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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - I am somewhat disappointed that the Government should consider it .necessary to ask for this extra £500,000. If what the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) says is correct, the harvest will be put off until September, instead of starting in July.

Mr Corser - It will be September before it will start, when it should have started at the end cf May.

Mr MATHEWS - That is a reason for what is proposed to be done, which 1" had not heard before. I am disappointed to find such a proposition put before the House, because I expected to hear from the Government that there would be a reduction in the price of sugar on the ground that it was not found necessary to import so much as was anticipated at the time the agreement was first introduced.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I should like to impress upon honorable members that the price of sugar does not come into the matter at all. It is a question whether we can secure a sufficient overdraft to purchase the sugar which we must import.

Mr MATHEWS - I am aware that the price of sugar is regulated by the combination of the price at which we can obtain sugar of local production and the price we have to pay for sugar imported from abroad. During nearly the last twelve months, when there was a so-called shortage of sugar, we have had a pretty reliable assurance that efforts were made by manufacturers and housekeepers to hoard sugar, and there must have been, in addition to the quantity accounted for by the Government, some 30.000 tons of sugar hoarded up in Australia. I have been informed by retail grocers that they are not now selling nearly so much sugar as they were selling a little time ago at the lower rate.

Mr Richard Foster - The price has been doubled, and naturally the quantity used will be considerably less.

Mr MATHEWS - I say that the reason for the fact that not so much sugar is now being purchased is that those who hoarded sugar obtained at the cheap rate, are using it now instead of purchasing sugar at the increased price of 6d. per lb. 1 should say that that being so, it is necessary to import less sugar from abroad now than the Government anticipated. My contention may be wrong.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member may be right. As a matter of fact, the importations have been reduced, but not to any appreciable extent. In any case, if this money is not needed we shall not spend it.

Mr MATHEWS - Is the Minister in a position to say whether there is less demand for sugar to-day than there was when it was cheaper?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I have no information on that point.

Mr MATHEWS - I am assured that that is a fact, and, knowing that the high cost is governed by the amount of sugar we import, we have a right to expect that sugar will be cheaper if it is found that it is not necessary to import as much as was anticipated.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member must not overlook the increase in the price of imported sugar.

Mr MATHEWS - We could get imported sugar for £81 per ton, and I should like to know whether the Government made any purchases at that price.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Yes, but the price of outside sugar has been going up all the time. It is not so much the quantity to be imported as the high price to be paid for it that makes this proposal necessary.

Mr MATHEWS - We were told some time ago that imported sugar cost £81 per ton with other charges, and I should like to know whether at that time the Government purchased enough to carry us over the interval until sufficient Australiangrown sugar can be obtained?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I expect that the Government bought as much as they could at that price;

Mr MATHEWS - If they did not do so, it was bad business. I know that we aregetting sugar at a lower price in Australia than people elsewhere have to pay for it. I saw recently that in the United States of America people were paying 1s. 41/2d. per lb. ; but when . we are paying 6d. per lb. for sugar it is very little comfort to us to learn that in the United States of America people have to pay 1s. 41/2d. per lb. when we ought to be getting 'the sugar we require for 5d. per lb.

Mr Corser - We should be getting sugar for 5d. per lb. if we were able to grow all that we require in Queensland.

Mr MATHEWS - The honorable member should know that with sugar at £30 6s. 8d. per ton we ought to be getting it at 41/2d. per lb.

Mr Corser - So we would but for the fact that the high cost of imported sugar brings the price up to 6d. per lb.

Mr MATHEWS - I was hoping that the Government would not require to import as much sugar as they anticipated it would be necessary to import when the agreement was made.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do not see that it makes the slightest difference whether we import more or less, because the proposal is only that the Government should have the power to use this money, and if it is not wanted it will not be expended.

Mr MATHEWS - I quite understand that, but I did not expect to hear that there was any necessity to provide more money for the purchase of sugar. Prior to the rise in the price to 6d. per lb., not only manufacturers, but householders throughout Australia, hoarded sugar, and perhaps we could' not blame them for doing so. I was at an hotel for dinner on Saturday week, and was served with light-brown sugar. I got a hint that the proprietor had enough in stock to last him for another four months. He must have hoarded sugar about - six months ahead, and no doubt every one who could do so tried to do the same thing. That must mean a considerably' decreased demand for sugar this year, and I was hoping, therefore that there would consequently be a decreased importation. I admit that the Government is justified in making preparations for purchasing, and I am sorry that it was not prepared to purchase when sugar was cheaper. If it had taken these steps last year-

Mr Corser - The demand for sugar from the jam factories is far in excess of what it was in the past, and more than was anticipated. This is due to the tremendous sale of jam overseas.

Mr MATHEWS - Yet the small fruitgrowers say that the raising of the price of sugar to 6d. per lb. will ruin them.

Mr Richard Foster - I do not say that, although I represent small fruit- growers. Sugar is much dearer in other countries.

Mr MATHEWS - The rise in the price of jam during - the past few days is out of proportion to the increase in the price of sugar. If the Government is of the opinion that another £500,000 maybe wanted for the purchase of sugar, it must mean that the retail price of sugar will eventually go much beyond 6d. Under these circumstances, the Government has shown bad management in its control of the sugar supplies of Australia.

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