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Monday, 18 December 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - I do not intend to say very much, because it is quite evident that the Committee intend to approve of the item.

Senator Mcgregor - If yousupport the item it will be lost.

Senator ST LEDGER - I can quite understand the laughter on one side, and, possibly, the gibe on the other. I would remind honorable senators that, for a long time, they fought in Parliament for the policy of a White Australia. Although this extra duty is put on bananas, it is part of a social policy to help, if we can, the development and the settlement of a white population in the tropical and sub-tropical portions of the continent. I admit right away that, fiscally, the duty is, possibly, not defensible.

Senator de Largie - Why defend it, then?

Senator ST LEDGER - Because my honorable friends on the other side want a White Australia. I wish to compliment Senator Gardiner on the speech which he made with regard to the protective and economic aspect of this Bill. I was delighted with every word he uttered on that matter, and I accept the criticism of the Government proposal from many points of view. The banana and sugar industries are assisted, in the hope that, by the Tariff or some other arrangement, we can settle a white population in the tropical portions of Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the north-west portion of Western Australia. I admit, with Senator Gardiner, that if I had to stand on economic or fiscal grounds simply, this increased duty could not be defended j but I do contend that, if we want to help to settle the tropical portions which I have just mentioned, we must try to give some slight assistance through the Tariff. If assistance from that point of view will settle the industry, we are bound to give some aid, whether we are Free Traders or Revenue Tariffists, because, after all, the great problem with these portions of Australia is the settlement of them by white Australians. Notwithstanding that I have announced myself pretty strongly as a fiscal agnostic, I always watch suspiciously any increase of Customs duties. The proposed duty may not be defensible from an economic point of view, but it may be defended if the object is to settle the tropical and sub-tropical portions of Australia with white people. The people who are engaged in this industry in Queensland ask for the duty to enable them to compete with imported bananas, in order that the Government of Queensland may be able to carry out the policy they have announced of keeping the banana industry out of the hands of ' Chinese and other coloured aliens. A Bill has been submitted to the Queensland Parliament, the object of which is to keep lands which may be used for the cultivation of bananas out of the hands of coloured aliens. In view of this fact, those engaged in the banana industry in Queensland are entitled to the assistance for which they ask. Honorable senators should also bear in mind that the proposed protection of is. 6d. per cental on bananas is infinitesimal when compared with the protection afforded to industries in which the people of New South Wales and of Victoria are specially concerned. If it is desired to adhere to the White Australia policy in the settlement, especially of the coastal districts of sub-tropical and tropical Australia, the assistance asked for under this item might very well be given to carry out that policy.

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