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Thursday, 24 October 1912

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I have listened to the whole of a very long " stone- walling " speech by Senator Lynch. The honorable senator set up a lot of dummies, and knocked them down again. He has invited the Senate to believe that the sugar industry has received specially favorable treatment, and has talked of the bounty which has been paid in connexion with it. I would ask him to say whether there is any other industry in the Commonwealth that has paid, as the sugar industry has done, no less than £2,100,000 in Excise duty. That money has been taken out of the .pockets of the people who grow sugar-cane. Senator de Largie may laugh at the statement, but if that be not so our Protectionist policy is a fraud. Our policy was to protect the sugar industry, and do away with black labour. Though all did not at one time take the same view of that question, I believe that all are now in accord upon it.

Senator de Largie - There is still black labour employed in the industry.

Senator SAYERS - Very little. I may say that I have letters in my possession from the Sugar Producers Association of Queensland to the Prime Minister, asking him to take every means possible to do away with all black labour in connexion with the industry.

Senator de Largie - Economically there is still black labour employed in the industry - white niggers.

Senator SAYERS - I maintain that the wages paid in the sugar industry are equal to those paid in rural industries in Victoria. I saw 'in one of the morning newspapers that Government officials had informed people that if they were not accustomed to farm labour they might expect to get 15s. a week, and that if they were accustomed to it or became accustomed to it they could look to from 25s. to 30s. a week. Those wages are as low as any paid in the sugar-producing districts of Queensland.

Senator Needham - We have no control over that.

Senator SAYERS - I am answering the statement that the sugar industry is a white slave industry, and I am trying to show that it is not. The Honorary Minister yesterday informed the Senate that certain sugar planters had paid certain wages. He enumerated Young Brothers and a number of other large planters, who started sugar cultivation in the early days in Queensland, and have since become very wealthy people. They are not the people I am here to assist, nor am I here to assist the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I am here to assist the small men producing a limited quantity of cane on small farms. These men were induced to go upon the land by our legislation. We said we would protect them, and what have we done? If they had been given notice that they would have to pay 8s. a day for labour I should not object if they could afford to pay that wage. Much has been said about the deputation that waited upon Mr. Austin Chapman when he was Minister of Trade and Customs. I find that what I said was that while we might have different opinions as to what the industry could pay, I was in favour at that time - about three years ago - of paying 7s. per day if the industry could afford it. I am still of that opinion.

Senator Pearce - Honorable senators opposite have all been explaining that deputation ever since it took place.

Senator Chataway - Because Senator Givens has always been referring us to it.

Senator SAYERS - I admit that my name has not been dragged into the matter ; but I took the trouble to look up what I said at the time.

Senator Lynch - The honorable senator was too cunning then.

Senator SAYERS - Perhaps I am too cunning now for Senator Lynch.

Senator Needham - Has the honorable senator any thought for the men employed by the grower?

Senator SAYERS - Yes, I have. If the growers cannot pay the wages fixed, the men employed by them will be thrown out of work. Has Senator Needham any thought for the small men, who have 20 or 30 acres of cane, which they cultivate with their own families, and with, perhaps, the assistance of one or two men? Surely the honorable senator would not deny them the opportunity to make a living ?

Senator Givens - If a grower employs only one or two men, the wages will not affect him very much.

Senator SAYERS - I am surprised that Senator Givens should say that. Their production is small, and the wages mean more to them, proportionately, than to growers who are employing a hundred labourers. Most of the small growers, as Senator

Givens is aware, have been working men who have gone on to the land to try to make a living there. Senator Lynch spoke of the great increase in the value of the land. I admit that ; but the honorable senator's argument was based upon false premises. The bulk of the men who are on the land producing sugar to-day paid as much for it as the honorable senator has quoted.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Some paid too much, and that is the real trouble up north.

Senator SAYERS - But the honorable senator will agree that we should face the position as it really is. I know that a farm in the north was sold the other day, with all improvements, at £8 per acre.

Senator McGregor - Was that on the boat, on the street, or on the job?

Senator SAYERS - It was not where the gentleman was - in the " pub." I saw a farm sold there for £8 per acre upon time payment.

Senator McGregor - What "bloke" told the honorable senator that?

Senator SAYERS - That interjection is mean and contemptible. The VicePresident of the Executive Council must be very low-minded to refer to honest working men as "blokes." Although he is a Labour Minister, his remark is indicative of his opinion of the intelligent working man on the land.

Senator McGregor - Honest working men would not talk to the honorable senator.

Senator SAYERS - More honest working men have talked to me than have ever talked to the Vice-President of the Executive Council. All his utterances are made with his tongue in his cheek.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator himself was a braceman

Senator SAYERS - And I am. not ashamed of it. 1 have occupied positions that the honorable senator has never occupied, and will never be competent to occupy. 1 am a certificated engine-driver. Senator Lynch dealt with the sugar lands of Queensland from, the stand-point of their value twenty or thirty years ago.

Senator Lynch - An average at which the Government are selling some land today in Proserpine.

Senator SAYERS - He stated that land had gone up in value 400 per cent, from the time it was purchased. But I would point out to him that those who paid full value for that land reaped no benefit from it. I will guarantee that the honorable senator can buy sugar land in Queensland to-day with all improvements upon it at the price which he mentioned. My chief anxiety is to protect the small grower. I hold no brief for the big man, or for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. If that company are taking 12 per cent, which should find its way into the pockets of the growers, I should be the first to help the honorable senator to secure justice to the latter. But the report of Dr. Maxwell, which he read, is three years old. At present, the Government take £4 per ton from the grower by way of Excise, and return him £3 per ton. If they have discovered that the bounty is not finding its way to its rightful destination, they should have taken steps to remedy the trouble. Most of the sugar-mills in Queensland are of a co-operative character - that is to say, they are partly owned by the Government and partly .by the growers. There are other mills which are owned by the Government. Does the honorable senator mean to tell me that the mills which are owned by the Queensland Government sneak 12 per cent, of the price of sugar from the grower? If he does, Dr. Maxwell must have been a party to that.

Senator Lynch - He found it out from his own experience.

Senator SAYERS - Then he must have been a party to it, because he was connected with a Government mill.

Senator Lynch - It was only in running the Nerang mill that he discovered it.

Senator SAYERS - The Nerang mill is only a small one, but Dr. Maxwell was employed by the Queensland Government to supervise all the sugar mills in that State.

Senator McGregor - Is he still alive?

Senator SAYERS - I believe that he has been in Victoria recently. If Dr. Maxwell knew of this leakage, seeing that he was being paid £3,500 a year for his services, it is strange that he did not take steps to prevent it. Everybody knows that the Queensland Government had to get rid of that gentleman.. A great many persons in that State did not hold that high opinion of him which he held of himself. Going back to the year 1902, I would point out that for every sugar-grower in Queensland then there are fifty growers to-day. We have endeavoured to induce the small growers to go upon the land. I believe that these growers are prepared to pay as high wages to their employes as the industry can bear. I have letters from the Isis district in which the statement is made that 75 per cent, of the growers there are willing that the Commonwealth should abolish the Excise. In nearly every instance the mill-owners have signed an agreement that if the Commonwealth will abolish the Excise, they will pay 2s. 2d. per ton more to the growers than they are paying now.

Senator Givens - Where did they sign the agreement?

Senator SAYERS - In the Bundaberg and the Isis districts.

Senator Chataway - I suppose that Senator Givens believes that the Queensland Government are absolute liars, and will not do what they promise.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Can the honorable senator give us the name of one man who signed the agreement?

Senator SAYERS - I can.

Senator Chataway - Mr. E. W. Knox, of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, is one, and Mr. T. Whitcombe is another.

The PRESIDENT - I must ask Senator Chataway to refrain from these continual interjections.

Senator SAYERS - I have in my possession letters from growers, who hold 20 or 30 acres of land, to the effect that the mill managers have told them that they are willing to pay 2s. 2d. more per ton for their cane if the Commonwealth will abolish the Excise.

Senator Givens - They have made the statement, but they have not signed it.

Senator SAYERS - But the honorable senator will not say that he disbelieves it. I am informed that they have signed an agreement. Take the Isis district as an illustration. Seventy-five per cent, of the growers there have signed a petition to that effect. They have written to me giving me certain information. Surely they are not all liars. I have also letters from Cairns, from Mossman, and from Mackay - letters which represent thousands of growers in those districts. Surely they are not all liars.

Senator O'Keefe - The Scriptures say that " all men are liars."

Senator SAYERS - Then the great majority of honorable senators must be liars. These men know their own business, and they say that they are prepared to pay any reasonable wage to their employes so long as they can get a living out of the industry themselves. Under existing conditions they cannot pay the rates which the Minister has ordered that they shall pay. When I made that statement the other night, the Minister of Defence interjected, " Then let them go to the Arbitration Court." The adoption of that course, however, would involve delay.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that the wages prescribed are too high?

Senator SAYERS - I do not. I am prepared to make the wages 10s. per day if the Government are willing to impose a duty which will enable the small grower to pay that wage. But I do not think that all the men who have written to me are liars. I admit that I have not been on such intimate terms with the growers as has Senator Givens. I have never audited their accounts or prepared their income tax returns.

Senator Chataway - And the honorable senator has never employed coloured labour to nurse his family !

Senator Givens - If you say that of me, Chataway, I will knock the snout off you. You are an infernal liar, a scoundrel, and a waster.

Senator Chataway - I said nothing of the honorable senator.

Senator SAYERS - After this, sir, I will say no more. I resume my seat.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.

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