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Wednesday, 10 April 1946


Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) .- I support the bill, and I hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House. As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) pointed out, the sugar agreement was first entered into in 1915, at a time when there was a Labour government in this Parliament, and a Labour government in Queensland. Thoughout World War II., that agreement ensured to the people of Australia a plentiful supply of sugar. One of the terms of the agreement was that the growers should produce sufficient sugar to meet Australia's needs. Prior to that time, some sugar was imported from Fiji. The agreement has been reviewed from time to time. While the Scullin Government was in office it was renewed, and in 1944 it was investigated by the Tariff Board, and is to be again renewed. The growers have nothing to lose by even the most searching investigation. The sugar industry has done much to develop Australia, and has provided the country with desirable overseas credits. From time to time, there have been outcries against the industry from those who do not wish to see it taken as a model for the organization of other primary industries. The price of sugar to the consumers is fixed, as also are mill charges and. refining charges, whilst the wages of the workers are fixed by arbitration. Thus, the industry is completely organized. Moreover, efficiency in all its branches has steadily increased - on the farms, in the mills and in the refineries. During the last six years, the people of Australia have been getting sugar at a cheaper price than prevails in any 'other part of the world, and Australian sugar is produced wholly by white labour. Along the northern coast of

Queensland there is a white population of 250,000 people, largely supported by the sugar industry. In the corresponding area on the west coast of Australia there is nothing like so great a population. In 1942, when the Japanese were threatening Australia, the value of the sugar industry for defence purposes was brought forcibly home to those who were charged with the defence of the country. Sugar mills were used for the manufacture of implements of war, and the military authorities made use of such facilities as roads, water supplies, wharfs, &c. Airports had already been established in many centres; these were extended, and others were constructed. This was of tremendous importance in the dark days of 1942, when a delay of a few weeks might have been disastrous. I was in Queensland in February, of 1942, and at the time of the Coral Sea battle, I saw aircraft which took part in that battle operating from aerodromes which only a little time before had been ploughed paddocks, and which were being used without any further preparation. From aerodromes in the north of Queensland flying fortresses and fighter planes flew out to defeat the Japanese. Moreover, in - 1942, the machinery of local bodies and farmers, including tractors and road making plant, was impressed for the purpose of constructing more aerodromes. That machinery would not have been there but for the existence of the sugar industry. As for the demand that more sugar should be sent to Britain, we know that at one time the late Mr. Curtin offered to send' an extra 100,000 tons to the United Kingdom, but, unfortunately,because of the shortage of ships, the British Government was unable to accept the offer. In most other parts of the world, cane-sugar is produced by black labour, but the sugar agreement in Australia provides for the exclusion of black grown sugar, which would otherwise flood the local market. At one time, wages in the sugar industry in Australia were very low, but it has been possible to raise them because of the operation of the sugar agreement. Many people believe that the sugar industry is subsidized, but that is not so. The agreement merely provides for fixing the price and for prohibiting importation. In other countries, the production of sugar is substantially subsidized. The following figures show the amount of assistance provided per annum for sugar-growers in various countries by way of tariffs, bounties, ' remission of excise and price fixation : -

 

In most of those, countries sugar is produced from beet. There does not seem to be any objection to the bill now before us, although we know there are some in this Parliament who do not like the sugar agreement. Before the war, one-half of the sugar produced in Australia was exported. I should like an assurance from the Government that, in the event of a fall in prices or rising costs of production, this agreement will be reviewed. The price of sugar to the Australian consumer was reduced from 4£d. to 4d. per lb. in 1932, but, despite the increased costs as the result of the war, the cost of sugar to the consumer has remained at that level. Costs have increased on the farms, in the mills, and in the refineries, but the Australian consumer has not been called upon to bear even a part of the increase. I concede that the industry is receiving a higher price for the sugar that it exports than it did before the war. During the war Australia was obliged to feed Allied forces in this country. Sugar, as food, had to be supplied to them. In January and February of this year, I saw ships come into the port of Cairns to load sugar for export. In one vessel 8,000 tons was loaded for disposal overseas. Australian sugar goes into the world pool which is controlled by the British. Ministry of Food, which decides where consignments will be taken. Neither the Commonwealth nor the Queensland Government has any say. Owing to shipping difficulties, our sugar is ' directed by the British Ministry of Food to countries in or bordering the Pacific area. I am aware that, under paragraphs 9 and 10 of the agreement, the Government of

Queensland accepts responsibility for loss arising from the export of sugar, and for the control of production; but no one knows what lies ahead of the world, and I, as one with a strong desire to ensure the preservation of the sugar industry on a sound basis, would welcome an assurance that, in the event of either contingency that I mentioned earlier arising, the agreement shall be reviewed.







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