markets are essential to the absorption of our surplus production.
– Will not the rebated import duty meet them when those circumstances arise?
– Let us hope so. While in the present condition of things I do not regard the agreement as likely to be very prejudicial, or even prejudicial at all, to the interests of the Australian growers of small fruits, I feel that the feelings of trepidation with which at first they regarded it are not such as should be made ‘the subject of reprobation. Their sentiments of hesitation and doubt with regard to the future of their industry were just as honestly entertained as were any feelings of doubt felt concerning the future of the sugar-producing industry in Queensland by the farmers of the north. These things show that, notwithstanding the racial unity of our people, the inevitable diversity of conditions over such a large portion of the world’s superficies as is represented by the Australian continent makes it necessary at all times to take into consideration the consequent diversity of interests. The difficulty, not always apparent to the people of the different States, is for honorable senators, representing the whole of the Australian people, to do justice to the people of their own States as sections of Australia’s population, and at the same time . to do justice to Australia’s .population as a whole. It is sometimes a very difficult matter to balance these apparently conflicting interests, and to get everything into a state of Australian equilibrium. The interjections I made during the course of Senator Craw.ford’s speech are, therefore, not to be regarded as hostile to the sugar industry of the northern State. I wish the sugar industry of Australia every success, for I believe that sugar is one of those commodities which, in the present condition of the world’s affairs, it is necessary to have produced in considerable quantities on the Australian continent.
I am not a fanatical Protectionist. Give me 100 years of assured peace, and I fancy I would embrace the Free Trade principle to-morrow; but, seeing that we are far from a world’s peace, and seeing that many of the world’s population show a very contentious spirit, it is essential for Australia to be as self-contained as she can reasonably be. Reasonable encouragement and Protection, both internal and external, should, therefore, be given to the Queensland sugar industry. At the same time, with all due deference to Senator Crawford, I shall protest against any detrimental remarks that may be made regarding any action taken by orchardists, not only of my own State, but of any portion of southern Australia, who anticipate that the jam-making industry and its export trade may be prejudiced if cheap sugar becomes available to manufacturers outside Australia, while our own jam-makers have to use dearly produced Australian sugar in their operations. I hope that both the jam-making and the sugar-making industries will continue to flourish. If the agreement entered into continues to be reasonably satisfactory to the growers of the northern State, I will make no protest, but will hope that both industries - jammaking and sugar production - so closely associated in the minds and activities of the Australian people, may flourish and be profitable to those engaged in them.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– It is provided by this clause that ‘ ‘ the principal Act, as amended by this Act, may be cited as the Sugar Purchase Act 1915-1020.” Does that refer to the Commercial Activities Act?
– No; a Sugar Purchase Act waspassed as far back as 1915.
– Then this really means the extension of the Sugar Purchase Act until this year? The Bill has no bearing upon the agreement with the Queensland sugar-growers,- but is merely to legalize the purchase of sugar outside Australia ?
– That is so.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2. and title, agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Senator MILLEN (New South Wales- view of the fact that the Senate has disposed of eight Orders of the Day, I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 5.4.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 12 May 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200512_senate_8_92/>.