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Wednesday, 3 August 1921

Senator PLAIN (Victoria) . - I had the pleasure of visiting Queensland a short time ago, and, like Senator Senior, took the opportunity of seeing many of the places which have been referred to. From what I saw, both close at hand and from a distance, banana-growing in those localities impressed me very much. It is essential, in discussing a question of this kind, in fairness' to the men engaged in the industry, to analyze the conditions under which it is carried on. What I have to say refers to the southern part of Queensland, from which most of the bananas imported into this State come. If one feature of it more than - another impressed me, it was the system of closer settlement. We, in Victoria, have endeavoured for many years to establish a system of entire closer settlement, but have failed, because the conditions here are quite different from those which I am about to describe. Bananas can be grown only with certain aspects and under certain favorable conditions. In the localities in which I saw them grown there are little pockets of land on the mountain side. These are veryrich and heavily timbered, and in many instances are far from markets. There are no such things as roads leading to these settlements ; in fact, there are nothing but bush tracks. On a little pocket of this kind you may see a snug little homestead, occupied in most instances by young people with fine, healthy families. The homestead is surrounded by a small cleared space, which constitutes the banana patch. Beyond that space the ground is not suitable for banana-growing owing either to its aspect or to the poorer quality of the soil. Under conditions of that kind it is not possible for one man to monopolize a number of farms, because they are so far apart, and, therefore, industrious farmers, with their families, are compelled to settle on small areas. This constitutes what I call closer settlement in its entirety. Honorable senators have said that it is not necessary to put much cultivation into banana-growing. My observation convinces me that a man who desires to make a success of it must cultivate banana land as well as a citrus-grower has to cultivate his land. It is also necessary to manure heavily. I saw areas which were not properly cultivated, and where the grower went along in the slip-shod fashion that we see occasionally among wheat farmers and citrusgrowers in the South, but if we could follow the career of that man we would find that in every instance he failed. I agree with many honorable senators that we should, if we possibly could, give a cheap banana supply to the children of other States, particularly of Western Australia, who live so far from the locality where bananas are grown; but we must at the same time consider the interests of the children who depend for their livelihood on the growing of bananas. I am sure that Senator Lynch, Senator Drake-Brockman, and others desire to give the producers of Queensland a fair means of living, and their children ordinary standards of comfort; but I assure them that they cannot do that by giving cheap bananas to the people of the large cities, who live in comfort and luxury as compared with the families I have described. If I have anything to do with it, those honorable senators are not going to give cheap bananas to the children of the big cities at the expense of the children who have to put up with hardships in the remote parts of Queensland.

I have heard in this chamber to-night various descriptions of the value of banana lands, but my advice to Senator Pratten and Senator Drake-Brockman is to be guided by the old proverb about the shoemaker sticking to his last when they are dealing with questions with which they are not too conversant.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We will let the public be the judges of that when they read Hansard.

Senator PLAIN - When looking round the banana settlements I picked out a man who, I thought, was one of the very best producers of bananas in that locality. His work was far superior to anything I had seen, his little homestead stood right out, and his clearing was perfect. I asked him, "What price would you take for your land if you desired to sell out?" and he replied, " I would take £200 per acre." This was about eighteen months ago. I thought there was something radically wrong somewhere, so I took a mental note of the surroundings. I have jotted down the result of my observations in order to show honorable senators why banana land is worth £200 per acre. It is in small patches of from 5 to 10 acres, so that we may take 8 acres as an average. On an 8-acre holding such as I describe there will be a nice house, which is nothing out of the way, but merely comfortable and cosy. It cost at least £1,000 to put it there. The land when taken up was heavily timbered, and I can confirm Senator Senior's estimate that it would cost at least from £30 to £40 per acre to clear. I have put the clearing down at £30 per acre. I have allowed £100 for fencing and £100 for the conservation of water. I have put nothing down for the planting, because I could not form an idea of what the values were; but the house, clearing, dams, and fencing amount in value to £1,640. That man, therefore, if he sold his land for £200 per acre, would not get a penny for himself.

Senator Earle - There must be £200 worth of improvements per acre on it.

Senator PLAIN - Yes. On 8 acres there would be over £1,600 worth of improvements. I said to myself, " What is behind all this? Here is a most intelligent farmer, who stands out in a most pronounced way as a cultivator of the soil, superior to any other settler in the locality, and yethe will take £200 per acre for his land, although it has cost him more than that for his improvements." I asked him, " How have you done on this property for the last few years ? " He said, " We have done fairly well. The conditions have been abnormal, because, owing to the shortage of shipping, we have had command of the market, and have been able to some extent to demand a reasonable price for our product ; but now that we are coming back to normal conditions it will mean ruination to us if we are not given further protection." I can quite realize the position in which he was placed. There was no comparison between it and the position of citrus-growers in other States. Men at Merbein and Mildura can get £200, £300, and £400 per acre for their land at any time they care to sell it, although it cost them only about £2 per acre to clear, and water is brought on to it by channels paid for by the people of this country.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator will find the very reverse obtaining amongst the lemon-growers of Central Cumberland.

Senator PLAIN - Are they successful ?


Senator PLAIN - I cannot help that, but I am sorry for them.

Senator ROWELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - People who pay £400 per acre for land at Mildura will also be sorry for it shortly.

Senator PLAIN - I do not think they will be. I am speaking of the orchard complete, as it stands, when I refer to Mildura land. If we vote against Protection for the banana industry, we shall be saying, to the banana-growers of Australia, " We desire cheap Fijian bananasto be brought into this country, so that our children may enjoy the product of black labour, and you Queensland farmers must turn your energies to something else, sacrifice your little homes, and allow the patches which you have cleared to grow the wild eucalyptus once mere. It is the Fijians whom we desire to supply cheap food tothe people of Australia." As a producer, I cannot take up that position. It is the duty of those who represent Queensland, and this duty they have manfully discharged, to see that the growers of bananas in their State get a fair deal at the hands of this Committee.

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