Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 8 March 1932

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I move the following amendment : -

That the following words beadded to the motion: - "and that the Government reconsider its action with a view to affording Australian tobacco-growers the same margin of protection as that given by the previous Government;and that Parliament be granted an early opportunity to determine the question so as to remove the uncertainty now prevailing in the industry ".

I regret very much the necessity of submitting such an amendment. No one was more surprised than I that the present Government should make such a sweeping attack upon those who are engaged in this important primary industry. When the Scullin Government took office it was seised of the importance of developing our primary industries. Unemployment had increased to alarming proportions, and it was obvious to all who had studied the problem that the only solution,or partial solution, wasto settle some of our unemployed on the land, so that they could produce commodities that were previously imported. So steps were taken promptly to give the long-waited-for opportunity to the Australian tobaccogrowing industry. When the BrucePage Government was in power, the honorable member for New England (Mr.

Thompson) submitted a motion in this chamber seeking the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the Australian, tobacco industry. That was done after the honorable member had failed to induce that Government to give the industry some protection. To indicate the way in which the industry had been allowed to languish, I quote the following table :-

In its last report, which has been referred to by the Minister, the Tariff Board states -

For the four years ended the 30th June, 11)14, an annual average production of 2,300,000 lb. has attained. Since then there has been practically no expansion in the industry until the last two years. The average annual production for the ten years ended the 30th June, 1929, was slightly under 2,000,000 lb. of leaf, as against a total Australian requirement of 23,000,000 lb. per annum.

That obvious state of the decline of the industry should have caused the BrucePage Administration to take steps to stimulate tobacco growing in Australia. However, it did not want the light of day thrown on the activities of what is known as the combine,' the BritishAustralasian Tobacco Company, and it opposed the suggestion of the honorable member for New England that a select committee of inquiry should be appointed. On the 29th August, 1929, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), who filled the same position in the BrucePage Cabinet, declared -

I hold no brief for this great tobacco trust. I reiterate that I hold no brief for this big tobacco combine.

I am reminded of the line from Hamlet. " The lady doth, protest too much, me thinks." It is significant .that, at the time that the Government was raising objections to the proposal of the honorable member for New England, the .legal adviser to the British- Australasian Tobacco Company was sitting behind the

Government benches. Continuing, the Minister for Trade and Customs said -

But I do not think that the interests of thegrowers are likely to be particularly served by this motion now before the House . . . 1 appeal to the honorable member for New England to withdraw his motion.

However, the motion that was submitted by the honorable member for New England was carried, and soon afterwards the Bruce-Page Government was defeated. The succeeding Scullin Administration appointed that committee, which conducted a very searching inquiry into the tobacco industry, and submitted recommendations which were, broadly speaking, adopted. As a result the industry began to find its feet. On the 4th August, 1930, the present Minister for Trade and Customs, who Avas then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said -

The report and the evidence of this select committee are not worth the value of the paper on which they are written. In view of the Government's fiscal policy the second recommendation is even more foolish. It reads - " That further protection be imposed to support this industry."

That shows clearly that, throughout he has been opposed to the establishment of the tobacco industry in Australia, and that, wittingly or unwittingly, he has been the champion of the British-Australasian Tobacco Company. Some honorable members who now sit on the Government benches made extravagant promises during the election campaign of what they would do if returned to power. -

Mr Stacey - Some said that they would reduce the tariff.

Mr FORDE - And others stated thai they would give greater protection to our primary industries. We have heard much talk about the undesirability of encouraging " uneconomic " industries. Every industry would remain uneconomic if denied the opportunity to become economic. The fundamental necessity is that a protective tariff shall, in all vital respects, protect. That is all that the tobacco-growers ask in connexion with their industry.

I shall refer the Minister for Trade and Customs to some of the pre-election promises that, were made by supporters of his party in regard to this industry. Senator Glasgow, who was then leader of' the Nationalist campaign in Queensland, and deputy leader of the Nationalist forces in the Senate, said -

The United Australia party favoured retaining the duties against tobacco grown outside Australia hut favoured a reduction of the local excise to cheapen the cost to the consumer and thus increase the consumption of Australiangrown tobacco.

That statement was published in all the Queensland newspapers.

Mr Paterson - Has it ever been denied ?

Mr FORDE - No. Sir William Glasgow is in the building now, and I am sure that he would confirm the statement if he were approached. Before the election no member of the Government's party came forward to contradict Sir William Glasgow's statement. In the Brisbane Daily Mail, of the 8th December, 1931, the following appeared : -

The Leader of the Federal Opposition (Mr. J. A. Lyons) to-day expressed objection to the statement made before the Tariff Board by Mr. F.J. Wheeler, honorary secretary of the Meadowvale Tobacco Growers Association, that his party had no policy on the question of tobacco production in Australia. This, Mr. Lyons said, was a misinterpretation of a. communication sent to Mr. Wheeler. What he said was that the question of tobacco production had not been considered on party lines. The encouragementof tobacco-growing was highly desirable. His point was that the matter should be considered on non-party lines. Members of the United Australia party would enthusiastically support any well-planned measures to encourage tobacco-growing. On the general question of the tariff his policy speech showed clearly his party recognized the great importance of local manufacturing and the necessity of measures to support it.

What could the growers take from that except that the United Australia party stood for the protection of their industry?

Mr Lyons - Does not the honorable member stand for that?

Mr FORDE - I stand for the maintenance of the protection we gave the tobaccogrowing industry, together with a variation of the excise rates from time to time, so that the industry may contribute to the Treasury the same amount of revenue as it formerly did. I never regarded myself as bound to accept the recommendations of the Tariff Board appointed by the BrucePage Government. A Minister must accept full responsibility for what he does. In the Melbourne Sun of the 18th

December, 1931, the following report appeared : -

There should be a groat future for the tobacco industry if care is taken to concentrate on a high-quality leaf," said the Deputy Leader of the United Australia party (Mr. Latham) last night. "The aim of the party would be to foster growing in every reasonable way." Mr. Latham said that Labour candidates in the tobacco-growing districts were making desperate efforts to mislead the electors into the belief that if the United Australia party was returned drastic changes would immediately be made in the various tobacco duties. This was pure invention. The party had no designs upon tobacco duties.

In a speech delivered on the 15th December, 1931, at Sydney, Mr. Lyons said -

On the question of protection my party's policy is plain. We are against sudden and arbitrary changes in the tariff by mere ministerial decree. My party's policy is one of protection, applied rationally, consistently, and steadily with due regard to its effect on the Commonwealth as a whole.

The Melbourne Argus, the chief organ of the United Australia party in Victoria, in its issue of the 6th December, 1931, published the following: -

Suggest corrections