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Friday, 21 June 1946

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- I take this, opportunity to direct the attention of the Government ,to its inordinate delay in reaching a decision on the aid to be given to the Queensland cottongrowing industry. Thirteen months ago, at the request of the Queensland Cotton Board, the Government had an investigation made of the cotton-growing industry. In spite of the many representations made to- it by me and other honorable members on this side of the House, and in spite of the months that have passed since that investigation was made, the Government has neglected to announce its policy. For about twenty years the price of raw cotton has been governed by Commonwealth legislation. Owing to the inroads that the demands of war made on labour supplies, production of cotton has fallen considerably. The unavailability of commodities required for the expansion of the industry has also contributed to the decline of the industry. If the industry is to be stimulated, a.s it must be, positive action must be taken at once by the Government to announce and apply a policy of development. I hope that the new Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator J. M. Fraser) will immediately examine the report made as the result of that thirteen-month-old inquiry and let the Parliament know the decision of the Government before we go on the hustings. The cotton-growers are keenly critical of the Government's dilatoriness. Their crop is one of the few which, like tobacco, offer scope for secondary as well as primary production in Queensland. It was recently stated on behalf of the textile industry of Australia that 40 per cent, of Australia's requirements of cotton goods could be manufactured locally, and that that would require the annual production of 225,000 bales of raw cotton. Tn the next twelve months the market requirements of Australian cotton mills will be at least 120,000 bales of raw cotton, but, unless the price that the cottongrowers are to receive for their product is announced soon, there will be no possibility of that quantity being grown in Australia. The cotton-producing industry throughout the world is in a difficult position, and manufacturers of cotton textiles in this country -will have great difficulty in obtaining supplies of raw cotton. Production of cotton in the United States of America has fallen to its lowest level for 25 years. During the year just .concluded the output was S,900,000 bales, compared with an average of 12,000,000 bales for the last twenty-five years. Any surplus of American cotton that may be available, for export will be of the poorest quality, and probably only 5 per cent, of it will be of any use in the cotton textile industry. The position in India, too, is serious, and the Indian Government has placed an embargo upon the export from that country of any cotton other than manufactured cotton goods. India is making a great effort to expand its secondary industries, and will require all the raw cotton that it can produce. If we do not develop the cotton-growing industry in Australia our cotton textile industry may go out of existence with resulting wide-spread unemployment. Throughout the world, production of cotton materials for wearing apparel is diminishing, and we should not lose this opportunity to establish the cotton-growing industry in this country on a sound footing. Prior to the war, Australia imported £15,000,000 worth of cotton materials annually. These materials constituted the biggest single item in our tariff schedule, and could be manufactured in this country if adequate supplies of raw cotton were available. During the next twelve .months, Australia will 'require 120,000 bales of raw cotton, practically all of which will have to be imported, entailing an expenditure outside of Australia, of approximately £5,000,000. Much of that cotton could have been produced by Australian cottongrowers during the last three years had proper attention been paid to the industry in this country. It is imperative that there be no further delay in reaching a decision on the future of the Australian cotton-growing industry. Cotton-growers and manufacturers should be taken into the confidence of the Government, and, with- the least possible delay, legislation should be introduced into this Parliament guaranteeing at least the price that has been paid for locally produced cotton in the past, or the price recommended in the report, whichever is the higher. I understand that this period of the present session of Parliament will be short. If that is so, an announcement of the Government's policy - if it has a policy - towards the cotton industry should be made immediately, so that the cotton interests will have an opportunity to confer with the Government, or make representations in this House, before legislation implementing the Government's policy is prepared. It is unfair to toy with this big industry as the Government is doing at present. Again I appeal for a prompt examination of the report, and for an early announcement of a guaranteed price for raw cotton.

Tn addition to the production of raw cotton, cotton-growers in this country provide large quantities of edible' oils and stock feed of high protein content for the dairying industry. In droughtaffected areas of Queensland to-day by-products of the cotton-growing industry are proving of great value in helping to keep stock alive. This industry is essential to the development of other primary industries, and consequently, to the expansion of secondary industries. Cotton is also a most important product in time of war. I make a final appeal to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) to ensure, without further delay, that this very important industry shall be given the fullest information on the Government's policy towards it.

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