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Thursday, 5 December 1935


Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - -The inefficiency, of their machinery is the cause. I formed the opinion that cheap black Habour led to inefficiency, and I returned to Australia more firmly convinced than ever that the policy of a white Australia is a correct one.

The West Australian - the leading newspaper published in Perth - published the following : -

The Melville Road Board recently -wrote to .Senator Lynch and other Federal parliamentary members, protesting against the renewal of the sugar agreement and requesting that a royal commission be appointed in inquire into the industry. Senator P. J. Lynch, who is President of the Senate, replied that ho would .see if there was a possible hope of securing a reduction in the price of sugar, "but not at the expense of injuring or risking the extinction of a great industry, and perhaps inducing .a bad revulsion of feeling against our own (Western Australian) interests into the bargain ". Senator Lynch, in his letter, stated that the sugar industry had been the subject of many inquiries ever since the day when the Kanakas were sent away from Queensland, and it became an industry exclusively worked and owned by Australians. The last inquiry was held in 1931, and the findings of the commission on that occasion was very significant. It had to be remembered that, before the appointment of the commission, the retail price of sugar was 4id. a pound. As a result of the findings of the commission, however, and particularly on account of the action of the Lyons Government, the price had been reduced a further -Jd. a pound to 4d. a pound, as at present, and the old agreement, under which 4Jd. a pound could have been charged up to June next was brought to an end. The commission included representatives nf every important section of the community, particularly consumers, and a commissioner from Western Australia.

Both the majority and minority reports declared against the cessation of the embargo on sugar. Hence, continued the letter, it was that the commissioners voting in the minority report, and representing the consumers, took the same view as those in the majority .report. The minority report recommended that the price .of sugar could not be reduced more than Jd. a pound ; therefore that section of the commission, which was ostensibly charged with taking care of the interests of the consumers of Australia, deliberately came to the conclusion that a greater reduction in justice to all interests, could not 'be made. The Jd. a pound represented .an expenditure of about ls. 8d. per annum per head of the population, of Australia. Therefore, it .had to be considered that a great industry, now firmly established, giving employment to 30,000 persons, having a capital of .some £50.000.000 invested in it. and consuming £12,000.000 worth of products from the temperate parts of Australia, was threatened with a further and serious inroad upon its position.

For this part, as an old protectionist, willing: to give a helping hand to every industry in the Commonwealth, Senator Lynch said: that he had always regarded the sugar industry as one which, situated in the steamy tropical part of Australia, was entitled to equal, if not agreat deal more generous, treatment than any other industry situated in more pleasant surroundings.. Ifhe was asked, therefore, to take further action in the direction of threatening or rendering less secure such an important industry, especially in the fact of the consumers' minority report, he intended to be very careful before he did so. His attitude, consequently, was to wait and see what fresh facts might be placed before the Commonwealth Parliament.

Senator Lynchwent on to make some further pertinent remarks regarding the Queensland sugar industry, but all the timehewas assuring those to whom he was speaking that he would not do anything to injure the Australian sugar industry, which is of such outstanding benefit to the Commonwealth. I thank Senator Lynch for. his statesmanlike utterances on that occasion. An. article published in the Bendigo Advertiser in October last reads -

Sugar-growers have said that they were not allowed during the war to charge Australian consumers the price that was being paid overseas for sugar, and they have used it as an argument why they should now be allowed to charge enough to make the growing of sugar profitable. It is a fair argument, although the period in which they have been getting more thaw the world's price has been more prolonged than the period when they got less. To justify the continuance of it the need for maintaining population in the northern part of Queensland is mentioned, and to justify the export of other primary products for a price lower than that fixed for the home market it is pointed out that Australia must export to pay the interest on its overseas debt and for its imports. Both arguments are valid. Australia must hold the north, and if it does not do it through the sugar industry it must do it in some other way-, and if it does not pay its overseas interest and for imports by primary produce it will have to find another means to meet the interest, and go without its imports. Other countries which have large manufacturing industries and low costs in these industries make their overseas payments in manufactured good's, but Australia is one of the countries that pay with primary products. To these payments all should contribute equitably; it should not be left to the primary producer to produce wheat, butter, fruit, eggs, wool, and other farm products at a loss to pay the country's overseas debt.

With those sentiment's I entirely agree. There are certain objections urged - and those who oppose the renewal of the agreement have their rights-with which I propose to deal. It is contended that the over-production, in Queensland should cease. I assure the Senate that the sugargrowers of Queensland and in the northern portion of New SouthWales would be infinitely better off if an exportable surplus were not produced. That is a statement of fact and cannot be effectively argued inasmuch as every ton of sugar exported reduces the price over the whole crop. It must be obvious to; the producers that if there were not a surplus their position would be better than it is to-day. We have, however, to face the fact that if the production of a surplus ceased, at least 120,000 acres now under sugar cane would go out of cultivation. Something would then have to, be done for those producers, now engaged in the production of cane on that area. It is easy to say that they could engage in some other form of primary production, but if they did it would be in some primary industry already producing an exportable surplus. In those circumstances they would be jumping out of the frying pan into the. fire-.


Senator Foll -It would also increase unemployment.


Senator COLLINGS - Of course it would. The men displaced would have to join the ranks of the unemployed and go on the dole, increasing still further the responsibilities with which Governments are faced in this respect. No decent Australian would entertain such a proposal for a moment. Those engaged in the Queensland sugar industry and those responsible for the legislation controlling it have taken the important factor of over-production into close consideration. No grower can get an assignment to have cane crushed at the mill except for a certain area and a certain quantity. If any unassigned cane is crushed - and it is on some occasions, because the cane should not be destroyed - the producer receives only world's parity. Everything possible is done to ensure that no further extension of sugar production occurs. The article from the Bendigo Advertiser, which I have quoted, points out that we have no right to expect producers of any primary commodity to continue producing at a loss or under conditions which do not give them a decent and adequate return for their labour. Let us consider what the sugar producer is . receiving for his labour and whether there is anything in the statements that fortunes are being made by the cane-growers in northern Queensland. The Commissioner of Taxation in Queensland, in his 33rd annual report, gives the following interesting figures for 1934-35:-

For the Taxation Year 1934-1935.

Number of taxpayers generally. - Increased 4 per cent.

Number of cane-growers who are taxpayers. - Decreased 25 per cent.

Net income of all taxpayers. - Increased 10 per cent.

Net income of cane-growers who paid tax. - decreased 30.S5 per cent.

The taxable income of all taxpayers. - Increased 13.9 per cent.

The taxable income of cane-growers. - Decreased 32 per cent.

The total tax assessed for all taxpayers. - Increased 20.5 per cent.

The total tax assessed for cane-growers. - Decreased 41.3 per cent.

The records disclose that the average price of sugar in 1932 was £18 6s. 2d.; in 1933, £16 3s. 6d., and in 1934, £15 10s. 6d. Another point urged by those who oppose the renewal of the sugar agreement is that there has been tremendous speculation in land values and that the sugar properties are sold and resold at fabulous prices. That charge was true in the early stages of production, but it is untrue to-day. The measures taken by the Queensland Government, which are implemented by legislation such as that now before the chamber, prevent speculation in sugar lands. The result is that a canefarmer who desires to sell his property cannot complete the transfer until he has satisfied the Lands Department that a speculative price does not enter into the sale, and that full provision has been made against the deterioration of the land by continued cropping, and for various other risks which would warrant objection being taken to a sale at enhanced values. Therefore, I consider that I shall be able to demonstrate, as I proceed, that the complaints made by opponents of the bill against various branches of the industry cannot be supported. At this juncture, I. desire to offer a word of praise to the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) for the sentiments he expressed in moving the second reading of this bill. A copy of that speech has been very courteously supplied to me, and I propose to quote an extract from ii for the purpose of lending it additional emphasis. The portion I refer to is concerned with the claim that profits made by the industry are excessive, and that the growers of sugar are having a glorious time. The Minister said -

I now come to the reasons actuating the Government in continuing the present prices for another five years. The first consideration was the financial position of the producers of sugar-cane and raw sugar. In this connexion the last inquiry into the sugar industry - the Commonwealth Sugar Inquiry Committee of 1931 - issued two reports. The majority report found that the cost of production up to 1930 justified no reduction in the then retail price of 44d. per lb., and the minority report considered that a reduction equivalent to id. per lb. could be made. These opinions were based upon a cost of efficient production of raw sugar fluctuating between £19 and £22 per ton. Since then, of course, the economic depression has brought about lower wages in the sugar industry, and also lower costs of commodities required by sugar producers for their productive and living purposes.

On the other hand, the Lyons Government secured by voluntary agreement with the producers themselves, a reduction in the Australian price as from January, 1933, equivalent to id. per lb retail. I had the honour of representing the Government during the negotiations at which, this agreement was arrived at. This reduction represented a loss of £1,250,000 per annum in the revenue of the sugar producers. Furthermore, the net return on the raw sugar exported hae fallen appreciably. The result of these two factors is that the average return for all raw sugar last year was only £15 10s. 9d. per ton, which was found, on examination by the Government last February, to be definitely less than the present cost of efficient production plus a reasonable return to farmers on their capital investment.

By voting against this bill, an honorable senator will indicate, in effect, that be is not in favour of the farmers engaged in this valuable industry receiving a price to cover efficient production and to give a reasonable return on the capital outlay. The Minister proceeded -

Figures definitely prove that the industry is not in a position to stand the only reduction that could be of any practical benefit to consumers, namely, another id. per lb. Such a reduction is equivalent to fi ,250,000 per annum less revenue for the producers. The growers' share of such a reduction would be £875,000, which is more than the total net income of £780,251 of the 1,891 growertaxpayers, as revealed in the last annual report of the Queensland Commissioner for Taxes, and much more than their taxable income of £569,194 for the year ended the 30th June, 1934. A reduction of jd. per lb. would, therefore, eliminate practically all cane-growers ii oni thu income-tax field. In the light of these facts, the Government felt that there was no case whatever for further reducing the income of the sugar producers.

Another charge uttered in condemnation of the industry is that it is being monopolized by aliens. It is easy to make such a reckless statement, but it is very reprehensible when the facts are so different, and the figures relating to the true position are so conveniently obtainable. In the early months of 1934 I had the opportunity to make an extensive tour of South Australia, in the course of which I visited Port Pirie, and was conducted over the wonderful smelters there. In conversation with the manager of that enterprise I asked whether it was a fact that the majority of the men engaged in certain branches of that industry were aliens, because I had been led to believe that such was the case. When he told me the official figures of the proportion of Australians to aliens employed in that vast undertaking, I was astounded. To-day, however, I wish not so much to. astound as to confound, those persons who consider that the conduct of the sugar industry is in the hands of aliens. In Queensland there are between 3,000 and 4,000 Italians, as compared with approximately 700,000 persons of British race. Of those engaged in cutting cane in Northern Queensland, 75 per cent, are required by law to be of British stock, although I should add that three centres are excluded from this provision. However, the fact remains that the proportion of British to alien labour engaged in the cane fields is 75 to 25 in all other centres, and this proportion is being continually reduced. In 1931, investigations showed that, of the 8,142 cutters employed in the industry 80.4 per cent, were of the British race and 19.6 per cent, had been naturalized.


Senator Foll - The honorable senator quoted the British population of Queensland as being only 700,000 ; the correct figure is 900,000.


Senator COLLINGS - The return from which I am quoting shows the population to be 700,000 persons. Some honorable senators who will later address the chamber on this measure will doubtless produce evidence to show that if all the branches of the industry are taken into account, the percentage of aliens employed is low indeed.


Senator McLeay - Will the honorable senator give the Senate some information in reference to the statement made by the former Premier of New South Wales, Mr. J. T. Lang, in regard to the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company?


Senator COLLINGS - The .Colonial Sugar Refining Company has nothing whatever to do with either the sugar agreement or the 'bill now under discussion. I am surprised that Senator McLeay should introduce into this debate the name of Mr. Lang, which is anathema to ministerial supporters, and mention it in such a tone as to suggest that any opinion expressed by that gentleman should perturb us. The only occasion upon which I and other honorable senators have been perturbed at the mention of Mr. Lang's name was when it was necessary to curb his folly in a certain direction. For whatever profits the Colonial Sugar Refining Company derives from the sugar industry, it returns a quid -pro quo to the industry. The profits, to which Mr. Lang alluded, am not made out of the sugar industry by this company; his criticism referred to subsidiary organizations and the exploitation of cheap " black " sugar. Nineteen months ago a reduction of the price of sugar by id. per lb. was made, but it has not benefited the consumers in tha slightest degree. By how much did that reduction decrease the cost of living of the Australian people? Previously I quoted Senator Guthrie's statements of ten years ago in regard to the position in South Africa; now I desire to furnish additional information to bring his utterances up to date. In South Africa generally, the retail price is 3-Jd. per lb., although on the Rand it is 3fd. per' lb. These figures are illuminating -

Honorable senators will observe that of the five staple articles of diet, the consumption of sugar per capita is the second highest, whilst the cost per capita is the lowest. What is the justification for saying that the retail price of sugar is unduly burdensome? I shall now give a comparison between the latest and the pre-war prices for household commodities : -

This table demonstrates, therefore, that with the exception of butter and milk, the increase of the price of sugar in those 24 years has been the lowest in the scale.

I shall now refer briefly to the state of the sugar industry in India. I do not propose to enter into a disquisition on the harrowing details ; honorable senators, either from their personal observations, or from their reading, are well aware of the position. In this connexion, however, the Brisbane Telegraph of the 1st November, 1935, reported that the sugar industry in India is confronted with the same problem as that which- faced" the industry in Queensland in its early stages. In India the Government is now doing what this bill proposes,, although the measures are not so comprehensiveor advantageous to the sugar producers. It is realized that nothing short of compulsory organization and control of the industry from the producer to the consumer will alleviate their plight. Every honorable senator will admit that the fiscal policy of Australia is the protection and encouragement of its primary and secondary industries. I sum up the attitude of every good Australian by saying that, in these things, there must be two-way traffic. In regard to sugar, there is definitely two-way traffic. This industry is of vital importance not only to Queensland, which is a primaryproducing State, but also to those other States in which secondary industries are more highly developed. The manufacturing States - New South "Wales and Victoria - cannot have it both ways. As a result of Australia's national policy of protection which aims at building up in the Commonwealth a population of contented, well-paid, decent living people, those States have benefited. Because it believes that the primary-producing States also should benefit from the fiscal policy of the country, the Labour Opposition in this chamber has supported every proposal to assist those engaged in primary production. It has supported legislation designed to help those engaged in the production of wheat,: meat, dried fruits, and other primary products, and has assisted to make liberal grants to those States which claim to have sr.ffe.red as a result of federation. In 1934, Queensland products to the value of £11,000,000 were disposed of in the other States. In return, goods from those States, valued at £14,000,000 were imported into Queensland. The southern States bought sugar to the value of £6,000,000 from Queensland in that year. What did Queensland give to them in return? In the purchase o£ confectionery, biscuits and cakes, from the southern States, Queensland expended £500,000, and trebled the sum in paying for machinery,- implements and galvanized iron used to modernize its farm and mill methods and increase its- industrial efficiency. During that year, Queensland smokers - and I am not included among them - expended £1,000,000 in the purchase of tobacco and cigarettes, all of which were manufactured in the southern States. Those figures can be verified by reference to the official records.


Senator Sampson - -What was the honorable senator's share of that expenditure?


Senator COLLINGS - I may have other excesses, but none of my. money goes to purchase alcoholic liquors, tobacco or other narcotics. I have toomuch regard for my mentality and physical condition to indulge in extravagances of that nature. In the year mentioned, Queensland bought from Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, dried fruits valued at nearly £750,000, whilst a further £500,000 was sent to the southern States to . pay for starch, blue, soap and polish; £200,000 for paint and varnish; £600,000 for beer and other liquors - a fact which I am almost ashamed to mention - over £500,000 for drugs and chemicals; and £27S,000 for motor vehicles and bodies, almost half .of which amount went to South Australia. The total, as one writer has expressed it, would make an income tax Commissioner's fingers twitch.


Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - What does Queensland buy from Western Australia ?


Senator COLLINGS - I shall answer that question by asking what Western Australia has to sell?

I have already shown the importance of the sugar industry to Queensland and to the other States of Australia, but, so far, I have dealt only with the commercial aspect of the industry. I have given cold figures, and dealt with the industry from a book-keeping point of view - the sordid materialistic aspect - but now I want to get away from the materia] benefits which the industry has conferred on Australia, and show that in the sugar areas of Northern Queensland a wonderfully successful experiment has been carried out. In those tropical areas, it has been proved beyond doubt that the white man can do the most laborious work, and not only maintain his health, efficiency and virility, but also improve them. Indeed, the experiment has proved that each succeeding generation is superior in health, efficiency and virility to its predecessor. The importance of the success of that experiment cannot be overemphasized. I need not stress the importance of peopling the northern parts of this great Commonwealth with a virile white race. Unless honorable senators have had access to the same sources of information as those from which I shall now quote, I doubt whether they have any idea of what has been done in this connexion. Sir Raphael Cilento, in his work, the White Mcm in the Tropics, says -

Australia has the unique distinction of having bred up during the last 70 years, a large, resident, pure-blooded white population, under tropical conditions. This more happy experience is directly referable to the relative absence of tropical diseases, and also of a resident native race. To the great majority of the inhabitants of temperate climates the word "Tropical" conjures up visions of sweltering mangrove flats - the haunts of the crocodile, of rank and steaming forests., that exhale the musky odour of decaying vegetation, deadly snakes, &c.

He goes on to say that the opposite is true in Australia, because' of the development of this industry. It is true that he does not mention the sugar industry, but he refers to the progress which has been made in the development of industry, and that can refer only to the sugar industry which is the most important one conducted in that portion of the continent. Statistics covering the period 1907 to 1916 prove conclusively that in regard to infant mortality Northern Queensland compares favorably with Central and Southern Queensland, and has a better record than either Victoria or Tasmania. Dr. J. S. C. Elkington, Director of the Division of Tropical Hygiene, Commonwealth Department of Health, in an article entitled "White Women in the Australian Tropics said -

The tropical-born baby's chances of survival are substantially better than those born in London, Switzerland, England and Wales, Canada or Scotland, and the rest of Australia. Mentally, school children are as far advanced in the tropics as are children born elsewhere in Australia.

I ask honorable senators to give to these statements the consideration to which they are entitled, and to cast their votes accordingly. An employer with twenty years' experience remarks -

The British gangs head the list (i.e., efficiency and economy of labour), against allcomers.

A federal royal commission stated in its report that it entertained no doubt about the possibility of an effective settlement of the Queensland coastal areas by a white population. The report stated -

The present population is a normally healthy one, with a fully developed physique and a low death rate.

In evidence given before the commission, the head mistress of the State school at Mossman, North Queensland, who is as much entitled to express an opinion as is any representative of the Housewives Association, said -

The general standard of health and physical standard here are as good or better than they were in the west . The attendance is better than on the Darling Downs. Only two children who have been in attendance at the school have died since I have been here (thirteen and a half years) . . . Neither of them was born in the district.

Extension of time granted.]I have here some statistics extracted from the latest census returns, which prove in the most convincing manner the part played by the sugar industry in developing the northern portion of Australia. Whereas the population of the Commonwealth has increased by 21.9 per cent. between 1921 and 1933, the population of the sugar areas from Mossman to Mackay increased by 87.5 per cent. Does that not indicate that the sugar industry is doing a great deal to populate the Commonwealth? The following table shows the percentage increase of population in the various States and territories of the Commonwealth in the period 1921-1933 : -

 

As honorable senators know, I am an enthusiast for the sugar industry of Queensland, but I frankly confess that the figures which I shall now give to the Senate astonished me -

 

The Opposition will heartily support the bill. We express our gratitude to the Government for having introduced a measure for the renewal of the agreement, and hope that it will receive the unanimous support of the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Hardy) adjourned.







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