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Tuesday, 8 March 1932

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the motion. He is not in order now in discussing the Tariff Board as an agency of Parliament.

Mr THOMPSON - I shall give honorable members an instance of my experience with the board, which relates directly to the tobacco industry. Some years ago the board went through tobacco-growing districts, and took evidence from growers. Although I was allowed to advise the growers, I was not permitted to appear for them and ask questions. After taking the evidence from the growers, the board found itself unable to unravel the position, and I was told by members of that body that unless I went to Melbourne and stated the case of the growers they did not know what would happen. I prepared the case, went to Melbourne, and appeared before the Tariff Board. Although a number of represents fives of the tobacco combine were present, I was not crossexamined; but as soon as my back was turned those representatives gave evidence contrary to mine, which was quoted at length by the board in its report. The statements of the combine representatives were accepted and mine rejected, without either being tested by cross-examination.

The revenue position is being used by the Government purely as a smoke screen. If that were not so, the Government would evince a greater desire to consider the whole economic position. Is it to be expected that the tobacco industry is to effect the financial rehabilitation of Australia? Already it is contributing £6,500,000 per annum. Is that not enough? It is the only one of our new primary industries that is absorbing unemployed. From £400,000 to £500,000 of new capital has been sunk in it, and thousands of persons are depending on the industry this year and in years to come as a means of income. The Government rejected an alternative scheme that was submitted by the Country party, and it accepted the statements of Treasury and customs officials. I know that those officers try to do their best. A number of them gave evidence before the select committee that inquired into the tobacco industry, and I found that they were very much in the dark as to the economic position of a number of industries with which they dealt. All that concerns them is bow the revenue of the country may be affected.

The Prime Minister referred to the heavy bounty that would have to be paid if the Government adopted the suggestion of the Country party, and kept these men on their farms. He did not mention that every acre under tobacco cultivation produces a revenue of £1S0. Is it not better to have that tobacco grown here by our own folk than to import the negro-grown product of the United States of America? If the Government will re-establish the select committee on tobacco, with mc as chairman, I undertake to prove that the policy of the Government can result only in taking the bread out of the mouths of Australian farmers and children and putting it into the mouths of American negroes.

My party does not wish to make political capital out of the issue. I am most upset to think that the Government should make such a tremendous blunder so early in its career. Only a little while ago the people in the country districts were most enthusiastic as to the future of Australia under the new government. Now they are plunged into despair, and actually cursing the Government. Many who voted for this Administration now pray that it will be defeated, because they fear that otherwise their bread and butter will be taken from them. I assure the Government that if the general election was re-fought to-morrow there would be a tremendous revulsion of feeling in country districts. I should not like to go out and face the tobaccogrowers after this act of repudiation. Wherever I went during the election I was asked by growers what I thought would be the position if the Scullin Government were defeated. I assured them that it would be all right, that the tobacco industry was well established in Australia, and that no government would close it down. Invariably I heard the reply, " Well, we are afraid of Mr. Gullett ". They had good reason to be afraid of that gentleman.. It is not the Prime Minister, his Government, or the party he leads, that has done this thing, but the honorable ment-, her for Henty, the Minister for

Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), who has throughout shown himself the implacable enemy of the Australian tobacco industry. That can be proved by a reference to Hansard. My efforts would have been unsuccessful when I moved for tlie appointment of a select committee to inquire into the tobacco industry had not the numbers been behind me. This is the only new industry in Australia that has been of value to the country in the last three years, yet this Government, not three months in office, selects this useful primaryproducing industry and deals it a smashing blow, which cannot be justified by any process of logic. There are other ways of raising revenue-

Mr Archdale Parkhill - The honorable member would like to see a further cut in old-age pensions, perhaps.

Mr THOMPSON - That certainly is not my desire. I assure honorable members that the tobacco-growers do not want to escape their obligations. The Government has selected the tobacco industry to carry the whole of the load of this additional taxation. It will find its purpose thwarted. Its revenue calculations will be proved to be wrong, because the industry will go phut; instead of 4,000 there will only be 400; or perhaps only 40 persons engaged in tobacco-growing. I remind honorable members that when the Great War broke out Australia found itself unable to import tobacco, with the result that the manufacturers sent their representatives around the country urging all and sundry to grow tobacco. They bought anything that looked like tobacco. I have been told that they even prevented growers from wasting sweepings. When the war was finished the attitude of the manufacturers underwent a change; once more they had access to their old source of supply. If a war broke out in the Pacific, and our trade routes were interrupted, we should again be short of tobacco, for it could not be produced in a night. For the last 25 to 30 years the tobacco manufacturers have been able to regulate the prices that they pay to the growers for their leaf, and they have made £1,000,000 a year out of the Australian smokers. Now that we have the position in our own bauds this Government that the country people helped to put into power conies along seeking to smash the industry. It is a tragedy. I warn the Government that it would be wise to retreat from its position before it is too late.

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