Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 3 August 1921

Senator REID (Queensland) .- I ask honorable senators to recognise that the banana industry has now entered upon quite a new phase in its development. Hitherto bananas have been grown in Queensland, chiefly by Chinese. It is only during recent years that the industry has got into the hands of white men. A good deal has been said this afternoon about the way in which the industry has been developed without the aid of a Tariff. But I would point out that it developed to its present proportions with the aid of white labour only within the war period. The rush which took' place iu Queensland and upon the Tweed River for land which is suitable for banana cultivation occurred solely during the war period. That rush was entirely due to the fact that during that period Fijian bananas were shut out of Australia, so that our own market was open to the local growers. The result was that the price of bananas rose to such an extent that many persons embarked upon the industry.

Senator Keating - Statistics show that the importation of bananas decreased during the war period.

Senator REID - They do not. Those persons who took up land in Queensland and upon the Tweed River for the purpose of engaging in the industry did so because the price of bananas was so high that it paid them to do so. The industry is, therefore, a new one, so far as the employment of white labour is concerned. The prices that have been ruling for bananas have been largely responsible for the growth of the industry. The statement has been made that -up to £200 per acre has been paid for banana lands on the Tweed River. I do not know of any virgin country for which that price has been obtained; but it might have been paid for plantations in full bearing. My own view is that many of those who have recently taken up banana land at the high prices which, owing to the keen demand, have been ruling, will " burn their fingers " over it. I told many of them so when I was in the Tweed River district some time ago, and I am sure that they will regret having paid such exceedingly high rates. They were induced to buy because the market rates for bananas were so high in consequence of the war having interfered with the shipping trade between Australia and Fiji that they believed that, despite the high land values, they would be able to make a good living. If the Tariff is reduced, however, many of them will have to go out of the industry. They will lose the money they have invested in it* and much Commonwealth money that has been expended in establishing returned soldiers on banana lands will ako be lost.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But those high land values prevailed before this duty was put on.

Senator REID - Quite so. The fact that vessels during the war were taken off the Fiji trade made such a demand for the locally-grown bananas that people were induced to pay high prices for banana country, and unless this duty is continued they will find themselves in serious difficulties. I accompanied two deputations representing banana-growers, including returned soldiers, on the Tweed River, as well as in Southern Queensland, that waited on the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and the Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), and asked for an increased duty, pointing out that, having regard to the price of labour and the high land values, it was necessary that they should have more protection. The members of the deputation were closely crossquestioned by the Minister for Trade and Customs, and there can be no doubt that they put up an excellent case for the increased duty which was passed by another place.

Senator Paynehas asked why bananas are brought by rail instead of by sea from Queensland to Sydney and Melbourne markets. The answer is that the growers found that the exposure of the fruit on the decks of steamers led to great deterioration and wastage, and that there were so many delays in connexion with the shipping services that it was highlydesirable to arrange for special fruit trains. With this object in view, the banana growers of Southern Queensland and the Tweed River, New South Wales, formed themselves into an association, and guaranteed to the Railways Commissioners of Queensland, New South Wales, and "Victoria a certain weekly tonnage of fruit for the Sydney and Melbourne markets, with the result that weekly fruit trains were arranged. This special service has benefited not merely the growers, but the consumers, who are thus able to obtain their fruit fresher and in much better condition than was possible under the old system.

Senator Duncan - Fiji bananas are at a disadvantage to that extent.

Senator REID - I shall deal with .that point presently; but I desire, first of all, to meet the case put up by honorable senators from Western Australia that this duty deprives consumers in that State of a supply of bananas. As a. matter of fact, the Southern Queensland Fruit-growers Association is now negotiating with the Commonwealth Commissioner for Railways and the Railways Commissioners of Western Australia for a fruit train which, after making deliveries in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, will go right through to the capital of the western State. Arrangements have already been completed for a fruit train running through to Adelaide, and it is hoped that it will shortly go right through to Perth. The people of Western Australia will then be able to obtain all the bananas they require.

Senator Gardiner - Will Queensland in return take supplies of grapes, apples, and figs from Western Australia ?

Senator REID - The Fruitgrowers Association has been endeavouring to arrange for an exchange of fruit between the various States.

Senator Gardiner - But Queensland can grow every fruit.

Senator REID - I do not know any fruit that Queensland cannot grow; but when certain fruits are out of season in that State there is no reason why it should not be able to obtain them from other States. If this duty be reduced, however, a great many of the exchanges which it is anticipated will be made as the result of a regular fruit train service will be impossible. As to the price of Fiji bananas in Melbourne, I would point out that before the trade with Fiji ceased the Melbourne agents were in the habit of purchasing green bananas in Fiji while they were still on the trees. By buying their fruit on the plantations, and handling it direct,' they were able to avoid much of the' commission charges and other costs which Queensland growers have had to bear. It is well known that, in all the States, bananas grown in Queensland or on the Tweed River are offered for sale as Fiji bananas. No bananas have been brought in here from Fiji since 27th May last, yet in almost every fruit-shop window one can see fruit ticketed "Fiji bananas." The price of bananas here to-day is less than it has been for three or four years.

Senator Gardiner - I invite the honorable senator to come down town with me this evening in order to prove that statement.

Senator REID - I shall be happy to do so. I am not indulging in mere empty talk; I am prepared to join with the honorable senator in visiting a number of ' representative fruit shopkeepers to-morrow with the object of proving that bananas are selling to-day for less than the price for which they were selling two or three months ago. They are cheaper to-day than they have been for the last three or f our years.

Senator Rowell - Because Queensland lately has been flooding the market.

Senator REID - No; the Fruitgrowers Association ' has been making ample arrangements to supply all towns with their fruit. Naturally, when the Fiji trade was cut out the supply of bananas from Queensland was increased. Senator Gardiner said that when in Brisbane last week he had to pay 8d. a dozen for bananas, and that the shopkeeper from whom he made his purchase said that the increased price was due to the Tariff. That statement will not bear examination. The Tariff could have no effect on the price, since Fiji bananas are not sold in Brisbane. Brisbane is so close to the Tweed River and its local supplies that it does not pay to bring . bananas from Fiji.

Senator Gardiner - But the local agents have increased the price of the local article.

Senator REID - Just as land agents, because of the demand, have been putting up the price of banana land to the returned soldiers and others who want to enter the industry. Bananas grown in Queensland or on the Tweed River will compare favorably with any grown in Fiji. Queensland bananas are marked up in many shop windows as having been grown in Fiji.

Senator Keating - Why should that be done if the Queensland bananas are superior?

Senator REID - It is done by shopkeepers merely to overcome local prejudice.

Senator Bolton - What about the commercial morality that is responsible for such a thing?

Senator REID - I am not upholding it; I am simply pointing out what is done. The majority of the people are really unable to distinguish between a Fiji and a Queensland banana. Senator Pratten has said that many Chinese are engaged in the banana industry. I have travelled through the Tweed River district and throughout Southern Queensland, where bananas are grown, and do not hesitate to say that there are not many Chinese in the industry. There may be a few,but most of them have been settled in Queensland or in the Tweed River district for many years. As soon as banana-growing commenced to pay handsomely, as it did for a time, in consequence of the effect of the war on the shipping service, these Chinese, like other settlers, went into the industry.

Senator Gardiner - There are also Hindoo banana-growers.

Senator REID - Very few It cannot be denied that banana-growing is now a purely white man's industry, and on the broad ground of keeping up the standard of our civilization we should be prepared to support the duty as passed by another place.

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

Suggest corrections