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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) . - A great deal has been said already upon this subject and I do not wish to weary the Senate at this late hour by making a lengthy speech, but I cannot record my vote for or against the bill without making known my views thereon. The sugar agreement is a vital one to the people of Tasmania. Sugar is a commodity which is in general use. If the price is high, consumers are adversely affected. Some time ago there was an agitation for reduction of the price and as the result an arrangement was made for a reduction of id. per lb. I have no desire to do anything that might prejudice the position of the sugar growers of Queensland. I have some knowledge of their industry, having visited the State on more than one occasion, and I know that, for some years, cane growing has not been a lucrative occupation. No large profits are being made from cane-growing in Queensland. One reason for this is to be found in the conditions which have been applied to the industry through legislation passed with the expressed approval of the majority of the people of Australia.

Senator Herbert Hays - The export trade accounts for a big loss.

Senator PAYNE - I emphasize the point that we have forced upon the people engaged in cane-growing in Queensland certain labour conditions which have to be observed, and that, as the result of these circumstances, combined with occasional adverse seasons, the cane-grower to-day does not find the industry very lucrative. This being so, we have to ask ourselves what would be the result if the majority of honorable senators approved of the suggestions made to them in circulars which they have received from various municipal bodies throughout Australia. I can visualize the hardships which would be inflicted upon this section of primary producers in Queensland were such suggestions to be adopted. Those engaged in the sugar industry, particularly the cane-growers, have so built up this industry that to-day it is regarded as one of the most efficient in Australia. I realize to the full the apparent injustice of the arrangement by which a large .portion of the crop is exported and sold overseas at about one third of the price which the people of Australia have to pay for their requirements. But the reason for this is that the output of sugar has increased beyond all expectations during the last twenty years. Details published in the YearBook show that in 1914 the output of cane sugar in Queensland was 225,800 tons; in 1920 it had dropped to 167,000 tons, due mainly to adverse seasonal conditions; but in 1925-26 it rose to 479,000 tons, whilst last year the output totalled 680,000 tons. That enormous increase has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase of the number of consumers in Australia.

Senator Millen - Yes it has.

Senator PAYNE - The population of Australia has not increased threefold since 1914. If it had, we would not be discussing this bill to-night. The problem we have to solve- to-day is : How can the price of sugar to the Australian consumer be reduced until our population is increased? It ought to be apparent to every one that we cannot continue to protect thi3 industry to the extent to which it has been protected for years past, unless our population rapidly increases. Each year the industry goes from bad to worse, and the more sugar that is produced the greater the loss, in the aggregate, suffered by the community.

Senator Millen - If the cost of production were reduced we could export sugar at a profit.

Senator PAYNE - If the majority of the people of Australia would agree to a reduction of the cost of production in this industry, conditions would be improved materially, but that can only be done by legislation, and I remind honorable senators that by legislation this Parliament increased the cost of production. The whole responsibility in this matter rests entirely upon the Australian community. By legislation the cost of production of sugar has been forced up, and now the community must pay. Figures which I examined to-day show that the Commonwealth consumes 55 per cent, of the sugar crop, leaving 45 per cent, to be exported. The cost of production is from £18 to £19 a ton for raw sugar, including five per cent, interest on the capital invested in cane farms. The 45 per cent, of the crop exported returns only £8 a ton, the loss on this portion being from £10 to £11 a ton, or a total of approximately £3,000,0000. We shall have to study very carefully the policy of this Parliament so far as the future of this industry is concerned. I cannot convince myself that we are justified in taking action to-day which might conceivably bring about very great distress among this section of our primary producers. I am familiar with this industry and I can easily foresee that if we do anything now to inflict losses on the cane-producers - I am not at all concerned here with the interests of the refining companies - many years might elapse before the resultant distress could be alleviated. However, the authorities should endeavour immediately to devise some means whereby restrictions could be imposed to avoid excess production. This perhaps could be done by systematically decreasing production. Furthermore, the Commonwealth Government and the State governments should co-operate in a policy with the object of rapidly increasing our population and consequently the consumers. There are thousands of children to-day in the United Kingdom who will never have a chance in life if they remain in their native land. For these children there is ample room in Australia; I suggest that they could be brought out to this country and housed, trained and educated in farm schools, such as the Fairbridge Farm School, in Western Australia, to take their place as citizens of Australia. That would be a beginning to the policy I have suggested. The two proposals which I have made should be carefully considered by the Government, and I believe that if they are put into operation, within ten years complaints that Australians have to pay too much for sugar would cease. I have not been inundated with correspondence concerning this matter; in fact, I have been surprised at the paucity of communications from my own State. I have received only one such Tasmanian communication, and that was sent to me by a small municipality, which urged me to support a resolution based upon Mr. Craigie's circular. I have received no request from any individuals or associations to oppose the renewal of this agreement. On the contrary, I have been requested by a very important section of primary producers - the small fruits producers' association - to support its ratification. The fruit producers are to continue to receive the relief given to them a year or two ago and that relief, which is provided by the sugar industry, has proved their salvation. I support the bill.

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