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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator GRANT (Tasmania) .- All honorable senators must have been pleased to hear the remarks of Senator Cooper, who spoke of the strong, virile, healthy race which is being built up in North Queensland, but they appear to conflict with the claim that higher wages should be paid to workers in tropical North Queensland, because of the unhealthy climate. I have been to North Queensland, and I agree with Senator Cooper that, although the climate is hot and the atmosphere humid, white men can work there and remain healthy.

Senator Hardy - What does the honorable senator mean when he refers to high rates of pay ?

Senator GRANT - It is frequently claimed that high rates are paid to workers in the cane-fields.

Senator Crawford - The rates may be high, compared with the wages paid to sugar workers in other countries.

Senator GRANT - They are high compared with the wages paid to other Australian workers.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - It must be remembered that cane-cutting is a seasonal occupation.

Senator GRANT - There are many other seasonal occupations in this country, and I agree that the rates should be higher than where the employment is regular and continuous. In speaking of high rates, I was expressing, not my own opinion, but what has frequently been said by others.

Senator AllanMacDonald compared the incomes of residents of South Australia with the incomes of residents of Queensland. Unfortunately for the honorable senator, he took the wrong figures. He based his argument on incomes of £1,000 and upwards. It would appear from the remarks of supporters of the sugar agreement that not many sugargrowers in Queensland make a net profit of £1,000 per annum.

Senator Crawford - I lost heavily last year.

Senator GRANT - I find that, whereas 28,S99 taxpayers in Queensland with taxable incomes of between £50 and £750 per annum have a total taxable income of £3,669,681, upon which they pay £64,150 a year in taxes, there are only 12,647 taxpayers in South Australia with incomes between those limits, their taxable income being only £1,247,000, or less than one-third of that of the corresponding group in Queensland, and their income tax payments only £21,4-44.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) -South Australia has been regarded as the poorest of the mainland States.

Senator GRANT - I am not in a position to say if that is true. I have merely quoted these figures in reply to the remarks of Senator Allan MacDonald who led us to believe that the taxpayers of South Australia were so much better off than those of Queensland.

As to the agreement itself, I would bo one of the last to interfere with an industry in Queensland or any other State ; but I maintain that the agreement in its present form is not in the best interests of the people of Australia. I do not favour the imposition of embargoes ; but I am certainly in favour of high protective duties in order to safeguard Australian industries. It may be argued that there is very little difference between a high protective duty and an embargo. I do not subscribe to that, view, and I ask honorable senators to note that an embargo has not been imposed for the protection of any other Australian industry.

Senator Crawford - What rate of duty would the honorable senator favour for the protection of the sugar industry?

Senator GRANT - It would have to bear some agreed-upon ratio to the world price of sugar; and it should so operate as to give adequate protection. I have no desire to see Australia flooded with sugar produced in countries employing cheap coloured labour. It may be urged that the high protection given to the carbide industry in Tasmania is equivalent to an embargo. There may be something in that contention, but the point to remember is that the industry is not protected by an embargo. I admit the wisdom of fixing a home- consumption price for sugar in order to ensure a reasonable return for those who have invested their capital in the industry, but some regard should be had for the interests of consumers. In New Zealand the price of sugar ranges from 2¾d. to 3d. per lb. after paying duty, and I understand that New Zealand draws its supplies from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company's refineries in Fiji.

Senator Crawford - No; New Zealand gets its sugar from Cuba or Java. All the sugar produced in Fiji is sold in Great Britain or Canada.

Senator GRANT - I accept the honorable senator's correction. I was under the impression that a portion of the output of Fiji was sold in New Zealand.

I agree with Senator Duncan-Hughes that in the interests of consumers there should be a scaling down of the price under the new agreement, but I am not prepared to go the whole way with the honorable gentleman. If the existing price were retained for two years an inquiry might be made in the meantime with a view to a reduction of the price to Australian householders. We all know that high prices are paid for Queensland sugar land.

Senator Crawford - After they have been improved.

Senator GRANT - I venture the opinion that if two contiguous areas of land were put up for sale and in respect of one there had been issued a licence to grow sugar-cane, the price realized for that land would be very much higher than that for the block without the licence.

A good deal has been said in this discussion about the profits of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. We all know that the issue of bonus shares has increased enormously the- capitalization of the company. Some years ago it established an off-shoot in Fiji called the Colonial Sugar Refining (Fiji and New Zealand) with a capital of approximately £1,000,000 issued in free bonus shares to Australian shareholders, and, in the course of one or two years, so great were its profits, that the whole of the new capital indebtedness was returned to the shareholders in cash.

Senator Crawford - That was because the company was getting £80 a ton for its sugar.

Senator GRANT - Profits do not come from nowhere ; they come out of the company's activities, whether in Australia or other parts of the world. I agree with Senator Brown, who said this afternoon that most honorable senators would be very glad indeed if, by some stroke of good fortune, they could become shareholders in this prosperous company.

I intend to vote against the second reading of the bill because its purpose is to ratify an agreement which cannot be altered by this Parliament. We must either accept it word for word and lino for line, or reject it. In its present form I do not feel inclined to accept it, so I shall vote against the second reading.

I also direct the attention of the Minister in charge of the bill to the following clause in the schedule^

That the Queensland Government if and when requested by the Commonwealth Government, shall establish a sugar depot at Hobart.

Every one knows that whenever there is a dislocation of shipping - and that has happened often in recent years - there is imminent risk of a grave shortage of sugar in Tasmania. There is, at the present time, danger of another hold up of shipping and I read in Tuesday's issue of the Hobart Mercury a report that the Grocers Association of Hobart had telegraphed to the Prime Minister asking him what steps the Government proposed to take to ensure a continuity of supplies of sugar for Hobart. If a depot had been established in that city as there has been in every capital city on the mainland, provision would be made for reserve supplies. With the small fruits season coming on, there is a largely increased demand for sugar, and it is absolutely essential that the quantity available shall be ample for requirements because small fruits must be processed on the day of delivery at the factory. A delay of 24 hours may be disastrous to the growers, and manufacturers.

Senator Collings - Is there no provision for reserve stocks in Hobart ?

Senator GRANT - The merchants make what provision is possible, but whenever a dislocation of shipping is threatened there is a rush on existing stocks and, such is the psychology of the people, every householder at once commences to hoard sugar. Instead of purchasing in lots of 1 dozen lb., people order bag lots.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Can the honorable senator instance a definite shortage of sugar in Hobart during the last seven years?

Senator GRANT - There was a shortage about a fortnight ago when the Zealandia and Talune were held up.

Senator Foll - There could also be a shortage in North Queensland during a shipping strike.

Senator GRANT - But there are depots in all other capital cities of the mainland. I am surprised that Senator Foll should talk such absolute twaddle. He must know that there is no comparison between the position of citizens of North Queensland and citizens of Tasmania because, for one thing, the people- of Queensland are not producers of small fruits which, as I have stated, must be processed on the day of delivery at the factory. It would be of no use to tell the processing companies that they could get supplies in a week or a fortnight.

Senator Crawford - What have the merchants in Hobart been doing ?

Senator GRANT - They have been doing all that is possible to do. I am now asking the Government to see that the Queensland Government carries out its undertaking to establish a depot in Hobart.

Senator Collings - Read the remainder of clause 11 and give the whole story.

Senator GRANT - Certainly. The clause reads as follows: -

That the Queensland Government if and when requested by the Commonwealth Government shall establish a sugar depot at Hobart provided that the Commonwealth Government shall not make such a request unless the request be accompanied by evidence proving that a general shortage of sugar has occurred in Hobart which is due to wholesale merchants in Hobart or the Queensland Sugar board failing to adhere to the present arrangements whereby special reserve stocks of sugar arc supplied to and held by such merchants.

There ha3 been a definite shortage in Hobart for which the merchants cannot be held responsible. It is now the duty of the Commonwealth Government to make representations to the Queensland Government for the establishment of a depot in Hobart.

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