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Wednesday, 16 November 1921

Senator CRAWFORD (Queensland) . - Some of those honorable senators who have spoken against the increase of duty on bananas have assured the Committee that the expression of their views has not been prompted in any way by antagonism to what has been done in the other Chamber. I gathered from the vehemence with which they expressed their opinions that their attitude is very hostile to the State in which most of our bananas are grown. A duty of 8s. 4d. per cental, or1d. per lb., is exactly the same as the protection afforded to the growers of citrus fruits, while all other fruits except citrus fruits and bananas enjoy a protection of 6s. per cental. I cannot understand how honorable members can justify a smaller measure of protection for bananas than for any other kind of fruit grown in the Commonwealth.

Senator Senior - One hundred bananas are gathered at one cut, but it is a different matter to pick 100 lbs. of plums.

Senator CRAWFORD - Once a plum orchard has been established it is good for fifty years, and the plum-grower is very much nearer to his market than the banana-grower. Also, he has not to compete with the same class of labour. The basic wage fixed by the Board of Tradein New South Wales is £4 5s. per week. That, I suppose, may be regarded as somewhere near the average wage paid for unskilled labour throughout the Commonwealth.

Senator Gardiner - In New South Wales the Board of Trade basic wage for country workers is £3 6s., without board, and £2 2s. with board.

Senator CRAWFORD - If the figure is £3 6s. in New South Wales, it is sure to be higher in Queensland.

Senator Senior - The proportion of labour cost in banana-growing is not to be compared with that in fruit-growing.

Senator CRAWFORD - That may be the honorable senator's opinion. There the cost of marketing is not the same as it is in connexion with bananas. The wages paid in Fiji average about 15s. per week, so that the prevailing rate in New South Wales and Queensland is at least four times higher than that paid by the Fiji growers. If any discrimination whatever is to be made in considering the claims of the Fiji growers and those in the Commonwealth, it ought to be in favour of those in the Commonwealth. A good deal has been said concerning the alleged loss of trade which has occurred since the imposition of the higher duty, but no figures have been submitted in proof of such a contention. We know that the Levuka has been withdrawn from the Fiji- Australian service, and that the Suva has taken her place. Last year the Colonial Sugar Refining Company placed the Fiona, a very fine steamer, in the service between Sydney and Fiji.

Senator Lynch - What is the difference in the carrying capacity of the Levuka and the Suva.

Senator CRAWFORD - The Suva is the smaller vessel.

Senator Gardiner - The Fiona has been running for years.

Senator CRAWFORD - The old Fiona was in the service for a number of years, but she has been replaced by a larger vessel. At the outbreak of war the Colonial Sugar Refining Company had a vessel nearing completion which was commandeered by the Imperial authorities. The company then placed an order for a second vessel, which on completion was also secured by the British Government and run under charter for a time. At the termination of hostilities the vessel was handed over to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and was placed in the Fiji trade.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Was not the Levuka placed on the Australian coast because the trade with Queensland had increased in consequence of the extra quantity of bananas being handled since the imposition of the higher duty?

Senator CRAWFORD - I am not prepared to say that. It has been shown that the production of bananas in Queensland and New South Wales can meet the Australian demand, and surely the trade of Queensland is of greater value to the other States than that with Fiji ?

Senator Foster - How does the freight from Fiji to Australia compare with that from Queensland to southern ports?

Senator CRAWFORD - I believe the freight from Fiji is slightly higher; but it has recently been reduced by one-third.

Senator Gardiner - Are bananas being imported from Fiji ?

Senator CRAWFORD - I have not heard of any importations since the duty was increased.

Senator Lynch - Are we sending goods to Fiji?

Senator CRAWFORD - I presume that the ships do not proceed there empty. Practically every ship which proceeds to Queensland to bring back the products of that State is well laden with the products and manufactures of the southern States, and probably Queensland takes a great deal more .from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales than those States take from Queensland.

Senator Lynch - Why not place a Chinese wall around the country and be done with it ?

Senator CRAWFORD - The honorable senator was anxious to raise a very high wall to protect the timber industry when the Tariff was previously before the Committee. He is evidently one of those Protectionists who wants Free Trade for everything he buys, and Protection for every commodity which he or the State he represents has to sell. He is another geographical Protectionist of which we unfortunately so many. Senator Gardiner referred to the reduced, employment on the Sydney wharfs, but surely he realizes that there has been a considerable falling off in the shipping trade of the world, and that the Sydney wharf labourers are not alone in that respect. Nobody knows better than Senator Gardiner that owing to a number of causes, of which the duty on bananas is not- one, Burns, Philp and Company, who had a whole fleet of steamers trading between Sydney and the islands, have formed a new company, and that Sydney is no longer the head-quarters of that fleet. A great deal of the products of the islands that came to Sydney for transhipment now go direct to San Francisco, particularly copra, which is one of the principal products of the South Sea Islands. Protection had nothing whatever to do with this development. We had a little dissertation from Senator Drake-Brockman in regard to the difference in the quality of the Queensland and Fiji bananas. Those who are in the business, and who speak with authority, say that the chief distinction between the two is that the Fiji banana has a bitter flavour which is not present in the Queensland product. The very best bananas which are made available to consumers are still labelled "Fiji," and it is. only those which are over-ripe which are sold as Queensland bananas. I have never seen bananas* ripened on the stalk for commercial purposes because the fruit at one end ripens before that at the other, and consequently when they go into the ripening sheds they are severed from the stalk. The Queensland and Fiji bananas are ripened here in the same way, and as a rule the process takes about a fortnight after they reach t>he southern ports. 'We have heard a good deal of the unsatisfactory position in which Western Australia is placed in consequence of the imposition of a duty of 8s. 4d. per cental.

Senator Gardiner - We ought to consider Western Australia apart from the other States.

Senator CRAWFORD - I intend to deal with Western Australia separately. When this item was previously before the Committee, we were assured that it was impossible for bananas to be profitably grown in Western Australia.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Who said that? I said that Western Australia had produced 36,000 bushels.

Senator CRAWFORD - Since then, I understand, a company in Western Australia, which has had considerable experience in the fruit business, has made arrangements to plant 5,000 acres with bananas and pineapples, and I am much surprised that the representative of that great State - because Western Australia, like Queensland, is one possessing vast possibilities - should offer such opposition. The industries of Western Australia will have to be fostered in their early stages, and the proposition now before the Committee will assist in that direction. This is an industry which should be given every protection, because a large number of people can be settled on a comparatively small area.

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

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