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Thursday, 28 July 1921

Senator REID (Queensland) .-- The question of the duties to be imposed on imported' sugar is of very great interest to Queensland, and I hope that it will receive from the Committee that serious consideration which a great industry in a great State deserves.

Senaotr CRAWFORD (Queensland) [9:12] - The sugar industry is of importance to not only Queensland, but also New South Wales, where there are three large mills. The mills in the two States have a capacity of about 3,000,000 tons of cane per annum. There are about SOO miles of 2-ft. tramway in connexion with the sugar mills of Queensland, and it is estimated that the establishment of the mills in Queensland and New South Wales, with their equipment of tram lines and rolling-stock, has involved an expenditure of £7,500,000. One mill, for which a contract was let before the war, but which was erected during the wai1, and which has very little more than average capacity, cost well over £500,000. According to the latest issue of the Commonwealth Year-Booh, 1S0,000 acres of land are devoted to the production of sugar - of course, the whole area is not harvested every year - and there are over 4,000 sugar-growers. Many of the holdings are small, and the value of the buildings upon them is proportionately very high; in other words, the holdings are highly improved. I have heard some honorable senators speak of unimproved sugar lands having realized £60 per acre. Personally T have never known them to command such a price. The highest price that I know has been given for virgin land, suitable for sugar-growing, is £30 per acre.

Senator Lynch - Cleared ?

Senator CRAWFORD - No. It was virgin scrub land. That land was equal to the very best country in Australia, - quite equal to land on the Snowy River, which I was recently informed by maizegrowers from that locality is now realizing £180 per acre. The land in Queensland which brought £30 per acre was a comparatively small area which was exceedingly rich. I value the sugar farms in Queensland, as a whole, with the improvements already upon them, cleared, and ready for the plough, or under crop, at £25 per acre. But I know that, in many instances, that amount would not cover the cost of improvements. Valuing the land at that figure would make the total area worth £4,500,000. The average crop obtained from this land during the past five or six years has been about 1,800,000 tons of cane, which, at £2 per ton, would be worth £3,600,000. The total amount represented, therefore, by crops, land and improvements, would be £8,100,000, which, added to £7,500,000, the value of the mills, would bring the sum directly invested in the industry to £15,600,000. But that sum does not by any means represent the total amount invested in the industry, because there are a number of important towns, which, if the industry went to the wall, would have to be abandoned.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Will that be the fate of those towns if increased protection be not given to the industry ?

Senator CRAWFORD - When the agreement enteredinto by the Commonwealth Government to purchase the sugaroutput of Queensland at £30 6s. 8d. per ton terminates, the industry will be unable to carry on without an increased measure of protection.

Senator Bolton - A few years ago, sugar could be imported for £12 per ton.

Senator CRAWFORD - I do not know that it could be imported for £12 per ton, except during the first two or three years of the Federation, when the growers were employing coloured labour, which was costing them, upon an average, not more than 15s. per week. A very good class of labour it was, too. The average islander, upon those wages, did just about as much work as the average European upon wages will do at the present time. In the north of Queensland to-day, the wage for white labour in the industry is £5 per week. Considering the remoteness of a number of the northern sugar districts, and the fact that the labour employed is only of a seasonal character, I do not know whether the wages paid are unduly high as compared with the wages which are paid in other seasonal industries throughout the Commonwealth. Surely Senator Bolton does not think it is possible for the caue-growers, with wages at £5 per week, to sell their commodity at the same price as they did when their labour was costing only 15s. per week.

Senator Russell - Is not the harvesting done upon piece-work?

Senator CRAWFORD - Yes, at so much per ton. The work of cutting the cane and loading it on to trucks is paid for at piecework rates.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What do those workers get?

Senator CRAWFORD - Throughout the whole of the sugar districts of Queensland they average about 30s. per day for eight hours. " It has always been my opinion that men engaged in hard work like that of cane cutting will do more in the course of five or six months if they work only eight hours per day than they will do if they work . twelve hours per day.

Senator Lynch - Does the £9 per week include board and lodging?

Senator CRAWFORD - No, it is exclusive of board and lodging. The canecutters board themselves. Of course, there are men who in exceptional circumstances will average for short periods more than 30s. per day.

Senator Lynch - Other agricultural industries could not stand paying any such wage as £9 per week.

Senator CRAWFORD - If men put the same effort into their work as canecutters are required to do, in order to earn 30s. per day, I doubt if there are not other industries which could pay that wage. Take the fruit industry in the irrigation settlements upon the Murray River. I was a member of a parliamentary party which recently visited them, and we were told that the fruit-growers there were making £50, £60, and £70 per acre out of their vineyards and orchards. These are the people who are receiving a protection upon their products of from 3d. to 41/2d. per lb.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator must know that he is quoting gross amounts.

Senator CRAWFORD - We were toldthat the amounts I have mentioned represent the profits of the growers, and that there have been sales of orangeries upon the Murray up to £700 per acre.

Senator Bolton - I have been told that the highest price paid for land there has been £90 per acre.

Senator CRAWFORD - According to the information which I recently received there is no orchard along the river which could be purchased for anything like that price. Ever since the sugar industry came under the control of Commonwealth legislation, there has been a considerable prejudice in the South regarding it. That prejudice has been due in part to the 'fact that for a number of years at was carried on largely by means of coloured labour. Another reason is the commanding position in relation to the industry which the Colonial Sugar s Refinery Company has always held. My opinion, after a long experience of that company, is that without it we should not have a sugar industry worthy of the name in Australia. Although the Government have exercised very close supervision over the transactions of the company for five or six years, they have been able to find no fault with it. All that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (.Senator E. D. Millen) has said regarding it has -been in terms of the very highest praise. Another reason why a prejudice has existed against the industry is that sugar is the raw material of a very important industry in the principal southern States - I refer to the jam and preserved fruit industry.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order! The honorable senator's time has expired.

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