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Tuesday, 21 August 1906

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) . - I congratulate the Treasurer upon the frankness which characterizes his Budget statement. I have nothing whatever to say against what has been done in the past. I think that the revenue of the Commonwealth is in a very satisfactory condition, and I hope that it will continue so. I am afraid, however, that if some of the proposals submitted to us are carried into effect, we shall fall upon evil days. The proposed penny postage scheme would' result in a loss of ,£300,000 per annum, which would be keenly felt by those States which already have to meet a large deficiency. Queensland could not afford to have £12,750 added to her present annua! deficiency which will amount to £114,000 per annum. I hold that the Commonwealth should conduct its business upon commercial lines, and make the revenue meet the expenditure. There is no reason why our revenue should' be reduced and our expenditure increased at the same time. South Australia seems to have conducted her affairs upon common-sense lines. In .that State the 2d. postage applies to all parts, and residents in the towns have no advantage over those who live in the country. Why should those who reside in the large centres of population be specially favoured? Those who live in the towns do not make the country, but on the other hand the residents in cities look to the country to sustain them. South Australia has managed to make her postal system pay its way, and I think that the Commonwealth should' work upon similar lines. If our postal revenue is reduced we shall have a smaller amount to return to the States, and so far as Queensland is concerned, I strongly object to the Treasurer'sproposal. No one has clamoured for the proposed change. Those who are now able to send a letter from Thursday Island to the furthermost part of Western Australia for 2d. think that they are being fairly treated, and I do not see the necessity for the proposed reduction. The Chambers of Commerce, the members of which would derive the greatest benefit from the introduction of the penny postage system, have not asked for it, and it is safe to presume that they are satisfied with the present arrangements. Mr. Frazer. - This is the only proposal made in this Parliament to which the Chambers of Commerce have not objected.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Exactly. Penny postage may suit Victoria very well, because her territory is compact, and railways are fairly well distributed throughout that State. She can carry on her postal services at comparatively small expense, because she has not to make provision for the conveyance of her mails by coaches to anything like the same extent that is found to be necessary in New South Wales, . Queensland, and other States. Victoria has found it possible to carry on a penny postage system within her own borders with success - although some years ago the 2d. postage was restored because it was not considered desirable to continue the penny postage whilst the revenue was falling. I strongly object to the proposed change, and I shall vote against it. A large number of schemes have been advocated in connexion with the proposed transfer of the States debts. It seems to me that the Treasurer's proposals are as sound as any, and I think that the sooner we substitute another system for that now in operation, under the Braddon section, the better it will be for all concerned. I do not see how the Commonwealth can offer any better security to bond-holders than that now afforded by the States. Our bond-holders, it seems to me, can obtain quite as good a security from the States as they can from the Commonwealth. The latter has absolutely nothing upon which it can levy, except its one-fourth of the receipts from Customs and Excise. Consequently I fail to see that the Commonwealth is in a position to borrow money more cheaply than it can be borrowed by the States. I am satisfied that if the latter wished to convert their loans, and to reduce them to 3 per cents., 'they would have just as much, chance of being successful as would the Commonwealth. In my judgment there is no necessity for taking over the States debts, because if that were undertaken, although the Commonwealth would have to carry the baby, the States would have to -carry the feeding bottle. I do not know that any of the schemes which have been submitted in this connexion' are any better or any worse than that outlined bv the Treasurer. Indeed1, I am inclined to think that the advantage, if any, rests with the Treasurer's proposals. Upon Friday last the honorable member for Denison, delivered a wailing speech in this House - a speech which reminded me of a black gin crying over a dead piccaninny. He endeavoured to show ,that Tasmania had lost considerably in connexion with the sugar duties. I wish to prove that that State has been verv fairly dealt with. I regret that an impression seems to have got abroad that none of the States except Queensland derive any 'benefit from the operation of those duties.

Mr Reid - Is this an electioneering speech ?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - No. I would remind the right honorable member that I am always present to discharge my duties. I do not travel all over Australia delivering electioneering speeches as do some honorable members, t wish to prove that Queensland! has been no more favoured hy the operation of the sugar duties than has any other State. In this connexion I desire to show the amounts which the various States have received by way of Excise duty after the bounty has been paid. The amount received by New South Wales was £666,072 ; by Victoria, £[297,802 ; Queensland, £249,312; South Australia, t.33:57<5; Western Australia, £71,856, in addition to a revenue of £110,000 which was derived from the import duty ; and Tasmania, £69,556. In 1905, New South Wales received £128,943; Victoria, £104,589; Queensland, £78,741; South Australia. £32,102 ; Western Australia, £22,031 ; and Tasmania, £21,453. For a number of years South Australia has been importing sugar, and consequently its people have been contributing to her revenue to the extent of .£6 per ton. The same remark is applicable to Western Australia and Victoria. Queensland and New South Wales are the only two States which have been exclusively using Australian sugar. When, honorable members examine these figures they will find that the other States have received a considerable amount of revenue from the operation of the Excise duty. That duty is credited to each State, and the bounty is paid out of it. If there had been no Excise duty in operation thev would have received so much less revenue. It is a matter for extreme regret that some honorable members will continue to assert that Queensland has benefited from the operation of the sugar duties more than has any other State. As a matter of fact, she has lost more than has any other State. At the present time, the retail price of sugar in London is 2d. per lb. ; in Paris, it is 3d. ; in Berlin, 2^-d. ; in Svdney, 2½d. ; in Melbourne, from 2 1/4d to 2½d. ; in South Australia, 2½d. ; in Brisbane, 2½d. ; and in Perth, 3d. I do not know that it is quite fair to quote what was the price of that article in Western Australia prior to Federation. There ft was admitted free, and its retail price was from 4d. to 5d. per lb. The figures which I have quoted do not show that there has been any increase in the price of sugar consequent upon the operation of the Excise duty. Further, I contend that the bounty is not paid by the consumer. If there were no Excise levied, and there were no bounty in operation, the price of sugar would be the same as it is to-day. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company controls that. In Queensland the price of that commodity at the present time is higher than it has been for many years. Prior to Federation, sugar could be purchased for nearly Jd. per lb. less than it can be purchased to-day. That is due to the fact that before the advent of Federation the production o£ that article had overtaken local consumption. Consequently, the Queensland consumer is worse off now than he has ever been. Nevertheless, he does not complain. The only States which urge any complaint in this connexion are Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. They are always harping upon the sugar duties.

Mr Cameron - We can distinguish between facts and mere assertions.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - One could not knock a fact into a head like that possessed by the honorable member. Since Federation, Queensland has lost £2,608,208 in revenue, as compared with the amount which she would have derived under her old State Tariff. She has received from the Commonwealth £41,083 less than her three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue, whereas New South Wales has received .£2,203,393 more than her three- fourths, Victoria £1,409,705 more, South Australia .£450,115 more. Western Australia £1,077^35 more, and Tasmania £133,628 more.

Mr Henry Willis - That would be unconstitutional.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Whether unconstitutional or not, it has been done. Queensland has received £41,000 less than her three-fourths, whilst Tasmania has gained.

Mr Cameron - That is because the money has not been spent in Tasmania.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - I think that honorable members must recognise that, having regard to the large amount of revenue that Queensland is losing, she will not be prepared to agree to any increased expenditure. I wish now to refer to one or two questions relating to the sugar industry. According to the Budget, something like £25,000 has been provided for the deportation of kanakas, and I should like to know what is the source of the information obtained by the Treasurer that Queensland has only some £16,000 available for this purpose. Where has the money gone? I trust that the deportation of kanakas will be facilitated as much as possible, and that it will be conducted on humanitarian lines. Kanakas who have married white women, and. have children attending our public schools, are not, I understand, to be deported. It would be unwise to separate those men from their wives and children, but those having no ties in Australia, ought certainly to be deported. The kanakas who have married and settled down do not, as a rule, work on the sugar plantations. For the most part they have taken up small plots of ground in the neighbourhood of towns, and earn a livelihood as gardeners, wood-carters, and so- forth. The Queensland Government, through their officers, are taking steps to see that the work of deportation is facilitated as much as possible, and through their officers are giving every assistance to the Common - wealth. Another question associated with the sugar industry relates to the wages paid to the white workers. During the last year great trouble has been experienced owing to the refusal of the sugar planters, who are enjoying the benefit of the protection which the Commonwealth has afforded their industry, to pay a reasonable wage. I refer more particularly to those carrying on operations in the neighbourhood of Bundaberg, where the men refused to labour in the cane-fields unless they received a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. All that they asked was that they should receive 30s. a week and their keep. Notwithstanding that these planters have been enjoying a protection of £2 a ton, they refused what to my mind was a most reasonable demand. Next year, under the amending Act, they will receive a benefit of £3 per ton, and if they still refuse to concede the fair demands of the men, I hope that the Minister of Trade and Customs will take the matter in hand and insure the payment of reasonable wages. Any one who has visited the sugar-growing districts of Queensland will admit that 30s. a week and rations constitute only a fair remuneration for working in the cane-fields. I do not think that that work is exceptionally severe, but having regard to the hours of employment, the wage for which the men in the Bundaberg district struck is a very reasonable one. As long as the growers are receiving the protection afforded them under Commonwealth legislation, they ought to be prepared to pay reasonable wages. As a matter of fact, the sugar bonus was granted to enable them to employ white men at a fair wage. We do not desire that strikes should occur; but next year, when the kanakas have to go, difficulties are sure to arise unless we have in power a sympathetic Minister, who will take steps to insure the payment of a fair wage.

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