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Wednesday, 16 November 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - That is an astonishing statement which has just been uttered by the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen).

We have had two Governments, representing two different parties, which considered that ls. 6d. per cental was a sufficient duty. Then a Government, with a Minister representing banana growers, considered a duty of 2s. 6d. sufficient. Now it is desired to make the duty Ss. 4d., and the Minister in charge of this Chamber says he is going to accept the proposal. If we agree to this, I do not think we can refuse anything. Why should we multiply the old Tariff on bananas roughly by six, when we know that this fruit has become a common article of food? We must realize that Australia has lost a large volume of trade -with Fiji through imposing duties on bananas grown, in those islands. A steamer which used to trade regularly between Fiji and Australia has ceased running.

Senator Crawford - Another ship has taken its place.

Senator GARDINER - That is not so.

Senator Crawford - It is absolutely correct.

Senator GARDINER -We have actually cut off our trade with a British Colony to the injury, chiefly, of Australian traders. This has been done for the sake of making the Australian banana growers a little more wealthy. Within, the last few months one of the most influential citizens of Suva visited Sydney, and he pointed out that the Fiji trade which had hitherto gone to Australia had now been transferred to New Zealand. I resided for twelve months in Fiji, and became aware of the keenness with which New Zealand business men catered for the trade of those islands. I am shocked at the apathy of the Commonwealth Parliament in neglecting such commercial opportunities. The banana trade has been the most profitable producing industry of Australia. The Minister represents his party, which believes in increasing the duty from ls. 6d. to 8s. 4d. per cental. I do not say the Minister himself believes in this action.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator is a member of a party that believes in it.

Senator GARDINER - There is a difference between the Minister and myself in this respect: I am not advocating what my party advocated in another place. The members of my party there are all out of step with me. The exigencies of government make it necessary for the Minister to press for high duties because the people imagine that high duties mean prosperity. I have watched the growth of unemployment since the banana duties have been imposed. I have been told by the waterside workers in Sydney that the duty on bananas alone has injured them to the extent of £3,000 a month less in wages than they received before the duty was put on. That is a serious loss.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And in spite of that most of the waterside workers are Protectionists.

Senator GARDINER - We cannot blame them -if they have become inoculated with the pernicious doctrine of Protection. I repeat that the Tariff on bananas has taken £3,000 out of the pockets of the waterside workers in New South Wales, with the result that a large number of them have been thrown upon the labour market in my State, without any corresponding advantage to the banana-growers of Queensland. Can any honorable senator say that there has been any perceptible increase in the production of bananas as the direct result of the duties ? The taunt most generally levelled at those of us who represent the Labour party is that we look after class interests only; but if ever there was a measure designed for the protection of class interests it is this Tariff schedule.

Senator Wilson - But you do look after class interests, do you not?

Senator GARDINER - We certainly look after the interests of the class that sent us here. I am not denying that, but our vision is so wide that it includes also the interests of the Commonwealth and the Empire. We are not satisfied merely to wave the flag and sing " God Save' the King." We are those who indulge in this practice, but who, by their adherence to high Customs duties, show that they are not prepared to trade with the Empire.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - How can the honorable senator use the word "we" in view of his statement that he is out of step with the party on this question of Customs duties?

Senator GARDINER - I said I was out of step with my party in another place. I can say with every confidence that the whole of the people I represent in New South Wales are in step with me on this question. The Tariff on bananas has, cost us the trade of Fiji, which represents anything from £600,000 to £1,000,000 per year, and which has been steadily developing in recent years. It would be better for the Commonwealth Government .to distribute £500,000 in cash among the banana-growers in Queensland rattier than sacrifice the Fiji trade, because it will not be long before this trade amounts to £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a year.

Senator Crawford - The honorable senator must know that the bulk of the Fiji trade is represented by re-exports. What employment would that give, except to wharf labourers 1

Senator GARDINER - I do not know that the wharf labourers are not entitled to more consideration than, apparently, they have received from this Parliament. And I think I can say that business men engaged in re-export trade make a good deal more out of it than the wharf labourers.

Senator Crawford - No doubt.

Senator GARDINER - Of course, I do not expect the honorable senator to see the point I am endeavouring to make, because he represents Queensland interests. As I have already said, the Tariff on bananas has lost to us a valuable and growing trade with Fiji. It has gone elsewhere. I do not know that the requested amendment made by the Senate, reducing the duties to 4s. 2d. per cental, would have retained to Australia the Fiji trade; but, at all events, it would have been an indication to the people and the business men of Fiji that the Senate, at all events, was not anxious to flout Fiji interests, and treat them as if they were foreigners and undesirables.

Senator Crawford - No. The honorable senator would rather flout Queensland interests.

Senator GARDINER - Nothing of the kind. The honorable senator cannot accuse me of having ever said an unkind word about Queensland.

Senator Crawford - I am complaining of unkind acts, not unkind words.

Senator GARDINER - I have visited Queensland on many occasions, and every time I have been astonished at its enormous potential wealth in production. From a producing point of view, it is unques tionably the richest State in Australia. Notwithstanding this, the wheat-growers of the other States, producers who cannot look to get more than £4 per acre off their land, are called upon to pay 300 per cent, protection to the banana growers of Queensland, men who can get £200 per acre from banana growing.

Senator Lynch - The banana is a luxury which the wheat farmer rarely, if ever, sees.

Senator GARDINER - I agree with the honorable senator, and, therefore, I protest more strenuously against any proposal that the wheat-growers of the Commonwealth should be called upon to contribute to this enormous duty. If I represented a State as rich as Queensland I would stand upon the floor of this Senate proclaiming its productive fertility, and declare that the people of Queensland . wanted protection from no one in the world.

Senator Reid - But what about the Tweed River growers 1

Senator GARDINER - I admit that the North Coast country in my State is the richest part of New South Wales, but as a representative of the whole of my State I object to the subsidizing of these rich lands at the expense of the poorer areas. I protest against any policy which may result in the wharf labourer being thrown out of work in order that the banana growers of Queensland may secure a higher return from their operations.

Senator Reid - But the banana growers on the Tweed River also asked for this duty.

Senator GARDINER - No. The banana growers' Minister asked for it, but as a matter of fact he asked originally for only 2s. 6d. per cental. He would not have had the audacity to ask for 8s. 4d. Another place increased the duty to 8s. 4d., and this Committee requested a reduction to 4s. 2d., but the Minister representing those northern growers, men occupying the richest land in the Commonwealth, has sent the item back to us.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - It is a wonder the people from other parts of the Commonwealth do not go to Queensland then.

Senator GARDINER - We have to realize that most of the settlers on the Northern Rivers country in New South Wales came here on the advice of a very distinguished Scottish statesman, John Dunmore Lang.

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