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Wednesday, 13 December 1905

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - I think that honorable members generally will agree that the honorable member for Herbert had every desire to place his case fairly before the House; but I believe that I shall be able to point out that he made several grave errors in connexion with his contention that some of the States have not suffered any loss as the result of the policy of a White Australia. For instance, let us take the position of Tasmania, to which my honorable friend last referred. Dealing only with round figures, I understood him to say that prior to the imposition of the Federal Tariff that State received a revenue of £46,000 from the import duty on sugar, whilst last year it received £10,000 from the import duty, and £13,000 in respect of the Excise, or a total of £23,000. But instead of deducting from that the amount of the bonus paid by Tasmania, he added it to the total.

Mr Bamford - I added it to the Excise and the import duty, but I debited the amount to the States.

Mr McLEAN - It appeared to me, from the figures quoted by the honorable member, that prior to the imposition of the Federal Tariff Tasmania received £46,000 from the import duty on sugar, and last year it received a total of £23,000 by way of the import and excise duties. Its share of the bounty amounted to £5,000, and that sum should have been deducted from the total of £23,000, in order to show the total revenue which Tasmania received last year from the sugar duties. According to the honorable member's figures, her receipts from this source amounted to £18,000.

Mr Bamford - That was the amount which went into the Treasury.

Mr McLEAN - Therefore the Treasury of Tasmania lost £28,000.

Mr Bamford - I admit that.

Mr McLEAN - Then, I presume that the honorable member was dealing with the matter from the stand-point of the consumer. But he did not go far enough. To show that the consumer had benefited, as he alleged, to the extent of £19,000, he should have proved that the consumer is now paying less than he was prior to the imposition of the Federal Tariff. As a matter of fact, we know that he is paying more.

Mr.Fisher. - The price of sugar all over the world has increased.

Mr McLEAN - If my statement be correct, and we know that it is, the consumer is not benefited 'by the present system. The honorable member admits that the revenue of Tasmania suffered last year to the extent of £28,000, as compared with the amount derived from the import sugar duty prior to the Federal Tariff coming into force. We know that the revenue of Victoria has also suffered to a very large extent. Having pointed out these facts, I wish to say that I am a supporter of a proposal to give fair compensation to the sugar-growers of Queensland and New South Wales. I intend to support the second reading of the Bill, but would earnestly impress upon the Minister the desirableness of reconsidering some of its details in Committee. If the Bill be passed in its present form, it will do nothing to settle the question ; we shall merely postpone its settlement for another five years, thus throwing upon our successors the onus of dealing finally with it.

Mr Mauger - Is it not right that we should leave it to our successors to decide what is proper?

Mr McLEAN - Ido not think so. We ought to know more of the loss that we have inflicted upon the cane-growers by calling upon them to substitute white for black labour, than the Parliaments of some years hence will know. I would also point out to the Minister that} if we leave the ultimate settlement of the question to some future Parliament, vested interests will be growing every day. Encouraged by the payment of these bonuses, almost every day men are entering into the industry who are absolutely not entitled to one farthing by way of compensation. The bounty was introduced, not to establish a new industry, but for the express purpose of compensating those engaged in the sugar industry for any loss incurred in substituting white for black labour in conformity with the policy of a White Australia. But the longer we postpone the settlement of this question the greater will be the vested interests. Every person who has entered into the industry since the payment of the bounty began is receiving a share of the compensation, just as if he had been affected by the original determination of the Parliament.

Mr Fisher - Does the honorable member know of any bonus that has been granted out of Excise to the parties who paid that Excise?

Mr McLEAN - I will deal with that point a little later on. A bounty is usually given to cover the initial cost and risk incurred by those who enter upon a new industry, and I think that, when properly considered, and judiciously paid for that purpose, it is not only a justifiable, but a very' wise policy. I hold that it should be paid only to assist the establishment of a new industry, when there is every reasonable prospect' of that industry becoming self-supporting and a valuable asset to the nation, after the first cost of its creation has been overcome. In this case, however, the position is different. There is no fiscal question involved. Free-traders should be just as willing as are protectionists to compensate cane-growers for any loss they have suffered as the result of our policy. ' Therefore the question at issue is not a fiscal one ; it is simply one of whether we should compensate the growers for the loss we have inflicted upon them. That is the stand-point from which the bounty should be regarded, and it is because I hold that view that I urge that we should settle the matter once and for all. I am willing to settle it on a- basis absolutely fair to the cane-growers - on a basis that would give thiem full compensation for any loss we have inflicted upon them. I am not so particular in respect to the amount we have to pay as I am in regard to the point that we should follow a definite principle and settle the matter. Let the bounty extend over as long a period as the House may deem desirable, but let us see the end pf it. I would prefer to see the system now proposed, which is practically the same as that in operation at the present time, extended over two or three years upon the existing basis, at the expiration of which time the bounty should begin to taper off. I should1 like to see the gradual reduction of the bounty extend over a longer period than that proposed by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, but upon the same lines. If we paid, the present bounty for two or three years, and, then began to reduce it on a sliding scale, we should do well. The honorable and learned1 member for Corinella proposes that it shall be reduced* to the extent of 20 per cent, per annum, after a certain period has elapsed, but I should prefer a reduction of 12J, or even 10, per cent, per annum. The bounty would then disappear by successive gradations. If we fixed a definite time for the disappearance of the bounty, and determined the amount of the annual reduction, we should settle the question for all time. Those entering upon the industry would then know exactly what they had to expect, and would make' their calculations accordingly. The Government proposal, however, would tend to create vested interests. It would encourage people to enter the industry in the hope that they would be able to bring sufficient influence to bear upon the Parliament to renew the bounty from time to time, and so make it perpetual. If we pass this Bill in its present form, we shall do a great deal towards making the bounty a permanent one. In that .case, future generations will be paying, the compensation, supposed to be due to the cane-growers originally affected by our legislation to every one who has entered the industry since the passing of the Federal Tariff. That would lie a grave mistake, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will consider the desirableness of modifying his proposal. With regard to the Ex'cise, about which honorable members have been interjecting, the burden of it certainly should not fall upon the producers. Germany, Fiance, and the other continental countries, where the greater part of the sugar of the world is produced, derive a large amount of revenue from an Excise duty- on sugar, which is paid, not by the producers, but by the consumers. They impose import duties which are practically prohibitive, and return very little revenue. These duties are imposed for the protection of the producers, and, in addition, substantial Excise duties are imposed for revenue purposes. These Excise duties increase the cost of production, but they are paid entirely by the consumers. Then for many years a small export bounty was given to' enable any surplus to be exported without serious loss, and this enabled the consumers of Great Britain to obtain continental sugar more cheaply than the continental consumers could obtain it. Deducting that export bounty from the amount received from the Excise duty, there still remained a substantial sum to the credit of the revenue of the country in which the sugar was produced. The object of our Excise duty was not to tax the producer, and it does not do so. He is protected by the import duty, thoughI will not now discuss, whether that duty is or is not high enough. That is a question which should be argued on its own merits. The point I wish to emphasize, however, is that the matter should not be dealt with in such a way as to mislead any one, by inducing him to go into the sugar industry under the impression that the bounty will be paid for all time. However distant the date of its disappearance may be made, a definite date should be fixed. Let us settle the matter once and for all in such a way as will be fair to those on whom our White Australia policy has undoubtedly inflicted loss, but without being unfair to the taxpayers, who have to find the money required for the payment of the bounty. It will certainly be unfair to the taxpayers if we go on adding to the vested interests of the industry year after year by inducing more persons to enter into it under the belief that the bounty will continue for all time. Still, as the measure is one which can be more profitably dealt with in Committee, I shall content myself with the few words which I have uttered to indicate the lines on which, in my opinion, we should endeavour to settle this question.

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