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Thursday, 30 April 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - The Opposition does not intend to oppose this item. Tobacco-growing is an industry of considerable importance to some of the States, including Queensland, which I represent. Whilst we are glad that the Government does not propose to do anything worse than is represented by this duty, I take this opportunity of expressing the hope that at some future date it will make a more serious attempt to benefit the industry. Naturally, the Opposition has to be satisfied with what it can get.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - An extra 6d. per lb. is not a crumb, is it?

Senator COLLINGS - No; but it is not so good as a duty of1s. per lb. If it were competent for me to do so, I would test the feeling of honorable senators with a proposal to increase this duty considerably. This industry is of great importance to Australia. It is relevant here to discuss generally the object of customs duties. They are, of course, used, first, for protective purposes, and, secondly, for revenue purposes. The Tariff Board has said that £6,500,000 should be quite sufficient to the Government as a total annual levy on this particular industry. Since 1928-29, the annual revenue derived from excise and import duties on tobacco has been as follows : - 1928-29, £6,000,000 ; 1929-30, £6,637,000; 1930-31, £6,138,000; 1931-32, £6,484,000; 1932-33, £6,280,000; 1933-34, £7,483,000; and 1934-35, £7,769,000. I point out that the increase of revenue collected since 1933 resulted from the duties imposed by this Government. It will be noted that the total revenue of £7,769,000 collected in excise and import duties on tobacco in 1934-35 is roughly £1,250,000 more than the amount which the Tariff Board considered a reasonable impost on this industry. As the Government has the numbers, I realize that the Opposition can* do nothing to remedy this position.

I shall now review the growth of this industry as the result of the protection given to it. About half a century ago tobacco-growing was fairly well established in Queensland. I am not aware whether, at that time, tobacco was grown in any other part of Australia. However, the industry in Queensland was entirely in the hands of Chinese. That industry faded out, and in 1929, when a definite attempt was made by certain people to resuscitate it, 372 persons were engaged in tobacco-growing in the Commonwealth, and by 1932, as the result of protection, that number had increased to 4,032. I am aware that, if I do not qualify this statement, supporters of the Government will refer me to a report of the Tariff Board issued about the time the industry was improving as the result of protection. At that time the Tariff Board got scared and I have no doubt that its fear was inspired. In that report, it said -

It will be seen therefore that unless the present protection is reduced sufficiently to such an extent as will jeopardize the Australian tobacco-growing industry, the revenue to be derived from customs duties will be very seriously reduced in the future.

Iiic board has already pointed out that the quantity of Australian-grown leaf will continue to increase unless the industry is exposed to crushing competition by the removal of the duty or its reduction to a figure which will not constitute adequate protection.

In the same report the board referred to the inflation of land values as the result of speculation. Undoubtedly speculation did take place, but that is not new to this country, and is not opposed to the policy of this Government which believes in private speculation rather than in government control of industry. The fact remains, however, that there was very little gambling in land values in connexion with the tobacco-growing industry. On hundreds of blocks of land at Mareeba, in Queensland, tobacco of a quality which is better than that of any grown elsewhere in Australia and comparable with any tobacco grown in any part of the world, is produced. Another tobacco-growing centre has been developed at Sarina where a better quality leaf is now being produced than was produced at Mareeba in the early stages of the development of that centre. Undoubtedly in Queensland the light coloured leaf, which is so much in demand, can be produced. In order to encourage this industry, which is of very great importance to Australia, the Queensland Government made available to purchasers many blocks of land at Mareeba at 2s. 6d. an acre. During the second reading debate on this measure much was said about our adverse trade balance with the United States of America. "We members of the Opposition have our own .opinion on this matter and we shall state it unhesitatingly at the proper time. But if the Government is serious in its desire to rectify Australia's adverse trade balance with the United States of America, here is an industry which it can encourage with that object in view, because Australia is eminently suitable for the cultivation of tobacco. In 1934-35, 17,000,000 lb. of tobacco valued at £1,300,000 was imported into Australia, and of this 16,333.000 lb., valued at £1,242,000, was of American origin. I submit that the bulk of this tobacco could be grown in Australia and the money which we now pay to the United States of America for tobacco leaf could be kept in the Commonwealth, directly and indirectly creating employment. As it is not the intention of the Opposition to oppose this item I do not purpose to make a long speech, but I earnestly suggest to the Government that if it wants to reduce our adverse trade balance with the United States of America, and to give encouragement to Australian industry; if it is anxious to honour not only the Ottawa agreement, but also the agreement made between the electors of this country and the Prime Minister on the hustings at the last general election, it will further help the tobacco-growing industry. If the Government believes as much in a home-grown agreement as in one made with a country overseas; if it believes that the problem of unemployment must be and can he tackled effectively by the development of our primary and secondary industries, it can commence to. put such beliefs into practice by encouraging the tobacco industry.

Senator Hardy - "What does the honorable senator suggest the Government should do?

Senator COLLINGS - I suggest that while we accept the duties set out in this item we hope the time will come when the Government will repent of its sin of neglecting primary industry and will come to the political penitent form and announce that it will increase the import duty on tobacco by at least another 6d. per lb.

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