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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - My honorable colleague who represents the Minister of Trade and Customs has not the right of reply, and it devolves upon me, therefore, to answer what has been said: by Senator Gould. The question to which he has referred has been, and is being, considered by the Government. It has to be remembered that an increase in the price of sugar will not add a single ton to the quantity of that commodity in Australia.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - It might render it possible to import sugar.

Senator PEARCE - It will make the people pay more for the sugar there is in Australia at the present time, although ihe cost of production has not been increased by a single penny. To increase the price of sugar now would be simply to make a present to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company of the whole of the increased price.

Senator Millen - No; the company is prepared to give a guarantee that the increase in price will be passed on.

Senator PEARCE - They will pass it on to the growers of the cane they expect to purchase in the sweet by-and-by. What justification can they give to the people of Australia for increasing the price ? When they know that there is going to be a shortage of sugar, they cannot say, " We will increase the price, but we will not increase the amount of sugar by a ton." If there is a deficit in the sugar crop, the question is how can we best get over the difficulty in the interest of the people, not in the interest of a particular company. There are several methods, at OUr disposal. There is one method, I remind Senator Millen, which has been adopted by more than one State Government in regard to wheat, that is to say they have imported. «

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - They had to pay an enhanced price for the imported wheat.

Senator PEARCE - If they import either refined or raw sugar-

Senator Millen - If they import raw sugar, what will they do with it?

Senator PEARCE - They will hand the raw sugar over to the company to be refined, I should think; but whatever class of sugar they import, we know that they will have to pay a high price for it in the outside markets of the world. That in itself would be no- justification for raising the price of sugar which has not had to be imported.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - No- one argues that.

Senator PEARCE - That is exactly what is being asked - I do not say by the honorable senator. What the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have practically put forward is that they should be allowed to increase the price of sugar all round.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould -No.

Senator PEARCE - And also, that they should be given facilities for importing sugar. Of course the justification for an increase will be that in importing they had to pay a big price in the outside market. The removal of the duty would not help the situation at all.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Yes, it would.

Senator PEARCE - No; for the simple reason that at the present time sugar is dearer outside than in the Commonwealth. The removal of the duty is not going to help the situation here.

Senator Millen - Why did you take the duty off wheat?

Senator PEARCE - Because at the time we took that action there was a scarcity of wheat.

Senator Millen - So there is now.

Senator PEARCE - There is no scarcity at the present time. It is said that there is going to be a scarcity, but there is no scarcity of sugar to-day.

Senator Millen - There is wheat here yet, apart from- the importations.

Senator PEARCE - In some of the States there is not sufficient wheat for the seeding operations which are proceeding apart from the wheat which has been brought in. I think that the Government are entitled to claim that by their action in stopping theexport of sugar they enabled the people of Australia to get their supplies at the price they have been paying. Everywhere else in the world the price of sugar has gone up tremendously, and if we had not stoppedsugar export from Australia, the company which is now so anxious about the future would have exported its sugar - a perfectly justifiable thing to do - and would have made a scarcity at that time. It was the action of the Government which prevented the company from then creating an artificial scarcity. We would have had this position existing ever since the war began, and immediately the price of sugar went up in the outside world. All that I can say now is that the Government will see what they can do in the matter. I hope the honorable senator realizes that our position has been very largely complicated by the decision of the High Court in the wheat case, and that the Queensland Government have in their hand a power which they can wield, if the electors allow them to do so, and which can be very largely' used to the detriment of other States. Under that judgment of the High Court, there is no doubt that the Queensland Government can seize the sugar crop, and tell the people of the other States at what price they shall buy sugar, and compel them to buy at the price ruling in the outside world.

Senator Bakhap - What are the Government going to do about that judgment ?

Senator PEARCE - What can we do ?

Senator Bakhap - Cannot the Government appeal to the Privy Council?

Senator PEARCE - The Government are not cavilling at the decision of the high Court, which we accept as being good law. I am not reflecting on the High Court, hut am only pointing out that one effect of the judgment is to give Queensland a power by which she can, if she wishes, take toll from every State, and bring the price of sugar in other States up to the price in the outside world, and, in such a contingency, the Commonwealth will be powerless to help. I can assure honorable senators that the Minister of Trade and Customs has been inquiring into this question, and is watching the situation, and whatever we do will be done with a view to safeguard the position of the people of Australia. The question of the poor unemployed has been brought forward. In my opinion, Senator Gould must have been smiling to himself when he said that men were unemployed at the sugar mills, because not one mill has had to turn away any hands.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - I say that if something is not done there will be nothing for the employe's to do.

Senator PEARCE - The sugar crop will have to be refined.

Senator Millen - There will be an interregnum.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - There will be nothing to do until August.

Senator PEARCE - The shortage in the sugar crop will not seriously affect the refineries in Australia. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company have always imported sugar from Fiji, so that I doubt very much whether there is a necessity for the refineries to close down, or whether there is not sufficient cane to keep them employed. At any rate, I assure the Senate that the Government are seized of the importance of the situation, and will do all they can to meet it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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