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Thursday, 18 February 1932

Mr NAIRN (Perth) .- The tariff policy of the Labour Government was intended primarily to improve the industries of this country, but unfortunately for Australia that policy has completely failed. As a result of the excessive tariff we have to-day fewer factories, fewer people employed in them, and a reduced production from them. The reason is not that there is any decreased demand for goods. Indeed, because of the exclusion of goods from abroad, there is a greater demand in Australia for the goods that our factories can produce, but their cost is so excessive as to be beyond the reduced purchasing power of the community. The tariff lias produced a number of small unhealthy industries such as always spring up as u result of an excessive tariff. As I read the proposals of the Government, it is intended to maintain those industries, although it has been recognized by our party almost unanimously that they constitute one of our greatest evils.

Mr Forde - Every industry must make a beginning.

Mr NAIRN - I am not an advocate of freetrade. 1 recognize that there are many industries in Australia which are well worthy of protection, and I am with the Government in giving fair and adequate protection to industries which have a reasonable prospect of success. But it has been recognized by our party, hitherto at any rate, that the tariff of 192S represented a reasonable measure of protection for industry. The duties imposed by the Labour Government represent an average increase 'of 15 per cent. Primage at 10 per cent, is added, and for a long time there has, in respect of exchange, been a further protection of 25 per cent. In those circumstances' the tariff is well due for a substantial writing down, especially in respect of rates which are adverse to primary industry.

I should have liked to hear some mention in the Governor-General's Speech of the sugar monopoly within Australia. The Prime Minister has acknowledged both inside and outside of Parliament, that the sugar monopoly is not justified, but the reason that he has given this House for not bringing down legislation to deal with it, is that an agreement has been made, and that one government should honour an agreement even if made by another government.

Mr Riordan - Does the honorable member think that that agreement should be broken?

Mr NAIRN - I remember the honorable member advocating the breaking of an agreement relating to the payment of interest ou borrowed money. The sugar agreement is not an agreement in the true sense of the word. It Ls an agreement only because of the form in which it is framed. A true agreement implies bargaining between the parties to it. What consideration did the sugar interests give for the extraordinarily valuable monopoly established by successive governments of this country? There is in principle no difference between this so-called agreement and the terms under which the Government has agreed to grant a bounty on the production of gold, iron, or any other commodity. The Government fixes the bounty and there is no bargaining between the parties concerned.

Mr Forde - Would the honorable member be prepared to wipe out the gold bounty?

Mr NAIRN - I am prepared to agree to the wiping out of all bounties. We are justified in breaking certain agreements. There are what are known as unconscionable agreements. It is absolutely unconscionable that the sugar interests of Queensland should retain the position of extradordinary preferment which it enjoyed in time of prosperity. It is unconscionable that it should be able to retain that advantage while every other section of the community has had to make a sacrifice. Not long ago certain agreements were under the consideration of this House. They were agreements to repay loan moneys -at the end of a stipulated period, and in the meantime to pay interest at certain rates. We went behind those agreements, not because of any moral justification, but because necessity compelled us to take that action. The sugar interests are in an exceedingly favorable position, and one company has been able to continue to make a profit of something like a million pounds a year. Because of the monopoly given to the sugar interests, the values of the cane lands are considerably in excess of their natural values. Further, all the farmers and workmen engaged in the industry are receiving a high rate of remuneration which is not enjoyed by any other section of the community. This so-called agreement has never been approved by Parliament.

Mr Forde - Does the honorable member know that the price that the growers are receiving for their cane is the same as it was in 1914?

Mr NAIRN - I know that everybody connected with the industry is on a good wicket. The sugar interests, if asked to agree to a reduction in the price of sugar would be able to show a plausible cause for not doing so. For that reason I do not attach much value to the suggestion that we should leave it to the good conscience of those engaged in the industry of Queensland to bring about a reduction in price. We did not leave it to the good conscience of the public servants, the pensioners, or the bondholders, to consent to a reduction.

Mr Ward - We did in respect of the bondholders.

Mr NAIRN - Those who did not consent were forced to submit to a reduction in interest rates. That action I supported, because I thought that it was necessary. There is a much stronger reason for taking similar action in connexion with the sugar industry. The Government has apparently decided to try to bring about a reduction in the price of sugar by way of negotiation with those engaged in the industry, and if an adequate reduction can be obtained by that means there will be no need to talk of breaking the agreement. I hope that the Government will treat the sugar interests as' it treated the bondholders. If the sugar interests will not agree to a proper and adequate reduction in price, it should be brought about by legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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