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Tuesday, 2 April 1957
Page: 409

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- This is the really important clause of the bill. It gives a concession to the cotton-growing industry in that it excludes from consideration any exterior revenue that the industry may receive from sources other than actual cotton-growing. The Opposition very heartily supports the granting of the concession. We have no objection to that whatsoever, but, having regard to the position of the cotton-growing industry at the moment, the payment of a higher amount of bounty than hitherto is inevitable. Because of that, it is desirable I should emphasize that, notwithstanding the speeches which have been made by honorable members on the Government side, the fact that this Government saw fit to introduce a Cotton Bounty Bill in 1951, which we supported, and the payment of bounties and all the assistance given hitherto to the Government, this industry has advanced very little, if anything, beyond the position in which it was in 1949 when the Tariff Board submitted its report. It has advanced no farther, despite what the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Pearce) or the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) had to say in their most enlightening speeches this afternoon.

Under the Cotton Bounty Bill of 1951, which we supported, the Government gave a guaranteed price of 14d. per lb. At that time, the Government set a target at something like an estimated production of 20,000 bales from an area of, I think, 8,000 acres. That target has not been anything like reached. Production in 1951 was 1,124 bales. The honorable member for Lilley tells us that the industry cannot now sell 2,227 bales. Despite all the bounties and the wiping off of the £68,000 guarantee which the Chifley Government gave to the Commonwealth Bank, the industry will not produce anything like the 20,000 bales aimed at by the Government; and the people of Australia are being asked now to agree to the payment of a bounty of £125,000 to this industry. I do not want to be a damp cloth, nor do I seek to be a Jeremiah. ] am as anxious as any honorable member is to see the industry develop, but, as I see the position, the Tariff Board's prophecy, unfortunately, has been proved to be correct. No bounty payment will save this industry. Its salvation must come from better methods of agriculture, better systems of rotation, larger areas per farmer under cotton and irrigation. Have those things been done? There has been no report to this Parliament whether or not they have been put into effect. We have not even been told what the acreage is to-day compared with the acreage in 1949. All we are told is that we are asked to agree to the continuation of a process, and to its enlargement by virtue of the fact that exterior revenues are not to be taken into consideration. We are asked to be a little more liberal, when, according to the industry's own figures, and the figures of the honorable member for Lilley and, so far as I have been able to extract them, the figures of the Minister, the cotton crop to-day, in 1 956-57, is no better than it was in 1951 and 1952, and not as good as it was in 1953 when the industry turned out 4,229 bales. Now production has lapsed to anything between 2,000 and 3,000 bales produced from a not very substantial acreage. If I am wrong in my figures no doubt somebody will correct me, but whether they are out a thousand bales either way, the error would not represent the differences between success and failure. I think it behoves this Government to refer this matter back to the Tariff Board before the existing bounty provisions expire within the next year or two. I suggest the whole matter deserves very much more consideration than it has received. Most of the consideration that has been given to it by honorable members opposite during this debate has consisted of a condemnation of the Chifley Government for its belief that a bounty of 14d. a bale would not have the desired effect, and its acceptance of the Tariff Board's recommendation that the Commonwealth should liquidate the industry's debt of £68,000.

Let us put this matter on a non-partisan basis. We are involved in a payment of £125,000 this year, and perhaps more next year. If that is the rate of progress this Government is making in stimulating the cotton industry, the Government cannot be proud of itself. Of course, I am not blaming the Government entirely, because there has been a catastrophic fall in cotton prices. If that were the only factor, it would not matter so much; but the worst feature is that the output of cotton has not been materially increased, which prompts the question, "What is the Government doing to give effect to what the Tariff Board suggested as necessary to make this industry worth while and worthy of the support of the people? "

You have been very tolerant with me, Mr. Chairman. I thought at one stage you would suggest that I was not confining my remarks to the clause, and I was ready to correct you by saying that this clause will mean the extension of the bounty and for that reason my remarks were in order.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. AdermannThe essential part of this clause deals with payments other than bounty by the processors, and therefore the honorable member was quite in order.

Mr POLLARD - I think that, unconsciously, Mr. Chairman, you believed that I took your own point of view on that clause, and thought it would not do any harm to let me continue.

I support the measure, but I suggest to the Minister that there is a good deal more in this than meets the eye, and that the industry should be thoroughly overhauled. If what is required is assistance to have better agricultural procedures and practices rather than a bounty, or the provision of more up-to-date plant for ginneries, then the industry should get that kind of assistance, and not so much by way of a Commonwealth Bank guarantee, either. I have had a lifetime of political experience which has shown me that a Commonwealth Bank guarantee in such cases generally means that, in the long run, the State or the Commonwealth liquidates the industry's overdraft, as has been done in this case. I would much prefer the Government to say to the cotton industry, "Here is £50,000 or £100,000. Put in your ginneries ". That would be much better than throwing £125,000, or a similar amount, down the drain. After all, under that system the machinery would still be in existence and have a sale value. Under this proposal, you have nothing.

Clause agreed to.

Remainder of bill - by leave - taken as a whole and agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

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