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Friday, 20 August 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - I am reluctant to take this course, because interference with Government business is likely to annoy Ministers; but I want to have the sugar question settled satisfactorily, and no other way was open to me.I have approached the officials who are responsible for the distribution of sugar, and I have seen the Minister on the matter, but have received no satisfaction. An adequate supply of sugar is as much needed by the people as an adequate supply of other ordinary commodities, not excepting coal; sugar is a necessity, not a luxury. Although the Government of Australia owns all the sugar, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the wholesale merchants will not recognise that fact, and wish to handle it in their own sweet way, as in the past, and for their own interests, instead of those of the public. I could speak at length of the unfair action of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the wholesale merchants, who have not been interfered with by the officials of the Department administering the distribution of sugar. I desire, however, to confine my remarks to one phase of the subject in the hope that I may receive from the Minister an assurance that the grievance of which I complain will be remedied. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in explaining the sugar agreement to the House, said that grocers who purchased sugar in half-ton lots would be able to obtain it direct from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and would 'be granted the full rebate, while those who did not desire to purchase so large a quantity would obtain what they required from the wholesale merchants, and secure a proportion of the rebate, while the remainder would go to the merchants. I fully appreciate the fact that there is a scarcity of sugar, and, while I hold that the Ministry are responsible for that shortage, I know that it is unreasonable, in the circumstances, to expect the Minister to satisfy all demands. As the sugar is the property of the Government, however, it is their duty to see that every man in business obtains a fair deal. That is not being done. Grocers, in my division, and in the adjoining division of Fawkner, are constantly complaining to me of the unfair distribution of sugar. They state that, while some grocers can obtain ample supplies, others in the same neighbourhood cannot. Those who are able to supply sugar naturally get the trade of their less fortunate brethren. This differentiation should not be permitted. Messrs. Moran and Cato, a very large proprietary grocery company, prior to the new agreement, were allowed to purchase direct from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, although other companies could not do so, andthey have to-day plenty of sugar. The result is that other grocers, who are short of supplies, are losing their trade to them. I had to complain to Colonel Oldershaw that a South Melbourne firm of. grocers was unable to get a supply, while neighbouring grocers were securing what they wanted. That firm has since been a little more fortunate. I have to complain now of the treatment meted out to another grocer carrying on business at Yarraville. The Minister, I fear, thinks there is something wrong with him, and I shall, therefore, stress his case. His name is J. A. Safe, and he carries on business at Stephen-street, Yarraville. On 9th July last he got a half-ton of sugar, and since then he has had only four 70-lb. bags. His financial position is satisfactory; he pays for all that he purchases according to trade usage, but I have an idea that he is not supplied with sugar for a reason which seems so utterly impossible that I do not care to advance it.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Tell us what it is.

Mr MATHEWS - He happens to be a Labour candidate for a municipal council election which takes place next week. I should not have mentioned that matter but that I feel that the Minister thinks there must be something wrong with this man, since, while his competitors are able to obtain sugar, he has not an ounce of it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I can give the honorable member a few similar cases.

Mr MATHEWS - The right honorable gentleman will not say that it is fair to supply some grocers with sugar and to keep back a supply from others.

Mr Atkinson - It is a difficult matter to arrange.

Mr MATHEWS - It is not. The sugar is owned by the people of Australia, and not by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, or the wholesale merchants.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - An officer has been appointed to supervise its distribution.

Mr MATHEWS - Then he is not doing his duty. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to inquire into this man's case. I ask him to make an investigation, not through the medium of the official usually dealing with such matters, but by means of an independent officer. I have communicated with the official who usually looks after this matter, and he will not seethis man righted. Surely my request will not be regarded as unreasonable. If the Minister does what I ask, I am satisfied that the result of the inquiry will be that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and the wholesale merchants will deal more fairly with the grocers. The wholesale grocers do not like the new arrangement under which retailers may obtain sugar in half-ton lots from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company and get the full rebate ; but that arrangement, owing to the shortage, cannot be fully carried into effect. The Minister will admit that where two or three grocers in the same neighbourhood were drawing, in normal times, half a ton of sugar per fortnight, those people, having the same trade as before, should now get at least half their usual supply instead of one or two of them being granted the full supply and the others very little.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - How can the Minister deal with every case?

Mr MATHEWS - It is utterly impossible for him to do so ; but since the Government have undertaken the handling of sugar, they should see that every man in the trade is fairly treated.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I agree with that statement.

Mr MATHEWS - Then the Government will see that an end is put to this unfair treatment.

Mr Marr - I could give the House fifty cases of the same kind in my own electorate.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - How this confounded Socialism keeps breaking down!

Mr Lazzarini - Because of unsympathetic administration.

Mr MATHEWS - That is so. I blame, not the sugar company or the wholesale merchants, but the officials under the Minister who have charge of the distribution.

Mr Bayley - The honorable member has cited instances where grocers have obtained less than their average quantity. Can he give instances where any of them have received their average - to say nothing of more than their average - quantity?

Mr McGrath - Yes ; Moran and Cato have.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Has the honorable member any figures to support his statement that Moran and Cato have had more than their fair share of sugar?

Mr MATHEWS - I can only say that they have a very big trade, and are never short of sugar, whereas other grocers are. Moran and Cato are always prepared to take on new customers and to serve them with sugar. I could, if I desired, obtain bags of sugar for my own home consumption. There have been times when we have not had an ounce of sugar in the house; but I could have got 70-lb. bags of it.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Where?

Mr MATHEWS - I am not going to say.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Could the honorable member have obtained a 70-lb. bag of sugar from a grocer?

Mr MATHEWS - I could have obtained it from a man - a manufacturer, if you like - who obtains from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company sugar for other than his own domestic purposes.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - If a manufacturer chooses to take out of his quota a 70-lb. bag for a friend, surely no one can complain.

Mr MATHEWS - I am not going to disclose this man's name; but I repeat that it is the duty of the Government to see that every grocer gets his fair share of sugar. Mr. Safe, after being kept without sugar for a week, was served with half a ton on 9 th July last, and since then he has had only four 70-lb. bags, although neighbouring competitors have received 2½ tons.

Mr Bayley - From the same merchant ?


Mr Bayley - Then blame the merchant, not the Minister.

Mr MATHEWS - The Minister can control the merchant, but the shopkeepers cannot. The officials of the Department fooled this man by inducing him to go first to the merchant and then to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. He was told that the merchant would get it for him from the company, but when he went to the merchant he was informed that it was not possible for him to obtain it. He then went to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - This is the man who has been badly treated?

Mr MATHEWS - Yes ; there are others, but he is the only man who will let me disclose his name.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Give us the name of the man who has been treating him badly, and we will have him shot !

Mr MATHEWS - The right honorable gentleman seems to suggest that this is a joke.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I do not. I merely say that there is nothing new in the honorable member's complaint. We all have the same trouble.

Mr MATHEWS - It is the duty of the Minister to see that this state of affairs is remedied.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - We endeavour to avoid any unfair treatment.

Mr MATHEWS - I have four other cases. In the Queen's Hall, a few weeks ago, I was told by a man that there were not 20 lbs. of sugar at Wangaratta, although in the neighbouring towns of Benalla and Beechworth there was an ample supply.

Mr McGrath - Did the honorable member hear of the tons of sugar sent to Bendigo during the general elections?

Mr MATHEWS - It has been said that such was the case. The Tasmanian fruit-growers, during the elections, got no sugar, but the Har court fruit-growers, who are in the Bendigo electorate, did. I am asked to give specific cases, and I have given one ; and I tell the Minister that this man, who has paid all his debts, is asking for no more than other grocers are getting.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - I shall deal with the honorable member's specific case; he need not worry about that.

Mr MATHEWS - The whole sugar question requires to be taken into serious consideration.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I do not know anything about this particular case, but I am prepared to bet that before it is over the honorable member will have "fallen in."

Mr MATHEWS - I am prepared to bet I do not " fall in." I am not afraid. At 10.50 this morning I rang this man up, and asked if he was all right financially, and might I mention his name, and he replied that I might mention his name from the house-tops. I do not wish to do any business man a bad turn, or to mention others in the business ; but I did give some names to the Minister yesterday. All around this man there are other grocers getting more sugar than he does, although their businesses are no greater than his. It is up to the Minister to see that there is a fairer distribution of sugar, and that grocers who are dealt with unfairly have some place to go to where theymay receive attention, though not from officials who think that the sugar is the property of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and not the property of the Government.

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