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Friday, 13 August 1926

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - I realize that if at this late stage of the sittings I took the action I should like to take to secure an increased bounty for the growers, it would perhaps have the effect of wrecking the bill. That is the last thing I wish to do, because, although the. proposed bounty of ltd per lb. to the growers is certainly inadequate, without it they would not be able to carry on at all. I regret that the payment of a bounty of 2d. per lb., as recommended by the Tariff Board, has not been favorably considered by the Government. The board made out an exceedingly good case for the higher rate, although it made a serious blunder in failing to take into account the effect on the industry that the payment of a flat rate bounty on cotton yarn would have. That, fortunately, has been rectified by Cabinet. Unfortunately, in the transition stage between the change over from the guaranteed price system to that of the payment of a bounty, the growers find themselves face to face with a considerable falling off in the price of cotton in the world's market, so that side by side with the reduced price we have decreased assistance from the Government. Figures dealing with this phase of the question have been quoted from the Tariff Board's report, but I think that by means of a few generalizations I shall be able to convey to honorable senators a clearer appreciation of the position. The guaranteed price was 5d. and 54<1. per lb., and, as compared with that, the bounty of 1 1/2 d. per lb. really means only 4d. per lb. to the grower. In conjunction with the decreased price we have a reduction in the financial assistance to be given by the Government. The functioning of the bounty on cotton yarn is also relied upon to assist the grower; but from one to three years may elapse before its full benefit is felt by them. That being so, the grower is up against a tough proposition, and will have difficulty in making ends meet.

Senator Duncan - What percentage of the locally-grown cotton is used locally?

Senator Graham - Eighty per cent.

Senator THOMPSON - Most of it has been exported in the past.

Senator Graham - Eighty per cent, of the cotton used by Bond's is Australiangrown.

Senator THOMPSON - The provision of £120,000 a year will not by any means be drawn upon. The heaviest production we have had in any one year is 17,000,000 lb., and 1 have it on very good authority that for the present season, owing to the unfortunate drought .conditions, it will not be more than 6,000,000 lb.

Senator Ogden - How much cotton has to be produced before the bounty can be claimed ?

Senator THOMPSON - Provision is made for the payment of the bounty on ' 19,200,000 lb. a year, which in three years means a total of 57,600,000 lb. Assuming that for this year we have a production of 10,000,000 lb.- which I consider is a very liberal estimate - that we produce 15,000,000 lb. in the second year, and 20,000,000 lb. in the third year, we should have a '.total of only 45,000,000 lb. I am quite sure that that will not be exceeded, although provision is made for a production of 57,600,000 lb. That being so, there is no reason why the Government should not have agreed to grant a bounty of 2d. per lb. for three years and then revert to 1 1/2 d. per lb. for the remaining two years.

Senator McLachlan - Then the honorable senator does not consider that the bounty will encourage production?

Senator THOMPSON - I do."

Senator McLachlan - That being so, the honorable senator should allow for an increase.

Senator THOMPSON - I am allowing for a 50 per cent, increase in the next three years. Senator Pearce has pointed out that the increase has in the past ranged up to as high as 400 per cent. I hope that that will not be absent in the future. I do not anticipate as great an increase, however, because the industry is getting on a more stable basis. The speculative cottonfarmer is gradually going out, "because he has burnt his fingers. I agree with other honorable senators that the man in a big way is not likely to make a great deal of profit. Bond and Co., of Sydney, planted 1,000 acres at Archer, on the Gladstone-Rockhampton line, and a further 800. acres at Marlborough, on the Rockhampton-Mackay line. Although I have no actual knowledge of the result, I believe that those plantings were not profitable. It may be possible, by introducing greater efficiency, to make larger areas profitable. Large areas are not planted in the United States of America, and the costs in that country are not lower that they are in Australia.

Senator McLachlan - What about the cost of picking the cotton?

Senator THOMPSON - Cottonpicking labour is not cheaper in the "United States of America than it is in Queensland, although it may be carried on more expertly. I understand that a picker in that country is paid 15s. a day. That is a very fair wage. I believe, with the Minister, that we shall have to rely upon the operations of small farmers with families for the major portion of the output. In the remarks which I addressed to the motion for the second reading of the Development and Migration Bill, I expressed the opinion that no other industry offered greater opportunities than this for settling migrants on the land. It is essentially a proposition for a man in a small way, or one with a family, and we could' not have better settlers than those who have families. I do not anticipate any trouble such as Senator Needham apprehends, in the direction of the employment of child labour, because in Queensland, as in other parts of Australia, we have, beneficent legislation which provides that children must attend school until they reach the ace of fourteen years. I know a family of girls in the Dawson Valley whose ages range from fifteen to nineteen or twenty years, and their wages during the cotton-picking season average from 15s. to £1 a day. They first pick the cotton on their own farm, and then do the same "work on adjoining farms. That represents a splendid addition to the income of the settler. I realize that, at this late stage of the sittings, we must accept the bounty that has been offered. If I succeeded in inducing the Senate to request the House of Representatives to increase the rate to 2d. per lb., the bill might be withdrawn, and in the meantime no assistance would be given to the growers. If we accept the gift that the gods send us, and find that l£d. per lb. is not sufficient to enable the farmer to carry on, we can legitimately ask at a later date for an increase to 2d. per lb. I hope that, in the light of the experience which time will undoubtedly supply, the Government will recognize the wisdom of granting the extra½d. per lb. Subject to a certain measure of protest, I support the bill.

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