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Friday, 3 August 1906

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) .- I wish to give the Minister of Trade and Customs every credit for his desire to promote primary production by means of bounties. I believe that the judicious expenditure of a reasonable amount of money in this way will be attended by excellent results, but I am sorry that I cannot compliment my honorable friend upon the manner in which he proposes to apply the principle of the measure. There is no doubt that the success of the scheme must, to a large extent, depend upon the supervision exercised, and it appears to me that the Government have commenced at the wrong end. Whilst I am as strongly in favour of bounties as are most honorable members, I think that we should first either establish an agricultural bureau of our own or make suitable arrangements with the States Departments to supervise the operations to be carried on under the Bill. The Minister told us that it was intended to utilize the services of the States Agricultural Departments. But I think that arrangements should have been made beforehand, in order that we might know how the money was to be applied. Although I am a strong believer in the payment of bounties under certain conditions, I think that a great deal more good would be done if we provided for a thorough system of agricultural education. In no country in the world do the people on the land require more education than in Australia. In the older countries of the world people follow the same occupation from youth to old age, and generally walk in the steps of their fathers. Australia, however, is a more progressive country, and the people are continually changing from one occupation to another. We frequently find people who have saved money by working as miners, or in business, or labourers who have been thrifty, investing their money in land and entering upon the occupation of farming. These men had no previous knowledge of the industry, and yet there are few callings in which technical knowledge with regard to the latest and most improved methods is more necessary. An unskilled farmer placed on good land, whilst doing no good for himself, impoverishes the soil by slovenly cultivation or may neglect to apply the proper fertilizers. The State is in a much better position than is any private individual to collect and distribute useful information relating to the cultivation of the soil. We should educate our farmers with regard to the most approved methods of cultivation, the best kinds of machinery, the best seeds to sow, and the purposes to which certain soils can be best applied. Under the Bill, it is intended to spend a large sum of money, the greater part of which could have been much belter applied to the purposes I have indicated. I admit, however, that bounties may be made very useful if they are offered under proper supervision. In the first place, we should be extremely careful to offer bounties only in regard to such industries as may reasonably be expected to achieve success after the initial cost of their establishment has been incurred. A bounty should never be paid with a view to bolster up an industry that will not stand after the difficulties of establishing it have been fairly overcome.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.

Mr McLEAN - When the sitting was suspended, I was pointing out that in my opinion it would be a very great mistake for this Parliament to authorize the payment of a bounty to any industry which could not be profitably carried on after the initial cost of establishing it had been overcome. The real object of granting a bounty is to compensate the pioneers in any particular industry for the experimental work which they undertake, and for the inevitable loss incurred in transplanting that industry to another country. No doubt it is difficult to ascertain what industries are likely to prove remunerative after they have been established. The Minister has submitted to us a number of figures which are very useful, so far as they go. They show the extent to which these industries are already being carried on in the Commonwealth, and the quantity of their products which is being imported. No doubt that is very valuable information as showing the margin of the home market which is still available. But we require a great deal more than that. In saying this, I wish to assure the Minister that any word of criticism which I may offer to the Bill is offered in the most friendly spirit, and with a sincere desire to make it as perfect a measure as possible. But in asking this House to authorize the payment of a bounty for the establishment of new industries within the Commonwealth, the Minister should be able to inform us of the conditions under which these industries are conducted in other countries. He should be in a position to tell us of the nature of the soil, and of the climate necessary for, and of the wages which are paid in, these industries in foreign countries. We should then be in a position to form an independent judgment as to whether suitable conditions for their establishment prevail in Australia. I would strongly urge the honorable gentleman when the second reading of the measure has been disposed of, to postpone its consideration in Committee until he has collected, and is in a position to place before honorable members, information of the character which I have indicated. The Bill is essential lv one for Committee. Speaking generally, my own opinion is that the industries which are specified in it, and which are carried on in all other parts of the world by means of the cheapest coloured labour, cannot be successfully established in Australia under existing conditions. Reference has been made to the cotton industry. There is no doubt that that industry is a splendid one wherever local conditions are adapted to the production of the article. It is one of the largest industries in the world.

Speaking from memory, Great Britain, in 1903, exported more than £66,000,000 worth of manufactured cotton, and more than £7,000,000 worth of yarn, or a total of over £73,000,000. Her next largest exports were iron and steel, the value of which was only about £30,000,000, or very much less than one-half. Her third largest line of export was woollen goods, the value of which amounted to something more than £^25,000,000. These give us some idea of the magnitude of the industry. We cannot ignore the fact that in other parts of the world cotton is produced by" means of very cheap labour. I agree with the honorable member for Moreton, that in paying the proposed bounties we should keep in view, as far as possible, the establishment of small holdings and family industries. But I may mention that I went verv carefully into this matter - I collected all the information that I could obtain - and that I was not able to discover that cotton could be profitably produced' even bv families. We Know very well that in Queensland the cotton industry is bv no means a new one. During the period succeeding the American war, when the prices ruling were as high as is. 8d. and is. 9d. per lb., it was carried on with a fair amount of success, but as soon as prices dropped to the normal level it had to be abandoned. I very much fear that under our present labour conditions the enterprise cannot be successfully established in the Commonwealth, although nobody would be better pleased to see it firmly established than I would. Of course, any industry which is suitable to our soil and climate, and to our labour conditions, occupies an entirely different position. In this connexion I am very pleased to notice that provision has been made in the Bill for the development of the fishing industry.' The Government proposal opens up an entirely new field. Hitherto there has been very little done in the way of deep-sea fishing, around the coasts of Australia, and I think that a small expenditure in that direction can be thoroughly justified. °

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Outside our territorial limits. ,

Mr McLEAN - Wherever a payable supply can be procured. I think that we are justified in incurring a little risk to test the possibilities of that industry. There are other enterprises mentioned in the Bill which are suited to our soil and climate and to our conditions of labour. I refer to the fibre, flax, and vegetable oil industries. I do not see why they should not be successful here. 'But I should like the Minister to obtain all possible information regarding the cost of producing these commodities in other countries, so that we may be in a position to deal with the matter intelligently. If he will do that, I believe that the House will be disposed to assist him to establish any industry which has a reasonable prospect of being successfully carried on after the initial cost of its establishment has been overcome.

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