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Wednesday, 3 August 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I do not know if there is any item in the Tariff which is likely to place me in a more difficultposition than the one we are now discussing. Personally, I am in entire sympathy with Queensland senators in their desire to retain the duty appearing in the schedule; but New South Wales is also interested in bananagrowing, and I can claim to have among my constituents quite a number of growers. In another place was shown, in support of the argument to impose a duty of1d. per lb. on bananas, that the industry had not increased very much. Certainly it had not increased in Queensland in 1920, as compared with 1914, on the figures given, but in New South Wales the area has increased from 255 acres in 1914, to 2,853 acres in 1920, which is equal to nearly one-third of the total area under bananas in Queensland.

Senator Bolton - And under the old Tariff.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall deal with that point later. As a senator representing New South Wales, where we have about one-third of the area that Queensland has under bananas, I must endeavour to give a fair deal to all concerned. So far as my knowledge goes, banana-growing is about the easiest work in which a producer on the land can engage; and if we compare the duty which the Queensland senators wish to sustain

Senator Crawford - The New South Wales senators want it too.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking for New South Wales. If we compare the duty of1d. per lb. on bananas with that on citrus fruits, it would appear that a duty of 3d. on- lemons is only reasonable, as there is no comparison whatever in connexion with the labour required in growing bananas and that necessary in producing lemons. I cannot support the request moved by Senator Lynch, because I believe that all the evidence suggests that bananas will not be imported into Australia in large quantities if the present duty is reduced by onehalf, and I intend to move in that direction if the request before the Committee is not carried. We have been supplied with a lot of data in connexion with the production and importation . of bananas. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) and Senator Keating have quoted figures, which, in my opinion, prove that the industry in Australia has not been damaged in consequence of importations fromFiji, because they have diminished during re- cent years. When the Minister was submitting the figures in answer to a question, I was able to gather that the production in Australia in 1918-19 was 425,000 centals, and the importations fromFiji in that year represented 52,709 centals. As all the figures quoted by the Minister are not before me, I cannot say what the production in Australia in 1919.-20 was; but the, importations from Fiji in that year represent only 32,000 centals. In a constituency with over 1,000,000 electors, I have to consider hot only the special interests, but the interests of the community as a whole. The Melbourne Journal of Commerce of 27th July, 1921, shows that the importations of bananas in 1918-19 were approximately 62,000 centals, and in 1919-20 approximately 32,000 centals. Those figures may apply to Melbourne only.

Senator Russell - The importations in 1919-20 were 76,080 centals, and in 1920-21, 136,000 centals.

SenatorPRATTEN.- My figures must then apply to Melbourne only. According to the Minister's figures, the importations average about only 25 per cent. of the production within Australia. We have to realize the incidence of what we are doing, and to remember that bananas are eaten by all children.

Senator Drake-Brockman - That is what used to be done.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would like to remind my friends from Queensland that the settlement of returned soldiers on land for banana growing took place while the duty was even below the so-called low duty that appeared in the Tariff schedule when it was first introduced in another place. I know that several Chinese firms" are largely interested in banana growing on the Tweed Riverin New South Wales. I agree with Senator Gardiner that once the Chinese are here they have an equal right with any one else to make a reasonable profit, and to be unrestricted in their business deals; but on the authority of Mr. S. J. Plain, who writes on behalf of the Fiji growers, and is one himself, On Lee andCo., Won Lee and Co., Tim Young and Co., Tiy Sang and Co., and Sang On Tiy and Co., have taken up large tracts of country in Southern Queensland and the Tweed River district, and are growing bananas.

Senator Crawford - Chinese growers in Queensland are restricted to 5 acres each.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. Plainsays that Tiy Sang and Co. were for years engaged in the Fiji banana industry, but have now given it up entirely, and that Sang On Tiy and Co., who were also Fijian banana growers, have now only a very small area left, finding their Australian investments more profitable. Mr. Plain goes on to make certain statements, which indorse those made in this Chamber by several honorable senators this afternoon, in reference to the extraordinarily high prices that are asked by land-owners for land suitable for banana growing.He points out that land which only a few years ago could be bought for £20 per acre for dairying purposes is now bringing from £70 to £100 per acre for banana growing, and that some of it is realizing as much as £150 per acre. On the authority of the Sydney Morning Herald of the 8th August, 1919, before this very high duty was imposed, the sale was reported of 64 acres of banana land for £6,450, or a little over £100 per acre for virgin land. The Murwillumbah correspondent of the Sydney Mail, writing on 20th April, 1919, gave the local value of a banana farm in bearing at £180 per acre. These figures adequately support those given in the Senate to-day with regard to the extraordinarily high values that land-owners are reaping in connexion with banana growing. "Where, then, is our justification for increasing a duty that will affect millions of consumers in Australia, and often take away from them what is certainly a hygienic and necessary food, particularly for the young?

Senator Cox - Does the honorable senator realize that this land only lasts for banana-growing purposes for ten or fif teen years?

Senator Drake-Brockman - That emphasizes the honorable senator's argument.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course it does. If £200 per acre can be profitably paid for land which only lasts for ten years, what in the world is the use of this Senate imposing a high duty on imported bananas? I emphasize the point that when a number of our returned soldiers commenced growing obananas they did so when the duty was certainly less than a third of what is now proposed. I would ask this Senate to consider some other aspects of Australian trade in addition to banana growing, particularly trade with Fiji.

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