Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 6 May 1915

Senator RUSSELL (Honorary Minister) . - The information to which Senator Buzacott referred was received about five minutes after the opening of

Parliament to-day. The reply which has been sent to his question is as follows: -

I have to advise that inquiries have been made into tho above matters, and, excepting us fur as may have been necessary and usual in economic working, there has been no avoidable delay in transporting any material along the line for the construction, works.

That is signed by the Engineer-in-Chief for Railways.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [6.12]. - This afternoon I asked a question with regard to the supplies of sugar in the Commonwealth. It might be as well if I said a few words now to make tho position clear. I asked whether the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs was aware that ithad been pointed out by the chairman of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company that the quantity of sugar available for consumption in the Commonwealth would be exhausted by the end of July. He not only made that statement in his address at the half-yearly meeting of the company, but he took tho trouble to communicate, I think twice, with the Premier of New South Wales, and also with the Premier of Victoria, pointing out the urgency of the matter. It appears that, under action taken by the State Governments recently, there has been a fixing of the price of sugar, amongst other commodities. The price fixed is considerably less than the market price paid for sugar outside the Commonwealth. When there has been a shortage in the supply of sugar in the Commonwealth in the past, the course adopted has been to import raw sugar, and have it refined in Australia, and then placed upon the market at the market rate, whatever it might be. It would appear that in the fixing of prices in connexion with commodities, the basis adopted has been the available supply of those commodities in the Commonwealth. There is a marked reduction of the normal supply of sugar in the Commonwealth at the present time, due to recent dry seasons in Queensland and northern New South Wales, where our cane sugar is grown. It is stated that it will be impossible to supply the amount of sugar that will bo required for consumption in Australia by importing raw sugar, without incurring a very serious loss, estimated at about £7 per ton, if the present low price be maintained. This is a loss the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is not prepared to face. It might be urged that this is a matter for the consideration primarily of the Boards which have been established to fix the prices for necessary commodities in Australia. That is one reason why it might be regarded as primarily a State matter; but it should be borne in mind that the Commonwealth Parliament also has power to deal with the question. We have imposed duties upon raw and refined sugars imported into Australia. In view of the fiscal policy we have adopted, the duties are, no doubt, reasonable when wo can produce sufficient for our local consumption. We are now, however, faced with a time of scarcity, and it is up to the Commonwealth Parliament to see whether it is not possible to devise some means to meet the difficulty which has arisen. It is unreasonable to expect people to import sugar and refine it hero if they are to be restricted to prices far below the ordinary market rates for sugar outside the Commonwealth. An important phase of the question is its probable effect upon the employment of our people. In a paragraph appearing in to-day's Argus it is explained that the authorities of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company urgently desire to know what the intention of the Government may be in this matter, as otherwise they may be compelled to dismiss a large number of the people they have working for them at the present moment.

Senator Pearce - What is the honorable senator's estimate of the probable shortage ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I can only say that it is estimated that the available supply in the Commonwealth will be exhausted at the end of July. There will be a very small crop of sugar cane from Queensland and the northern part of New South Wales, in consequence of the dry season experienced there. The fixing of prices is a tempting subject for discussion. We know that there have been great complaints about the fixing of the price of wheat, and there is talk of the importation of wheat to supply local requirements in some of the States. I may have more to say on this subject upon another occasion. The question of the price of sugar is at present most urgent, and it is time that something was done- to discover a means to tide us over the difficulty. Whether it can be best met by a remission of the import duties or by the exorcise of influence with the State Governments to induce them to take action calculated to supply their people with sufficient of this commodity at a reasonable rate, I shall not now decide. I have mentioned the matter that the Minister might know more clearly the object I had in putting my question to him this afternoon, and that the Government might have time to consider the best course to follow in the circumstances.

Suggest corrections