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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator CRAWFORD - The other companies benefit from prohibitive duties.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Yes ; but I am opposed to prohibitive duties.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - What of the prohibitive duty on bananas?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - It is amazing to me that when a duty was collected on a few bananas imported into eastern Australia from Fiji this revenue of £5,000 a year was given to the industry in eastern Australia, but, to-day, the Commonwealth Government continues to refuse my request to allot to the Western Australian banana industry the whole of the duties collected on bananas in that State, which in the past has amounted to over £15,000 annually. The reply given to me was that the Western Australian banana industry, which deserves every possible assistance, would probably receive £100 out of £5,000 to be allotted from this revenue for the benefit of the industry throughout Australia.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - That is not the point.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That is my point and I think it is a good point too. I would be very glad if the Minis ter would answer it and grant my request for the whole of the duties collected on bananas in Western Australia to be given to the Gascoyne banana industry. I have also a complaint against the sugar industry in that for many years it has not been inquired into by the Tariff Board. As that tribunal has been appointed by this Parliament to decide what measure of protection should be given to industries, I submit that this agreement, before it is ratified, should be referred to it. Although the board is a protective tribunal - and it certainly gives adequate protection to all Austraiian industries - it is a tribunal in which the public generally has confidence. Yet, whilst the Government refuses to ask the Tariff Board to inquire into this industry such inquiries have been made by committees to which irresponsible people have been appointed. I have no faith whatever in the findings of committees such as the Sugar Inquiry Committee whose report is out of date. Before the Senate passes this measure it should refer the agreement to the Tariff Board and await a report from that tribunal on the sugar industry generally, because, in agreeing to this bill, the Senate will decide to place a burden of £6,000,000 annually on the Australian public for another five years. Every other Australian industry has to prove its claims for protection before the Tariff Board, but this peculiarly-favoured industry in the State of Queensland which wields tremendous power in the making and unmaking of Australian Governments, is given the benefit of a wonderful embargo, which is renewed from year to year without the industry being under any obligation to run the gauntlet of a Tariff Board; inquiry. . I object, also, to the term of five years for which this agreement will operate; that is from September, 1936, to September, 1941. About September, 1937, another federal election will take place, and if this measure is passed, the party then returned to power will be powerless for the life of the next Parliament to alter the agreement, for its hands will be firmly tied in this respect.

Senator Collings - That observation applies ' to all legislation ; legislation is not wiped out by new parliaments as a matter of course.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - That is not so; Parliament can repeal or amend legislation if it wishes; hut if we now ratify this agreement we shall place it beyond the power of the representatives of the people who will be elected about two years hence to interfere with the arrangement under which the existing embargo will be extended until September, 1941. I claim that such a procedure is wrong; this Parliament has a right to ratify this agreement for the period of its own life, and perhaps for a period extending a little beyond that term, but it has no right whatever to tie the hands of a succeeding Parliament for the life of that Parliament. As the result of the activities of certain public bodies which are opposed to the renewal of this agreement, it does not seem improbable to me that the next Parliament may wish to reduce the price of sugar; but it will be powerless to do so if the Senate ratifies this agreement to-night for a further five years.

I shall now refer to certain quotations extracted by Mr. E. J. Craigie from a speech made by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), concerning the sugar industry, before he became a Minister of the Crown. In Hansard of the 17th November, 1932, Mr. White is reported as having said -

To-day we have heard the praises of the State of Queensland sung from all parts of the House. . . . The boast has been made that there is no opposition to the agreement, but I, myself, do not see eye to eye with its supporters. . . . Every person in the Commonwealth is to some extent a consumer of sugar, and if honorable members consider the matter for one moment, they will be forced to admit that any possible reduction in the price of sugar should be brought about.

I agree with the views which Mr. White expressed on that occasion.

Senator Dein - What was the price of sugar then ?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - It had just been reduced to 4d. per lb.

Senator Dein - It was 5d. then; but it has now been reduced to 4d.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - No, the reduction to 4d. had already been effected. Mr. White continued -

Why, then, should we unanimously accept this agreement? There is nothing to congratulate ourselves upon in having secured a reduction of½d. per lb. We can go much further.

Yet to-day Mr. White is prepared to renew this agreement for another five years without making any further reduction of the price of sugar or instituting any fresh inquiry into the position of the industry. Dealing with the enormous profits of the Colonial SugarRefining Company, Mr. White, on the same occasion, said -

There are also included the enormous depreciations that have been made. Who has been responsible for these bonuses and the increase from the initial value of £20, in the case of the shares that were paid for, to a value of £54 or £55 ? Have these profits descended from the air? . . . They have been taken from the consumers of Australia to the extent of £7,000,000 more than would have been the case but for this agreement. A reduction of id. in the price of sugar represents a difference of £1,750,000 to the Australian people. If, as a result of an inquiry, the reduction could be made1d., and thus double the saving, would not honorable members support it?

Mr. Whiteasked this question in 1932; I ask it to-day of honorable senators. 1 intend to support the amendment for a reduction of the price of sugar by½d. per lb., which Senator Duncan-Hughes has intimated he will move. Mr. Craigie's article continued -

Replying. to an interjection by Mr. Riordan, that if the leaders of the Housewives Associations were given a job, " they would quickly forget all about sugar," Mr. White said: " That is an insult to an organization which voluntarily in conjunction with other organizations, primary producers and manufacturers, has endeavoured to prove that the price of sugar is too high. There are many pertinent facts awaiting disclosure. Unquestionably, inordinate profits are being made. If it can be proved that the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is a. monopoly, and as such is exploiting the people, there is room for inquiry."

Although Mr. White made these remarks, and despite the fact that to-day, as Minister for Trade and Customs, he has the power to refer this matter to the Tariff Board, I regret to say that he has not influenced the Government to carry into effect my request that the sugar embargo should be referred to that body, as he professed to be anxious to do in 1932. Continuinghis remarks on the occasion to which I have referred, Mr. White said -

Monopolies are one of the greatest evils that arise out of excessive protection or embargoes. . . Because of the absence of competition, the Colonial SugarRefining Company enjoys a monopoly, and monopolies, as I have said, are one of the evils that grow up behind embargoes and excessive tariffs. . . . Because of the absence of competition the Colonial SugarRefining Company enjoys a monopoly, and monopolies, as I have said, arc one of the evils that grow up behind embargoes and excessive tariffs . . . The Colonial Sugar Defining Company ... is able to exploit the public by means of price fixation. I think that price-fixing iswrong, and it is wrong for this Parliament to support the practice.

I agree entirely with Mr. White, as he expressed himself on that occasion; but, if it was wrong for Parliament to support the practice of price-fixing in 1932, I ask why he has introduced this particular measure to-day, and why the Government, of which he is a prominent and distinguished Minister, has approved of this agreement. I urge honorable senators who still hold the views which Mr. White expressed in 1932 to reject this bill to-night. In the pamphlet entitled The Case Against the Sugar Embargo, written by Mr. Craigie, M.P., the following appears : -

Emphasis must be placed upon the fact already submitted that it is not the canegrowers who get the advantage of the embargo. Although Australian consumers had to pay £23 18s.6d. per ton for raw sugar 'during the past, year - 1933-34 - the cane-grower did not get that amount. As already shown about one-half of the raw sugar was sold overseas at £86s.6d. per ton, so that the actual price received by the cane-grower for his raw sugar was £106s. 3d. Are Australian consumers going to tamely submit to an extension of an agreement for a further five years period from 1st September, 1930, and pay nearly £24 for raw sugar here, when the same quality sugar is sold overseas at £8? The time is ripe for active protest.

The embargo exploits consumers to the extent of nearly £7,000,000 per annum. This is a matter that vitally affects the well-being of all the people.For this reason it cannot be safely left to political panties to handle. The people are fleeced., and the people themselves must act, if they desire to be freed from the tentacles of the sugar octopus in the future. A special effort must be made to prevent this scandalous agreement being ratified for another five years term.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.

That moment is here in regard to the sugar monopoly, andwe ask the people to rise in their might and abolish this special privilege for alltime.

I intend to support the amendment to be moved by Senator Duncan-Hughes.

Senator Sampson - What is the . amendment ?

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