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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Postmaster-General) . - in reply - During the discussion of this bill a few matters of prejudice obtruded themselves. There was much criticism of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, although it has nothing whatever to do with the sugar agreement. Having been asked by the Prime Minister to undertake an investigation of the sugar industry, I endeavoured to ascertain all the information I could about the growing, cutting and refining of sugar. My inquiries convinced me that if there is one institution in Australia of which we should be proud, it is the efficiently conducted Colonial Sugar Refining Company, about which so many remarks, irrelevant 'to the bill before us, have been made during this debate.

Another statement which, in my opinion, should not have been made is that aliens are employed in the industry. I regard all the people engaged in the production of sugar in Australia as Australians. They have been admitted to this country in accordance with its laws, and should be treated as Australians, and absorbed into our population.

A good deal has also been said about the wonderfully virile race which is being built up in the tropical areas of North Queensland. I suggest that those statements are somewhat inconsistent with our recognition of the need for a special living allowance for officials living in tropical districts. I scarcely agree with those who say that conditions in the sugar areas are such as to produce a virile race. The people of North Queensland are like the people of Scotland, in that any weak ones among them seem to have been eliminated. I certainly saw in North Queensland some stalwart men capable of, and, in fact, performing, good hard work.

Senator Sampson - Northern Queenslanders did fine work in France and Palestine.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Men working under the conditions which are met with in the cane-fields deserve greater consideration than is necessary in the case of those living in more pleasant climates, such as that of Canberra.

Senator Crawfordsomewhat alarmed me when he said that the sugar industry was on the bread line. I cannot altogether accept that statement. I went to Queensland determined that the price of sugar should be reduced from 4£d. to 3-Jd. per lb., if the reduction could be justified/ As the result of my investigation, I was convinced that if the price were reduced below 4d. per lb., there would be financial repercussions from

Cairns to Melbourne. Although we may disagree with the basis upon which the sugar industry has been built up, we must accept the facts and take care not to do anything which might be to the detriment of Australia as a whole, apart altogether from its effect on any particular industry. In my second-reading speech I showed that the price of sugar to-day is 33 per cent, above the pre-war price. But the prices of all foodstuffs have risen since pre-war days. Food and groceries are now 46 per cent, higher than the pre-war price, and wages are up by 45 per cent. After all, a comparison with present-day prices is the only fair basis. The sugar industry is of vital importance to Australia. It has been said that it is an artificial and uneconomical industry ; but is it any more artificial than the growing of wheat in certain parts of Western Australia? If we are to have a homeconsumption price as part of the policy of Australia, it is only a question of degree whether the price of sugar in Australia shall be 4d. or 3£d. per lb. In any case, even if the price were reduced to 3fd. per lb., the average householder would not benefit to any considerable extent.

Senator Johnston,who is the only real opponent of this measure, criticized the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) for his apparent change of front in regard to the sugar industry. Mr. White was frank enough to tell the House of Representatives, as I now tell the Senate, that he had learned a great deal about the sugar industry during the last two years.

An inquiry into the sugar industry by the Tariff Board has been urged. Many of our primary industries have been the subjects of investigation by various bodies. Wool-growing, the most important of our primary industries, was examined by a special commission. The wheat industry has been for some time the subject of an inquiry by a royal commission. The Development and Migration Commission conducted investigations into dried fruits, canned fruits and berry fruits, whilst the dairying industry was examined by a special committee set up by that commission. The citrus industry was also inquired into by that body. Primary industries have always had special consideration. Since Senator Johnston left his home in Western Australia to come to Canberra, news has been received that Western Australia now grows sufficient bananas for its own requirements. I advise Senator Johnston to sample them on his return to Western Australia for I can assure him that they are of excellent quality.

Senator E B Johnston -i have been through those districts recently.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I ask Senator Johnston to consider what would happen if those States which are not big producers of wheat were to say that there shall be no home-consumption price for wheat.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Will the Government fix the price of wheat on the same generous lines that it has fixed the price of sugar?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The principle is the same. The objection taken by Senator Duncan-Hughes as to the price is a subject which we may discuss at the committee stage of the bill. I cannot understand the illogical make-up of those honorable senators who approve of the principle of a home-consumption price for wheat but would withhold the benefit of that principle from some other form of primary production. In reply to Senator Grant, who urged that steps should be taken to establish a depot in Hobart, as provided in clause 11 of the agreement, I am informed that during the last seven years there has never been a shortage of sugar in that city. Definite inquiries were made by officials with regard to the alleged shortage a month ago, and they stated that it was merely an alarmist report.

Senator Grant - I absolutely deny that statement.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The establishment of a depot in Hobart rests with the people concerned. The sugar industry is quite willing to make this provision if the merchants of Hobart will comply with the terms of the agreement and support their request by evidence of a definite shortage"; but I put it to honorable senators that in the event of a protracted dislocation of shipping due to a strike, even a well-stocked depot would not be an absolute safeguard against the depletion of reserve stocks. I conclude by expressing gratification at the generally favorable reception of the bill, and I thank honorable senators for their promised support of the measure.

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