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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time'.

I hope that the House will not raise upon this Bill the general question of sugar production, and particularly of sugar prices. I respectfully suggest that such a discussion would be out of place on a Bill of this kind. This measure has to do with only one phase of the sugar question, namely, the purchase of, and payment for, sugar imported from abroad. The retail price of sugar is another question to be discussed on some other occasion if honorable members feel so disposed. All we have to deal with to-night is the question of making the overdraft sufficient to enable us to pay for the sugar which unfortunately we are obliged to import. I hope that the time will soon come when there will be no need to import sugar. With all our tropical country so full of latent possibilities of production, the time ought to come soon when we shall be able to at least feed ourselves in respect of sugar. I hope that the agreement made recently will stimulate sugar production, and so enable us to obviate the necessity for making these importations from time to time in order to eke out the local production. The principal Act provides that sugar, when purchased from abroad, shall be paid for by the Commonwealth Bank, which in turn is guaranteed by the Treasurer. But the limit of the overdraft for that purpose has been statutorily fixed at £500,000. I think it is a healthy rule that there should be a limitation placed upon these overdrafts, because that is one way in which the House may control the financing of these undertakings. But this year we find that, owing to the tremendous increase in the price of sugar, and the larger quantity we are obliged to import, the £500,000 will not nearly cover the overdraft that is required to pay for it. Owing to the world's price of sugar having reached an abnormally high level - we were required to pay, I think, £90 per ton for some of the sugar we bought - our importations are estimated to leave us with a shortage of £718,000. There is also the serious question of reconditioning the sugar that was spoilt by the cyclone, which worked such tremendous devastation in North Queensland in 1918. That sugar is now being cleared up, and it is expected that the reconditioning of it will involve a further amount of £220,000, so that we havean estimated deficit on the sugar business for the year of no less a sum than £938,000.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - Not very much when you say it quickly.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The whole position is very unfortunate.

Mr Tudor - Next year we shall be on velvet if we are paying 31/2d. for sugar and selling it at 6d. per lb.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - We hope that the price fixed for sugar will, leave us with a small margin with which to liquidate this deficit. I take it that those who use sugar should pay the full cost of it.

Mr Riley - The Government did not think that before when they were supplying the jam manufacturers at a low price and losing money on the deal.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I have already suggested that that question does not arise on this Bill. The amount of money I am now asking theHouse to grant me leave to use for this purpose will all be repaid out of the money that is paid for the sugar when it is sold. I ask the House to agree to the Bill, which proposes to amend the original Act by increasing the statutory overdraft from £500,000 to £1,000,000. I regret the necessity for having to ask the House to do this.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That will be the statutory limit?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Yes. I hope we shall not require to use all ofit,but the amount we shall require will be near enough to the limit to warrant me in ask-' ing the House to grant me this extra £500,000.

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