Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 26 September 1912

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - I move -

x.   That, in the opinion of the Senate, the Government should offer a reward of not less than £$,000 lor the invention and successful Working of a sugar-cane cutting apparatus.

2.   That this resolution be communicated to the House of Representatives with a request for its concurrence.

Honorable senators may think that my proposition is rather an extraordinary one, but they will see that it is justified when 1 tell them that if we could accomplish what is desired we should probably reduce the price of cane sugar by something like £2 or £2 10s. per ton.

Senator Pearce - The Colonial Sugar Refining Company permitting.

Senator CHATAWAY - If the price of sugar were not brought down it would be the fault of the Government themselves. They could reduce the import duty on sugar. The remedy lies in their own hands. Some years ago the Government of India offered a reward of .£10,000 for a machine that would successfully cut and top sugar-cane. That reward was never claimed, because the machine was not invented. In 1895, in Louisiana, a reward of £250 was offered for a canecutting machine. In Louisiana sugar-cane is grown to a greater extent than in the whole of Australia. No invention followed the reward. In 1901 or 1902 the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association opened a competition, in which I myself, with the assistance of a civil engineer, took part, and offered a reward of ,£5,000 for a completed cane-cutting machine, £1,000 for a machine which, with alterations, would be successful, and ,£250 for detailed plans of a' practicable machine. I mention these instances to show that the matter has not been neglected. In Queensland it has been seriously considered. A civil engineer named Tyler, in 1894, made a remark which I believe to be very true. He said -

All inventors are not blessed with big deposit receipts, or even with being in localities where the conditions are favorable for them to bring their particular discoveries to the surface, and unless a helping hand is held out from some direction, it will no doubt, for perhaps long periods, be an absolute loss to the deviser as well as those calculated to benefit.

In 1894, Mr. Boch, in Bundaberg, invented a cane-cutting machine, though I cannot discover that it was successful. Later on, in Louisiana, Le Blanc successfully worked a machine for this purpose. But in Louisiana, the conditions are very different .from those of Australia. There crops of cane are usually grown for about ten months, and are then cut down, and practically buried, to avoid the frosts of the winter season. In Australia, we do not bury our crops.

Senator Rae - What difference does that make in regard to cutting?

Senator CHATAWAY - The difference is that in Louisiana cane grows straight up to a height of not more than 6 feet. It grows like wheat, and can practically be reaped ; but in Queensland any crop over 45 tons to the acre will lie down. You then have to deal practically with a mass of cane lying on the ground. If crops were very poor, the Louisiana machine could be employed, but we do not desire to grow poor crops in order to use an American machine. We have not neglected this subject in Queensland. Mr. Paul, a son of the late Judge Paul, invented a canecutting machine, of which I have a photograph here. The machine is worked by compressed air with reciprocating chisel action. Dr. Maxwell, in a report upon the machine, stated that he believed the prospects of its success were encouraging. I do not think I am betraying confidence when I say that the late Judge Paul told me, when I asked him why further work had not been done upon this machine, that it was absolutely due to want of funds. In 1902, an anonymous correspondent - I do not know who he was - suggested that a special kind of cane should be grown to suit the cutting machine. Later on, Mr. J. Edwards pointed out that inventors had already spent a great amount of labour, time, and money in the preliminary investigation of various machines, leaving out the rewards that had been offered, of which there have been a considerable number. There is a machine known as Hurry's machine, and another known as Bravo's. I am not standing as the advocate of any of these machines. T have no axe to grind, except that I honestly want "to reduce the cost of producing sugar-' cane in Australia. I hope honorable senators will take my word for that. I have seen a machine called the Little Giant, which I think was made in South Brisbane. I shall not say whether I think it is constructed on right lines or not. I have also seen Mr. Hurry's machine in Melbourne. I believe he has spent something like £4,000 or £5,000 upon it - no small amount certainly. It is a large machine, a- good deal larger than the Senate table, and is run by a motor. To my mind, it must be a most expensive machine. If, however, it will do the work required, it will be of great benefit. Mr. Bravo, the inventor of another machine, is, I think, the manager of the Queensland Molasses Company, which carries on business in Melbourne. Some years ago, I inspected his machine, the principle of which was something like that of Mr. Paul's. It cut and topped every individual cane. It introduced into cane-cutting a machine somewhat on the lines of a sheep -shearing machine. Sugar canes grow of different lengths. They are not planted on the flat, as wheat is, and some have to be cut higher or lower than others. My personal opinion is that each cane will have to be cut separately. Thousands of pounds are being spent to produce an apparatus likely to successfully cut and top cane. I do not see why the CommonwealthGovernment, who apparently can give bonuses for the production of the physical features of members of the community, or of certain agricultural products, should be debarred from giving a bonus for the production of a successful new invention in machinery.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator not think that to adopt his proposal would be to interfere with State rights?

Senator CHATAWAY - I do not know that State rights have anything to do with the matter.

Senator de Largie - Is it not necessary that the sugar cane should be cut under the surface ?

Senator CHATAWAY - Yes, just under the surface.

Senator de Largie - I wish only to hear the honorable senator's views. Does not that fact present some difficulty?

Senator CHATAWAY - Not the slightest. My views as to the actual process of cane cutting do not appear to me to be of any great value to the Senate at the present time. I am asking that a reasonable reward should be given to any one who

Can devise an apparatus which will successfully harvest sugar cane. I am willing that the Government should attach to any award they may offer a condition that they may buy the successful machine at a reasonable rate, manufacture it themselves, and sell it to the people. I think that the matter is sufficiently important to agree to such a condition.

Senator Pearce - That would be Socialism.

Senator CHATAWAY - Are not the Government in favour of Socialism?

Senator Pearce - Yes.

Senator CHATAWAY - Then is there to be a complaint because I am in favour of Socialism?

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator should come right over to this side.

Senator CHATAWAY - I shall go over to that side in due course, next year, after the elections. I wish now to direct the attention of honorable senators to a most important point. In Europe, machines are employed which dig, top, tail, and load sugar beets at 4½d. to5d. per ton. A ton of beets contains as much sugar, on the average, as a ton of sugar cane. An acre of land will produce as many tons of beets as the number of tons of sugar cane which are produced on an acre of land in Australia. Roughly speaking,10 tons of sugar beets, or 10 tons of cane, will produce a ton of sugar, so that a ton of beet sugar can be harvested for 4s. 2d.

Senator Pearce - Does beet sugar realize the same price as cane sugar?

Senator CHATAWAY - It does ; but we are very prone here to compare 88 per cent. beet sugar with 99.7 per cent. cane sugar. Taking quality for quality, the average price of beet sugar is almost exactly the same as that of cane sugar. Chemically, the quality of both is the same. The old idea that beet sugar is not as good as cane sugar has been exploded.

Senator Pearce - I tested beet sugar on the Continent, and it was not equal to the sugar we get here.

Senator St Ledger - So the Colonial Sugar Refining Company say..

Senator Pearce - I agree with them.

Senator CHATAWAY - I do not know that that matter is worth discussing. At the present time, 88 per cent. beet sugar is worth11s.10½d. per cwt., f.o.b., Hamburg; and 88 per cent. Queensland sugar is worth within a penny or two of the same price. The cost of cutting cane runs from 4s. 6d. to 7 s. per ton, or from 45s. to 70s. per ton of sugar. As I have said, the cost of harvesting sugar-beets is from 4d. to5d. per ton, or from 3s. 4d. to 4s. 8d. per ton of beet sugar. One might safely say that, if we can get a machine which will do for cane what machinery is now doing for the harvesting of sugarbeets, we shall save £2 10s. upon every ton of sugar produced in Australia.

Senator Findley - Are the beet harvesting machines referred to by the honorable senator in general use?

Senator CHATAWAY - According to the newspapers they are. I admit that I have not been in the countries in which they are used; but these machines have been advertised for the last ten or twelve years in the German, Belgian, and French trade journals, namely, Die Deutsch Zuckerindustrie, Le Sucrerie Indigene, and Les Fabricants de Sucre. Setting aside altogether the question of whether we are prepared to make things easier for sugar producers in Australia, it is quite certain that, if we could reduce the cost of producing sugar in this country by £2 10s. per ton, the Government would be perfectly justified - and I say this deliberately, and with a thorough knowledge of the sugar industry - in asking Parliament to reduce the import duty on sugar. A day might come when other sugar-cane growing countries would Introduce similar machinery, and then possibly we should have to reconsider the position. If we could do what I suggest should be done for the cane-sugar industry, more would be done for the benefit of the people of the whole world than Napoleon did when he introduced the cultivation of sugar-beets into Europe. I have mentioned various machines not on the market, but in course of manufacture. I have seen Mr. Hurry's machine several times. He has taken it up to Cairns, into the Mackay, Burdekin, and Bundaberg districts, and further south. He has spent enormous sums of money upon it. I believe I am correct in saying that he has practically ruined himself in connexion with it, and the machine is very nearly right. Honorable senators require to remember that the inventor of one of these machines must make provision for its construction in a big industrial centre, and it cannot be tried in a big industrial centre. He may have to travel 2,000 miles before he can put it into practical use. I am asking for a bonus, not for any particular individual or machine. I am asking that the Government should fall into line with, the Indian Government, and with the Louisiana, Hawaiian, and Java Sugar Planters Associations, and see whether they cannot discover amongst the engineers of the world one who will be able to do for the sugar industry, and therefore for the consumers of sugar, what has been done in other directions by the men who invented sheep-shearing and other machines which have done so much to benefit humanity as a whole. I ask the Government to treat this proposal seriously, and not as a joke, as Senator McGregor seems inclined to do. The matter may be considered from a practical as well as a sentimental point of view. If a man can invent a machine which will benefit the people engaged in the settlement of the tropical portions of the Commonwealth, who are building up a white wall of flesh and blood against the yellow hordes of the East, and which will reduce the cost of sugar, which is at a famine price at the present time, I ask that the Government shall not hold back and say that while they are prepared to give a bonus for this, that, and the other, they will not give any similar encouragement for the production of a machine which will reduce the price of sugar.

Debate (on motion by Senator McGregor) adjourned.

Suggest corrections