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Thursday, 30 April 1936

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) . - In view of the extensive nature of tobacco-growing, I was surprised that some honorable senators from

Victoria have not spoken on this item.. Considerable propaganda upon tobacco has been circulated among honorable senators, and I produce from the Melbourne Age, of the 2nd October, 1935, a statement by Mr. P. Jones, secretary of the Australian Tobacco Growers Association -

The slight reduction o£ 8d. per lb. excise duty . . . applied only to tobacco in which all the leaf used was Australian grown. The reduction should not only bo increased but m'ade to apply to all Australian leaf used in manufacture, whether in 100 per cent. Australian or in composite brands with a provision as suggested for maintaining the revenue required from tobacco. Failing this, an allround -reduction of excise duty of, say, ls. per lb. with an increase of the import duty on leaf sufficient to maintain the required revenue, would meet the position and give economic stability to what should be a flourishing industry.

From this statement it is quite evident that the Victorian tobacco-growers were not in a flourishing condition so recently as last October. Mr. Jones proceeded -

In Victoria in. 1932 there were 1,980 registered producers; in July this year, 1,413. In Queensland in July last year there were 2,043 registered producers; in July this year, 1,525.

I am aware that the number of growers in Queensland has been considerably reduced. Last August I visited the Mareeba district in the Cairns hinterland. I was not making an examination of the industry, and the officials with whom I had conversations were not necessarily members of the Labour party. In fact, I received a rating because I did not seek out officials of the Labour organization; I acted as an ordinary visitor might act between catching trains. I was informed that the tobacco industry had received a severe setback through the reductions of the Scullin duties, and through the present Government's action in regard to excise. In the Mareeba district alone the number of growers has been reduced from 800 to 400. I asked the president of the local Tobacco Growers Organization what price would be necessary to put the industry on a sound footing without enabling the growers to make exorbitant profits. He informed me that if the price of leaf were increased by ls. per lb., it would enable the growers to produce without loss, and would encourage them to feel that better days were ahead. Quite evidently, the increased duty of 6d. per ib. will not meet the wishes of the tobacco-growers at Mareeba; I conclude that the growers in Victoria also will be dissatisfied. During the previous tariff debate, the Government, was forced to depend upon the Labour senators for support to pass many tariff items; on one memorable occasion its majority depended on the support of two members of the New South Wales Labour party. Senator Hardy, who is now a fervent supporter of the Government was most free in his criticism on that occasion, and showed no anxiety to assist it. In fact the Country party embarrassed the Government at every opportunity.

Senator Hardy - The Country party believes that the present tariff policy is suitable for Australia.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Senator Hardyhas stated that the Government is so influenced by the Country party Ministers who were included in the Cabinet in the last reconstruction that it has framed its tariff policy in accordance with the desires of that party.

Senator Hardy - I rise to a point of order. Senator J. V. MacDonald has deliberately misrepresented me. I stated that the policy enunciated by the present Government is acceptable to the Country party as being the most suitable for Australia. I never hinted that the Country party had influenced the Government in any way. Senator MacDonald's misrepresentation is merely political propaganda.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Senator Hardyobjects to my statement, but I consider it a fair inference from what he has said in this chamber. Members of the party to which Senator Hardy belongs are Ministers in the present Government, and my remarks were intended to mean that a very substantial alteration of the tariff policy of the Government has resulted from their inclusion. Will Senator Hardy deny that?

Senator Hardy - I do not deny it.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator has stated that my leader in this chamber (Senator Collings) on this item holds views quite different from those of his predecessor. I remind the honorable gentleman that, in an earlier tariff debate, Senator Barnes, who was then' Leader of the Opposition, moved a request that the duty on tobacco be increased, and intimated that, when the excise tariff was before the Senate, he would move for a reduction of the excise in the interests of Australian growers. Senator Hardy and' other extreme freetraders of the Country party were not at all pleased with that genuine attempt to do something for our primary producers. I doubt that he voted for the request.

Senator Hardy - I voted against it.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable gentleman voted against it because he wished to submit a much weaker proposal of his own, which would not have been appreciated by the primary producers. If Senator Hardy really believes that the present Opposition in this chamber is not so desirous as formerly of assisting the primary producers, 1 1 invite him to submit a request for a higher duty or a reduction of the excise. If he does so, he will have our support.

Senator Leckie - There will be no test division on this item.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I am afraid there will not be. Obviously it would be useless for me, or for either of my colleagues, to move a request, because we can muster only three against 33 Government supporters. But I am confident that the longer we are engaged in a discussion of the tariff the more clearly will our primary producers see who are their genuine friends. When the Scullin Government was in office, it made an arrangement with the tobacco manufacturers for the purchase of the whole of the Australian leaf at an average price of 3s. per lb. When a change of government took place, the duty was reduced from 5s. 2d. to 3s. per lb., and the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Sir Henry Gullett) entered into an arrangement with the tobacco combine for the purchase of the Australian crop at 2s. 3d., per lb. - 9d. less than the price obtained by the Scullin Government. The growers.- having no alternative, were forced to accept the lower price. I do not suggest that every pound of Australian tobacco leaf is perfect. That would not be a fair presentation of the position. But the same may be said of nearly every other Australian industry.' We were satisfied to accept a commodity that was not quite so good as the imported article in the belief that, as time went on, and with the wholehearted support of the people of Australia, we should eventually be able to produce in Australia everything that we require, and of a standard equal to the world's best. Senator Collings, who is from fifteen to twenty years my senior, can remember the time when everything that was required in Australia, including even confectionery, had to be imported. We have made remarkable progress since that time, and now produce a very wide range of commodities of a uniformly high standard. Senator Brown referred to our adverse trade balance with the United States of America, and a member of the House of Representatives - one who is by no means friendly to the ' Labour party - suggested that we should take drastic action to rectify the position. The Australian tobacco industry provides an opportunity to do that.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Sampson - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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