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Thursday, 5 December 1935


Senator CRAWFORD (QUEENSLAND) - It might do that if drinks were cheap.

I agree with Senator Hardy's contention that any one has a right to engage in the discussion of public questions. No one will deny that in recent years the price of sugar has become a burning question in the Commonwealth; but no one has a right, either individually or collectively, to bear false witness against a great industry, and against the interests of thousands of honest, hard working, struggling, frugal people, like those engaged in the sugar industry in Queensland. It should be noted also that the people who bear this false witness are, for the most part, paid by some other interests, which believe that they might get something from the destruction of the Queensland sugar industry.


Senator Brennan - May it not be urged that in making that statement the honorable senator is himself bearing false witness against certain interests?


Senator CRAWFORD - Those who pay others to shoot a man are just as criminal as is the person who does the shooting. Let Senator Brennan consider that aspect of the subject.

I turn now to examine the measure of protection given to other primary industries, upon which no attack has been made, in order to compare their position with that of the Queensland sugargrowers. I take first the dried fruits industry. A few years ago, I visited the Murray river settlement, where, I understand, the great bulk of our dried fruits is produced, and gained a fair amount of first-hand knowledge regarding the industry.

Senator Sir WalterMassy-Greene. Dried fruits are also produced in Western Australia.


Senator CRAWFORD - I have no knowledge of the industry in that State, so I cannot say anything about it. At. the present time there is an import duty of £56 a ton on dried fruits. I dare say that Senator Johnston would prefer an import duty of that magnitude to an embargo, though the word " embargo " is not mentioned in the bill.


Senator Gibson - The bill makes mention of the prohibition of imports, which is equivalent to an embargo.


Senator CRAWFORD - It does provide for an embargo against importations, but the word " embargo " is not used. When the sugar industry learned, some years ago, that the Government had practically decided not to continue the embargo an urgent request was mads for increased protection, which, however, was not granted. The recommendation by the Tariff Board that a protective duty be not imposed, was supported by faked figures. I have retailed to the Senate the circumstances connected with that recommendation, so I shall not repeat the story this afternoon. Those engaged in the production of canned fruits enjoy protection equal to an ad valorem duty of 140 per cent. Canned and dried fruits, it should be noted, are in competition with the products of white labour countries, whereas sugar is sold in the world's market in competition with countries employing coloured labour. Our hopgrowers have a protective duty of ls. per lb. or £112 a ton, and wine is protected by import duties of from 18s. to 38s. a gallon. A few days ago I read in a report issued by the wine industry of Australia that the f.o.b. value of Australian wine for export is about 4s. a gallon. I presume that the best of our still wine is exported. A great deal of wine, much inferior to that which is exported, is held for the Australian market; yet that industry enjoys a duty of 18s. a gallon, which would be equal to an ad valorem duty of 500 to 600 per cent.

We have been told that the cattle industry receives no protection. That statement is not strictly accurate, because there is an import duty of 6d. per lb. on tinned meats, and a duty of 3d. per lb. on meat preserved by cold process. Butter and cheese producers also are protected bv an import duty of 7d. per lb. against foreign imports, and 6d. per lb. on butter and cheese imported from New Zealand. We all remember the circumstances in which those duties were imposed. The previous duty of 3d. per lb. was doubled against New Zealand, a sister dominion, where labour conditions in the industry are almost identical with those obtaining in Australia. I wish it to be understood that I am not speaking in a spirit hostile :o other Australian industries, because I am not a geographical protectionist.

Nor am I, I hope, a person with a limited vision. In this regard I am reminded of a story attributed to President Lincoln about a farmer who went out one night to shoot opossums. After exhausting the whole of his ammunition in an endeavour to bring down what he took to be an opossum on the topmost branch of a tall tree, he discovered that he had really been firing at an insect on his eyelash ! I am afraid that the vision of some of our geographical protectionists is just about as good as that of the farmer in that story.

I turn now to consider the protection given to another Australian industry, about which, I confess, I do not know a great deal, namely, motor-body building. In order to obtain some accurate information, I made inquiries as to the cost of motor cars with Australian bodies, and I also carefully studied a number of American publications with illustrations and prices of motor cars with Fisher bodies, and I say, without hesitation, that the prices for motor cars with Australian bodies are from two or three times higher than prices for American cars with American bodies. I repeat that I am not criticizing adversely the Australian motor-body building industry. It is absurd to talk about defending this country, unless we are prepared to support all legislative proposals designed to enable us to produce in Australia the whole of our requirements for defence. In these days of modern transport, the mechanization of our defence forces is a first essential, so any proposal to give adequate protection to the motor-body building industry should have our approval.

For the reasons given, I ask honorable senators, when they are considering the protection afforded to the Australian sugar industry, to keep in mind also the protection that is given to industries in other States. That is all that the Queensland sugar industry asks of members of this. Parliament..

In this discussion we have heard a good deal about the cost of sugar to Australian consumers. Intimately associated with the production of sugar is the settlement of the fertile lands in our tropical latitudes. Professor Giblin estimates that the excess cost of Australian sugar as compared with the. cost of foreign sugar admitted duty free is, in round figures, £5,000,000 a year Professor Brigden, the Director of the Queensland Bureau of Industry who, I think, is as good an authority as Professor Giblin, estimates the excess cost at £4,000,000 a year. However, I shall accept Professor Giblin's figures for the purpose of my argument. Of that amount Queensland pays £700,000 for sugar consumed in Queensland itself. It also contributes £400,000 towards the grants made by the Commonwealth Parliament to the smaller States, and in addition, as has already been pointed out, Queensland purchases from the other States protected commodities to the value of £16,000,000 a year. Even freetrade advocates will admit that the excess price of those commodities, as compared with the landed cost of similar goods imported duty free, would be about 25 per cent. That would mean that in. purchasing £16,000,000 worth of protected goods from other States, Queensland pays £4,000,000, which it would not have to pay were such goods not protected. Adding the excess cost of these goods to the £400,000 which that State contributes to the grants to smaller States and to the £700,000 which Queenslanders themselves pay for sugar, Queensland pays a cost of £5,100,000 directly and indirectly to protect the industries of other States, compared with £5,000,000 which is the estimated excess cost of protected sugar to people living in the southern States. Thus, Queenslanders pay more to assist southern industries than southerners do to maintain this protection to the sugar industry.


Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Are there not people employed in industries in Queensland other than the sugar industry, who buy some of the goods imported by that State from the southern States?


Senator CRAWFORD - Certainly there are. The head of the Bureau of Industry in Queensland, Professor Brigden, who is one of Australia's foremost economists-


Senator Duncan-Hughes - And a higher protectionist than most of them.


Senator CRAWFORD -I think it will be admitted that economists as a rule had marked freetrade tendencies a few years ago, but that this tendency is gradually being corrected. On that point I refer honorable senators to a booklet recently published by Professor Copland under the heading " Is our tariff a failure?" in which he argues most convincingly that our tariff has not failed. All honorable senators will agree that the tropical areas of Australia should be settled, and that so long as they remain unsettled they will constitute a national danger. That point was stressed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) this morning. I point out that out of a population of 240,000 people in tropical Queensland, 96,000 are under 21 years of age. Therefore it is clear that we have now laid the basis of a permanent population in tropical Queensland, and that the present number will, in the ordinary course of events, steadily increase, provided that the industries already established in those areas are given fair consideration and encouraged to expand. The last census report showed the populations of cities, towns, and shires in centres in which the sugar industry is carried on to be -

 

I point out that, whilst the population of the Commonwealth increased during the last intercensal periodby 21.94 per cent. the population of the sugar areas from Mossman to Mackay increased by 87. 5 per cent. The Mackay district, which includes the city of Mackay and the shires of Mirani, Pioneer and Sarina, depends almost entirely upon this industry and produces about 100,000 tons of sugar annually. Therefore, in that district, in which the population totals . 28,113, every three and a half tons of sugar directly supports one person. The moneycirculated by the industry is spent with the local tradespeople, who send it to other centres to pay for manufactured goods, and it is turned over five or six times, thus supporting a great number of people. Assuming that the production of four tons of sugar - taking the figure for the industry as a whole - provides a livelihood for one person the industry practically supports no less than 150,000 people in Queensland.


Senator HERBERT HAYS (TASMANIA) - The southern States do that.


Senator CRAWFORD - Queensland spends a little more with the southern States than the southern, States spend with Queensland, so the transaction is about square. In passing I am reminded that when union advocates appear before a certain judge in the southern States and point out what is done in the sugar industry under awards of the Queensland Arbitration Court, this judge always cackles, " Yes, we pay for that ".

Undoubtedly there are a number of Italians in Queensland, many of whom are engaged in the sugar industry. Most of these have "bought sugar farms previously owned by Britishers, who have sold out because of the persistent agitation in the southern States against this industry. So virulent has been that agitation that Britishers still engaged in the industry pursue their business in fear and trembling.


Senator Herbert Hays - The industry thrives on such agitation.


Senator Duncan-Hughes - The Italians must be bad business men if they are prepared to buy farms despite such an agitation.


Senator CRAWFORD - It is much more difficult for Italians to obtain employment than it is for Britishers. The Italians' nationality and language are undoubtedly handicaps to them when seeking employment. But these men have a veritable passion to possess farms of their own. They are good farmers and good settlers. Yet, this agitation persists against the industry.


Senator Herbert Hays - Nobody takes the agitation seriously.

Sena tor CRAWFORD. - Nevertheless, it is being continued and the newspapers are always prepared to give space to contributors who write in that strain, whilst the industry has to pay for space in those same papers to reply to such attacks. Many of the British cane-farmers are anxious regarding the future of the industry and these are selling out gradually to Italians'. At the present time the industry is practically on the bread line; I do not hesitate to make that statement. I have had long experience in this industry and if the present price of sugar were reduced I certainly would not attempt to carry on. The prices of Australian sugar, which is grown and handled by white labour, is consistently compared with the prices of sugar grown in cheap labour countries. I heard it said to-day that certain wages were paid in the industry in Cuba, but the figures given were far in excess of what I know to be correct. I point out that in recent years the ordinary labourer in the industry in Cuba receives his food and five cents or 2½d. a day and that the sugar-producing companies in that country have lost up to 2,250,000 dollars in a single year. Do honorable senators wish to see a similar condition established in the sugar industry in Australia? I ask honorable senators who represent other States when they are considering this great Queensland industry, to remember the pledge given to Queensland when it agreed to federate, that its sugar industry would be given the adequate protection which is afforded to various industries in other States. Let us reciprocate in these matters honestly and fairly.


Senator Carroll - Why do the growers receive so little and we pay so much for our sugar? That is what we want to know.


Senator CRAWFORD - That question has been answered over and over again.


Senator Carroll - But not convincingly.


Senator CRAWFORD - I have here a table showing how the retail price paid for sugar is distributed among those engaged in its production, transport and handling -

 







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