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Wednesday, 24 September 1941

Senator COURTICE (Queensland) . - I support the bill. I feel certain that the cotton-growers of Queensland will derive considerable satisfaction from it. Many farmers will now he encouraged to install irrigation plants. However, it is unfortunate that the Government did not introduce this measure a little earlier. The season is now getting on, and we know that considerable time is involved in preparing the land for the crop. Labour is also a problem in the industry. There is much that I can say regarding the policy of the Government towards rural industries generally. Recently, recruiting drives have been made throughout our rural areas with the result that these districts are being depleted of their young men. Such a development will have serious repercussions in all of our primary industries. I was somewhat disappointed at the second-reading speech of the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Leckie). He more or less apologized for the measure. He stated that the chief reason for the introduction of the bill was the high price of imported cotton. The Government long ago should have realized the value of the cotton industry to Australia. However, its general attitude towards the industry has been unsatisfactory. Only a short while ago, it practically decided to discontinue the bounty altogether, with the result that uncertainty arose in the minds of the growers as to the future of the industry. The industry is not prosperous. It is a very exacting industry, involving considerable labour. Yet, it is of exceptional value to Australia, and if it be encouraged, we shall reap the benefit, not only in respect of our war effort, but also in peace-time. The Government has been somewhat slow on the uptake in regard to the industry. Generally, its attitude has been that within a few years, the industry will be well established and securely developed and the need for the payment of further bounty will then disappear. In the past it has not encouraged the industry as it should have done. Indeed, the Government should he a little more generous in its attitude towards our primary industries generally. It certainly did not occur to the Government to apply the cost-plus system to any of our primary industries. Yet those industries are constantly up against difficulty. The Government could safely run the risk of being accused of being too generous to our primary industries. At any rate, its attitude towards the cotton industry in the past does not reflect credit upon it.

Senator McBride - The industry has never received better treatment than it has received from this Government.

SenatorCOURTICE. - The Minister must admit that only a little while ago the Government made up its mind to wipe out the industry.

Senator Foll - Nonsense!

Senator COURTICE - Only about eighteen months ago, a definite proposal was made to reduce the bounty gradually until it disappeared altogether.

Senator McBride - The Tariff Board recommended that the bounty be reduced, hut this Government ignored that recommendation.

Senator COURTICE - Unfortunately, the Government is too prone to heed the opinions of experts who pay too much attention to overseas prices. I complain again that the Minister's attitude in his second-reading speech was one of apology for the measure. He said that the price of imported cotton justified the payment of the bounty. Perhaps, if the price of imported cotton had not increased, the Government would not have taken this step. This bounty will give much satisfaction to cotton-growers, and at the moment it is such assistance that is principally sought by the industry. However, if the industry is to be placed on a permanent basis, the Government should not be in too great a hurry to remind the growers that the bounty will last for onlya brief period, and that it will have to be discontinued on the ground that it is uneconomic. I am a practical farmer, and I realize the great benefits which modern methods and efficiency havebeen to those engaged in primary industries. The sugar industry, due to efficient and scientific methods, to-day is able to sell one-half of its production in competition with sugar produced by black labour. I remind the Government that in most countries cotton is grown largely by cheap labour, and for that reason it is not fair to compare production costs in this country with those obtaining elsewhere. I have no wish to raise controversial issues or to delay the measure, but I ask the Government to continue to give favorable consideration to this industry. I believe that it has great possibilities, and is capable of being established on a sound basis. The Queensland Government has taken a great interest in the industry, but, after all, the Commonwealth Government controls excise and customs duties, and neither the Queensland Government nor individual growers can venture too far without an assurance from the Commonwealth Government that prices will not be interfered with in the near future. Conditions must be stabilized before there can be any real development. I commend the Government upon the introduction of the bill, and I hope that it will have a speedy passage.

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