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Thursday, 28 July 1921

Senator CRAWFORD (Queensland) . - When under our Standing Orders I was obliged to resume my seat I was just about to speak of the relations subsisting between the sugar industry and the jam and fruit-preserving industry. We have in Australia a very large number of fruit-growers. In my opinion, there is nothing in either the sugar or fruit-preserving industries which should make one antagonistic to the other. They can be carried on side by side to their mutual advantage. During the war if we had not been producing sugar in such large quantities the position of fruitgrowers would have been very' different from what it was. Speaking generally, "fruit-growers during the war had a very good time. Prior to the war, our exports of jams, jellies, -and preserves were comparatively small, but thereafter they went up by leaps and bounds, with the result that during the six years following the outbreak of war they amounted in value to considerably over £5,000,000. Jam is made of practically equal parts of fruit and sugar. Our exports of condensed milk during the same period amounted in value to over £1,500,000, and condensed milk contains sugar to the extent of 40 per cent, of its weight. It is impossible to say what, will be the position two years hence, hut everything points in tha direction of an increased production of sugar in cheap-labour countries, and a consequent decrease in price.

Senator Drake-Brockman - I think the tendency is in the other direction.

Senator CRAWFORD - I shall be glad to hear the honorable senator's reasons for differing from me on that point. The world's powers of consumption, today certainly do not seem to be equal to what they were a little time ago. I do not know exactly how to account for it - whether it is due to the world's purchasing power being reduced or not - but twelve months ago there was a keen demand for sugar at from £10 to £80 per ton, whereas it is now difficult to sell it at one-third of that price. This falling off in the demand is not due to increased production. The world's production for the year ended 30th June last was practical^' the same as for the preceding twelve months- a little over 16,000,000 tons, or 2,000,000 tons less than it was in 1913-14 - yet, as compared with the supplies available during the war period, there seems to be an abundance of sugar at, very low prices. I have here a very interesting letter on the subject, which I do not intend to read iri full, but I propose presently to make a few quotations from it. I do not think the price of sugar has much effect on the consumption of jam. The people of Australia are "not bo poor that, if they had to pay one-sixth of a penny per lb. more for their jam - and that is what would be the result if this additional sugar duty of one-third of Id. per lb. were added to the cost - the consumption would decrease.

Senator Vardon - What about the export trade?

Senator CRAWFORD - I shall come to that point. I do not think that so slight an increase in the price of sugar, even if it were passed on to the price of jam, would affect the consumption of jam. The increased price would be microscopically small. It is possible that there lias been a decrease in the consumption of factory-made jam in Australia. The. reason for that has been the great increase in the price of jam, due chiefly to the increased cost of containers. I am told that tins to hold 1 lb. of jam have been costing from 2-Jd. to 3d. each.

Senator Wilson - They have-been costing 3d. each.

Senator CRAWFORD - That, at all events, is my information. Wages in factories have also been increased. When a housewife makes her own jam, she saves, not only the price of the container, but the factory wages, and, consequently, quite as good, if not better, jam is turned out in thousands of homes, even if they have to pay a little more for their sugar, at something like two-thirds the price at which factory jam is retailed. With high prices ruling, and householders on the alert to save wherever they can, many people who previously bought factory-made jam are now making jam in their own homes.

I come now to the export trade in jams, jellies, and preserves. Ever since Federation, it has been the practice to give local manufacturers a rebate equal to the full amount of the import duty on all the sugar used by them in the manufacture of jam for export. Even at the present time, I understand, the Government is meeting the jam-making industry in such a. liberal way that the manufacturers themselves are perfectly satisfied. So far as sugar used in jam for export is concerned, they are able to get it quite as cheaply as, if not more cheaply than, any of their competitors.

Senator Vardon - What is going to happen if we increase the duty?

Senator CRAWFORD - The present import duty is £6 per ton, and the rebate is £6 per ton. If the duty were increased to £9 per -ton, the rebate would be increased to £9 per ton, so that manufacturers of jam for export would be in just as favorable a position with a higher import duty on sugar as they are to-day.

Senator Lynch - That is to say, our taxpayers would have to pay for cheap jam for the foreigner.

Senator CRAWFORD - Not at all. In ordinary circumstances, jam manufacturers at the beginning of the season advise the refineries as to the quantity of sugar they will require for their export -trade, and sugar to that extent is imported specially for them. That was the practice before the war - before the Government took control of the industry - and it will undoubtedly be reverted to when the Government relinquish control.

Senator Payne - But an increased duty would affect the jam manufacturers.

Senator CRAWFORD - How could it when the rebate allowed on sugar used in jam for export is equal to the import duty?

Senator Lynch - When the local production overtakes the consumption, who will pay the rebate?

Senator CRAWFORD - Even if we secure the increased duty for which I am asking, I do not anticipate that the production of sugar in Australia is going to be so profitable that, taking one year with another, it is likely to be in excess of consumption.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did my honorable friend see the paragraph in the Bulletin dealing with the wealth of the people engaged in sugar-growing about Innisfail?

Senator CRAWFORD - I do not think the sugar-growers in and around Innisfail are wealthy men. I was there in 1918, a few weeks after the district had been visited by a cyclone which destroyed most of the homes, and the greater part of the crop, and I can assure honorable senators that I did not meet a grower who was not in financial difficulties, and who did not require assistance from the banks or some other financial institution to enable him to re-buildthis home and re-condition his farm.

Senator Drake-Brockman - And within three years all of them are once more financial.

Senator CRAWFORD - Those who think that the sugar-growers of Queensland are prospering to a greater extent than are those engaged in other land industries make a very big mistake. They have not the knowledge of the sugarfarmers that I possess. Very few of the sugar-growers are able to carry on from one year to another without assistance from either the banks, the mills, or the storekeepers. The sugar industry is far from being the prosperous industry that people who have no actual acquaintance with it are prone to believe.

Senator Drake-Brockman - What profit do the mills make in Queensland?

Senator CRAWFORD - We have in Queensland a tribunal which regulates the price paid for cane, andin no case are the mills allowed a profit exceeding 8 per cent. Surely no one will say that that profit is too high. It is true, asI have said, that a great deal of the land on which sugar-cane is grown is very rich, and that we have a suitable climate for the production of sugar throughout practically the whole of the Queensland coastal areas; but every season is not a good one. In the Bundaberg and Childers districts, in a good year, from 60,000 tons to 70,000 tons of sugar are produced. In 1919 and 1920, practically no sugar whatever was produced. During those two years the majority of the farmers there had no crops, although they ware under great expense. How they managed to live through that period is often a puzzle to themselves, and while they have promise of a fair crop this year, I am sure that the profits on this year's crop will by no means cover their losses on the two preceding years. In the north, in 1918, or since, practically every sugar district has had a cyclonic visitation, destroying most of the homes, and doing very serious damage to the crops, so that despite the better prices that have been paid for sugar, the last few years have not been more profitable to the growers 'than were those which preceded them.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order! The honorable senator's time limit has been reached.

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