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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr CORSER (Wide Bay) .- I rise only to put honorable members right in regard to some misstatements that have been made, though, I believe, not wilfully, and to let the people who read Hansard know that there is something to be said on the other side. In the first place, I understand that this money is provided to pay for sugar that it is absolutely necessary to import in order to keep up the supply. This extra £500,000 is required because, the great droughts there have been in Queensland for two years past have, kept back the crops, the .harvesting of which should have commenced at the end of this month or the beginning of next, but will be now delayed probably till August; to fill up the gap, sugar must be imported from somewhere. This position was not anticipated by the Government, who, at this late hour, have to buy sugar from overseas.

I should like to correct the statement which fell from the honorable member for Franklin "(Mr. Mcwilliams), a state ment which I am sure he would not have made unless he had been misinformed. He said that the difficulties we have laboured under in Queensland in the sugar industry are on account of some action by the Government in stopping the production of cane and the construction of sugar machinery there. I can assure honorable members that there is nothing in that statement.

Mr Tudor - Why put it in the agreement?

Mr CORSER - I will tell you. After the notorious Dickson award a large number of farmers decided that it would not pay them to cut their cane under that award, and they did not cut it until the next season,- when alterations had' been made in the award. There were, therefore, two crops, or a large area, meaning at least 50 per cent, more cane cut that year than there would have been but for the stoppage in the year before. .This brought about a surplus, and the Government thought that this surplus would continue. I explained the reason for the surplus, and pointed out that we would very likely have a deficit in the following year, as, indeed, there was. Then there came a drought, and also cyclones, which, destroyed a tremendous amount of cane. The result is that, instead of the anticipated surplus this year, we have a big deficit, which has to be made up from overseas. Sugar cannot be imported now at less than £100 per ton, which means ls. per lb. instead of 6d. now charged retail in Australia.

It is not a fact that the Queensland grower makes more profit than the grower of any other produce. It is clearly shown in the report of the recent Royal Commission that 80 per cent, of the price of raw sugar is represented by wages. Another misleading statement is that the £1,000,000 of profit made by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company is obtained from the people of Australia. As a matter of fact, the profit is made in Fiji, where black labour is employed; it is not made out of the people of Australia, inasmuch as the Government have controlled the price paid to the company for refining and distributing.

Further, I wish to let the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) know that no growers ceased producing cane, or ceased erecting machinery, because of the clause he spoke of. That clause had been in existence only about two months when I brought the absurdity of it to the notice of the House, and asked the Government to withdraw it. The answer was at once given by the Government that if there was a request made for permission to construct mills consent would not be withheld.

Mr Tudor - That was last September?

Mr CORSER - It was directly after the agreement came into force. The Government informed me that permission would be given, and not one single factory was prevented from increasing its plant or establishing new plant, because there was none so foolish as to do so when the industry was in such straits. What is required is a better .return to the sugargrower in Queensland; if he gets that, it will encourage' production, and we shall not have to import from overseas, as there are ample sugar lands in Queensland, to supply more than the requirements of the Commonwealth. I may say that the present price will encourage the growers, and I have written to the different cane-producing districts urging the people there to plant as much as possible, so that we may not be placed in the same position as we have been this and last year. I believe they will do this, but they would do it very much more readily if the agreement were to extend for a longer term. Under existing conditions the agreement will benefit those who plant this year only for two years, because they will not get the new price for the cane they plant this year until the following year. Honorable members should encourage the sugar industry of Australia more than they have done in the past, because if we produced sufficient sugar to meet our own requirements we should not be obliged to send money to other countries in which sugar is produced with black labour only. It would be wise for honorable members to show more sympathy with the production of sugar in Australia, whether it be cane sugar or . beet sugar. If beet sugar can be profitably grown in Australia - which I doubt, for cane sugar would be better under uniform treatment - by all means let it be grown. I hope that the misstatements which have been complained of will not continue to be made, because they get abroad, and induce the consumers of sugar to think that the Government are not taking the necessary steps to safeguard their interests.

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