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Friday, 19 February 1932

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I desire to bring under the notice of the Prime Minister a communication which I have received from the Bundaberg section of the Queensland Cane-growers Association. It is as follows:- -

I am instructed to advise you that at a well-attended and representative meeting of cane-growers in this district, representing 1,600 cane-growers, a resolution was unanimously carried to lodge a protest against any alteration in the sugar agreement. Also, on behalf of the cane-growers in this district, an invitation is extended to Mr. J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to visit this sugar district and Rain first hand knowledge of the growers' conditions.

I, personally, can assure you that the perturbation caused by the pronouncement made recently by the Prime Minister, cannot, by any stretch of imagination, he realized other than by those directly affected.

As the representative of that district, I invite the Prime Minister to pay a visit to the cane-growing districts of Queensland during the parliamentary recess upon which we shall enter shortly after Easter. It will be a revelation to him, and he will learn much of the industry if he approaches its investigation with an open mind. During the recent election campaign honorable members opposite asked the electors to place them in power so that public confidence might be restored, and unemployment mitigated. In the sugar industry 25,000 persons are directly employed, and over 100,000 othei'3 are directly or indirectly dependent upon them. The ships which carry Queensland sugar to the southern States return to Queensland loaded with goods manufactured in those States. When the last Government renewed the sugar agreement for three years from the 1st September last, it was done only after very careful consideration, and a public inquiry by a committee representative of the cane-growers, the millers, the fruitgrowers, the consumers, the manufacturers, and the Commonwealth Government, and it was presided over by Mr. Gunn, Director of Development for the Commonwealth. The Government merely carried out the majority recommendation of that committee. Even the minority recommendation was only for a reduction of id. per lb., which, for the average weekly sugar consumption of 6 lb. for a family of a man, his wife and three children, would- represent a saving of only l-£d. a week. Tho Prime Minister, in his statement favouring a reduction of sugar prices, did not indicate the price at which he thought sugar should be sold, but hig mere statement constituted a severe blow to the stability of the industry. The sugar industry employs a large amount of labour, and the crop is such that it has to be planted eighteen months before any return is obtained. It is- a ratoon crop, and the cane is cut from the first, second, and sometimes the third ratoon. It is necessary that the growers should know what the future has in store for them. A solemn agreement has been made for a period of three years, between the Commonwealth and the Government of Queensland, regarding prices, and an embargo has been placed upon the importation of sugar for a period of five years. Any loose suggestion that this agreement will be torn up cannot but injure the industry. Security is necessary if the industry is to continue to employ large numbers of " people. Another point which I desire to place before the Prime Minister is that, owing to over-production in the sugar industry, the growers are obtaining only pre-war returns for their cane. Of the sugar produced each year £3,000,000 worth is exported overseas. Only 13 per cent, of the growers in Queensland are earning enough to pay income tax. I hope that the Prime Minister will visit Queensland, and make a personal study of the industry.

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