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Wednesday, 5 May 1920


Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - I was pleased to hear the enlightening and enlivening remarks of the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston). They make me the more surprised at the reply of the Prime Minister to a question the other day, to the effect that the Government considered the protection now afforded to the sugar industry sufficient for the encouragement of beet-growing. The honorable member for Barker has shown that what prevents many persons from going in for beet culture is the lack of mills. The only sugar beet factory in Australia is that in Maffra, which is situated in a fertile district, but not the best beet district for sugar beet, even in Victoria. In our Western District we have thousands of acres where the growing of sugar beet could be combined with dairying, to the great advantage of both industries. It should be the supreme de- sire of this Parliament to make Australia self-supplied with sugar, either cane sugar or beet sugar. We do not desire to be again in the position in which we are to-day, when, if we were producing all the sugar we need, our people could buy it retail at 4$d. per lb. The Acting Treasurer expressed surprise that Australia has not done more for the. cultivation of beet.


Mr Corser - There is a protective duty of £10 per ton on imported sugar.


Mr FENTON - Hitherto we have been hearing only about cane sugar, but in future we shall hear more about beet sugar.


Mr Bamford - Beet will not be grown when cane sugar is obtainable at £12 per ton. More money is to be made out of milk.


Mr FENTON - Until recently, the world's supply of sugar was obtained largely from beet. What is the British Government doing to-day? It is giving more encouragement ito the grower of beet than Australia has given to him. A company has been formed in England with the capital of £1,000,000, of which the British Government have taken 250,000 shares, and are guaranteeing 6 per cent, interest on another £250,000, while the remaining 500,000 shares are to be offered to the public, and I believe they will be readily taken up. This is the right kind of Socialism. It is likely that, in a few months' time, a very large area of Great Britain's limited territory will be devoted to the cultivation of sugar beet in order to make the Mother Country to some extent self-contained in this respect. If the British Government deem it expedient to adopt this course, the Federal Government should likewise' render every possible assistance to any scheme that will increase the supply of sugar in Australia. We are beyond the experimental stage. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) and I have had quite a number of conversations on this subject, and our ideas coincide. He represents a country that is ideally situated. has an abundant rainfall, and a very fertile soil admirably suited for sugar beet. Until comparatively recently the growth of sugar beet has been followed only in the Maffra district of Gippsland, but the Victorian Government are now encouraging its cultivation in other parts of the State, and are prepared to carry the beet from Port Fairy and Warrnambool, 160 miles to Melbourne, and another 120 miles to Maffra, for 2s. per ton. Both localities have demonstrated that they can beat the Maffra district in regard to the yield per acre and the purity of the sugar content. Experiments conducted in different plots in the Port Fairy district have given the following returns of topped beet per acre : - 20 tora,- 18 tons, 19 tons, and 11 tons. The figures for Warrnambool are - 17 tons, 24 tons, 23 tons, .18 tons, and 13 tons. The percentage of sugar content per acre is, as I have said, higher than in the Maffra , district, the figures being: - Port Fairy - 3.60 tons, 3731 tons, 3.27 tons, 1.89 tons; Warrnambool - 3.23 tons, 4.89 tons, 4.23 tons, 3.42 tons, 2.60 tons. These figures are the result of an analysis by experts at the Maffra factory, and they prove conclusively that sugar beet may be grown profitably in other parts of Victoria as well as at Maffra. A few years ago the highest yield in the world was about 5 tons of sugar beet per acre, but by selection of seed the return in Victoria has been increased to 25 tons per acre. I believe all honorable members are anxious that we should never again.be dependent on outside sources for our supply, and, as the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) said the other' day, we should not be afraid, of a little carry-over from one season to another. Our object should be to insure a sufficient supply to meet all contingencies.


Mr Stewart - - If the present dry weather continues much longer, we will stand a chance of having to pay fancy prices for our wheat.


Mr FENTON - Yes, and I am in favour of the erection of huge silos, so that we may guarantee 'the Commonwealth against any possible shortage of foodstuffs duc to droughts. I notice in to-day's Age that the Federal Government intend to purchase the production at the Maffra sugar-beet factory, and I understand that satisfactory arrangements can be made by the producers through the State Government with regard to this transaction. I believe the House would promptly agree to a proposal for the erection of two more large sugarbeet factories in suitable localities, in order to encourage the extension of this- industry, and thus guarantee Australia against a future shortage.


Mr Corser - Why do you not get the State Governments to assist the movement ?

Mr.FENTON . - Because the Federal Government have taken over the control of the sugar position, and I remind the honorable member that he did not disapprove of assistance being rendered by the Federal Government to Queensland canesugar growers, who, by the intervention of the Commonwealth authorities, have now been placed upon a satisfactory footing ; he should not, therefore, now object to similar assistance to sugar-beet growers. I have joined with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston), and I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to assist in arranging for a deputation to ask the Prime Minister to stand by the sugar-beet industry of the Commonwealth. It should be our object to guarantee people against a shortage, because, as all members know, Queensland is subject to cyclones, which in a few hours may very seriously affect the production.


Mr Corser - Cyclones only occur in one area of Queensland.


Mr FENTON - The production of cane sugar is subject to other disabilities also, and we should do what we can to safeguard the people of the Commonwealth by encouraging the growth of sugar beet. I hope, therefore, that there will be a very large deputation of legislators ready to wait upon the Prime Minister, with a view to placing the sugar industry of Australia on a more stable footing. In doing so, we should be following the steps of the British Government, who are contributing £250,000 out of £1,000,000 towards the cultivation of sugar beet, . and guaranteeing 6 per cent, interest on another £250,000, while I feel sure the public of Great Britain will take up the other £500,000. As the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) has pointed out, a novice can indulgein beet cultivation with a little superintendence. It is a clean and healthy industry, and the return ought to richly endow those who pursue it. In the circumstances, why should we neglect it any longer? No doubt, there are many people among us to-day who are going short of sugar. Some householders may have been able to secure enough at the old price to keep them for many months without having to pay the increased price; but I am sure that with the excessive price of other commodities, many families have had to reduce their consumption of sugar. Parliament should do everything possible to facilitate the production of sugar, either from cane or from beet. If I were certain that the sugar-growers of New South Wales could guarantee a sufficient supply for local requirements every year, I would wish them " good luck " and be prepared to take pot-luck with our beet cultivation in Victoria ; but knowing that for the last two seasons they have not been able to meet local requirements, I urge that too much cannot be done to encourage the cultivation of beet, if only as an insurance against the present position of affairs.

The Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has not indicated whether portion of the money for which he is asking is to be devoted to the purchase of the 1,200 tons of sugar which is to be produced in the Victorian Government's beet sugar factory at Maffra this year; but if the State Government are to be called upon to accept the price of £30 6s. 8d. which the Commonwealth Government would pay if they commandeered the sugar, instead of the £40 per ton which the factory could charge in other circumstances, there would be a loss on the State Govenment's operations. I do not know whether arrangements have advanced sufficiently to indicate that this beet sugar is to be taken over.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I should say that if there is sugar to be purchased in Australia, we will purchase it.


Mr FENTON - According to this morning's Age, the Commonwealth Government have already approached the State Government with a view to purchasing this year's beet crop at £30 6s. 8d. per ton; but I understand that the expenditure by the Statein the production of this 1,200 tons will be far in excess of £30 6s. 8d. per ton.


Mr Corser - The honorable member regards beet sugar as being of the same value as cane sugar. Beet sugar is only 88 per cent, net titre, as against 95 or 96 per cent, net titre for cane sugar.


Mr FENTON - Sugar beet has been so increased in value by special breeding that its position to-day is very different from what it was five years ago.


Mr Corser - Sugar made from beetis very different in quality from that which is made from cane. Let the honorable member ask the jam-maker's opinion.


Mr FENTON - In the February issue of the Journal of Agriculture of Victoria there is an article written by the manager of the Maffra Beet Sugar Factory, pointing out that to-day sugar produced from sugar beet stands practically in the same position as that produced from sugar, cane. However, half the world is using sugar that comes from the sugar beet, and jams made in other countries from beet sugar compare very favorably with those made with cane sugar. I was pleased to hear the Acting 'Treasurer interject, . when the honorable member for Barker was speaking, that it was surprising Australia was not doing more in the direction of cultivating beet sugar. I take it that the Government are favorable to encouragement being given to the growth of beet, so that supplies of sugar may be provided for local consumption. As for the agreement itself, some say that we are doing well by making it; but the fact remains that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company are doing very well when they can pay a dividend of 14s., no matter whether it be derived from Australiangrown sugar or Fiji-grown sugar. I hope the day will come when, right from the grower to the refinery, the production of sugar will be undertaken by the one set of people. In that way, we can look for cheaper sugar. .







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