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Thursday, 24 November 1927


Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (3:25 PM) . - I am somewhat reluctant to speak on such an important subject as the sugar industry, when the committee has been sitting continuously for 27 or 2S hours. It is obvious to honorable members that within two or three weeks the House will be adjourning for probably a couple of months, and the sugar-growers of Queensland are desirous of ascertaining the future, policy of the Government in regard to the industry. The present agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the growers does not expire until the 30th August, 192S, and there is some doubt in their minds whether the agreement will be extended for a further term of a duty imposed. Naturally the activities of the sugar-growers will be considerably affected by whatever determination may be arrived at, because before the end of the year the present crop will be harvested, and a commencement made to prepare the land for the planting of a new crop, lt is the duty of the Government to make some pronouncement concerning its policy on this subject. I do not approach the matter from a party viewpoint,' and I know that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) is sympathetically disposed, towards an extension, of the present arrangement. I cannot overlook the fact, however, that a Government represents the whole of the people whose interests have to be considered. The few remarks I have to make will be in the direction of removing a misunderstanding which, exists in the minds of certain honorable members, who have some doubt as to whether the industry is an asset or a burden to the Commonwealth. We have been told by certain well-intentioned but misguided persons like Mrs. Glencross, of the Housewives' Association, that the present policy does not operate in the interests of the people. There are some honorable members, such as the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), a sincere member of the Country party, and the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse), another Country party member and Mr. Seabrook (Nationalist), who favour lifting the embargo on sugar importation. The honourable member for Franklin said that he would remove tariff duties and dispense with the Arbitration Court.


Mr Fenton - But he would not oppose a duty on apples.


Mr FORDE - No. He is always anxious to assist the industries of Western Australia, but does not think that industries in other States should receive consideration. I realize the difficulties of the Minister, who has the support of Nationalist members who say that the embargo should be lifted, and of certain Country party members who have said within the last few weeks that if they had the opportunity they would discontinue the embargo at once The Prime Minister visited the sugar districts of Queensland during the Parliamentary recess, but so far as I have been able to discover, his only comment with respect to them is as follows : -

If thu- embargo were renewed, the Commonwealth would probably have to run the rule over the industry with the object of ascertaining whether it was being conducted with the maximum efficiency and economy.

This is not a Queensland, but an Australian industry; it affects the whole of our people. On the question whether it is efficient or not, I draw attention to a statement made by Mr. W. Seymour Howe, general manager of the Mulgrave mill in North Queensland, who is one of the. most noted sugar experts in Queens-' land. He recently returned from a world congress of sugar technologists that was held in Cuba and stated that Queensland obtains a ton of sugar from fewer tons of cane than any -other country in the world. This satisfactory result has been obtained by the extensive experimental work that has been done to produce the best types of cane and the greatest efficiency in milling it. Two or three years ago a number of honorable members of thi." Parliament visited South Africa, and on their return, stated that they had been struck by the fact that the sugar industry was much more efficiently conducted in Australia than in South Africa. It, is stated occasionally that some sugar countries abroad yield a better 2-eturn per acre under cultivation than does Australia; but I point out that our yield is annual, whereas theirs is biennial. I am of the opinion that in all the circumstances there is no justification for the appointment of another commission of inquiry to assist the Government to formulate its future policy for the industry.

Recently the Victorian Town and Country Union circularized honorable members of this Parliament respecting the sugar industry, but their communication contained such gross misstatements that I feel it incumbent upon me, as the representative of a large number of sugar growers, to state the true facts. One paragraph in the circular of this spurious freetrade body, which has arrogantly taken to itself the duty of advising us how we should vote on fiscal issues, read as follows -

To compel the Australian public to sacrifice annually from three to four millions sterling to sugar-growers and sugar manufacturers and urge that this sacrifice is necessary to keep Australia white, is surely asking the Australian elector to swallow too much. . . . This sugar outrage . . . has something to do with keeping Australia empty. . . . It has a great deal to do with our unemployment.

I understand that the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) is connected with the Town and Country Union.


Dr Nott - He is the Union.


Mr FORDE - He may be its mouthpiece in this Parliament and his is a Nationalist, so it is advisable that I should assure the Minister for Trade and Customs that a number of honorable members on this side of the committee take a keen and intelligent interest in this question. The paragraph which I have just quoted is grossly exaggerated and misleading. The annual consumption of sugar in Australia is approximately 330,000 tons. If the retail price of sugar here were the same as in South Africa, where sugar is grown by black labour, our people would pay only £2,500,000 less per annum for their sugar than at present, or an average of 2d. per week per inhabitant, but by buying sugar from black labour - South Africa, the Australian industry, worth £10,000,000 a year, would be wiped out. The retail price of refined sugar in England to-day is 4d. per lb., or, £d. per lb. less than in Australia. Eng- land depends for her sugar largely upon black labour countries. Of the £33,000,000 worth of sugar which she consumes annually, £27,000,000 worth are obtained from foreign countries, and only £6,000,000 worth from her dominions and other possessions. Mrs. Glencross, of the Victorian Housewives' Association, would lead our people to believe that they would make huge savings on sugar if our merchants were allowed to purchase it in the cheapest market; but that is quite wrong. The maximum saving that we could effect by buying our sugar abroad and retailing it at 4d. per lb. would be £1,000,000 per annum. The average family, consisting of a man, his wife, and three children, consumes 6 lb. of sugar a week, and the saving they would effect by buying sugar at the English, as against the Australian price, would be only 3d. per week.


Mr Makin - Is milled white sugar available at present?


Mr FORDE - Very little of it goes into general consumption, though I understand that it would be possible for householders to obtain a limited quantity of it in ton lots.


Mr Makin - And very few of them would know the .difference between it and refined sugar.


Mr FORDE - That is so ; but the refined sugar keeps better than the milled white. The Australian sugar industry provides employment for 25,000 persons directly in our northern sugar areas, and for 100,000 persons indirectly in other parts of Australia, and is worth £10,000,000 a year to the nation. If we were to cease protecting it against competition from foreign cheap-labour countries, it would soon be crushed out of existence. Surely that would not meet with the approval of any section of the community. Various manufacturing interests in Australia obtain concessions under the existing arrangement. For instance, sugar is supplied at special rates to manufacturers who process fruit. The value of this concession last year was £163,000: . Then, again, sugar is supplied at world's parity prices to manufacturers who need it for the purposes of their export trade. Over £250,000 is absorbed annually in discounts and allowances to merchants, and in freight to Western Australia and Tasmania. Great Britain realizes the importance of a local sugar industry, for she is paying a bounty at present of £19 per ton on beet sugar produced iu England. Let honorable members contrast that with the meagre £9 6s. 8d. per ton duty that was at one time imposed on sugar imported into Australia. I am glad to say that it was realized in time that the rapid fluctuations in the prices of sugar in Cuba and Java rendered the duty valueless, and it was superseded by the present embargo. It was only in that way" that it was possible to prevent commercial gamblers from buying huge quantities of sugar at favorable prices and stacking it in warehouses in Australia, to 'be sold subsequently to the detriment of the local industry. [ ask the Minister, who has recently been in England and has, I am sure, conversed with the British authorities on the question of preferential duties, to use all his influence with them to get some .reciprocal arrangement to compensate Australia for the large concession which he is about to give the English manufacturers of goods exported to Australia in addition *to the concessions previously given to them. To-day, the advantage that English manufacturers derive from our preferential tariff is worth £8,000,000. Under the tariff which the Minister has introduced it will be worth considerably more. What advantage does Australia get from England ?


Mr PRATTEN (MARTIN, NEW SOUTH WALES) - For one thing, Australia gets protection.


Mr FORDE - I quite understand that we owe a great deal to the Mother Country for the protection of our country, but there are other ways in which she can help us a great deal. We are absorbing thousands of her surplus population. At the bottom of the migration policy of the British and .Australian Governments is the desire of Great Britain, whose unemployment problem is so acute, to get rid of her surplus population. Many of her people are being absorbed by Australia, and they are to be. found growing sugar, bananas and cotton in Queensland. Surely it is not too much for us to ask Great Britain for concessions in the shape of preferential duties to help those industries in which Britain's sons and daughters are engaged in distant Australia. I know that this is a live subject with the Minister, and when we hear honorable gentlemen on his own side of the chamber condemning his protective policy it is well for honorable gentlemen on this side of it to show occasionally that we are right behind him in regard to that policy. I believe it would be possible to induce the British Government to do something to help the sugar industry in the dominions in a very practical way, by giving them a greater measure of tariff preference. At present the British duty on sugar is £11 13s. 4d. a ton. The preference to dominion grown sugar is £4 5s. 7d. a ton, leaving £7 7s. 9d. to be paid by the dominion sugar exporters. If that duty were removed the British consumer would not pay a higher price, but the Australian sugar-cane grower would get an additional £1,000,000, if our exportation of sugar to Great Britain remained at last year's figure of 150,000 tons. A concession of that nature would be a great boon to Queensland growers in this period of over production. It would mean new capital for Australia every year. Instead of importing so much sugar from foreign countries, Great Britain should give a greater degree of preference to the product of the dominions. At present she buys £27,000,000 worth from foreign countries, and only £6,000,000 worth from the dominions. This year the area under sugarcane in Queensland is 270,000 acres, and the yield is expected to be approximately 4S0,000 tons of sugar. Seeing that the local consumption does not exceed 330,000 tons, there will thus be an exportable surplus of 150,000 tons. I trust that the Minister will confer with Mr. Amery before he leaves Australia.


Mr PRATTEN (MARTIN, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He has gone.


Mr FORDE - I spoke to Mr. Amery, myself on the subject and I know that Mr. Pritchard, of Queensland, intended to speak to him on this matter. Although Mr. Amery could not commit himself, I feel sure that he will bring under the notice of the British authorities the wishes of Australia in regard to industry which is absorbing so many Britishers and is capable of giving employment to a great many more. This industry should be given greater assistance by means of preferential duties. Between 4,000 and 5,000 residents of southern Australia visit Queensland during the sugar-cane season, and earn big wages. In this way the industry is helping to bring up good Australians, because the majority of these men have families to maintain in the southern States. Is it not far better to help these Australians than to help black men in Fiji or Java, whom we would be helping if we were to allow sugar grown in those countries to come into Australia ?

Many people who are opposed to the policy of fostering this industry say, " What is the use of helping the sugar industry; it is run by Italians." That is not correct. I do not say that there are no Italians engaged in the industry; but the figures show that the great majority of the growers are not Southern Europeans. The proportion of nonBritish growers supplying cane to the mills in 1921-22 was 22.33 per cent. In 1926, five years later, the proportion had grown to 24.6S per cent. The increase was only 2 per cent, in five years; but in the meantime the total production of cane had increased by fully 25 per cent. In 1926, there were 6,671 British growers,, and only 1,104 non-British, the proportion of non-British growers being 14 percent. The non-British growers included many who have become naturalized. These are men who have proved to be excellent citizens. They are bringing up good Australian families. Some have been growing sugar-cane for the last 20 or 25- years. Some of them pioneered the industry. I am not one to condemn a man because he is an Italian, but I think it is the duty of the Government to negotiate with the governments concerned, with a view to preventing an indiscriminate flow of Southern Europeans into Australia at a time when there are tens of thousands of unemployed here. Many of the Italian sugar-cane growers are men of a fine type.. They are peaceful, law-abiding citizens. But there are times when Italians comeout to Australia in their hundreds, and it is not possible to absorb them speedily in the community. We do not want that sort of thing when we have our own unemployed. Our first duty is to Australia. Next to Australians, I prefer British migrants.







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