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Friday, 3 August 1906

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) .- There seems to be only one view -in regard to the provisions of this Bill. I may say, however, that I fail to find in it any provision as to where the articles in respect of which the bounties are to be paid shall be grown. It is quite true that the areas in which they may be grown may be prescribed, but as we have power to acquire territory beyond Australia, it would be as well, unless we intend to extend the bounty to producers outside the Commonwealth itself, to clearly define in the Bill where these products shall be raised. I mentioned trie matter to the Minister at the close of his speech on the motion for the second reading of the Bill, and I believe that the law advisers of the Crown share my view. I understand that a more specific provision will be inserted.

Mr Deakin - If it' be necessary, but the regulations will make it absolutely plain. Of course, the intention is that these goods shall be produced in Australia

Mr FISHER - I am not sufficiently well versed in the law to be able to say that if we do not prescribe in the Act itself the places in which these products shall be raised, the Government may not extend the bounty to articles produced in any Commonwealth territory beyond Australia.

Mr Deakin - I think that we should not do so without the express assent of Parliament.

Mr FISHER - When the honorable gentleman who is a lawyer says that he « thinks "--

Mr Deakin - I have not locked into the question, but that is my view.

Mr FISHER - I availed myself, of an opportunity to consult the secretary of the Attorney-General's Department, and whilst he was not prepared to express a definite opinion, he said that he thought it would be better to state in the Bill itself where these products shall be grown. That is the first point I wish to make. It is evident that the Bill is not going to be treated as a party measure. Indeed, the interest aroused by it has not been sufficient to give rise to even a keen debate. Yesterday we were discussing the effect of certain prescriptions consisting of tonics and so forth for the use of individuals. This is a prescription by the Parliament to which none of our patients will object. It is a golden prescription which all will cheerfully take. It can do no harm even if it does no good. Of all the schemes designed to encourage industries, I think that the bounty system is the best. Arguments have been advanced in favour of it by honorable members on both sides of the House., and I congratulate the Minister upon the introduction, of a Bill forecasting an expenditure of £500,000 which has not aroused any severely hostile criticism. I am pleased to say that the sugar bounty has been a great success. There appears in this morning's issue of the Argus an article that is so far from being correct that to those not acquainted with the true position it must be absolutely misleading. It is singular that those who talk most freely about the bounty system seem to have the least knowledge of it. I admit at once that the position of the Commonwealth in regard to the granting of bounties is a very technical one, and as the article to which I hare referred in the Argus deals with the question, I presume that I shall be in order in further alluding to it since this measure also relates to the granting of bounties for the encouragement of primary industries and manufactures. It is stated in the article that if there had been no duty, sugar would have been cheaper, and that if there had been a duty, and the local production of sugar had not increased, more revenue would have been secured. The point is that in the latter event, we should not have had the industry. We cannot have both the industry and the revenue. The further statement is made that the bounty has not enabled the white growers to make the progress that was predicted. The position is quite the reverse. I mav state that the figures quoted by the Argus are not accurate, although I have no desire at this stage to refer very fully to them. They leave entirely out of account the effect which I and others stated last year would be produced by the bounty.

Mr SPEAKER - I think it would be convenient, and it appears to me to be desirable, at this stage, to state the position in which honorable members stand in discussing the sugar bounties in relation to this question. I recognise, as the honorable member for Wide Bay has said, that inasmuch as the Bill is 'one relating to bounties, a reference to the sugar bounty is relevant. The honorable member is, therefore, at liberty to refer freely to the sugar bounty in so far as it illustrates any argument in relation to this measure; but if his reference to it took the form of a justification of its payment, or an exposition of its general policy,he would be anticipating the debate which must necessarily occur on the Budget, and I should have to prevent his making any such further allusion to it on this occasion. The honorable member will see that any matter relating to the sugar bounty which bears upon or illustrates the question now under consideration, may be dealt with by him, but that any statement which may be made in justification of the sugar bounty, or relating to it exclusively, must be reserved until the Budget is under consideration.

Mr FISHER - I desire to refrain from making any statement that will not be in order. The article in question is misleading, although I do not say that it is wilfully misleading, and I shall avail myself of another opportunity to refer to it. It appears that it is possible to clearly misstate the facts in relation to these matters for no other purpose than to damage, in other parts of the world, the interests of the northern part of Australia. The question is near akin to that now under discussion, because the result of the sugar bounty absolutely bears out the contention that the system is a valuable one for promoting agricultural settlement. . Like the sugar bounty, the bounties under this Bill are, according to the Minister, tobe paid to the actual producers.

Sir William Lyne - Hear, hear.

Mr FISHER - There is one important distinction, however, between the sugar bounty and those now under consideration. The sum paid by way of bounty to the growers of sugar by white labour is the exact amount - less £1 per ton - which they themselves contribute to the revenue by means of the Excise duty. Under this Bill, however, no Excise duties are to be imposed. I am not an advocate of the imposition of an Excise duty for the purpose of paying a bounty, but I mention this because I feel that if we were to impose an Excise duty, in addition to the bounties we propose to pay, no one would say that we were making a gift to those who are to produce these goods.

Mr McLean -An Excise duty ought always to be accompanied by a correspondingly high import duty, so as to make the consuming public pay it.

Mr FISHER - The protective duties imposed on some of the articles, which are to form the subject of these bounties, are higher than that imposed on sugar. It is because these proposals are not involved in another great question that we hear so little about them.

Mr McWilliams - Would it not be better to abolish the bounty and Excise, and to increase the duty ?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will see that his question would lead the honorable member who is speaking to discuss the sugar question.

Mr FISHER - Then I shall make no further reference to it. The honorable member for Gippsland remarked that I should agree with him that bounties ought not to be given continuously - that only industries that were native to the soil should be bounty fed, until they were able to maintain themselves without assistance in the shape of a contribution from the whole of the people. Speaking generally, that is a sound principle, but at the same time I am not one of those who think that money spent in this way is lost if it accelerates in any way the production of commodities which can be manufactured here, and tends to encourage settlement. It is particularly desirable that the northern parts of Australia should be settled, and I would rather expend a large sum of money in promoting their settlement than' in paying for the maintenance of Defence Forces, because the presence of population there will be a more efficient means of defence than we can provide in any other way.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is wonderful what arguments can be found for these propositions when they are looked for.

Mr FISHER - In my opinion, the northern parts of Australia cannot be settled more cheaply and in a more statesmanlike and efficient manner than by the payment of bounties for the stimulation of productions which will enable persons to earn their living there.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That argument has been used by the Prime Minister in support of high protective duties.

Mr FISHER - Protective duties have done a great deal of good in many instances.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is coming on.

Mr FISHER - I cheerfully admit that, when the Tariff was under discussion, I advocated the imposition of a duty of 30 per cent. on boots, and the leader of the Opposition said that he thought it a very fair thing.

Mr Reid - I opposed that duty very strongly.

Mr FISHER - It is useless to ignore the difficulties which face us in connexion with the occupation of the northern parts of Australia. The settlement of semitropical regions wholly by white races has not been successfully attempted in any other part of the world, but our legislation in regard to 'the sugar industry shows that it can be brought about.

Mr Kelly - Has the sugar bounty proved successful?

Mr FISHER - Yes ; startlingly so.

Mr McWilliams - More than half the Queensland sugar is grown by black labour.

Mr FISHER -Although honorable members have been supplied with authoritative information on the subject, theyseem wholly ignorant of the facts. Seventy per cent. of the sugar produced in Queensland this year has been grown by white labour.

Mr McWilliams - That is not shown by the last figures.

Mr FISHER - It is shown by the figures in the printed statements supplied to me.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is an error in the tables. They do not work out accurately.

Mr FISHER - I am not responsible for that. But I stated last year that it would be found this year that the bounty had been a magnificent success, and that has happened. I hope that the bounties provided for in the Bill will be equally successful.

Mr.Joseph Cook. - There is no difficulty about getting results if one will pay enough for them.

Mr FISHER - A few years ago I heard it said, even by residents of Queensland, who should have known better, that the growing of sugar by white labour under a bounty system would never prove a success, because it was physically impossible to carry out the industry under those conditions. But even the leader of the Opposition has had to admit, since visiting the State, that it has been beyond doubt a success. I cannot, however, deal with the subject in detail at the present time, though nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be allowed to do so. I refer honorable members who wish for accurate and full information in regard to the wholequestion to some articles which recently appeared in the Melbourne Herald.

The writer of those articles is among the few persons who have a clear and full knowledge of the subject. I hope that, in Committee, the date for the coming into operation of the bounty system will be made not earlier than the 1st January, 1907. I make this suggestion because it is provided that the bounties shall be paid only for the production of articles by white labour. Now, a number of personsin Queensland are committed until the end of the year to agreements requiring them to employ coloured labour, and I should like an opportunity to be given to them to take advantage of the proposed bounties.

Mr Kelly - The honorable member merely wishes to divert employment from one industry to another.

Mr FISHER - The difficulty which I have in mind is this : Many persons in Queensland have entered into agreements, having currency until the end of this year, to employ coloured labour, and therefore cannot take advantage of the bounty proposals until next year, because bounties are not to be payable in respect to production by black labour. A Mr. Wells, who, the leader of the Opposition, if he met him during his recent visit to Queensland, knows to be a very straightforward man, has spent at Childers, in my electorate, over£1,000 in preparing ground and planting sisal hemp.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member, then, is looking after the interests of his own constituents.

Mr FISHER - I knew nothing of the Government proposals until they were announced, and did not read them in detail until the Bill had been laid upon the table.

Mr Kelly - Has the experiment been asuccess?

Mr FISHER - Mr. Wellshas not yet obtained a crop. As a sugar-grower, he is under agreement to employ a certain number of coloured labourers until the end of theyear, and, unless the coming into force of the bounties is postponed until the beginning of next year, will be prevented from taking advantage of these proposals.

Mr Reid - A provision might well be inserted in the Bill, indemnifying those who, prior to its passing, had employed coloured labour in any of the industries which it is proposed to encourage, but prohibiting the employment of any but white labour in the future.

Mr Kelly - Did Mr. Wells plant hemp in anticipation of a bounty ?

Mr FISHER - I do not think so. But, in any case, I do not think that he should be deprived of the benefits of this measure.

Mr Reid - On the contrary, I am inclined to give such persons all the more consideration.

Mr FISHER - That is a remark which should be generally applauded. There is no extreme urgency in this matter, and another reason for postponing the operation of the bounties is the fact - I have often heard it mentioned in this Chamber - that our agriculturists are not in close touch with what we do here, and therefore it takes some little time to make them acquainted with the provisions of our legislation. I desire to know whether the Minister proposes to take power to so distribute the £50,000 per annum, which it is proposed to set apart for bounties, that, in the event of certain production not being entered upon, he may increase the bounties for other productions.

Sir William Lyne - No, though I propose to move the insertion of a clause which will enable the Minister to slightly vary the payments, if necessary. In no case is the expenditure to exceed £50,000 in any oneyear.

Mr FISHER - What I wish to know is whether, in the event of all the industries named in the Bill not being started, the Minister will have power to increase the bounties paid to those which are started. I ask for enlightenment on this subject in order that I may know exactly what I am voting for, because, when I support a measure, I take full responsibility for its effects, whether good or ill. I am opposed to giving the Minister power to increase the bounties paid for one article by applying the sum voted by way of bounty for the stimulation of the production of something else which no attempt is made to produce. I do not mean that I would not give consideration to am- proposal brought before Parliament for increasing a bounty, but I am against the granting to the Executive of what I may call legislative powers. I have no complaint to make with regard to the administration of the present Minister of Trade and Customs, but I do not believe in conferring too much power upon the Executive.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member voted enthusiastically in favour of giv ing the Minister very large powers under the Commerce Act and the Industries Preservation Bill.

Mr FISHER - I take the full responsibility for my action in those matters, and I trust that the measures referred to may be wholly successful in their operation. I am not prepared, however, to grant power to the Minister to allocate the money proposed to be devoted to bounties in the manner that may seem best to him. If the amount available for the payment of bounties in connexion with the encouragement of any particular industry is not claimed, it should not be devoted to any other purpose until Parliament has been consulted. There is no dispute with regard to the principle of the measure, and I do not think that there is any need' to discuss it at any great length. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the matters to which I have directed attention. It is pleasing to note that honorable members are unanimous in regard to the expenditure of £500,000-

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who says that the House is unanimous?

Mr FISHER - Hardly a discordant note has been sounded. Even the leader of the Opposition was in an optimistic mood with regard to the object of the Bill.

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