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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I propose to deal with item 6, page 81, " Tobacco investigation and instruction (to be paid to the credit of the Tobaccogrowing Investigations Trust Account), £15,000 ". I am amazed at the action of the Government in reducing this vote from £20,000, which was the sum allocated in respect of this work last year, particularly as this item is of such great importance to a large section of our struggling primary producers. When the Assistant Minister (Mr. -Thompson) occupied a seat on the cross-benches, he was very drastic in his criticism of the Government for its failure to treat the tobacco industry more liberally. The honorable member having become an Assistant Minister, we expected that this sum would be increased, but we find that it has been reduced by 25 per cent. I do not think that the honorable gentleman or half of the Ministers in the Cabinet, who are members of the Country party, will claim that the tobacco-growers of Australia are enjoying a very prosperous time.

Mr Anthony - This is not a subsidy, but a grant in respect of investigation and research.

Mr FORDE - As a member of the Country party, the honorable member is endeavouring to defend the Government, but I remind him that at the Federal Tobacco Advisory Committee's meeting held at Perth on the 2nd and 3rd of May last, it was reported to the conference that the then Minister for Trade and Customs, Mr. White, had promised a deputation which waited upon him that he would do his utmost to see that this annual grant of £20,000 would be continued. I assume that he carried out that promise and urged the Government to continue this grant. Somebody, therefore, has let the tobacco-growers down. If it is not the ex-Minister for Trade and Customs, then it is the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson). Mr. MacKnight, who is president of the Tobacco Growers Association in the Tamworth district, and, incidentally, a former president of the largest branch of the Country party in that district, addressing delegates at the Perth meeting in May, 1938, said -

The industry to-day is definitely unprofitable. The growers are demoralized ; they are losing heart. A large number has already given up production, and others will be forced into doing so if present prices are not increased.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member is now departing from the question before the Chair.

Mr FORDE - I am emphasizing the necessity for the continuance of this annual grant of £20,000 for investigation and research in the tobacco industry.

The CHAIRMAN - But the manner in which the honorable member is dealing with the subject is not in order.

Mr FORDE - I am pointing out that it cannot be claimed that the industry is prosperous, but, on the contrary, is dwindling, because of the unsympathetic treatment meted out to it by this Government, which has been responsible for a substantial reduction of the tariff duties originally designed to protect the industry. According to Mr. MacKnight tobacco leaf production in New South Wales has decreased from 2,750,000 lb. to 600,000 lb. Is that not sufficient evidence ? In 1931-32, the production for Australia rose to 10,000,000 lb. as the result of protection given to the industry by the Scullin Government. To-day the industry is in the doldrums, and, in view of that fact, this Government is deserving of severe censure in reducing this grant to £15,000. Although I claim to have made a very close study of the industry I do not ask honorable members to accept merely my word as to the present condition of the industry. The delegates at the Perth conference, which was representative of growers all over Australia, after considering a report on the industry, made by a select committee appointed by the Government of New South Wales, earned the following resolution: -

Conference recommends an increase of the tariff and the adoption of the suggestions made by the select committee.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member is not in order in proceeding along those lines.

Mr FORDE - I point out, Mr. Chairman, that you allowed another honorable member, in dealing with the administration of a department, to discuss rather fully the problems confronting secondary industry. 1 have good grounds for protesting very vigorously against the treatment meted out by this Government to the tobacco-growers.

Mr Curtin - The tobacco-growers in the Chairman's own electorate have suffered considerably.

Mr FORDE - Undoubtedly they have, like the growers in every other district. This grant was made in order to assist the industry to solve its problems, and the Government cannot possibly justify its action in reducing it. Of course, it will be able to find excuses for doing so. It will probably attribute its action to the fact that it is now called upon to meet large commitments in respect of defence, but the best way to build up our standards and our ability to defend Australia is to encourage new industries of this kind. There is every justification for continuing the grant of £20,000; particularly when we remember that the industry, instead of getting, out of trouble, is getting into f further trouble ; its problems, instead of being solved, are becoming greatly accentuated.. I point out that imports of black-grown tobacco leaf increased, from 11,633,955 lb. in 1933-34 to 23,292,338 lb. last year, and as the result, thousands of growers have gone out of the industry.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! I am inclined to think that the honorable member knows that he is infringing the Standing Orders.

Mr FORDE - I do not wish to transgress your ruling in any way, Mr. Chairman, but I feel very strongly on this matter, because, on one occasion, I was deputed to investigate this industry and saw for myself the trials experienced by those engaged in the industry. I saw the number of growers increase from a few hundreds to 6,000, and the annual production increase from 1,000,000 lb. to 10,000,000 lb. Subsequently, as the result of increased importation of tobacco leaf, the industry has dwindled, and 3.000 growers have gone out of the industry.

Them is every justification for increasing this grant to, say, £25,000, instead of decreasing it, and in order to test the opinion of honorable members, particularly members of the Country party, 1 move-

That the amount of the Vote - Miscellaneous Services, £1,356,006, be reduced by £1.

If this amendment be accepted by the committee it will he regarded as an instruction to the Government to restore the expenditure on tobacco investigation and research to £20,000 per annum, and to increase the protection to the local growers in accordance with the recommendation of the select committee appointedby the New South Wales Government, which was endorsed by the Federal Tobacco Advisory Committee which sat in Perth on the 3rd May, 1938.

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