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Wednesday, 10 April 1946


Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- Two-thirds of the sugar required in New South Wales is produced in the Richmond and Tweed River areas. I therefore consider it incumbent upon me to bring to the notice of honorable members certain features of the sugar agreement which this bill has been introduced' to ratify. Unfortunately we are obliged to accept or reject the agreement in toto. That being so, I shall vote for the bill, but I must record that some features of the agreement are wholly unsatisfactory to sugargrowers in New South Wales. The Minister has stated in his second-reading speech -that the retail price of sugar in Australia has not been altered for fourteen years, and that if this agreement be ratified it will remain unaltered for another five years. In other words, the price of sugar will have remained stationary from 1932 to 1951. There must be certain reasons which have made this possible. One reason could be that the price originally fixed in 1932 was so much above the cost of production as to allow sugar-growers a big margin. That is not so. The price was fixed after a very complete investigation of all the factors involved in sugar production. Another explanation could be that during the last fourteen years this industry has increased the efficiency of its organization to such a degree that it has been able to meet its added costs without increasing the retail price of sugar. That is only partly true. The third reason which could account for this situation, is that the maintenance of an unchanged retail, price of sugar for fourteen years has involved many growers in a substantial loss of income. That is certainly the case of the sugar-growers in the district that I represent. I have been a sugar-grower, and I am intimately acquainted with the industry in New South Wales. I assure honorable members that if canegrowers had not been alert enough to produce other crops as well as sugar-cane, in order to supplement their incomes, they would have had ck abandon sugar-growing. It would not be possible for producers to continue operations under the existing conditions if they had to rely wholly on sugar production.

The agreement which we are now asked to approve provides that the Government of Queensland shall purchase the whole of the Australian crop of sugar-cane, irrespective of whether it is grown in Queensland or New . South Wales. The agreement may be satisfactory to the sugar-growers of Queensland, but the circumstances under which the industry is being conducted .in northern New South Wales make it definitely unsatisfactory to the growers there. Sugar is grown in Queensland, particularly in the Cairns, Innisfail and Ingham districts, under much more favorable conditions than those of the Richmond and Tweed River, districts. The cane grows more quickly in Queensland and has a higher sugar content. This means that the growers in Queensland get a bigger tonnage with a higher sugar content in a shorter time than do the growers in New South' Wales. The industry is, therefore, on a better economic basis in Queensland than in New South Wales. The sugar production of New South Wales amounts to about 30,000 tons annually. The price paid to the growers of cane in that State varies slightly according to the amount by which the production exceeds 30,000 tons per annum. I do not believe that the existing state of affairs can continue for much longer. Unless more consideration be given to the cane-growers of. New South Wales they may find it desirable to cease production. That would be a bad thing for Australia. For that reason, I urge that there should be differentiation in the prices for cane in Queensland and New South Wales. The present .price is definitely unprofitable in the Richmond and Tweed River areas.

The Minister, in introducing the bill, stated that if it could be shown that substantial increases were occurring in the cost of production during the currency of the agreement, prices would be reviewed. He also stated that the Tariff Board had made an exhaustive investigation of this industry in 1944, and that prices had been fixed in the light of its findings. The board was instructed to ascertain whether an increased subsidy was necessary, and it had decided that such was not the case. I point out, however, that, in the course of its investigations, the board did not visit any sugar-growing area in New South Wales. I urge that in any future investigation the New South Wales industry should be given more consideration. I do not consider that we should take pride in the fact that the price of sugar is lower in Australia than in other parts of the world, if our price is kept low at the expense of the sugar-growers. There is justification for another investigation to ascertain whether the retail price of sugar should not be increased at once. In those fourteen years, which include the war years, there has. been a substantial increase of costs in every branch of trade and industry. Despite that knowledge, it is proclaimed with some pride that the price of sugar has not varied. I can say, with definite knowledge of . the income tax returns of sugar-growers in New South Wales, that the reason for the absence of any variation is that they and other sugar-growers in Australia have had to bear substantial losses of income.







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