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Thursday, 5 December 1935

Senator DEIN (New South Wales) . - But for the intense campaign that has been carried on in opposition to the ratification of this agreement, and the number of letters that honorable senators generally have received on this matter from different interests, I would not have spoken on this measure. However, I now feel that I would not be justified in casting a silent vote.

That the maintenance of the sugar industry is. of vital importance to the welfare of Australia cannot be denied. This view is based upon the following grounds : First, we know how effective the industry has been in peopling and developing the north; secondly, we realize that the industry plays a very important part in the preservation of our most cherished ideal - a White Australia ; thirdly, we recognize the contribution which the industry has made, and is still making, towards the solution of our employment problem; and, fourthly, we realize the part the industry undoubtedly plays in the defence of our great country. The main question which has exercised the minds of honorable senators in considering this measure is: " What is the lowest figure at which the price of sugar should be fixed in order to enable the industry to continue ? " The main difference of opinion which has occurred among honorable senators seems to be on that point. In this bill, which represents the Government's views, 4d. per lb. is considered to be a fair price. That figure is supported by very exhaustive and complete evidence, secured as the result of the most thorough inquiries into the industry. Those opposed to the bill, particularly Senator Duncan-Hughes, would like to see a scaling down of this price; they have suggested a reduction of $d. per lb. However, very little evidence has been presented in support of such a proposal. Let us look at the industry. We know that it is established principally in the far north of Queensland, in coastal areas extending for 1,000 miles from Townsville to Cairns. That area is as fertile as any other part of the world, and is certainly most admirably suited for the cultivation of sugar. Figures have been produced showing the marked increase of population in those areas since the sugar industry was established. I emphasize the point that no honorable senator desires to destroy the industry. However, I am afraid that if the proposals of opponents of this measure were adopted we might take a step, even in good faith, that would result in the destruction of the industry. Readily as I would support a reduction of the price of sugar if it were practicable, the evidence in support of such a step has not been sufficient to persuade me to take such a risk. It has been suggested that dairying could take the place of canegrowing in the far north of Queensland. Such is not the case. The land is very fertile, the heat intense, and the climate exceedingly wet. The rainfall ranges from about 100 to 160 inches a year, whereas on the north coast of New South

Wales, one of the principal dairying districts in Australia, the average rainfall is from 50 to 70 inches. In addition to a greater degree of heat, there i3 double the rainfall. I was privileged to visit the sugar-growing districts some time ago, where I found that in addition to those engaged in the production of sugar there were a few dairy farmers. The condition of their homesteads, their herds and their farm improvements clearly indicated that the area was entirely unsuitable for dairying. Of course, on the tablelands dairying can be carried on profitably, as the climate, rainfall and conditions generally are satisfactory. Are we, by our vote, to injure the important sugar industry? One honorable senator stated, by interjection, that -Sir Hal Colebatch had said that this vast area on which sugar is now being successfully produced could be used for the production of tomatoes. It is ridiculous to suggest that a tract of fertile land 1,000 miles in length and up to 50 miles wide should be devoted to the production of tomatoes.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - If any action taken by this Parliament seriously affected the industry, would the Parliament let it down? Could not the Parliament take some remedial action?

Senator DEIN - Although the honorable senator is asked to ratify the agreement for five years he i3 prepared, if the circumstances arise, to do something te upset the agreement. If any industry were threatened, and an agreement would save it, there would be only one thing to do. Only to avert a national calamity would we be justified in suspending this agreement, which is to remain operative for five years. The present agreement was signed in 1931, and under it the retail price of sugar was fixed at 4£d. per lb. If objection had not been raised, the Australian consumers would still have been paying that price. Although the agreement was not violated, the retail price was voluntarily reduced to 4d. per lb. Similar action may be taken before the new agreement expires. We have, however, the satisfaction of knowing that a reduction has been made during the last three or four years. Senator Johnston said quite definitely that he is opposed to an embargo in any shape or form, and that he would prefer the conditions under which the industry is being conducted to be investigated by the Tariff Board. That board conductsinvestigations with a view to recommending reasonable rates of duty that, while protecting Australian industries will allow competition from the outside world. In respect of no other primary industry has investigation by the Tariff Board been suggested. We have either to preserve the sugar industry for the Australian people or to agree to the imposi tion of a certain rate of duty which may give others an opportunity to destroy it. I admit that the price which the consumers pay is high, but what is the alternative? Senator Johnston, who said that he is a strong supporter of .the White Australia policy, would prefer that the Western Australian people should be permitted to purchase their supplies of sugar from Java. Would such trade be in keeping with the ideal of a White Australia? The honorable senator cannot have it both ways. If he believes in a White Australia, he should support this agreement.

Senator Millen - Do we not trade with Java?

Senator DEIN - Yes, we get certain commodities that we require from that country and the Javanese purchase certain Australian products. We have to consider the maintenance of our Whits Australia policy, and I shall not do anything that will result in driving one Australian out of a job and allow his place to be taken by a Javanese.

Why is butter sold in Australia at such a high price? Australian butter can be transported 11,000 miles and sold at a cheaper rate than the Australian consumer pays because we produce more butter than we require. For years the Australian consumer has paid sufficient to provide a profit on the whole production, notwithstanding the loss on the butter sold on the other side of the world. The accuracy of that statement cannot be denied. If we did not export butter, the price in Australia would not be so high as it is to-day. If we did not export sugar the Australian consumers would not be required to pay 4d. per lb. for it.

Senator Herbert Hays - If those engaged in the butter industry were paid the rates of wages paid to those employed iu the sugar industry, butter would be sold at 4s. per lb.

Senator DEIN - The local consumer of butter pays a price sufficient to make good the loss on every pound sold overseas, and to provide a profit on the total quantity produced.

Senator Herbert Hays - But the producer does not get the profit.

Senator DEIN - If he did not he would go out of business. About one-half of the sugar grown in Australia is exported at a low price, and Australian consumers have to pay a higher price for their requirements in order to make up the loss and to enable a small profit to be made on the total production. The same principle is involved in connexion with many other primary industries, including wheat. In a few hours we shall be considering a bill providing for the reimposition of the sales tax on flour in order to assist the wheat-growers. Thai is to be done because we produce more wheat than is required for our own purposes. The local consumer has to foot the hill to make up the loss incurred by selling overseas. Troubles such as this commence the moment a country commences to export, and when that time arrives the local consumer has to pay. The present wholesale price of sugar in Australia is about double world's parity. What does the sugar producer actually receive for his product? Somewhere between 2fd. and 3d. per lb. for the whole of his production. If he averaged 4d. I could confidently support Senator Duncan-Hughes.

Senator Millen - The industry is operating under artificial conditions.

Senator DEIN - It may be, but we have to face realities. I have addressed numerous meetings in Sydney to explain the reason for the high price of certain commodities, including butter, sugar and wheat. The fact that such Australian products sell cheaper in Britain than in Australia gives rise to considerable dissatisfaction, but after speaking in plain language, I have generally made my audience realize that the present prices have to be charged because we must recoup the producers whose exportable surplus hae to be sold at a loss. The people of Western Australia are far behind the times, because they have never had the position explained to them. If we pay the sugar producers only 2Jd. per lb. for their product, what will happen to them? They will be driven off their farms, and will have to exist in the cities on the dole. Those who pay 4d. per lb. for sugar are making a definite contribution to the provision of employment in northern Queensland. I am not a Queenslander, but am speaking as an Australian on behalf of an important Australian industry. If we were to adopt that attitude in regard to sugar, the same policy would have to be applied to wheat and butter; and thus we would reduce our production by half. We simply will not do that. Even if Australia does market one half of its sugar crop on the other side of the world at Jess than the cost of production, the sale, nevertheless, brings in £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 and we are better off by that sum. That fact alone should give us some . satisfaction in paying the higher price for sugar.

I repeat, the sugar industry plays an invaluable part in the defence of Australia. Imagine those northern areas containing some of the most fertile land in the world deprived of their population. The settlers could not be kept there by engaging in any industry other than the production of sugar. When housewives pay 4d. per lb. for sugar, they are making a direct and definite contribution towards the defence of Australia, the maintenance of the White Australia policy, the keeping of men in employment, and lastly towards the development of that rich region.

I do not by any means wholly approve of the managerial side of the sugar industry. One feature of the industry that has not been mentioned in this debate, and which I detest, is the assignment of land. Although I cannot suggest a remedy, I protest against a system by which one or two adults may occupy a sugar area and make a profitable living from it, while next to them on unassigned land is a farmer struggling to keep a family on the proceeds from, a few milch cows. On the one hand is the poor man bringing up a family, but denied the right to grow sugar ; on the other hand are two adults on the adjoining holding, permitted to cultivate sugar and reaping a rich reward. I desire to see an effort made to remedy this anomaly and give to deserving families the right to engage in the industry, even if it may curtail the activities of others. However, the bill does not deal with that aspect.

The cost to the consumer has been bandied about this Chamber by practically every opponent of the bill. What is the position? Admittedly the protection extended to industry adds to the cost of living, but does not the price of ls. 4d. or ls. 6d. per lb. for butter and 6d. a loaf for bread also add to the cost of living? Courts take into consideration the price of these household commodities when determining the basic wage. Hence the wage-earner does get the benefit of these high prices, because the court makes its award in accordance with them.

I now propose to refer 'briefly to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. I hold no brief for that enterprise; I am not its advocate, nor do I desire to be; but opponents of the sugar industry seem to have made the Colonial Sugar Refining Company the target of their attack during this debate. That company was likened to an octopus. One honorable senator mentioned that it makes a charge for financing the pool. Surely it is entitled to some compensation for performing this service. No honorable senator, not even Senator Grant, who made the interjection previously, would finance any concern unless he were assured of a reasonable rate of interest. The company charges .035 pence per lb. for financing the pool; 082 pence per lb. for refining the sugar; and .039 pence per lb. for selling charges throughout the Commonwealth; a total of .156 pence per lb. In other words, if the Colonial Sugar Refining Company were to agree to finance the pool, refine the sugar, and undertake the selling of it, without making any charge for these services, the price of the commodity could he reduced by one-sixth of a penny per lb. ! Then the consumer would be asked to pay 3j>d. per lb., but I venture to say that such a reduction would not affect the present cost to the consumer, as the lowest coin in our currency is a farthing. I repeat, four considerations compel me to support this measure. While I desire to see the price of sugar as cheap as possible, I realize that the industry must live, and we cannot" afford to take any risk with it. My four reasons for supporting the bill are (1) the part the industry is playing in the development and the peopling of the north; (2) its contribution to the preservation of our most cherished ideal - the White Australia policy; (3) the part it plays in the defence of Australia; (4) the contribution it makes to the employment of our good Australian people. Because of those reasons, and because I am determined not to be a party to anything that might even prejudice the welfare of the industry, I have no hesitation in giving to the bill my wholehearted support.

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