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Tuesday, 19 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I do not intend to detain the committee very long in discussing the request which I have had circulated. Its purpose, as honorable senators will note, is to give definite encouragement to the tobacco industry. We on this side strongly support the national policy of protection for our great primary and secondary industries, and we are determined to oppose any action which may whittle away the measure of effective protection which the industries receive. It. may not be out of place if, at this stage, I place before the committee figures indicating the importance of this- industry to Australia. It is natural, of course, that the three Labour senators from Queensland, where tobacco has been successfully grown for many years, should be keenly interested in this item. It is estimated that, to supply the full requirements of Australia, and this is something which should be possible in the near future, employment would be provided for 10,000 growers, on small areas, and that the industry would be capable of supporting, directly and indirectly, at least 30,000 people. The tariff imposed by the Scullin Government proved a great incentive to tobaccogrowers, particularly in Queensland, where, for many years, considerable quantities of tobacco leaf had been produced almost entirely by Chinese; but, as the product was often inferior in quality, and manufacturing was in its infancy, much difficulty was experienced in disposing of the leaf, and the industry collapsed. Under the stimulus of the Scullin Tariff the production of Australian tobacco leaf increased to 10,000,000 lb. We shall, of course, be told that, if the request which I have circulated is accepted by the Government, 'the price of tobacco will be increased. That need not happen, because the Government has in its hands the power, if only it has the courage to use it, to prevent profiteering and the exploitation of consumers.

Senator Sampson - Is the honorable senator a smoker?

Senator COLLINGS - No. It may give some satisfaction to Senator Sampson, if I add that my remarks on this sub-item are not based on my capacity to judge. I do not use tobacco, and therefore I am not an expert on quality. But I do know what the industry means to Australia.

Senator E B Johnston - The effect of the request would be to reduce slightly the cost of tobacco to the consumer.

Senator COLLINGS - Of course it would. Price adjustments will undoubtedly be made following any alteration of the excise duty. In asking the committee to support my proposed request, I am not suggesting that Australia should do what other countries have not done. South Africa and New Zealand have gone a great deal further than the Scullin Government went, and further than I am asking this Government to go. In South Africa the industry was given five years within which to supply the whole of the requirements' of the Union, following the imposition of an embargo upon imports; and in New Zealand the Government has taken effective steps to protect the local industry. An amendment, similar in terms to my proposed request, was moved _ in the House of Representatives when the excise tariff was under discussion, and it received support from members of the Country party in that chamber. The purpose of my request is to provide a margin of ls. 6d. per lb. in favour of the Australian product, the excise on imported tobacco being 4s. 6d. per lb. As . indicating the magnitude of the industry, I may state that in 1934-35 imports reached 17,000,000 lb., valued at £1,300,000. Of that total, 16,340,000 lb., valued at £1,250,000, came from the United States of America. "It should be obvious, therefore, that if by lowering the excise on tobacco manufactured solely from Australian-grown leaf we can reduce imports, we shall be conferring an immense benefit upon Australian growers and manufacturers. The following table, showing the numbers of registered growers, the area under tobacco, and the production value of Australian leaf, will he of interest : -


I have other interesting details relating to the industry, which as the discussion proceeds, it may be necessary for me to furnish to the committee. "We are not asking that the lower excise duty shall apply to tobacco, cigarettes, or cigars in which there is a blending of imported and Australian leaf. We are asking that the benefit of the lower excise shall apply exclusively to tobacco manufactured from Australian-grown leaf.

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