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Wednesday, 3 August 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I wish to regard this question from a purely Australian point of view, and I regret that there has been introduced into the discussion a suggestion of conflict between the interests of north and south. Such a feeling should be absent from the discussion, because the majority of honorable senators are prepared to deal with this question fairly, and recognise that any suggestion in the interests of any primary industry must benefit the whole Commonwealth, whilst the failure of the banana-growing industry would be prejudicial to the interests of the whole Commonwealth. I have been anxious to come to a conclusion as to whether we can fairly impose upon the consumers of bananas the heavier burden which will be inevitable if the duty in the schedule is continued, or whether, on the other hand, it is reasonable to reduce the duty, having regard to the interests of those engaged in the industry. Some of the speakers have clearly shown that the industry, which has been established for some years, has been regarded as highly profitable, especially during the last few years, even under the. old Tariff. Other speakers have pointed out the handicap imposed upon Queensland growers by the enormous cost of transporting their product to the large centres of population in Australia. I should like the point to be made clear whether it is essential that bananasgrown at Gympie should be railed to Melbourne: Why was the carriage of bananas by rail introduced in the firt instance? Is it not a fact that the railways had to be used for the transport of this fruit because of the scarcity of shipping a few years ago? Is that the only reason why bananas are carried by rail instead of beingcarried by sea?

Senator Crawford - When they are transported by rail they reach our large centres of population in half the time that they would otherwise occupy.

Senator Reid - Railway carriage was adopted to enable all the fruit to be Landed in a fresh condition.

Senator PAYNE - But if bananas from Fiji can be landed in our chief ports in good condition, why cannot bananas from Queensland?

Senator Reid - A boat specially fitted for the carriage of bananas has been running regularly to Fiji. We have no such vessel upon our coast.

Senator PAYNE - I regret that Senator Crawford did not enlighten us upon this point, because the charges made by agents for the handling of bananas in cases seem to be out of all proportion to the value of the services rendered. 'Sea carriage is the natural method of transportation for fruit of this description. But the growers have adopted the most expensive form of carriage possible.

Senator Reid - Does not the honorable senator think that the grower knows his own business ?

Senator PAYNE - But we are being asked to give him a much heavier protection than he has hitherto enjoyed to enable him to continue sending his bananas by rail to the chief centres of Australia. Senator Glasgow has told us that a commission of. 2s. 6d. per case is charged by agents for disposing of this fruit. That is equivalent to about 17-J per cent, upon the prices quoted by the honorable senator, namely, 15s. to 20s. per case. It has been said that returned soldiers are engaged iii the industry of banana growing. I am glad that that is so. But we cannot get away from the fact that they were induced to take up banana-growing upon figures which were available to them prior to the imposition of such a heavy duty. Yet we know upon, good authority that the industry was previously a lucrative one.

If ' the present duty be continued, I wish specially to stress the possibility of Australia losing her trade with Fiji. We must always recognise that we are dependent upon other countries for our prosperity. I have been assured upon the. very best authority that many Australians are engaged in banana-growing in Fiji. These men invested their capital there, knowing that they could command a fair market for their produce in the Commonwealth, and in return for that market they have been drawing their supplies from us. In 1918-19 I learn that the total imports into the Commonwealth from Fiji were valued at £192,921, and during the same year our exports to those islands were valued at £443,981.

Senator Crawford - How much of that amount is represented by re-exports?

Senator PAYNE - We cannot hope to impose a prohibitive duty upon the products of any country without provoking retaliation. I do not wish to see our trade with Fiji diverted to New Zealand, as it inevitably will be if we do anything to prevent the Fijian banana planters disposing of their produce in Australia. At the same time, I have no desire to place the industry in Fiji upon the same basis as the industry in the Commonwealth. We ought, however, to give Fijian bananas a reasonable amount of encour agement. Senator Lynch has moved that the other place be requested to reduce the duty upon bananas to 2s. 6d. per cental, and I understand' that Senator Pratten intends to submit a request in favour of reducing the duty to ½d. per lb. Your remarks, sir, in regard to the procedure to be adopted in dealing with these requests have placed honorable senators in a quandary. Some of us may desire to give the Queensland grower a protection of id. per lb. But if Senator Lynch's proposal, which must be put to the Committee first, . be carried, we shall be afforded no opportunity of voting upon the proposal which has been outlined by Senator Pratten. I would, therefore, suggest that Senator Lynch should- withdraw his motion until the proposal foreshadowed by Senator Pratten has been dealt with.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - It has been correctly laid down by Senator Buzacott that the pro,cedure adopted in connexion with former Tariffs has been that where reductions of a duty are sought the lowest duty should first be put to the vote, and that where increases are requested the highest increase proposed should be dealt with first. If the Committee rejects Senator Lynch's motion, Senator Pratten's proposal may then be put. But if Senator Lynch's motion be carried, the honorable senator must see that that action will express the will of a majority of the Committee.

Senator PAYNE - There may be a number of honorable senators who are strongly opposed to the present duty of Id. per lb. upon bananas but who are not prepared to go as far as Senator Lynch. Under the procedure which has been outlined, these honorable senators will be entirely debarred from voting in favour of any reduction of the duty.

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