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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) (12:32 PM) . -This is a small measure, the purpose of which is to guarantee the price of raw cotton until 1951. I object to the delay in making available to the industry the information which the bill contains. Farmers have not been able to prepare the land for sowing because they did not know the policy of the Government in regard to subsidizing the industry. This information should have been provided months ago. An investigation was conducted over thirteen months ago, at the instance of the Queensland Cotton Board, and some months later I asked the Government to announce its decision, but without result. All this time the growers did not know what their future position would be. The cottongrowing industry offers very bright prospects for small crop-raisers. Australia's average annual imports of cotton' are valued at £15,000,000, which conveys an idea of the prospects for development which lie ahead. This is one of the few industries in which there is real scope for development. There is scope for the production of raw cotton, and of textiles containing cotton, and for the use of byproducts which are of great value. The tariff schedule should be revised so as to promote expansion along these lines. Before the war, 12,000 bales of cotton were produced each year in Australia, but production declined during the -war. Our requirements in raw cotton amount to 120,000 bales a year.

Throughout the world there is a shortage of raw cotton. There is also a worldwide shortage of textiles, and the position is made worse because of the shortage of cotton. The production of raw cotton in the United States of America during this season will be the lowest on record. Over a period of 25 years production rose from 8,900,000 bales to an average of 12,000,000 bales, but production declined sharply during the war. In India the position is even worse. India is the second-largest producer of cotton, and the Indian Government has placed an embargo on the export of raw cotton which is expected to continue in force for a considerable time. Practically nowhere in the world to-day is cotton being produced at the normal rate. It is in great demand, but almost everywhere production has declined. One of the reasons for the decline of the production of raw cotton in Australia is our failure to put into effect the recommendation of the Tariff Board that cotton should be grown by irrigation. If the cotton plant receives a check during the growing period it produces very few cotton bolls. Therefore, irrigation- is necessary. The Government proposes to pay a .guaranteed price of lod. per lb., which is the same as was paid by the Menzies' Government in 1941, at the beginning of the war. Since then, costs have increased tremendously, and the Queensland Cotton Board has asked for a guaranteed price of 17d.- per lb. The board submitted a case to show that production costs have increased by more than 25 per cent. We know that lad. in 1941 was worth much more than one of 15d. to-day. Moreover, we must remember that the proposed price of 15d. is to be paid, not for this year only, but for every year up to 1951.

During the last twenty years the production of raw cotton in Australia has declined from about 12,000 bales to 1,000 bales. I submit that those engaged in any primary industry are entitled to receive a return which will defray the cost of production, and leave a small margin of profit. This is not possible in the case of the cotton-growers under the proposal submitted by the Government. The guaranteed price of 15d. per lb. includes the rates for raw cotton, for lentils, seed cotton and cotton meal. The Government's offer is hopelessly inadequate, and if the industry is to be saved a higher price should be paid.

In addition, a more progressive agricultural policy must be developed. There should be co-operation between the Commonwealth and the Queensland Government to ensure scientific investigation into plant breeding, the control of pests and p'Ant diseases. Production is falling and accordingly the fixation of a guaranteed price related to the cost of production plus a margin of . profit is essential if the industry is to survive. A minimum production of 20,000 bales should be aimed at by the Government as the target for next year. By co-operation between- the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland irrigation can be increased in the areas where cotton is produced, improved cultural methods can h« undertaken and an adequate price can be determined. This important industry has been developed in Australia over the last twenty years. It has had to contend * with the effects of drought, unsatisfactory prices, and shortages of plant, equipment and man-power, during and sincethe war. An unlimited market is available for raw cotton and this Government should be prepared to take advantage of it by giving to the industry all the assistance it needs. The price of raw cotton must be stabilized over a period of years in order that growers may know where they stand. I protest at the delay in bringing down these proposals, at their inadequacy and at the general approach " of the Government to. this important industry, which is one of the few primary industries which have a ready market for their products. The Australian textile manufacturing industry is well developed, and if we do not take steps to provide its requirements of raw cotton, we may find that as the result of the falling off ' of cotton production in overseas countries, our textile industry will languish. I urge the Government to review it? policy and give the cotton-growers a guaranteed price which will meet their costs of production and allow them a reasonable margin of profit.

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